Excerpts From Beware of Small States by David Hirst
Chapter Eleven “Redrawing the Map of the Middle East, 2001-2006”
“In the summer of 1996, thanks largely to the failure of Operation Grapes of Wrath over which he had presided, Shimon Peres and his Labour Party were defeated in general elections by Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud. Before the new prime minister took office, a group of American neoconservatives, some of them, such as Richard Perle, former and future government officials, took it upon themselves to advise him what to do when he did. In a paper entitled Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm, they outlined the means by which Israel – ‘proud, wealthy, solid and strong’ – should make itself the cornerstone of ‘a truly new and peaceful Middle East,’ one in which it would no longer simply ‘contain’ it foes, but ‘transcend’ them. First it should replace ‘land for peace,’ the core principle of the American-sponsored peace process, with ‘peace through strength,’ and secure the Arabs’ ‘unconditional acceptance’ of its rights, especially its ‘territorial’ (that is expansionist) ones. Then, in ‘partnership’ with the US, it should embark on a grandiose scheme of geopolitical engineering for the whole region. It should start by ‘removing Saddam Hussein from power’ and supporting King Hussein of Jordan in his ‘redefining’ of Iraq through the restoration of a fellow Hashemite dynasty there. The ‘natural axis’ – composed of Israel, Turkey, Jordan and ‘central’ Iraq – would join forces in ‘weakening, containing or even rolling back Syria,’ seeking to ‘detach it from the Saudi Peninsula,’ and ‘threatening its territorial integrity’ as a prelude to a ‘redrawing of the map of the Middle East.’ Since Lebanon’s Syrian-controlled Beqa’a Valley had ‘become for terror what the Silicon Valley has become for computers,’ Israel should ‘seize the strategic initiative along its northern borders by engaging Hizbullah, Syria, and Iran, as the principal agents of aggression in Lebanon.’ It should hit Syrian military targets there, or ‘select’ ones in Syria itself. Syria might also come under assault from ‘Israeli proxy forces’ operating out of Lebanon.
“Clean Break was a seminal document, an early authoritative expression of ideas and prescriptions – extreme, violent, simplistic, and utterly partisan – originally intended for the Israeli leadership but eventually emerging as ‘a kind of US-Israeli neoconservative manifesto.’ At the time, the neoconservatives were out of power. Not since President Reagan, and their enthusiastic backing for Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, had they commanded serious influence from within the corridors of power. Ultimately disappointed by him, whom they considered too moderate, as well as by his two successors, they now constituted a very influential, ambitious, militant pressure group, most denizens of a plethora of interlocking, pro-Israel Washington think tanks, impatiently awaiting the champion through whom they could put such ideas into effect. They found him in President George Bush; they entered his Administration en masse, some of them in positions of great power. But it was only when bin Laden’s nineteen kamikazes steered three of their hijacked aircraft into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon that they truly came into their own; only then that Bush, who, in his electoral campaign, had pledged himself to a ‘humble’ foreign policy imbued with the ‘modesty of strength,’ became a convert to their millenarian vision, and the belligerence that came with it. In their speedy and well-orchestrated reaction to what they saw as the most providential of national emergencies, the neoconservatives succeeded in hijacking the foreign policy of the world’s only superpower; in persuading its leader to endorse a pre-existing plan of action which had little to do with the nature of the emergency itself, with bin Laden and al-Qaeda, but everything to do with their extravagant project for a future Middle East. It was quite as much an Israeli as an American one. The Jerusalem Post described its authors as ‘Arik’s [Sharon] American front,’ and a high American official told the Washington Post that the ‘Likudniks are really in charge now.’ Bush himself was said to be ‘mesmerized’ by Sharon. As for the degree of influence, steadily rising from administration to administration, which the Israeli protégé had now attained over its American patron, this – wrote scholar Anatole Lieven – was no longer ‘a case of the tail wagging the dog,’ but of ‘the tail wagging the unfortunate dog around the room and banging its head against the ceiling.’
What the Americans and the Israelis imagined was a transformation – strategic, political, economic, religious, cultural – of the entire Middle East. In place of tyranny, extremism, social oppression, corruption economic stagnation – basic maladies which, in their view, had thrown up 9/11 and turned the region into a menace both to itself and the world – would come freedom and democracy, human rights, the rule of law, pluralism and market capitalism. Of key importance was the notion that since – or so they argued – democracies tend by nature to be more peace-loving and good-neighborly than despotism, democratization would contribute mightily to that abiding American quest in the region, an Arab-Israeli peace settlement.” [pp. 279-281]