As an introduction, could you sum up your general view of the Israeli-Arab war?
The war and the ‘miracle’ of Israel’s victory have, in my view, solved none of the problems that confront Israel and the Arab states. They have, on the contrary, aggravated all the old issues and created new, more dangerous ones. They have not increased Israel’s security, but rendered it more vulnerable than it had been. I am convinced that the latest, all-too-easy triumph of Israeli arms will be seen one day, in a not very remote future, to have been a disaster in the first instance for Israel itself.
Let us consider the international background of the events. We have to relate this war to the world-wide power struggle and ideological conflicts which form its context. In these last years American imperialism, and the forces associated with it and supported by it, have been engaged in a tremendous political, ideological, economic, and military offensive over a vast area of Asia and Africa; while the forces opposed to them, the Soviet Union in the first instance, have barely held their ground or have been in retreat. This trend emerges from a long series of occurrences: the Ghanaian upheaval, in which Nkrumah’s government was overthrown; the growth of reaction in various AfroAsian countries; the bloody triumph of anti-Communism in Indonesia, which was a huge victory for counter-revolution in Asia; the escalation of the American war in Vietnam; and the ‘marginal’ right-wing military coup in Gteece. The Arab-Israeli war was not an isolated affair; it belongs to this category of events. The counter-trend has manifested itself in revolutionary ferment in various parts of India, the radicalization of the political mood in Arab countries, the effective struggle of the National Front of Liberation in Vietnam; and the world-wide growth of opposition to American intervention. The advance of American imperialism and of Afro-Asian counter-revolution has not gone unopposed, but its success everywhere outside Vietnam has been evident.
In the Middle East the American forward push has been of relatively recent date. During the Suez war, the United States still adopted an ‘anti-colonialist’ stance. It acted, in seeming accord with the Soviet Union, to bring about the British and French withdrawal. The logic of American policy was still the same as in the late 1940’s, when the State of Israel was in the making. As long as the American ruling class was interested primarily in squeezing out the old colonial Powers from Africa and Asia, the White House was a mainstay of ‘anti-colonialism’. But having contributed to the debacle of the old Empires, the United States took fright at the ‘power vacuum’ that might be filled by native revolutionary forces or the Soviet Union or a combination of both. Yankee anti-colonialism faded out, and America ‘stepped in’. In the Middle East this happened during the period between the Suez crisis and the last Israeli war. The American landings in Lebanon in 1958 were designed to stem a high tide of revolution in that area, especially in Iraq. Since then the United States, no doubt relying to some extent on Soviet ‘moderation’, has avoided open and direct military involvement in the Middle East and maintained a posture of detachment. This does not make the American presence any less real.
How would you situate Israel’s policy in this perspective?
The Israelis have, of course, acted on their own motives, and not merely to suit the convenience of American policy. That the great mass of Israelis believe themselves to be menaced by Arab hostility need not be doubted. That some ‘bloodthirsty’ Arab declarations about ‘wiping Israel off the map’ made Israeli flesh creep is evident. Haunted by the memories of the Jewish tragedy in Europe, the Israelis feel isolated and encircled by the ‘teeming’ millions of a hostile Arab world. Nothing was easier for their own propagandists, aided by Arab verbal
Yet whatever their own motives and fears, the Israelis are not independent agents. The factors of Israel’s dependence were to some extent ‘built in’ in its history over two decades. All Israeli governments have staked Israel’s existence on the ‘Western orientation’. This alone would have sufficed to turn Israel into a Western outpost in the Middle East, and so to involve it in the great conflict between imperialism (or neo-colonialism) and the Arab peoples struggling for their emancipation. Other factors have been at play as well. Israel’s economy has depended for its tenuous balance and growth on foreign Zionist financial aid, especially on American donations. These donations have been a curse in disguise for the new state. They have enabled the government to manage its balance of payments in a way in which no country in the world can do without engaging in any trade with its neighbours. It has distorted Israel’s economic structure by encouraging the growth of a large, unproductive sector and a standard of living which is not related to the country’s own productivity and earnings. Israel has in effect lived well above its means. Over many years nearly half of Israel’s food was imported from the West. As the American Administration exempts from taxation the earnings and profits earmarked as donations for Israel, Washington has held its hand on the purses on which Israel’s economy depends. Washington could at any time hit Israel by refusing the tax exemption (even though this would lose it the Jewish vote in elections). The threat of such a sanction, never uttered but always present, and occasionally hinted at, has been enough to align Israeli policy firmly with the United States.