Book Review: “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations”

January 30, 2009 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Chaos, of course, is the enemy of stability – and for Israeli hawks who worship chaos in the Middle East at the altar of security, there is no greater enemy than stability itself.

Insisting on behalf of her neoconservative allies in Washington that the US would pay a high price for embracing the delusion of stability as a goal, the Jerusalem Post diva Caroline Glick warned back in 2007 that, whatever the consequences for America of accommodations with Saudi Arabia based on the belief in a stable Middle Eastern balance of power, the costs to Israel itself would be far higher.

As if to underline yearning for a more balanced policy in the region, Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former Saudi intelligence chief and former ambassador to the US, told the Financial Times just last week that any failure by Barack Obama to reverse George W Bush’s “sickening legacy” in the Middle East could threaten the countries’ relationship.

Yet while Obama’s early appointments have aimed to convey a sense of urgency in the search for something intact with which to build from the debris left by his predecessor, there are too many precedents to suggest that Washington either cannot – or will not – acknowledge Israel’s real motives for there to be a credible chance of change.

Indeed, in response to Obama’s pledge within days of taking office to “actively and aggressively” seek peace premised upon backing for international demands that Hamas recognise Israel and end violence, Osama Hamdan, a Hamas spokesman, told al Jazeera that his remarks seemed to suggest the US still viewed the situation through “Israeli eyes”. In short, Obama was destined to fail.

Hamdan’s early verdict is ominous, for it is Hamas that is now, perhaps unwittingly, the principal agent of the Israeli politico-military establishment’s philosophy of divide and rule that so hypnotised the Bush regime and that Jonathan Cook unpicks so expertly in Israel and the Clash of Civilisations. Far from delivering a body blow to Hamas, the Gaza conflict has confirmed the Islamic movement’s political ascendancy among Palestinians and strengthened Israel’s ability to exploit the view it has nurtured of itself in the West as a pioneer on the frontier of the “clash of civilisations” between the Judaeo-Christian and Muslim worlds.

Cook presents compelling evidence of a synergy between the oil-thirsty agenda for the Middle East of Bush’s neocon ultra-hawks and a vision developed by Israel’s security establishment favouring destabilisation in the region. The encouragement of ethnic and religious discord would fragment and tribalise its unstable states, allowing the resulting bantustans to be controlled through a sophisticated replication of the policies of apartheid in South Africa.

For the neocons, fragmented states would enable Washington not only to dominate the production and distribution of oil in the entire region, but also to address more subtle threats pertaining to the potential influence that derived from the accumulation of Gulf wealth in the US financial system. For Israel, the inevitable outcome of Ottoman-style divide and rule would have a range of beneficial consequences that, together, would strengthen the country against all-comers and weaken the ability of the Palestinians to resist ethnic-cleansing.

Thus, the stability craved by Saudi Arabia as the basis for ensuring a profitable flow of oil to the West alluded to by Turki al-Faisal is precisely the stability despised by the neocons for providing sustenance to the oil cartel OPEC and by the Israeli right for enabling the Saudi regime to fund movements such as Hamas in the occupied territories and so limit Israeli regional ambitions.

Cook writes: “Control of oil could be secured on the same terms as Israeli regional hegemony: by spreading instability across the Middle East.”

Given this strategic vision, the author says the view that Iraq’s savage civil war was an unforeseen consequence of the US invasion – and any liberal pretence that the invasion had been well-intentioned, if perhaps foolhardy – is profoundly mistaken: debilitating sectarian strife in Iraq had been the specific objective all along of the ultra-hawks and the Israelis they were in bed with.

Cook uses their shared antipathy to Iran to delineate the close relationship maintained by neocon aides in Washington with Ehud Olmert’s policymakers to show how the latter ramped up fears of Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. He presents potent evidence to suggest that the war Israel unleashed against Lebanon in July 2006 was merely a prelude to planned attacks on Syria and Iran that would have had the backing of Washington. It was only Israel’s failure in Lebanon that burned this blueprint.

Inevitably, Iran is set to become the defining issue of Obama’s Middle Eastern policy – not least because his criticism during the Democratic primaries of Hillary Clinton’s threat to “obliterate” the country if it turned on Israel maps out the key faultline in his administration. As a significant recipient of pro-Israel campaign funding, the new Secretary of State has been accused by US critics of literally “propping up” the untenable stance of the muscular, pro-Israel lobby AIPAC which so many neocons were in cahoots with.

But the real laboratory for the strategy of internal dissolution experimented with by the US in Iraq had been – and remains – Palestine, where, in the most recent phase of politicide, Israel has been deftly fuelling infighting between Fatah and Hamas, a policy that culminated in the de facto separation of Gaza and the West Bank – Hamastan and Fatahland – under Mahmoud Abbas.

In his latest book, Disappearing Palestine (Zed, 2008), Cook revisits the genesis of the policy of destabilisation that he analyses in Israel and the Clash of Civilisations by exploring how it has been employed to further Israel’s primary goal in the occupied territories.

Hamas may have been bolstered by emerging undefeated from its tunnels following the latest assault on Gaza but, as Israel knows all too well, Palestinian national identity has not – and it is only the latter that can inject any sense of hope into a national liberation struggle against what is beginning to resemble genocide.

Gavin O’Toole is a journalist and author, and edits the Latin American Review of Books (

Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East by Jonathan Cook is out now, published by Pluto Press.

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This post was written by Gavin O'Toole

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