Monday, May 16, 2011

Reason & Reality

In the May 4th Washington Post, columnist David Ignatius addressed "A cautionary tale for Mideast peace". The article was prompted by the just-published posthumous memoir of Jack O’Connell, once an Amman-based CIA agent and, later, Washington counsel for Jordan's King Hussein. In urging President Obama to promote a land-for-peace deal in the Middle East, Ignatius says:
What anguished O’Connell was watching Hussein struggle in vain for four decades to recover the West Bank from Israel. The sorry tale began with the king’s foolish decision to ally with Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser on the eve of the June 1967 war, which gave the Israelis a reason to attack. O’Connell warned the king that Israel would strike, and the king passed the intelligence to Nasser. But they were too infatuated with Arab propaganda to take the warning seriously.
Tennessee Williams wrote in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, "There ain't nothin' more powerful than the odor of mendacity." By that measure, Ignatius's article stinks.

The June 1967 Six-Day War began as a result of two events. First, on May 22, 1967, Egypt's President Nasser blocked the Straits of Tiran (Gulf of Aqaba) to Israeli shipping. That shut Israel's sole access to the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, cutting Israel's primary oil supply route. This was widely viewed as a violation of the international law of the freedom of the seas. Indeed, in 1957, Israel warned that it would consider a closing of the straights as hostile--a long-standing casus belli for war. After the war, President Johnson condemned Nasser's blockade:
If a single act of folly was more responsible for this explosion than any other, I think it was the arbitrary and dangerous announced decision that the Strait of Tiran would be closed. The right of innocent maritime passage must be preserved for all nations.
The blockade, thus, was a legitimate reason for war.

Second, and more controversially, on June 5th, Israel attacked and destroyed the Egyptian Air Force to preempt a forthcoming assault on Israel by several Arab states. Nasser had been saber-rattling for some time, and mis-informed by the Soviets of an imminent Israeli attack. He moved troops to the Israeli border. On May 30, President Nasser and King Hussein signed a mutual defense pact; on June 4, Iraq signed a similar agreement with Cairo. All such forces were consolidated under Egyptian joint command.

So, on this matter, Ignatius elides the point: King Hussein's alliance with Egypt formed part of the case for war. Even scholars critical of Israel typically acknowledge that the combination of threats on multiple fronts warranted preemptive action. But the reason was the threat of armed and mobilized Arab troops able "to cut Israel in two," not the pact itself. Hussein may have been a reluctant participant in war--but he made the decision to join an Egyptian firebrand, and both badly miscalculated.

The King wasn't just "foolish"; his stupidity can't be dismissed as providing Israel a "reason" that Ignatius implies was spurious. The "reason" for the 1967 Six-Day war was a plan to eradicate Israel. That was, and meant, war--the choice wasn't made by Israel but by Egypt (especially its blockade), Jordan, Syria and Iran. And mistakes about the causes of prior wars will lead to flawed strategies for peace.


MaxedOutMama said...

Oh, but when it comes to Israel, the rules are always different and facts don't matter!

And all history is rewritten.

You cannot reason with these people. They start out with the theory that Israel should not exist, and just keep going from that premise.

MaxedOutMama said...

PS: And since they start from the axiom that Israel should not exist, any attempt to defend Israel is criminal, just as it would be criminal in me to break into your house and then assault you when you came home.

The only argument really worth having with these types is the argument about whether Israel has a right to exist. When pressed, they admit they believe it doesn't or run in verbal circles.

Most people then contemplate their arguments with some suspicion; the anti-Israelis just get hysterical and then start spitting lather when you point out that if Israel does not have a right to exist, this is the sole case in the world in which a people is considered to be alien to its own land of origin.

The "rules" applied to Israel have nothing to do with the rules applied to any other nation.

Carl said...

M_O_M: Don't fail to remind 'um that Israel was created by a 2/3rds vote of the United Nations--which they elsewhere defend--and that the Arab states started a war to extinguish Israel from the start.

OBloodyHell said...

Didn't the leaders of at least some of the Arab states, prior to WWII (perhaps as early as just after WWI), ack the right of Israel to exist, also? I seem to recall that to be the case, though I'm not, atm, inclined to chase it down, easy though it ought to be.

Carl said...

OBH: Save Egypt, not that I'm aware.