First published by the Middle East Monitor on 27/8/2019
Israeli forces attack Palestinian worshippers in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque on 11 August 2019 [Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Anadolu Agency]
Israel’s greatest weapon against peace is its endlessly fluid security needs. It really is a case of “how long is its security piece of string”? The piece of string keeps being elongated and its demands are always at the edge of that. With its ever expanding security reach, the piece of string is 40,000 kilometres long, the circumference of the earth as I argue below.
Its western allies support it without question in attaining its “security needs”. Every war on Gaza, no matter the innocent casualties, every demolition, every attack on a neighbouring state is excused because Israel’s allies believe it only acts in self-defence.
In the last week, Israel attacked Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, on the pretext that Iran was planning attacks on it, particularly from Syria. These are acts of aggression against fellow member states of the United Nations. Had any of the Arab states attacked Israel the UN Security Council would have met urgently to demand an end to the aggression and a lowering of tensions. However, there has been no such move to bring Israel to account when it is clearly acting in a way that threatens regional security.
The fact remains that none of the three neighbouring states it recently attacked have paused a real threat to Israel’s security in recent years. However, Israel claims that Iran is using these three states as bases from which it threatens its security. Further Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has claimed for years that Iran was within reach of developing a viable nuclear bomb. Who can forget his various props at the UN General Assembly at which he visualised his false claims?
Netanyahu has been pushing America to take action against Iran, which the previous administration withstood because President Barack Obama realised the dangers of another quagmire war in the Middle East. Instead he pursued a peaceful path, which resulted in the Iran nuclear deal, known as Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). This was a hard won deal, which restricted Iran’s nuclear ambitions to peaceful ends and resulted in return in the lifting of sanctions against Iran.
Israel’s prime minister was not satisfied with it, as it did not meet Israel’s security needs. Obama largely ignored him. However, in President Donald Trump he found an ally who was critical of the agreement during the presidential elections. He was critical of the deal and the sanctions relief on Iran. He moved to reintroduce sanctions but went further in imposing further sanctions before pulling the US out of the deal in 2018. He called it “decaying and rotten”, and “an embarrassment” to him “as a citizen”.
US President Donald Trump (R) shakes hands with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they meet in the Oval Office of the White House 5 March, 2018 in Washington, DC [Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images]
In response, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said: “The US has announced that it doesn’t respect its commitments.” He ordered the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran to “be ready for action if needed, so that if necessary we can resume our enrichment on an industrial level without any limitations”. Frustrated that the other signatories to the JCPOA had not fulfilled their commitments under the agreement, Iran moved to increase uranium enrichment beyond the limit set under the deal. This move succeeded in French President Macron moving to meet with Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in an attempt to dissuade Iran from moving beyond the designated limits but also to de-escalate tensions in the Strait of Hormuz, which saw the detention of two British oil tankers by Iran after one of its vessels was captured by British naval forces off the coast of Gibraltar.
The announcement that Israel could take part in patrolling the sensitive oil corridor, brought anger from the Iranians. If one adds the reaction to Israel’s now open aggression on Lebanon, Syria and Iraq to this, then one questions how Israel’s actions will result in increased security?
Israel’s continued siege and repeated wars against the Palestinians in Gaza and the killing of over 250 people, mostly civilians, at the Gaza fence have not brought security, particularly to the residents of bordering settlements. Rockets are launched from Gaza in retaliation for Israeli aggression sending settlers to their bunkers. Again, how has Israel’s policy resulted in greater security for its citizens?
Israel’s oppressive policies in the West Bank whether the building of the illegal Separation Wall, tens of checkpoints, house demolitions coupled with repeated break-ins by settlers into Al-Aqsa Mosque have not brought greater security. How can the sight of Israeli soldiers celebrating the demolition of an apartment block in Wadi Al-Hummus, supposedly to enhance security of the wall, bring anything but anger and hate, in a generation that can only see Israel as an aggressive and inhumane occupier? How have these policies brought Israel any security?
Israel also fears ideas and thoughts could impact on its security. It sees the peaceful Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) as an existential threat. Yes, it generally dismisses its economic impact. However, it setup a ministry to fight it and in 2017 amended its immigration law to ban those that support it and promote it from entering the country.
It has also pressured its allies to accept its categorisation of BDS as anti-Semitic and to criminalise it. Up to 27 States in America, under pressure from the pro-Israel lobby, moved to introduce laws against those that support BDS. In one now famous case, an American teacher was asked to confirm she would not support a boycott of Israel before her contract would be renewed. What kind of a threat to Israel’s security does a teacher who may be in favour of a boycott of a foreign state pause?
Those thinking about supporting BDS have not only been denied entry at Tel Aviv airport, some have been denied boarding of flights from their home country. Now, we can see how far Israel’s borders extend when it comes to its security. In essence, Israel’s borders extend to every airport that an “undesirable” person could board a flight. This was recently extended to US lawmakers Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib who were effectively denied boarding a flight to Israel as they were banned by the Netanyahu government.
Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib delivers a speech at the event that was held by Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Washington DC, US on 10 January 2019 [Safvan Allahverdi/Anadolu Agency]
Those landing or embarking at Tel Aviv airport would have been subjected to aggressive “security” checks. However, when Omar Shakir of Human Rights Watch tried to board alight out of Tel Aviv, Israel’s security fears were raised to worrying level not because he was carrying any weapons but a book. As he told the world in a tweet “Agent took out my book (Virginia Tilly’s ‘Beyond Occupation: Apartheid, Colonialism & Intl Law in OPT’) & called security chief, who questioned me about my travel plans & work/life here. I caught glimpse of agent looking at book & shaking her head in apparent disapproval”. Shaker is in danger of being expelled from Israel, which he puts down to his human rights work.
If you are keeping a tab, Israel’s security concerns include neighbouring states, Gaza, Palestinian structures near the illegal wall and BDS. However, Israeli lawmakers recently claimed to senior members of Congress that a Palestinian state is a greater threat to Israel than even BDS. Israel’s “security piece of string” continues to stretch.
If a Palestinian state is the greatest threat facing Israel, then what will be the greatest threat facing Israel if Congress drops its support for this outcome?
The answer in my view is the Palestinian people themselves.
Israel succeeded in convincing the American administration to cut funding to the refugee agency UNRWA and to work to drop the refugee designation from the refugees to ensure they could never return. In addition, it recently acknowledged that it was actively promoting the emigration of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, and that it was working to find other countries that may be willing to absorb them.
It is therefore working to remove its ultimate security threat, the Palestinian people not only by barring refugees from returning but by ethnically cleansing those who remain in their homeland to other countries, a job it started in 1948 when 750,000 indigenous Palestinians were expelled but one it craves to complete, to this day.
The Americans will not bat an eyelid if Israel succeeds in convincing countries to take Palestinians from Gaza but then why stop there. Why not empty historic Palestine of its indigenous Palestinians? After all, that would deliver a true “Jewish and democratic state”.
If Israel wants to end its security concerns once and for all, it must come to its senses and seek genuine peace, based on international law and UN Security Council resolutions. Ironically, it could use the supportive American administration to help it achieve this rather than taking what it considers to be further wins Trump gifts it, including recognising further annexation. That would extend the “peace piece of string” which will in turn shorten the “security piece of string”.