26 July 2007
In his third article on Zionist thought, Hassan Nafaa reveals how Israel has always wanted the East and northern Arab states to collapse. (The writer is a professor of political science at Cairo University)
Oded Yinon’s paper A Strategy for Israel in the 1980s was first published in Hebrew, appearing in Kivunin, a magazine specialised in Jewish and Zionist affairs, in February 1982. It was translated into English by Professor Israel Shahak, a prominent Israeli human rights activist in June of the same year. Shahak, who republished under the title The Zionist Plan for the Middle East, with additional comments in a foreword and epilogue, called the paper the most eloquent expression yet of Zionist thinking.
In the first article of this series, I reviewed the general traits of the Zionist strategy as formulated by Yinon. In the second article, I tackled the Zionist way of dealing with Egypt. In the present article, I will focus on the Zionist strategy with regard to the Arab East.
Yinon’s paper leaves one in no doubt that the Zionist movement approaches the Arab East — Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq — differently from the rest of the Arab and Islamic world. The Zionist movement is generally interested in dividing other Arab world countries for security-related and economic reasons. But its interest in the Arab East runs deeper. So the Zionist project is not just about dividing the Arab East or redrawing its map. It is about geographical expansion within that area. The Zionists want to seize and colonise more land in the Arab East as a prelude to annexing that land to the Jewish state. More specifically, they wish to introduce major demographic changes involving forcible displacement of the population.
Yinon’s view of the Arab East is inextricably linked with his vision of the nature and borders of the Jewish state. He doesn’t make much distinction between the 1948 and 1967 borders. For him, what is crucial for Israel is to have safe borders, regardless of the location of those borders on the map. For Yinon, safe borders are those that enable Israel to control everything “between the river and the sea”. That control is not about military and economic domination, but about demographic expansion and the movement of a purely Jewish population into those areas. Without that, Israel wouldn’t have any future from a strategic point of view, according to Yinon. This very particular understanding of safe borders is what defines Yinon’s stand concerning settlements. He totally rejects any land concessions. He rejects any self-government for the Palestinians. And he doesn’t want the Palestinians to exist on any part of this land Israel has occupied. Yinon is fully opposed to the Camp David accords and to all Israeli projects that involve land concessions or self-rule.
According to Yinon, the Jewish concentration on coastal areas, where 75 per cent of Israelis live, poses a major threat for Israel’s security. So he proposes a new demographic policy, one based on control of all water resources from Beersheba to the Upper Galilee. Israel, he says, must take all necessary measures to turn mountain areas into inhabitable urban zones. To do that, Israel would have to engage in large-scale demographic engineering, with massive population movements to achieve the long-term security needs of the Jewish state. Israel’s security needs mean only one thing to Yinon: namely, the emptying of the area situated between the sea and the river of most if not all Arab inhabitants, including Arab Israelis, also known as the Arabs of 1948.
Does this mean that Yinon doesn’t recognise the existence of the Palestinian people and their right for an independent state? No, the opposite is true. He recognises the Palestinians and their right for an independent state, but he wants that state to be established outside Israel’s safe borders, on the other side of the Jordan River. This is why Yinon keeps saying that Jordan is Palestine and Palestine is Jordan. He maintains that Amman is as Palestinian as Palestinians and most others believe Nablus to be. He argues that most of Jordan’s population, army personnel and administrators are Palestinians, controlled by a “Jordanian Bedouin minority”. In other words, it would be enough to bring down the Hashemite regime, rid the oppressed majority of the dominant minority, and enable the Palestinian majority to take power in order to create a Palestinian state. This would be Yinon’s solution to the Palestinian problem, the problem that so many Israeli governments have failed to resolve.
With rather crude simplicity, Yinon offers to sacrifice the most moderate Arab regime in the region, not out of love for the Palestinians but because he believes that Palestinian control of Jordan would resolve the Palestinian issue. Jordan would become a surrogate homeland for all Palestinians, including Arab Israelis, or the Arabs of 1948. From the Arab point of view, this may seem outrageous, but many Zionists share Yinon’s view.
Yinon is aware that the Zionist dream cannot be achieved against the will of strong and centralised Arab governments. So he hastens to reassure his compatriots that all Arab governments, however large and militarily strong they may seem — Egypt included — can be divided into smaller and weaker components, into entities that wouldn’t pose a threat to Israel in the long run. What was happening in Lebanon in 1982 seemed to reinforce his views. Lebanon was weak and divided after a civil war that started in the mid-1970s. It had disintegrated into five cantons. The first was a Christian canton led by the pro-Syrian Franjiyeh clan in the north. The second was in the east, where the Syrians were in direct control. The third was the Phalange canton in the middle of the country. The fourth was controlled by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) along Al-Litani River. The fifth was in the south, run by the pro-Israeli Saad Haddad. Yinon was convinced that Israel could maintain that state of division with a few adjustments: get the PLO out and weaken Syrian presence. (Israel invaded Lebanon but a few months after Yinon’s essay was published).
Lebanon’s fate was all but sealed at the time, but Syria and Iraq, with their military potential, posed a problem. And yet Yinon was confident that the two countries would collapse in due course. He maintained that the political and social structure of both countries had all the elements of decay, and predicted that the two countries would fall apart, perhaps with a little nudge from Israel.
According to Yinon, Syria wasn’t much different from Lebanon in terms of its sectarian structure. The Syrians, he admitted, had a strong military regime. But this regime, controlled by a 12 per cent Shia Alawite minority, wasn’t going to control the strong Sunni opposition, especially by the Muslim Brotherhood, forever. Sooner or later, he argued, Syria would disintegrate into several mini-states: an Alawite one on the coast, a Sunni one near Aleppo, another Sunni one in Damascus, and a Druze one in the Golan. Yinon was confident that Lebanon would be officially dismantled within a short period, perhaps a few months. And Syria, he predicted, would go down the same path soon afterward. Contrary to his expectations, Lebanon pulled itself together.
As for Iraq, Yinon had a similar theory. A Sunni minority was in full control, while a Shia majority and a Kurdish minority were seething with anger. Had it not been for the military power of the regime and the massive oil supplies of the country, Iraq would have gone the way of Lebanon, or at least Syria (at the time of his writing). Yinon hoped that regional developments, including the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the Iran-Iraq war, would deepen sectarian divisions in Iraq and perhaps lead to a civil war.
Yinon saw Iraq’s military power as a threat to Israel and he wanted Israel to remain alert. But he was sure that Iraq would be weakened by its war with Iran, and would eventually disintegrate into at least three mini-states: a Sunni one in the middle, a Shia one in the south, and a Kurdish one in the north.
Much of Yinon’s predictions failed. Israel couldn’t divide Lebanon. It couldn’t put in power a Lebanese government that would do its bidding. It couldn’t even force Lebanon to sign a peace treaty. Within a few months, Hizbullah came into life and spearheaded the resistance against the Israeli occupation and its proxy militia Israel kept in the south. In 2000, Israel pulled out unconditionally from Lebanon. Israel couldn’t even protect the one militia leader it had counted on to establish a mini-state in the south. Syria is still united to this day.
But this is not reason to belittle Yinon’s importance. We should make a distinction between what Israel wants and what it can do. Not everything Israel wants can be implemented in the exact time, venue and manner it wants. But it is important to understand that the strategy Yinon suggested truly reflects the workings of the Zionist mind. And it faithfully mirrors Israel’s explicit and implicit policies. The fact that Israel invaded Lebanon only four months after Yinon’s study was published is significant. Israel did its best to break Lebanon into sectarian cantons. It failed, but it hasn’t given up.
Iraq is also relevant. There was nothing subtle about the way Israel egged the Americans to invade Iraq, although we may not yet know all the details. US strategy in Iraq is utterly sectarian, and it has shaken the Arab East to the core. And let’s keep in mind that Lebanon is once again haunted by civil war. So perhaps it is time we take Yinon’s mindset seriously.