New documents show that the same month that Jeremy Greenstock stopped working for the UK government as Special Representative for Iraq, he returned to the country in a different role - as a lobbyist for the oil industry.
The following press release comes from the media team for the new book Fuel on the Fire: Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq. We will shortly be featuring an interview with the author, Greg Muttitt.
Blair envoy lobbied Iraq Prime Minister for BP 3 months after leaving post
New documents show holes in revolving door regulation
New documents released today show that Tony Blair’s Iraq envoy, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, lobbied the Iraqi prime minister on behalf of BP just three months after leaving Iraq. On joining BP as special adviser in June 2004, Greenstock was ordered by the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments not visit Iraq on business, nor have dealings with companies there, for six months . Just three months later however, he met Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi on BP business in London . The meeting was also attended by then BP chief executive Lord Browne.
Greenstock, who as UK Ambassador to the United Nations had made the case for war in 2002, served as UK Special Representative to Iraq from September 2003 to June 2004.
At the September 2004 meeting, the BP team including Greenstock are believed to have pushed for a contract to study the Rumaila field near Basra, Iraq’s largest oilfield. Documents released today also reveal that in August 2004 UK Ambassador Edward Chaplin lobbied the Iraqi Oil Minister to award the deal to BP . In January 2005, BP won the contract. The company’s subsequent studies of the field are believed to be what gave it the advantage to win a 20-year deal to manage it, at an auction in June 2009. Under the contract, BP and its partner CNPC are set to receive returns of up to $660 million per year after tax .
The documents were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Greg Muttitt, author of the book Fuel on the Fire – Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq, which was published last month. Muttitt said:
“In June 2004, Jeremy Greenstock dealt with Iraqi politicians as Tony Blair’s envoy, while nearly 9,000 British troops occupied the country. Three months later, he met Allawi on behalf of BP. His lobbying weight so soon after leaving will have been immense, and demonstrates again how BP operates at the very heart of government. No wonder BP is doing so well out of Iraq.”
The revelations will give further weight to calls by campaigners Transparency International in a report on Tuesday for replacing the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments with a tougher system.
“The ruling that Greenstock could not do business within Iraq shows up how limp the regulatory system is. All business at the time was being done outside Iraq, for security reasons. And the Committee must have known that BP’s most important business dealings are with governments, not other companies. The Committee allowed Greenstock to comply with the letter of its ruling, while abusing his previous position in exactly the way the Committee was supposed to prevent.”
Greenstock twice gave evidence to the Iraq Inquiry chaired by Sir John Chilcot, but was not quizzed on his BP role.
For more information
Please call Greg Muttitt on 07970 589 611
Notes for editors
1: “Normal three months wait period and the condition that, for six months from his last day in post, he should not revisit Iraq for business purposes or have dealings with companies there June 2004”. http://acoba.independent.gov.uk/media/10713/acobaseventhreport2004_05.pdf p.26 (p.28 of pdf)
2: UK government email exchanges, 29 September 2004, obtained under FOIA and released today at http://www.fuelonthefire.com/uploads/files/0409_greenstock_lobbies-allawi.pdf
3: Email exchanges between UK Ambassador Edward Chaplin and Tony Renton of BP, August/September 2004, obtained under FOIA and released today at http://www.fuelonthefire.com/uploads/files/0409_chaplin_renton_emails-Iraq.pdf
4: $2 per barrel, less 25% to state partner and 35% corporate income tax, leaving $0.975 per barrel. At peak, incremental production is targeted at 1.85 million barrels per day, hence $658m per year. See Fuel on the Fire, p.327
I have an exam coming up on the June 1967 ‘Six Day War’ between Israel and its neighbouring Arab states. As part of my revision I’ve consolidated my notes into one essay. I thought it worth publishing here, first, in the hope of receiving interesting and/or useful feedback, and second, because the six day war was a transformative event in twentieth century Middle Eastern history. It was critical moment in the destruction of secular Arab nationalism as a major political force and the cementing of Israel’s status as a US client state, with all the consequences that entailed. Moreover during the course of the war, Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, the Sinai and the Golan Heights. With the exception of the Sinai, it continues to occupy these territories today, a fact that, along with the continuing colonisation of those territories, is at the core of the on-going conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. It is, therefore, worth taking a bit of time to understand.
Historically, the ’67 war offers an interesting case study through which to examine arguments about the importance of individuals vs. structural forces in determining state action; the extent to which officials follow the theoretical “rational actor model” when formulating policy; the role of misunderstanding and miscommunication in international affairs; the influence of domestic politics on foreign policy; and so on. It also offers an opportunity to study the interaction between local political forces and broader Cold War dynamics in a period of political crisis. I’ll touch on some, though for reasons of space fairly cursorily, of these issues below.
Politically, the topic is interesting for the reasons listed above, and also because of the striking gap that exists between mainstream scholarly and popular understandings of what happened.
In 1965-6 a series of developments combined to undermine what had until that point been a decade of relative stability in the region. In 1966 Israel’s economy, which had been experiencing remarkable growth, contracted into recession (2% growth in 1966, 0% in 1967), and unemployment soared to 12%. (Maoz:85) The Egyptian economy was also stagnant – the US withdrawal of wheat shipments in 1965 hit Egypt hard, and the Egyptian army was bogged down in an unwinnable quagmire in Yemen, which both drained the economy and pitted Nasser against the conservative Gulf monarchies. The UAR alliance with Syria had flopped, and Nasser’s regional stock was in perpetual decline. Meanwhile in Syria, a 1966 coup had brought a Ba’athist regime to power. The new regime faced severe internal opposition from Islamists and Sunnis opposed to the ruling Alawite elite.
In 1966 the long running low-intensity border conflict between Israel and Syria escalated. The process by which this happened is key to understanding the origins of the 1967 war. In Israel, the defection of the “Ben Gurion crowd” (Maoz 2009) – David Ben-Gurion, Shimon Peres, and Moshe Dayan – to a new party (RAFI) presented Prime Minister and Defense Minister Levi Eshkol with a heavily security-orientated political challenge. His response to was to defer almost completely on military matters to IDF Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin (“[Eshkol] followed him [Rabin] with closed eyes”, recalls Eshkol’s military secretary Israel Lior) and to dramatically increase the military budget, by around 30% per annum. (Maoz 2009:101) As a result, the IDF was effectively in charge of policy vis-a-vis Syria. In 1965, in the context of a long-running dispute with Israel about the appropriation of shared water resources, Syria began a project (the Hatzbani diversionary project) to divert some of the waters of the Jordan before they reached Israeli territory. Israel wanted to destroy this project, but, in the face of US insistence that it be resolved diplomatically rather than militarily, it couldn’t resort to large-scale military conflict to do so. The IDF’s solution was to deliberately provoke military incidents in the demilitarized zones (DMZ’s) along the border with Syria. It would send a tractor to a disputed area to provoke Syrian fire, and then use that fire as a pretext to attack Syrian instalments and destroy its diversionary project. This strategy worked – Israel forced Syria to abandon its diversionary project without having to resort to full-scale war. (Maoz 2009:101-2)
However, in 1966, after the diversionary project had been abandoned, the IDF decided to escalate the conflict still further. Commander of the IDF northern command Elazar, “on Rabin’s orders and with Eshkol’s consent, had consistently provoked the Syrians”. (van Creveld 1998: 197) Some accounts – for instance, that of then-Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban, or current Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren’s history, which has been aptly characterised as “Eban with footnotes” (Finkelstein 2003; for excellent critiques of Oren’s account, cf. Finkelstein 2003 and Popp 2006) – attribute this to a desire to deter Syria from sponsoring Palestinian guerrilla attacks against Israel (which the new regime had begun to do from 1966) and from shelling Israeli border settlements. Certainly this was one motive for the “controlled escalation”, but it ignores crucial context. The fundamental dynamic was not Syrian belligerency and Israeli reprisals, as Oren suggests, but precisely the reverse.
The situation in the DMZ’s deteriorated, recalled the chief of staff of UN forces Odd Bull, “as the Israelis gradually took control over that part of the demilitarized zones which lay inside the former national boundaries of Palestine”, in violation of the armistice agreement. Israel evicted Arab residents of the DMZs and demolished their homes “as the status quo was all the time being altered by Israel in her favour”. Bull’s predecessor as chief of staff of UN forces similarly described how “property changed hands, invariably in one direction”, to the point where Israel was “claiming the right to exploit all the land”. Israel’s “premeditated” policy, he concluded, was “to get all the Arabs out of the way by fair means or foul”, and indeed, as Bull notes, “all the Arab villages disappeared” in wide swathes of the DMZs. (cited in Finkelstein 2003:131) A July 1964 US consular cable from Jerusalem similarly stated that the Syrians were concerned with “preservation situation” [sic] while Israel “consistently sought [to] gain full control”. Syrian shelling was aimed at deterring these territorial encroachments – as one study reports; “Israeli tractors would move into disputed areas, often with the support of armed Israeli police”, at which point the Syrians “would fire from their high ground positions”. This in turn provoked Israeli air strikes and raids against Syrian targets. UN observers, the study concludes, generally credited Syria for “restraint over long period[s]” in the face of Israeli land grabs. Bowen and Drake (1992) similarly report:
“UN observers in the field and UN votes in New York are unanimous in holding that principal responsibility for the Syrian-Israeli border hostilities belongs to Israel.” (cited in Finkelstein 2003:132)
In any event, as Norman Finkelstein (2003) points out, “there was not one civilian casualty on Israel’s northern border due to Syrian shelling” in the six months leading up to the war.
Apart from shelling Israeli settlements, Syria’s new regime also, as noted above, sponsored Palestinian guerrilla attacks against Israel from 1966.This was partly motivated by the new regime’s desire to divert attention from domestic political conflicts. But the Palestinian raids, as former head of Israel’s military intelligence Yehoshaphat Harkabi recalled, were “not impressive by any standard”. In the two and a half years leading up to the ’67 war, they killed a total of 14 Israelis, four of whom were civilians. (Finkelstein 2003:133) Israel’s panicked invocations of a serious and even existential threat on the northern border were fantasy, as Israeli officials themselves subsequently acknowledged. Moreover, contrary to Oren’s depiction of Syrian belligerency and Israeli reprisals, in reality, as described above, Israel was constantly altering the status quo in the DMZ’s in its favour. As Moshe Dayan, Israel’s defense minister during the ’67 war, explained in subsequent interview:
“I know how at least 80 percent of all of those incidents there [i.e. along the Israel-Syria border] got started. In my opinion, more than 80 percent, but let us talk about 80. It worked like this: we would send a tractor to plow some place in the demilitarized zone, where nothing could be grown, and we knew ahead of time that the Syrians would shoot. If they didn’t shoot, we would tell the tractor to move deeper... until the Syrians got mad eventually and fired on it. And then we would activate artillery, and later on the air force...
We thought ... that we can change the armistice lines by a series of military operations that are less than war, that is, to snatch some territory and hold on to it until the enemy would give up on it.” (cited in Maoz 2009:103)
General Aharon Yariv, the IDF’s intelligence chief, similarly acknowledged a few weeks prior to the war that Syria “uses this weapon of guerrilla activity” because “we are bent upon establishing ... certain facts along the border”. (Finkelstein 2003:133)
In a thorough review of mainstream scholarship on the war, Ze’ev Maoz, former head of Israel’s respected Jaffee Centre for Strategic Studies and former academic director of the M.A. program at the IDF National Defense College, argues that “Israeli misconduct during border conflict with Syria was to a large extent responsible for the process of escalation that evolved” into the six day war. (Maoz 2009:82-3) Prominent historian Avi Shlaim similarly concludes that “Israel’s strategy of escalation on the Syrian front was probably the single most important factor in dragging the Middle East to war in June 1967”. (Shlaim 2000:235) We have seen that this “misconduct” involved Israeli territorial expansion in the DMZ’s and the deliberate military provocation of Syria. But how did this dynamic feed into a broader military conflagration?
Put simply, the “unprecedented deterioration of the situation on the Israeli-Syrian border” drew Nasser into the conflict. (Pappe 2006:184) On 13 November 1966 Israel, responding to a Palestinian guerrilla attack, launched a major military raid on the Jordanian-controlled West Bank village of Samu. In the largest operation since the 1956 Suez campaign, up to 4,000 IDF soldiers destroyed 125 houses and killed 18 Jordanian soldiers. IDF Chief of Staff Rabin faced heavy domestic criticism for this given that, unlike the Syrian regime, and as recognised by UN observers at the time, the Jordanian monarchy gave no support to Palestinian guerrillas and directed its full resources to prevent them from entering Israel (Jordan killed more Palestinian militants in this period than Israel – as discussed in Shlaim 1988, Jordan’s rulers had long shared an interest with Israel in constraining Palestinian nationalism). Then, on 7 April 1967, the IDF deliberately escalated the border conflict with Syria, shooting down six MiGs, including one over Damascus. On both these occasions, the Jordanian and Syrian regimes pumped out propaganda condemning Nasser, who supposedly had pretensions to lead the Arab world, for doing nothing in the face of Israeli aggression, and for “hiding behind” the UN peacekeeping force (UNEF), positioned on the Egyptian side of the Israel-Egypt border, as an excuse for inaction. Following the downing of the Syrian planes, Israeli generals and politicians (e.g. Rabin and Eshkol) made a series of statements threatening more severe military action against Syria, up to and including regime change. The Syrian regime took these threats seriously, and appealed to Nasser to help. The Soviet Union, meanwhile, informed Nasser the Israel was massing troops on the Syrian border. These reports were exaggerated. However – and this is a crucial point – Soviet and Syrian fears were not without foundation. In May 1967 the Israeli cabinet gave conditional support for an attack on Syria, and, according to Maoz, Israel “probably redeployed secretly some tank units” and troops along the border.
The Soviets used their influence with Nasser to counsel restraint – notably, the USSR was not consulted before Nasser asked the UNEF to withdraw. (Carl Brown 1991:123) However, after having failed to act after Samu and after the downing of the Syrian MiG’s, Nasser couldn’t just do nothing in the face of warnings of another Israeli attack on Syria. Egypt’s credibility as an ally and as a regional power was at stake. As US diplomat Charles Yost explained:
“Nasser, for his part, saddled with responsibility for the unified Arab Command, which was supposed to protect all the Arab states from Israel, jealous of his already damaged position as would-be leader of the Arab world, having been ridiculed by his allies and rivals for his failure to stir at the time of the El Samu and April 7 affairs, categorically assured by the Syrians and Soviets that Israel was about to attack Syria, for which public statements by Israeli leaders seemed to give warrant, may well have felt that he could no longer stand aside without fatal loss to this prestige and authority.” (cited in Carl Brown 1991:126; my emph.)
Moshe Dayan himself conceded that the “nature and scale of our reprisal actions against Syria and Jordan had left Nasser with no choice but to defend his image and prestige in his own country and throughout the Arab world”. (cited in Finkelstein 2003:127) Nasser decided to send troops into the Sinai, in a move interpreted by Israel, correctly, as an effort to deter it from attacking Syria. (Maoz 2009:89) Before proceeding further, we should clarify two points about which a scholarly consensus exists but has yet to be communicated successfully to the public. First, Nasser had neither the intention nor the capacity to successfully attack Israel; and second, Israeli officials were well aware of this. Thus: “Egypt was not ready for a war; and Nasser did not want a war” (Mossad chief Meir Amit); I “did not believe that Nasser wanted war” (IDF chief of staff Rabin); “The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai... do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.” (1967 National Unity government minister Menachem Begin); Egyptian forces in the Sinai were in a state of “total chaos” (IDF intelligence chief Yariv, at the end of May); the Egyptian army was “perhaps in a defensive orientation only” (IDF chief of staff Rabin, in the crucial 2 June cabinet meeting); etc. US intelligence at the time was clear that Nasser’s formations in the Sinai were “defensive in character” and were “merely gestures” Nasser felt compelled to make “in the interests of the fiction of Arab unity” (CIA Appraisal). President Johnson told Israeli representatives at the end of May that “no military attack on Israel is imminent” and that if Nasser attacked, even in concert with the other Arab states, “you will whip the hell out of them”. Mossad chief Meir Amit declared that Israeli intelligence was in full agreement with US intelligence on these issues. As he assured Eshkol: “If [Nasser] strikes first, he’s finished”. In public Israeli leaders fretted about a looming “second Holocaust”, but the documentary record reveals this posture to be, in the words of Israeli general Mattityahu Peled, “a bluff”. (quotes from Finkelstein: 2003)
Whereas the IDF military budget had increased year on year, Egypt’s military budget in 1967 faced “sharp cuts”. (Carl Brown 1991: 121)
Nasser’s determination to restore his image in the Arab world led him to demand the removal of the UNEF forces. However, he only demanded their partial withdrawal. UN Secretary General U Thant then unexpectedly presented Nasser with a semi-public ‘all-or-nothing’ ultimatum: either all the UNEF forces would be removed, or none of them would. To back down at this point would have been a humiliation, and so, concerned with “saving face”, Nasser ordered the whole UN force out. (Rabin 1979:54; Carl Brown 1991:122) With the UNEF forces gone, however, the logic of the situation compelled Nasser to close down the Strait of Tiran to Israeli shipping. The UNEF had been his excuse for failing to do so until this point; now with the UNEF gone, and with his forces back in control of the Sinai, he had no credible reason not to do it. However, Nasser barely enforced the blockade and was receptive to UN and US efforts to resolve the crisis diplomacy – he offered to submit the issue to World Court arbitration, and the UNEF offered to re-deploy itself on the Israeli side of the border. Nasser accepted a two-week moratorium on provocations in the Straits negotiated by U Thant, and also accepted the establishment of a special UN envoy to deal with the dispute. Israel summarily rejected all of these initiatives. In any case only five percent of Israel’s trade came through the Straits, and oil from Iran, the only strategic commodity affected, could have been easily re-routed via ports at Haifa and Ashdod. The blockade barred all Israeli-flagged vessels – according to the UN Secretariat, “not a single Israeli-flagged vessel had used the port of Eilat in the previous two and a half years.” (Finkelstein 2003:139)
Restoring Their Fear of Us
For both Nasser and Israel, what was at stake were not the concrete issues under dispute – the closure of the Straits, the troops in the Sinai, etc. – as such, but a much broader political battle. For both Israel and the US, Nasser represented the threat of modernising Arab nationalism. Following the 1956 invasion, Ben Gurion argued that a crucial redeeming feature of the war was that “it diminished the stature of the Egyptian dictator [i.e. Nasser], and I do not want you or the entire people to underestimate the importance of this fact.” “I always fear”, he continued,
“that a personality might arise such as arose among the Arab rulers in the seventh century or like [Kemal Ataturk] who arose in Turkey after its defeat in the First World War. He raised their spirits, changed their character, and turned them into a fighting nation. There was and still is a danger that Nasser is this man.” (cited in Finkelstein 2003:142)
Israel’s aim in 1956, according to US officials, was to “destroy Nasser’s prestige”. Similarly, according to a CIA analysis on the eve of the ’67 war, Israel’s aims were, first, the “destruction of the center of power of the radical Arab Socialist movement, i.e. the Nasser regime”; second, the “destruction of the arms of the radical Arabs”; and third, “destruction of both Syria and Jordan as modern states”. As Abba Eban, Israel’s foreign minister during the war, puts it: “For us, the importance of denying Nasser political and psychological victory had become no less important than the concrete interest involved in the issue of navigation.” (quotes cited in Finkelstein 2003:143)
Israel had conspired with Britain and France in 1956 to try and cut Nasser down to size, but it had failed when the US forced it to withdraw. Israel’s one gain from that war was the opening of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping. Now Nasser was threatening that gain, and consciously so. As Muhammad H. Haykal, widely viewed at the time as an unofficial spokesman for Nasser’s thinking, wrote in an al-Ahram editorial on May 26:
“The closure of the Gulf of Aqaba... means first and last that the Arab nation represented by the UAR has succeeded for the first time, vis a vis Israel, in changing by force a fait accompli imposed on it by force... To Israel this is the most dangerous aspect of the current situation: who can impose the accomplished fact and who possesses the power to safeguard it.” (cited in Carl Brown 1991:131)
This, he continued, is “the whole philosophy of Israel security”. Prominent historian Avi Shlaim similarly reports that Israel’s “entire defense philosophy was based on imposing its will on its enemies”. (Shlaim 2000:23) In closing the straits Nasser had directly challenged that. Thus, as Shlaim explains, the “Israeli economy could survive the closure of the straits, but the deterrent image of the IDF could not.” (Shlaim 2000:237)
More broadly, Israel’s strategy vis-a-vis the Arab world had long been profoundly shaped by Revisionist Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s “iron wall” doctrine, elaborated in the context of the Yishuv’s struggle to establish a state in mandatory Palestine. Jabotinsky argued that the Arabs were fundamentally opposed to the Zionists’ political project, and would therefore “resist alien settlers as long as they see any hope of ridding themselves of the danger of foreign settlement”. Negotiations and peace agreements with the Arabs would therefore be impossible unless and until they have “given up all hope” of defeating the Zionist project. (cited in Shlaim 2000: 13-4) In other words, the Arab must be crushed military before peace is possible. This doctrine was extremely influential, not only among the Zionist Right but among Ben-Gurion and the Labor party. Thus, Ben Gurion wrote that an “agreement” with the Arabs is “out of the question” for now, because “only after total despair on the part of the Arabs” will they ever acquiesce. (Shlaim 2000:18-9)
This same “defense philosophy” guided Israel’s actions in the run-up to the ’67 war. Israel’s main objective in starting the six day war was to preserve the “credibility” of its “deterrence”. Division Commander Ariel Sharon elaborated the IDF’s understanding of ‘deterrence’ when he admonished those hesitant to attack Egypt that Israel was losing its “principal weapon – fear of us”. (Bowen 2003:65) In other words, Israel did not want to resolve the crisis diplomatically – when rumours began circulating on May 31 that Washington was looking to resolve the crisis diplomatically, Israeli leaders reacted with “alarm”. (Quandt 2005:38) As Maoz (2009) explains, “To respond diplomatically to this crisis... would kill Israel’s deterrence, even if diplomacy succeeded in defusing the crisis and returning the status quo”. Thus, Israeli generals had no time for US proposals for a multilateral naval force to break the blockade: “the IDF had to do it on its own”, because “this was the only way to restore the deterrent power of the IDF”. (Shlaim 2000:240)
Indeed, contrary to reports that Israel’s military was straining to continue at full mobilisation, Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld reports that on the eve of the war the IDF was “at the peak of its preparedness” and “spoiling for a fight and willing to go to considerable lengths to provoke it”. (van Creveld 1998:172) Rabin wanted to deliver a “resounding blow” against Nasser, the Arab world’s major military power, and thereby impress Israel’s military superiority on the region.
An American ‘yellow light’
What Israel wanted to avoid was a replay of the 1956 campaign, when the US intervened to enforce a ceasefire and hand Nasser a political victory. Thus, Eshkol held off ordering an attack on May 28 to wait for US approval.
The US viewed Israel as a “strategic asset” in the Middle East, perhaps the most strategically important region on the planet. A 1958 National Security Council memorandum argued that support a “logical corollary” of opposition to radical Arab nationalism “would be to support Israel as the only strong pro-West power left in the Near East.” (cited in Chomsky 1999:21) However this was balanced by the need to keep the oil-rich Gulf states on side – as Walt Rostow wrote to President Johnson, “State and Defense worry about our substantial interests in the Arab world. I know you are keenly aware of our oil interests … and of our obligations to our Arab friends”. (Walt Rostow to President Johnson, 8 May 1967: in FRUS, vol 18, doc 416) President Kennedy strengthened US support for Israel, and President Johnson strengthened it still further, increasing military assistance to the Jewish state as US-Egyptian relations deteriorated from 1964, partly because of Egypt’s involvement in the conflict in Yemen.
The initial US response to the crisis between Egypt and Israel, based on unanimous US intelligence that Israel would “easily win a war against Egypt alone or against all the surrounding Arab countries”, was to caution Israel to restrain itself. “Israel will not be alone unless it decides to go alone”, was the frequent refrain. (Quandt 2005) The US sought other ways to resolve the crisis, like breaking the blockade multilaterally. Wary of being drawn into a superpower confrontation, preoccupied in Vietnam, and aware that Israel was on no danger, Johnson decided that any response it took had to be multilateral and subject to the support of Congress. (Quandt 2005:35) Secretary of Defense McNamara and Secretary of State Dean Rusk cautioned against US involvement; others, such as close Johnson confidante New York Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas, argued that Israel should be allow to take action on its own (the ‘yellow light’ doctrine). When US alternatives collapsed – the multilateral naval force proposal was going nowhere – the appeal of the ‘yellow light’ doctrine increased, and Johnson became “resigned to letting the Israelis take whatever action they felt was necessary”. (Quandt 2005:36)
So, while the US was initially against an Israeli attack, it subsequently shifted position until, on June 2, it gave Israel a green – or, at any rate, a yellow – light to proceed. (Quandt 2005) On the eve of the war Mossad head Brigadier General (ret.) Amit returned from talks with McNamara with the impression that the US wouldn’t mind if “Nasser’s bones were broken”. (van Creveld 1998:183) According to Amit: “McNamara ... preferred that Israel to do it by itself because America was tied down in Vietnam and because the CIA estimated that Israel could defeat the Egyptian army without any outside help. In effect, he gave Israel a green light to take military actions against Egypt.” (cited in Shlaim 2000:240-1) That evening, the cabinet voted to go to war.
For his part, Nasser may well have believed, based on false reports by defence minister ‘Amer and other military advisors, that the Egyptian army was strong enough to withstand an initial Israel attack until the superpowers intervened to enforce a ceasefire – “a re-run, as it were, of the Suez Crisis”. (Carl Brown 1991:132) Nasser wanted a political victory – the remilitarization of the Sinai – and his brinkmanship was directed to this end, probably on the assumption that the superpowers would intervene, as in 1956, to enforce a ceasefire should Israel attack. (Carl Brown 1991:130) However, “[up] to the outbreak of war... Nasser was interested in finding a ladder to climb down from the tall tree he found himself on.” (Maoz 2009:87) As Eban quipped, Nasser “did not want war; he wanted victory without war”. The CIA similarly concluded on 26 May that it was “highly unlikely” that Nasser would seek a military showdown with Israel – rather, he would likely seek “to hold to his present winnings as long as he can”. And indeed, this he had already largely achieved – hence the Soviet warning to Nasser’s defense minister Shams Badran on May 25-26: “you have gained your point. You have won a political victory. So it is time now to compromise”. (Carl Brown 1991:123) Thus in early June Nasser agreed to send his Vice President to Washington for negotiations. Two days before he was due to arrive, presumably fearing that the US mediation effort would succeed, Israel attacked. Secretary of State Rusk recalled being “shocked... and angry as hell” – there was “a real possibility” that the negotiations would have persuaded Nasser to re-open the Straits. (Finkelstein 2003:129)
An ‘Unwanted’ War?
Maoz reports that “most scholarly accounts of the crisis” conclude that the war was the product of “a process of unwanted escalation” which “everybody wanted to prevent”. Certainly there were many contingencies in the run-up to the war. As Maoz argues, opposition between Eshkol-Allon-Gallili and Ben Gurion-Dayan-Peres enabled and encouraged greater IDF adventurism vis-a-vis Syria, which in turn fed into inter-Arab rivalries and the domestic weaknesses of Arab regimes that drove Nasser to escalate. The IDF was the “chief pressure group” within Israel that pushed for the war, and then pushed for it to be expanded into Syria. The war itself hardly transpired according to an exact plan. The decision to attack Syria was a personal initiative of Moshe Dayan’s, while Israeli officials disagreed about the wisdom of occupying the West Bank and Gaza. However, these contingencies shouldn’t blind us to the overall framework in which the war was conducted. As Rabin said at the after Nasser announced the blockade: “Let’s be honest with ourselves... First we will attack Egypt; then we will also attack Syria and Jordan.” The precise details of how this played out depended on contingencies, and different Israeli officials disagreed with each other about how precisely to go about it, but this was the overall framework in which the war was conducted..
The war was primarily a product of the fundamental political opposition between Israel and its Arab neighbours for regional dominance. Nasser’s pretensions to Arab leadership made it impossible for him to back down in the face of Israeli threats, even at the risk of provoking a conflict he neither wanted nor had any chance of winning. Israel meanwhile felt that it needed to establish its “deterrence” by inflicting a crushing blow on the Arab world’s major military force – expansionist territorial ambitions were a secondary motive. The superpowers could possibly have prevented a conflict – as the Soviet Union did, when Israel threatened to expand its attack on Syria beyond the Golan Heights (Quandt 2005:44) – but when the US gave Israel the green light, there was no reason for it not to attack. The contingencies in this process are important and shouldn’t be overlooked. Nonetheless, to borrow a useful distinction from Finkelstein, military escalation between Israel, Egypt and Syria didn’t ‘just happen’; rather, it was just waiting to happen.
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The joint statement heading May Day International - our collaboration with Crisisjam, Greek Left Review, ZNet and Irish Left Review - has been published on the Guardian’s Comment is Free website.
Here’s the statement in full:
Europe stands at a crossroads. Successive waves of fiscal austerity have been imposed by European and domestic elites on the people of Greece, Ireland and Portugal, with Spain, Britain and Italy following suit. These programmes, almost without precedent in their severity, were barely debated either against alternative policy options or accounts of the nature of the crisis, both of which were certainly available. Governments, bureaucrats and pundits of dubious expertise simply declare that “there is no alternative”, and instruct the public to take their medicine.
Neoliberalism – audaciously, given the historic humiliation suffered by its market fundamentalist dogma in the autumn of 2008 – is on the comeback trail, with a renewed and reinvigorated assault on the fundamental democratic principle of economic governance in pursuit of the common good. The public itself – with its “generous” pensions, social safety nets and other unaffordable luxuries – is now portrayed as a burden on the economy.
A choice must be made, we are now effectively told, between sharing our common wealth to support one another in living dignified lives as human beings, or maintaining a sound fiscal policy. It is one or the other, and that being the case, good sense dictates that the latter must win out.
Meanwhile, the economic and policy elites who caused the crisis appear to be suffering no material penalty. “Socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor” hardly begins to describe the absurdity, the irony, and the sheer, rank injustice of the situation in which we now find ourselves.
European governments and corporate media have adopted a range of rhetorical strategies to legitimise the wholesale destruction of the postwar social contract. First, the diagnosis and prescription is presented as an objective “truth”, determined by “scientific” economic principles. The chutzpah required to make this claim is impressive. The economic establishment and the ideology it promoted were deeply implicated in the crisis, and the dogma of market fundamentalism should not have emerged from the financial crash with a shred of credibility.
That it did (at least among those who matter), testifies to the capacity of the prevailing discourse to serve the interests of power, exclude the public from any active participation in decision-making, and turn politics into a market-place for the elites. By contrast, a debate that reflected the interests and concerns of the public would include more sensible discussion of the causes of debt, and assessment of alternatives such as debt default, imposing substantial losses on bondholders, referendums or public audits on debt legitimacy, or even exiting from the eurozone. Instead, these have been peremptorily dismissed as ignorant or naive by governments and establishment media.
This attempt to cow people before the mystical knowledge of “experts” has been accompanied by the politics of fear. Europeans are told that if catastrophic austerity measures are not adopted immediately, and implemented with martial discipline, salaries will not be paid, savings will be lost, the world will come to an end. This fear-mongering is combined with a guilt-trip – “we all partied” is a consistent refrain in Irish public discourse, aimed at reconciling a disoriented public with their patriotic duties to German and French banks.
Similarly, the Greek deputy prime minister tells the low-paid and unemployed that “we spent the money together”, forgetting that his “socialist” party and opposition rightwing parties have ruled the country for over 35 years using deficit and debt to consolidate their position. The reality is that it is not “we” who spent the money, it is not we who “partied” in the boom years – yet we are the ones who are being made to suffer now, and to degrees inversely proportional to our capacity to bear the pain.
The patronising stance of governing elites cannot disguise that the struggle against neoliberal austerity is also the fight for democracy. Moreover, it is a struggle against the huge democratic deficit of the EU, and for the creation of a Europe of the peoples.
The imposition of neoliberal austerity has been accompanied by a strident nationalism, which deflects some of the disaffection arising from economic strife away from the privileged culprits and instead towards immigrants and refugees. The rise of the extreme right, from Greece and France to Holland and Finland, injects an extra dose of poison into an already toxic situation in working- and middle-class communities across the continent. Declarations that class conflict is dead typically function to redraw social antagonism on racial lines. In this respect, again, it is the most vulnerable who are sacrificed upon the altar of austerity.
While the political right works to sow division, the left recognises the many complex ways in which people across the world, fighting what are ostensibly rather different political struggles, are connected by the effect that the failures of neoliberalism have had upon their lives.
Increased economic hardship played a major part in sparking the popular revolts now sweeping the Arab world, most famously in Egypt, where the trade union movement played a leading role in toppling a western-backed presidency that had been driving through neoliberal reforms to the benefit of a tiny, bloated and corrupt elite.
Across Latin America, various novel and interesting forms of socialism have been emerging and evolving for some time, since an earlier generation experienced the miseries resulting from the imposition of the Washington Consensus.
And while these faltering, painful attempts are being made in various parts of the developing world to create and establish new political economies that protect the basic needs of the population, western countries see battles fought in the defence of welfare states and economic rights won in a previous era, from Madison, Wisconsin, to the streets of Athens and London. From these latter conflicts, the European left may hope to see emerge, as a historic repudiation of the fracturing neoliberal consensus, new forms of socialism that can meet the people’s needs and their demands for social justice.
The aim of the joint initiative we have developed, linking websites across Europe, is to demonstrate that there is an alternative analysis of the present situation to that which has brought forth the miseries and injustice of austerity. A pluralistic and rich critique of the crisis and the appropriate political and social responses has been developing in various European countries, but this has yet to lead to a synthesis of the emerging positions and solutions.
To contribute towards attempts to address this problem, the international, collaborative effort, made here by Crisisjam, Greek Left Review, New Left Project, ZNet and Irish Left Review serves to collect and disseminate the emerging views of the radical left movement. We have endeavoured to work with as many shades of left opinion as possible in order to present and promote news, views and commentary explaining and advancing alternative strategies, theories and campaigns.
Our hope is that, with the development of this forum, radical voices from Europe and the world can build a new wave of leftwing activism, fit to meet the challenges of this seminal point in our history.