By Hirst, David
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs , Vol. 22, No. 10
Few disputed at the time that Israel was a factor that pushed Bush to go to war on Iraq. Just how much weight it had among all the others was the only controversial question. But what is clear is that Israel has become a very important one indeed in the stumbling neo-imperial venture that is Iraq today.
This "Israelization" of U.S. policy crossed a new threshold with the two blows dealt Syria in recent days-President Bush's endorsement of Israel's air raid on its territory and the Syrian Accountability Act passed by the House of Representatives on Wednesday. A community of U.S.-Israeli purpose pushed to unprecedented lengths is now operational as well as ideological. For the U.S., the primary battlefield is Iraq, and any state which sponsors or encourages resistance to its occupation; for Israel it is occupied Palestine, its "terrorists" and their external backers. These common objectives converge on Syria.
Of course, with his raid, Sharon had his own specifically Israeli agenda, growing out of frustration at his failure to crush the intifada. Breaking the "rules" that have "contained" Israeli-Syrian armed conflict these past 30 years, he signaled his readiness to visit on Israel's Arab neighbors the same punitive techniques he uses on the Palestinians. But whereas such an escalation might have had some deterrent logic when these neighbors truly did sponsor or harbor Palestinian resistance, it doesn't now. An essential feature of the intifada is that, spontaneous and popular, it derives almost all its impetus from within; nothing illustrated that like Hanadi Jaradat, the young woman from Jenin whose very personal grief and vengeance prompted the atrocious, self-sacrificial deed which prompted the raid in its turn. So, other than brief emotional gratification to the Israeli public, it achieved nothing. But that will not deter Sharon. Having embarked on this course, he has little choice but to continue it; more importantly, violence has always been the indispensable means by which, in the guise of fighting terror, he pursues his real, long-term aims, the building of "Greater Israel" and crushing any opposition, Arab as well as Palestinian, to it.
But he is also, he believes, serving an American agenda. At least no one in Washington says he is not. There was a time, even under this most pro-Israeli administration ever, when the superpower would have strenuously distanced itself from such an act by its protege; a time when, mindful of the intrinsic connection between the two great Middle East zones of crisis, it would have recognized that too close an identification with the aims and actions of Israel in Palestine and its environs would complicate its task in Iraq. No more, apparently. Now these aims and actions either matter little to America, or even, in Syria's case, complement its own.
True, constraints persist even now. Bush still balks at Israel's projected "removal" of Yasser Arafat. On the other hand, he has effectively "disengaged" once more from peacemaking, endorsed the Israeli view that Arafat alone is responsible for its breakdown and left Sharon a freer hand than ever to conduct the Israeli share of their common "war on terror."
It was partly because he couldn't go after Arafat that Sharon turned on Syria instead. Again, Bush urged caution-but then called it legitimate "self-defense" of a kind America itself would have resorted to. It was Palestinian "terrorists" Israel struck, but, in American eyes, these are of a piece with those other "terrorists"-Arabs or Muslims-whose passage into Iraq Syria supposedly permits or does little to impede.
Bush's endorsement of the raid-together with his signaled readiness to sign into law the Syrian Accountability Act against which he has long held out-means that, where Syria is concerned, he has now veered strongly in favor of the neoconservative wing of his administration. Its members are so closely linked, personally, ideologically and even institutionally, to the Israeli right wing that it is impossible to disentangle what is American in their thinking from what is Sharon and the Likud's-and nowhere, Western diplomats in Damascus say, is this more obvious than it is with regard to Syria. …