DAWN - Opinion; June 11, 2007

June 11, 2007


The war that never ended

By Tanvir Ahmad Khan

FUTURE historians will doubtless describe the present situation as a particularly grave crisis in world affairs. Amongst the major events that contributed to the making of this crisis are the Arab-Israel war of 1967, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the Islamic revolution of Iran and the American wars of retribution and pre-emption in the wake of the 9/11 atrocity.

Each of these events unleashed a wave of intended and unintended consequences that unravelled efforts to create a stable world order.

Such momentous events shape history for decades though in most cases it is possible to identify periods of high radio activity with reasonable accuracy. The one event which has refused to be dated is the Six-Day War that began with Israel’s massive pre-emptive air strike against Egypt in the early hours of June 5, 1967.

It resists dating for the simple reason that though formally restricted to 132 fateful hours this war never ended; the world has just observed the 40th anniversary of Israel’s continued occupation of Arab lands.

Even if Israel were to terminate its occupation, its military victory would still be discussed with concern because it transformed the way nations think of war and peace. This has been a singular occupation because it led to a relentless colonisation of Arab lands in contravention of international law. Israel’s defiance was protected by the United States which gave a radical pro-Israel orientation to its Middle East policy after the conflict.

No other event has created a worldwide perception that at the end of the day it is a Hobbesian world. This perception has been instrumental in the spread of terrorism — the asymmetrical warfare by the weak against the mighty — and in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Israel’s traditional claim that it launched a pre-emptive war on June 5, 1967, because of an imminent threat of invasion by Egypt has been challenged by many disclosures made during the last four decades. Israel’s subsequent wars also substantiate the view that it resorts to the use of force whenever the defence or economic potential of Arab states reaches a point where it could obstruct Israel’s predatory policies in the region.

Israel, the United Kingdom and France had invaded Egypt in 1956 and quickly overwhelmed its defences. But this powerful axis failed to convert this military success into a political victory. Shaken to the core, the Arab states, particularly Egypt and Syria, turned to the Soviet Union for large rearmament programmes and by 1967 had raised substantial well-equipped forces. They felt that their new-found strength would enable them to re-open the question of Israel’s expansion beyond the UN-mandated frontiers. Egypt and Syria, in particular, miscalculated that they could raise the ante and then count on the United States for a more equitable settlement with Israel. President Nasser was going to send his foreign minister to Washington on June 7 to set the stage for negotiations.

The pre-1967 Israel was at rather low ebb. Its social democratic ideals were alive in theory but the élan of the early years had faded away. Its economy was stagnant and its per capita income was a mere $1,500. The political class was sharply divided not only on the basis of the western and oriental origins of its citizens but also between moderates and proponents of an aggressive forward policy, the soldiers turned politicians often acting as hawks. Despite the gains made in 1948-49, Israel was at one point only 17 km wide, a distance that a determined Jordanian-led Arab force could cover in one day to sever Israel into two parts.

Unlike the Arab states, however, Israel was capable of using decisive force. Following a minor incident in which an Israeli border patrol hit a landmine, Israel attacked the Jordanian village of Samu with 4,000 troops backed by tanks and aircraft on November 13, 1966. Special presidential assistant, Walt Rostow told President Johnson that this raid into Jordan was out of all proportion to the provocation. More significantly, Israel was deliberately building up tension with Syria. Years later, Moshe Dayan gave a candid account of how the kibbutzim yearned for the Syrian land and regularly provoked Syria by sending tractors into the demilitarised area and beyond and then opened fire on the Syrians. Cairo and Damascus signed a mutual defence pact which Jordan joined later.

Despite piles of studies of the 1967 war, there is still some ambiguity about the role that the United States and Great Britain played in it. Egypt did not want war and did not prepare earnestly for it. It sought to relieve pressure on Syria by sending a fairly large force into Sinai and then, far more provocatively, by closing the narrow Strait of Tiran to Israel.

As Israel mobilised, Egypt had the option to attack Israel by air first but decided against it after the United States asked it to refrain from it. The degree of Washington’s involvement in the 11-hour long blitz by the Israeli air force that virtually destroyed the Egyptian and Syrian air forces on the ground and condemned the Egyptian army in Sinai to a disaster is still being debated. But the Arab sense of humiliation laid the basis for long-lasting anti-Americanism in the region.

What followed the conflict was, however, unambiguous. Israel became the linchpin of US regional policy with an open-ended commitment of billions of dollars to its military capability and economy. In the calculus of the Cold War, the Soviet Union had lost heavily. According to Chaim Herzog, Israel decided on June 19, 1967, to offer the return of Sinai to Egypt and Golan Heights to Syria in exchange for peace treaties, presumably to strengthen its grip on the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem.

One has often heard from Arab diplomats that Washington, which was to be the intermediary, did not convey this offer to Cairo and Damascus. Be that as it may, an Arab summit in Khartoum vowed to fight for ever. In Israel, the attachment to social democracy gradually crumbled as neo-liberal economics made possible by limitless largess from the United States and the affluent Jewish investors from the diaspora took roots.

The per capita income in Israel rose from $1,500 in 1967 to $24,000 in 2006. The Jewish state now shows a great gulf between the rich and the poor with less than 20 families owning almost 80 per cent of the national assets.

Moshe Dayan and the other military leaders resisted the demand made by a group of rabbis to blow up “the mosque of Omar” once for all but threw their weight behind the secret plan to change the demography of the West Bank and Jerusalem through sustained colonisation.

In a recent comment, the US state department’s veteran specialist on Middle East, Philip Wilcox Jr, recalled that in 1980 Israeli historian Jacob Talmon warned Menachem Begin that settlements and continued occupation of the West Bank were a “time bomb”, a trap, a burden not to be borne without degradation, corruption and even a collapse.

Nevertheless, there are more then 125 settlements and 450,000 colonists. Jerusalem is today boxed in by four settlements. Israel continues to finance more settlements. The 2.5 million Palestinians who still inhabit the West Bank find themselves hopelessly fragmented by Israel’s military roads that connect and defend the colonies.

Living under the shadow of a granite-hard separation barrier that cuts further into what is left of historical Palestine, they know that their dream of a viable two-state solution with which the international community salves its conscience has receded further.

Two astute analysts observed in an American journal recently that ‘the dream of Greater Israel has expired, but so has Oslo’s vision of peaceful reconciliation with the Palestinians.” As hope dies, the stage is set for endless strife that would have grave implications for the entire Arab-Islamic world.

There has been considerable soul searching in Israel as it completes 40 years of occupation of Arab lands. An increasing number of Israelis realise that occupation has made their country more insecure, locked it in an unending series of wars, polarised the society in terms of social indices, subverted pristine Judaism, and placed their state outside the pale of international law and legitimacy.

Many analysts in the West have cast a retrospective look and, on balance, described the Six-Day War as a Pyrrhic victory. But a formidable coalition of militarists and capitalists who have benefited enormously from the new economy that the 1967 war created are still able to prevent such insights from shaping policy on both sides of the Atlantic. They are backed by racists and religious bigots.

Israel was able to secure the support of its international allies in punishing the Palestinians for voting for Hamas. Today, 80 per cent of households in Gaza survive on one dollar a day; the Palestinian Authority (PA) has lost 60 per cent of its income as Israel has withheld more than $850 million of taxes collected by it on PA’s behalf.

What radicalises the masses most in the region is Israel’s policy of land grab, racist discrimination and religious exclusivity; it is as Jimmy Carter put it, apartheid, pure and simple.

The tomes being written on terrorism will remain irrelevant unless Israel is made to realise that global peace and cooperation depend in no small measure on eliminating this principal cause of the malaise of our times. Without this realisation, there is little hope of the United States reviewing its policies that fuel violence and insurrection in the vast stretch of land from Morocco to Indonesia. The 1967 war continues to poison their polities one way or another; it just will not go away.

The writer is a former foreign secretary.
Email: tanvir.a.khan@gmail.com

Regional blocs & internal feuds

By Maqbool Ahmed Bhatty

AS the revolution in communications and information technology speed up globalisation, another reality casts a deep shadow on the situation. The meetings of the world’s wealthiest nations, the G-8, are always marked by demonstrations protesting against the neglect of the deprived and underprivileged in the developing world.

Despite all the promises about tackling poverty and ending discrimination, the gap between the haves and have-nots widens.While globalisation remains a frustrating mirage, regional cooperation has had varying degrees of success. The European Union is a success story though disparities and contrasts persist among its members. Asia, much larger and containing nearly two-thirds of humanity, has also seen regional groupings emerge. But their performance falls far short of that of the EU.

However, it is worth taking a closer look at the three largest groupings that have an interlocking relationship: Asean that covers 10 countries in Southeast Asia after being founded in 1967, Saarc founded in 1985 and with eight members, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation with six members. (Although the Economic Cooperation Organisation covers 10 countries of South, West and Central Asia its activities are constrained due to the reservations of the major powers notably after 9/11).

A review of the current status of the three Asian regional organisations selected can be helpful in understanding the political, strategic and economic evolution of most of the continent. These organisations also figure in global trends in various ways. Asean was an offshoot of the Cold War and was founded in 1967 with five members, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines, all of which were apprehensive of communist militancy. The US was engaged in the war in Vietnam, whose communist regime enjoyed the military and political support of the Soviet Union and China. It was only after the communist victory in Vietnam and US withdrawal that a sense of urgency and purpose materialised.

However, serious differences persisted as Thailand and the Philippines were members of Seato whereas Indonesia and Malaysia were non-aligned. Yet, the Asean countries came to evolve modes of dialogue and cooperation that came to be referred to as the “Asean Way”. Its main characteristics were non-intervention in each other’s affairs, decision-making by consensus, mutual cooperation by soft diplomacy rather than compulsion and a regional secretariat. Thus it was much less rules-based than the European Union.

The end of the Cold War in 1989 created conditions for increasing the role and functions of Asean. A free trade area was launched. The organisation grew in membership. Brunei had joined on gaining independence in the 1970s and a decision was taken in 1997 to include Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, raising the membership to 10.

The economic crisis in Southeast Asia in the mid-1990s led to efforts by older members to help newer ones. Another feature was to create an Asean community to carry it beyond the status of an association. The three pillars of the community would be economic integration, security relations and closer social and cultural ties.

Perhaps the most important change in the organisation after 1997 has been its engagement with external powers. Asean entered into dialogue with major Asian powers including China, Japan and South Korea. Closer economic relations have also been established with Australia and India.

Asean has also played a major role in promoting the Asian Regional Forum that facilitates dialogue with significant powers. Pakistan has been admitted to this.

Though falling short of the EU in facilitating the integration of the continent, Asean is a success story of regional cooperation and has contributed to the security and development of its members.

Saarc was formally launched in 1985 but its efforts at South Asian regional cooperation have been held up by the disputes and differences of the two major countries in the region, India and Pakistan. India insisted on two provisions being included in the Saarc charter: one, that all decisions would be by consensus, and two, that contentious political issues would not figure in its agenda.

The approval of these conditions has given India the means to virtually control its deliberations. Pakistan’s only concern was that India might use Saarc to impose its will on the members in numerous areas where it enjoyed superiority due to its size. In actual fact, India has chosen to restrict the role of Saarc and to build up its own influence on a bilateral basis with smaller members. Since India has had disputes with all its smaller neighbours, it has prevented their discussions in the formal proceedings. However, the presence of the leaders at summit meetings has enabled private meetings among them to achieve political ends.

Though Saarc has done useful work in selected areas in the economic and social sphere, it has achieved very little compared to the EU, Asean or other successful multilateral groupings. Even the South Asian Free Trade Area has not been able to achieve much.

The main problem in South Asia is extreme asymmetry. India is much larger than all the other members. Afghanistan was admitted as a member recently, while China was accepted as an observer. It appears doubtful that Saarc will overcome problems caused by India’s domination and future designs any time soon.

The SCO was formally launched in June 2001, though the “Shanghai-5” first met in 1996 with five members namely China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

The initial meeting was motivated by three objectives:

i) Resolve boundary disputes peacefully and achieve a reduction in forces concentrated on the borders.

ii) Promote trade and economic cooperation.

iii) Strive jointly for a multilateral global order i.e. oppose US moves for global hegemony.

After 1996, summit meetings were held by rotation in Moscow, Almaty, and Bishkek. By the time the summit was held again in China with the addition of a sixth member, Uzbekistan, terrorism and religious extremism had increased and was included in the goals in place of the first objective that had been accomplished. With China and Russia experiencing turbulence in Xinjiang and Chechnya respectively, they gave importance to this goal.

The SCO’s importance has grown as it has pursued its goals with seriousness. It set up a centre in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, to deal with counter-terrorism. China’s phenomenal growth has enabled it to facilitate expanding trade among its members. Perhaps the most important development has been the combined impact of China and Russia on US policies during the Bush presidency to exercise hegemony on the basis of power.

Several other Asian powers, including India, Pakistan and Iran, have sought admission and acquired observer status. The Pakistani government has attached great importance to its role specially in strengthening peace and cooperation.

As the US continues to build ballistic missile bases on the basis of the Ballistic Missile Defence concept, there is scepticism in Europe while China and Russia have opposed it. Aimed ostensibly at “rogue states” like North Korea and Iran, even US analysts state that the real target is China.

The recent announcement by the US that it is setting up BMD installations in Poland and the Czech Republic has drawn a blistering response from President Vladimir Putin of Russia. He tested new ballistic missiles while China demonstrated its capability to shoot down satellites last November. Thus the US BMD initiative which was supported by India and Japan faces Sino-Russian opposition.

Putin’s strong reaction to new missile defence installations in eastern Europe has given rise to talk of a new Cold War. Sino-Russian collaboration under SCO confronts the West with a new challenge. Neither Russia nor China accept the explanation that BMD is aimed at rogue states like Iran.

The SCO’s overall goals and approach rejects the new imperialism of Bush based on the neo-con concept of hegemony through power. There are signs that US opinion is also moving away from the Bush doctrine and may seek to achieve peace and concerted action to resolve global problems through the UN and other multilateral organisations after 2008. As such the SCO symbolises the real aspirations of the bulk of mankind, notably in Asia.

The writer is a former ambassador.

Calling the BMD bluff

By Gwynne Dyer

VILADIMIR PUTIN is definitely a player, and the proposal that the Russian president sprang on George W. Bush at the G-8 meeting in Germany on Thursday was a classic political ambush.

You claim to be putting interceptor missiles and X-band radars into Eastern Europe to intercept nuclear-tipped, long-range missiles coming out of Iran, said Putin to Bush. So why don't you make our radar station in Azerbaijan, which overlooks all of Iran from its perch high in the Caucasus mountains, part of the system?

The Bush administration has no intention of letting Russia share in its beloved Ballistic Missile Defence system (aka "Son of Star Wars"), nor does Russia believe that the system is either necessary or functional, but Putin's negotiating ploy was brilliant. If Iran had either nuclear weapons or long-range ballistic missiles (which it doesn't), and if the United States had the technological capability to intercept such missiles (which it doesn't), then access to a Russian radar station in the mountains north of Iran would be exactly what Washington wanted.

"Let's let our experts have a look at it," said President Bush about Putin's "interesting proposal," and that's the last that anybody will hear about that, but it did give Putin the opportunity to show that the new US bases in Eastern Europe are not about what Washington says they are about. So what are they about?

That is a lot harder to answer, because the whole BMD boondoggle is a weapons system in search of a threat. Twenty-five years ago, when the Blessed Ronald Reagan first proposed the "Star Wars" system, it was going to shoot down thousands of Soviet warheads with directed energy beams, just like in the movies. Very cool. But now there is no Soviet Union, and the only BMD technology that actually exists is clunky missiles that occasionally manage to shoot down other missiles, but mostly miss or just don't launch.

Time to move on, you might think, but Reagan is a Republican saint, and George W. Bush had promised to roll out some BMD system when he became president. Besides, there are several hundred thousand jobs in the US military and defence industry that depend directly or indirectly on BMD. So the system was unstoppable, even if it didn't work, and in 2002 the Bush administration tore up the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty in order to be free to deploy it.

The next question was where to put it. The first choices were Alaska and California, in order to intercept the intercontinental ballistic missiles that North Korea doesn't have. Next on the agenda, obviously, was stopping the non-existent Iranian missiles, which required US radars and interceptor missile bases in Eastern Europe. The Polish and Czech governments eagerly volunteered to host them, not because they believe in a threat from Iran (they don't), but because they don't like Russia and badly want American bases of some sort on their soil.

Interestingly, a majority of Poles and over two-thirds of Czechs don't want the American bases, perhaps because they realise that the bases will just annoy the Russians without providing any real protection. But if all this is just meaningless military nonsense serving a domestic American political agenda, why does it annoy the Russians at all?

It actually isn't the dysfunctional American missiles that may be installed in Eastern Europe to stop a non-existent Iranian threat that annoy the Russians. They are just a useful stick to beat the Americans with. It's everything else that the United States and Nato have done to the Russians over the past ten years.

Shortly after he came into office, Putin asked to join Nato. The Cold War was supposedly over, but Russia's request was rejected out of hand. Instead Nato took in new members all across Eastern Europe -- and even on the territory of the former Soviet Union, in the case of the Baltic Republics. After the Cold War, Nato promised not to build new military installations in former Warsaw Pact territory, but the new bases are there in Romania and Bulgaria, and now more are planned in Poland and the Czech Republic.

In a word, arrogance. The Russians don't count any more, so we don't need to take their interests into account any more, or even consult with them.

Which is why, in Munich last February, Putin talked bluntly about the old days when "there was an equilibrium and a fear of mutual destruction. In those days one party was afraid to make an extra step without consulting the others. This was certainly a fragile peace and a frightening one, but seen from today it seems reliable enough. Today it seems that peace is not so reliable."

In Moscow last week, just before Putin left for the G-8 meeting, a journalist asked him: "Why are the Americans so obstinate about putting these plans for (ballistic missile defences) into practice, if it is so clear that they are unnecessary?"

Putin replied: "Possibly this is to push us to (retaliate in ways that would prevent) further closeness of Russia and Europe....I cannot exclude this possibility." As if US foreign policy under President Bush has ever been that subtle and sophisticated. It's a good thing that both Putin and Bush are leaving office soon.—Copyright

Stuck on immigration

THE SHAMEFUL — and we hope temporary — shelving of an immigration reform bill by the Senate contradicts the aphorism that success has a thousand fathers but failure is an orphan. This failure has plenty of fathers: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who issued an ultimatum he couldn't enforce; Republican senators who played to the know-nothing fringe; and the Bush administration, which blessed a "grand bargain" reached by a bipartisan group of senators but didn't follow through with enough pressure on recalcitrant members of the president's party.

A couple of days ago, it seemed as if the parliamentary ground was being cleared for Senate enactment of the essential components of the compromise cobbled together by the so-called Gang of 12: legalisation of millions of illegal immigrants who are in this country to stay regardless of what Congress does, improved border security and a greater emphasis on skills in the admission of both legal immigrants and temporary workers. That compromise was fully satisfying to none but should have been amenable to all, given the prize — the opportunity of citizenship for millions of men and women living and working in this country, forging its culture and contributing to its life.

Optimistic — overly so — that the legislation was on track to approval, Reid announced that it was time for the Senate to call an end to the debate. He scheduled a cloture vote for Thursday, warning his colleagues that if they didn't vote to fast-track consideration of the bill, he would yank it from the calendar and proceed to other business, including a resolution expressing no confidence in Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales.

That was a strategic mistake. By midday Thursday, Republicans were fuming about what they saw as Reid's pressure tactics and also about a Democratic amendment, approved by a vote of 49 to 48, that would abolish a temporary-worker programme — a feature of the bill important to business groups — after five years. Reid scrambled to recover but twice failed to deliver the votes to end debate.

A chastened Reid made good on his promise to remove immigration reform from the calendar — even as he offered to resurrect it if Senate Republicans and the Bush administration convinced him that another vote wouldn't be an empty exercise.

––Los Angeles Times

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