The U.S., Israel, and Middle East

Talking with Joshua Frank

Joshua Frank is an American progressive journalist and noted anti-war columnist. His articles and commentaries have appeared on Dissident Voice, CounterPunch, Z Magazine, AntiWar.com, Truthout, and Alternet. He is author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush and co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland.

Joshua took part in an interview with me to discuss the latest developments in the Middle East region, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the prospect of Israel-U.S. relations, the recent controversy over the Freedom Flotilla attack and the media propaganda against Iran. Here is the complete text of our interview.

Kourosh Ziabari: What’s the main reason behind the United States’ unconditional support for the state of Israel? In his early days of assuming office, President Obama failed to address the international community’s concern regarding the Operation Cast Lead in which the Israeli forces killed more than 1,300 Palestinian citizens. Moreover, it seems that the United States has retreated from its stance regarding the ongoing Israeli settlements on the Palestinian lands. Why is the relationship between the United States and Israel so profound that makes Israel immune to international law? Why is the United States always “committed” to the security of Israel?

Joshua Frank: I believe that the U.S.’s seemingly unconditional support of Israel is a complicated, multifaceted issue. First and foremost, Israel is a strategic ally for the U.S. interests in the region. As you know, there aren’t many countries in the Middle East that support the United States’ military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, nor do many countries see much of the benefit of the U.S. companies’ profiting from their imperial resource extraction ventures. So Israel plays a powerful role in supporting the U.S. in these endeavors, if not directly, then at least politically and tactically. Military-wise, Israel is the most powerful country in the area, with a large nuclear cache and airports the serve the U.S. military uses often for its endeavors. After the Camp David Accords the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers actually helped construct Israeli Air Bases in the Negev Desert.

Likewise, Israel needs the U.S. to support its illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. Without U.S. backing, the Israel government could not afford its ongoing military forays. Indeed, the U.S. also plays a substantial role in deflecting criticism of Israel’s ongoing human rights violations, whether by flexing muscle on the UN Security Council or in the court of public opinion. Israel can most often rely on the U.S. to support its actions, illegal or otherwise, be they the invasion on Lebanon or the recent Flotilla attack. A lot of critics of Israel point their finger solely at the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. as the primary reason behind the U.S. close relationship to Israel. While the lobby is certainly strong, the U.S. Empire is stronger, and in fact I would argue, actually uses the Israel lobby to its benefit. It’s a symbiotic relationship, and not entirely one-sided as many Zionist-conspiracy theorists seem to argue.

KZ: Israel possesses up to 200 nuclear warheads and this figure is confirmed by a number of international organizations, including the Federation of American Scientists; however, it’s Iran which is being pressured over its nuclear program. How do the United States and its European allies justify their double standards regarding Iran’s nuclear program? There’s no proof that Iran has moved towards building nuclear weapons, but everybody knows that the Israeli nuclear technician Mordecai Vanunu has released the evidences which indicate that Israel has accumulated a number of nuclear bombs in its arsenal. What’s your idea?

JF: I think you sort of answered your own question. The U.S. doesn’t have to justify their double standards to anyone, especially not the international community. It’s also about how the western world views itself: that our actions are always genuine and justified. Through this distorted lens Israel can play the victim and not the perpetrator. So whereas Iran’s alleged nuclear program, real or mythical, is seen as a threat, Israel’s existing arsenal that could detonate the entire Middle East is for peace of mind, because you just never know when those darn Arabs will attack for no reason at all.

It may sound ridiculous, sure, but there are many people who follow this line of thinking. Of course, they can blame it on militant strains of Islam, which certainly has its problems, but by and large the outrage directed toward Israel is cross-sectional because so many of the country’s policies are overtly arrogant. Of course, even within the country you have plenty of lively dissent, much of which does not get its due attention in the mainstream press. Vanunu is one historical figure of this movement, a movement that is growing by the day.

KZ: Iran is under the spates of black propaganda by the western mainstream media. The western media depict Iranian nation as a backward, uncivilized and extremist people. How is it possible to acquaint the western public with the unseen and concealed realities of Iran?

JF: I think the new media is already breaking through this propaganda very effectively. I also believe there are plenty of people in western countries that know governments don’t always represent the interests of the masses. The Iranian government is reckless to be sure, but that doesn’t mean all Iranians agree with every single policy; same story for Jews that live in Israel. It is naive to think all Jews support the occupation of Palestine. Many do of course, but there are many that also believe it is illegal, unjust, and counterproductive to achieving peace in the region.

The bigger issue is that Westerners are consistently inundated with misinformation. The U.S. government for example, has to continually sedate its citizens into compliance. It’s brilliantly executed time and again and it’s the reason why the antiwar movement, for instance, is virtually non-existent in this country. Even those that oppose the escalation of war in Afghanistan are by and large silent. That wasn’t the case during the Bush era, where a surge in troop levels combined with a non-existent exit strategy would have forced tens of thousands into the streets. But since liberals and progressives now have their liberal Obama in the White House, mums the word. They’ve been scared into complacency by the propaganda of “change” and “hope”. They are literally afraid to resist the man they worked so hard to elect. Meanwhile, the PATRIOT Act gets reaffirmed, billions are passed for war funding and U.S. soldiers continue to die in two endless, directionless wars.

KZ: It seems that whoever wants to rise to prominence as a potential choice for presidency in the United States should avow his commitment to the security and stability of Israel, even at the cost of killing thousands of people or destructing the other countries. As you quoted him in one of your articles, Barack Obama had told a crowd of pro-Israeli Americans that he would never put the military option off the table concerning Iran’s nuclear program. My question: is the Israeli lobby so powerful and influential in the United States that even determines the destiny of White House?

JF: It’s bigger than that, I think. Like I said, it’s not the lobby that determines the destiny of the White House, it is the Empire apparatus that does. For example, Obama, had he challenged U.S. imperialism during his campaign and tenure in the Senate, would never have been supported by the arms industry, the oil companies and the like. The Israel lobby is just one of these major forces and shouldn’t be viewed in isolation. The energy cartels, I think, have just as much or even more sway over the administration, as the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico so boldly symbolizes. Same goes for the corporate food giants, the pharmaceutical industry, military contractors among others. Ultimately it is about corporate and military domination of public policy and the pro-Israel lobby is one of the big players, but not the only one that holds the US government and the its people hostage.

KZ: Some analysts believe that Israel has paved the ground for its growing isolation by unjustifiably attacking the Freedom Flotilla. As an instance, the government of Nicaragua decided to sever its diplomatic ties with Israel. What’s your estimation? Will the state of Israel succeed in getting through this pivotal juncture safely?

JF: The Freedom Flotilla was a horrific, bloody episode that will surely be notched up as another military defeat for Israel. Anytime this sort of thing happens, Israel has to work overtime to save face. Previously, and to a greater extent, the attack on Lebanon for dubious reasons was also a blemish for Israel power. They ended up having to halt their excursions and bombings because the international community by-and-large believed their actions were not justified.

As Alexander Cockburn and others have pointed out, that this is an example of Israel’s power rapidly dwindling. The fact that Israel felt threatened by a Freedom Flotilla should be enough for anyone to realize that their use of force was not only illegal under international law, but unethical and a sign that they are losing the fight they started. Such bullying acts won’t win Israel many new supporters.

KZ: Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren has called the IDF incursion into the Freedom Flotilla a human and responsible action. He likened the massacre of civilians onboard the Freedom Flotilla to the America’s fight against the Nazi Germany in the Second World War. What do you think about what he has said?

JF: Honestly I don’t think much about it. Military talking heads like Oren are pure vessels of propaganda. They will do whatever they can, soul already sold, to defend Israeli military actions. Internationally, such rhetoric is taken at face value: never believe half of what Israel taking heads say — or any other political leaders for that matter — who spout in defense of such brutal actions. If anything, Oren is quite adept at employing the very Nazi propaganda he so despises.

KZ: It’s widely believed that the political regime of Israel will immediately collapse should the White House lift its support to Tel Aviv. Is it possible for Israel to survive without the U.S. backing? Will the influence of Israeli lobby over the corporate government of the United States allow any independent president to rise to power and oppose to Israel ideologically?

JF: Israel would certainly survive without U.S. backing, but in a much more modest capacity. As a supporter of a one state solution, I don’t believe any peace between Palestine and Israel will occur until the U.S. takes a more brokered approach. If Israel makes concessions and the U.S. backs off its monetary support, the international community will ensure that a new Israel, one that is truly democratic and less economically stratified, will survive in its place. I think that the American people would support a candidate that spoke truth to power with regard to Israel. They really haven’t had a chance to do it. Would the lobby accept this? Not likely, but nor would any of the other corporate and military powers that capitalize on American intentions in the Middle East.

KZ: What do you think about the U.S. and UK mainstream media which are said to be controlled by the Zionist owners and media moguls such as Rupert Murdoch? How do these media outlets shape reach-out to their international audiences and shape their opinions?

JF: Plenty of outlets spew gross lies and propaganda. However, the new media is breaking ground every day. Here in the U.S. Glenn Greenwald’s analysis has become widely read, mainly because it’s free and uncensored on the web. As a result of his popularity, he is consistently being interviewed in the mainstream press and on popular cable news programs. This is just one example of alternative views making their way to the public. The freer the media, the more informed the public and the less censorship that ultimately occurs. So I’m hopeful that the Murdochs of the world will continually be challenged by this new reality.

KZ: What’s your prediction for the destiny of Israel in the Middle East? With a U.S. government which offers its unconditional support to Tel Aviv and the EU countries that follow the U.S. trajectory passively, can Israel rescue itself from the growing isolation it’s facing internationally?

JF: Israel will have to make large and significant compromises if it is to survive as a Jewish state. The world is watching their every move very closely. Despite the media blackout and the power of pro-Israel forces, the plight of Palestinians is being exposed daily, not only in other countries, but within Israel itself. Israelis are not all in support of the occupation and do not by any means believe it makes them any safer. On the contrary, it makes them less safe.

The bigger question is, can the U.S. survive in its current state? Can the U.S. continue to exploit the resources and people of the Middle East for its own profit and greed? Can it abuse and exploit its own people for much longer? I don’t believe so. Our economy is crumbing, our military is overextended and local budgets continue to dip into the red. We simply cannot continue to expand U.S. Empire any longer. And when the U.S. Empire falls, Israel’s power and ego will be deflated as well. Again, it’s a symbiotic relationship and intimately intertwined.

Kourosh Ziabari is an Iranian freelance journalist and media correspondent. His articles have appeared on a number of media outlets and newspapers. He is a member of Tlaxcala Translators Network for Linguistic Diversity. Read other articles by Kourosh.

11 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. MichaelKenny said on July 11th, 2010 at 10:33am #

    An amusing piece of American Empire propaganda! Clearly, the American dinosaur and its Israel Lobby masters are in deeper trouble than we thought! Joshua Frank is trying to paint Israel as a power in its own right and not merely a state which could not even exist unless propped up by the US. Naturally, the relationship is two-sided and naturally, the Israel Lobby is played down. Just one of a number of competing lobbies and not the mother of all lobbies that has bought everything so as to control everything! And, of course, the “international community” will ensure that Israel survives! But if the American Empire no longer has the power to prop up Israel unilaterally, where will it get the power to continue to bully the “international community”? And, of course, if Israel survives, then the one state solution is excluded. And, of course, Mr Frank gets in a plug for the internet. God forbid that we readers should notice that we are been spoon-fed the same party line as in the mainstream media, just dressed up in leftish-sounding jargon! By the way, Kourosh Ziabari is right to talk about “passivity” in regard to the EU. When someone holds a gun to your head, as Wall St has been doing to the EU lately, naturally you remain passive so as not to provoke your agressor.
    The positive side of all this is that it is a tacit acceptance that the American dinosaur is on its last legs and will drag Israel down as it goes. Good news for the Palestinians!

  2. Don Hawkins said on July 11th, 2010 at 12:25pm #

    Israel is in the midst of one of the worst droughts in its history, according to an analysis of last winter’s rainfall and the current condition of water reservoirs that was presented to the government on Sunday. The analysis was undertaken by the the national water company Mekorot and the hydrological service of the Water Authority. During Sunday’s meeting, officials deliberated on plans to develop water resources and authorized the establishment of the largest water desalination plant in Israel, to be erected near Palmahim. Haaretz dot com

    They had better hope on time delivery remains stable.

  3. Charlie said on July 11th, 2010 at 4:20pm #

    Michael Kenny’s comments are perhaps a bit snide but absolutely on point. For Mr. Frank even to suggest that the Zionist lobby is only one of many powerful players is naive at best and dangerous at worst. He fails, for instance, to grasp the fundamental and defining difference between the Zionist control of the US government and corporate America’s hired lobbyist guns: motive.

    Corporate America is driven by profits, and their lobbyists ensure that industry-friendly politicians are elected and are compliantly in place to write regulations, labor laws, and trade policies that favor the bottom line.

    Zionists, on the other hand, are driven by the hideous belief that they are superior to all other residents of Earth, that Israel was given to them by their Invisible Friend, and that any action committed in furtherance of the theofacist supremacy of Zionism is inherently moral. Corporations may be corrupt, but Zionism is, frankly, vile. That’s the difference. Corporate America sees the US government as a tool for making money; Zionists see it as a warehouse full of temporarily valuable slaves.

    Yes, there are many powerful players at the table, but it’s the Zionist lobby dealing the cards–and it’s a stacked deck.

    Moreover, Mr. Frank’s assertion that Israel and the US have “a symbiotic relationship” is simply not true. There is no mutual benefit, only parasitism. Even a cursory look at the US-Israeli alliance shows great detriment to the best interests of the US, and in exchange the US gets only a strategic military “ally.” What ally? They provide a few bases (so does Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Kuwait, and several other ME nations by the way) but how many times have the Zionists fought and died for American interests? They are excused from combat in our various Imperial adventures in the ME because it would piss off the Arab world. Who gets the benefit in that “alliance”?

    The US government is seriously discussing cuts to social programs, our economy is in the crapper, unemployment is crippling, home foreclosures are massive, and many US States are running huge deficits; but we’ve got billions for Israel plus billions in arms sales to the Zionists, plus trillions to spend killing off the religion Israel dislikes. Hmmmm. I don’t think I’d call that symbiosis.

  4. mary said on July 12th, 2010 at 11:38am #

    Yes, Mr Marcus, BBC Hasbara Correspondent , ‘Things went badly wrong’ for the dead and injured.

    Some other distorted uses of the English language

    ‘Mistakes were made’
    ‘Professional and courageous’
    ‘largely exonorates the naval commandos’

    Israel admits Gaza flotilla raid ‘mistakes’
    Page last updated at 17:28 GMT, Monday, 12 July 2010 18:28 UK

    The aid flotilla was trying to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip An Israeli military inquiry into the naval raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla says commandos were under-prepared and mistakes were made at a senior level.

    The report says the operation suffered from flawed intelligence-gathering and inadequate planning.

    But it also praised the commandos involved and found the use of force had been the only way to stop the flotilla.

    Eight Turks and one Turkish-American died in the naval raid in international waters, which provoked a major outcry.

    The report criticised the operation’s planners for not having a back-up plan in the event of violence.

    But it also said the mission had not been a failure and did not recommend any dismissals.

    ‘Professional and courageous’

    It said there had been a lack of co-ordination between military and intelligence bodies, and preparations for the 31 May takeover of the ships had been inadequate.
    =====
    Analysis
    Continue reading the main story
    Jonathan Marcus, BBC Diplomatic Correspondent

    This Israeli military investigation confirms things went badly wrong when troops stormed the Mavi Marmara, but largely exonerates the naval commandos.

    However, its findings that serious mistakes were made confirm that questions also need to be asked of Israel’s political leaders, who approved the operation.

    The Eiland report is not the only investigation. A former Supreme Court judge, Jacob Turkel, is conducting an inquiry into the legality of the operation.

    The UN Human Rights Council may well launch its own study, though Israel does not trust this organisation and may well refuse to have anything to do with it. Pressure is on Israel to make its investigation credible.

    Justice Turkel is seeking to give his inquiry real investigative teeth. Here he may well be backed by the Israeli courts. This though may still not satisfy the Turks who have nailed their colours to a fully-fledged international inquiry.
    =====
    As they dropped from helicopters on to the deck of one vessel, the Mavi Marmara, Israeli forces were met with a violent reception, from some of those on board who were armed with clubs and knives and at least one gun, found the report.

    Presenting the findings to media in Tel Aviv, retired general Giora Eiland, who chaired the investigating panel, had both criticism and praise.

    “In this inquiry we found that there were some professional mistakes regarding both the intelligence and the decision-making process and some of the operational mistakes,” he said.

    “But also, we did find some very positive findings, and one of them that should be emphasised is the very professional and courageous way that the Israeli commando behaved.”

    General Eiland said the report was intended to help prepare Israel for similar situations which may occur in the future.

    The Eiland Committee, which began its work on 7 June, scrutinised the military aspects of the raid.

    A separate inquiry, which includes international observers, is examining whether international law was broken during the military raid.

    In a statement, Israeli military chief of staff Lt Gen Gabi Ashkenazi said the Eiland inquiry had not revealed failures or negligence, but “brings up mistakes which must be corrected for future incidents”.

    Israel has resisted calls for a UN-led inquiry into the raid, saying it would be biased.

    The operation prompted an international backlash and has severely strained Israel’s relations with its once-close Muslim ally Turkey.

    Amid the criticism, Israel eased its land blockade on the Gaza Strip, allowing most civilian goods through.

    The naval blockade remains in place. Israel says it is necessary to keep weapons from reaching the Islamist Hamas movement, which controls Gaza.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/10603486.stm

  5. Max Shields said on July 12th, 2010 at 11:56am #

    Charlie your remarks on the role of corporations in the government is more than generous accounting of what they’ve done throughout the world to prod and create everything from coups to assassinations. Then there is the entire US military industrial complex which has its tenticles in every state in the union with a steady flow of trillions for war-making.

    This is not to underplay the role of the Israeli lobby, but the US, if history serves me, has been on the empire road since Teddy Roosevelt; and one can connect the founding of this country to one of savage genocide. So it is hard to simply say that the Israeli Zionist Lobby has been the sole (or even main) provocateur through US history. We are a forgetful people and want to believe that once upon a time there was another USA free from all this intervention and war making; but one must scratch hard and long to find more than a couple of brief moments of peace in this nation’s history.

    Again, and emphatically, Zionism is a force in the US; but the machine of war has been here; and it is because this nation is perpetually poised for war that a Lobby such as the Israeli Lobby can exploit it. Call the US a welcome host to the parasite Zionists. But whatever you do don’t make the Corporate world out as some kind of benign shyster: THERE NOT.

  6. Deadbeat said on July 12th, 2010 at 1:14pm #

    Charlie writes …

    Corporate America sees the US government as a tool for making money; Zionists see it as a warehouse full of temporarily valuable slaves.

    This is very accurate insight of the operation of today’s political economy. The Left at best seems to be stuck in a materialist explanation which better describes how corporations (Capitalism) function rather than how Zionism functions. Capitalist as Charlie point out is a tool for profit making while Zionism is a supremacist ideology that uses Capitalism to further its supremacy.

    The goal of the Chomskyite Left is to divert attention from Zionism’s influence on the American political economy. They focus on two foils: “corporations” and “American imperialism”. These are rather seductive genres because of the inherent historical truths attached to them. This is very sophisticated rhetoric designed to not only to suck in the Liberal/Left but also to rhetorically form non sequitar counter-fallacies when challenged of understating the role of corporations and imperialism when the real goal of Chomskyism is to blunt any discussion and confrontation of American Zionism.

    You can see the hypocrisy of the Chomskyites who continuously blame corporation or pretend they receive “no” corporate funding yet receive large salaries from “foundations” that are funded by former corporate executives and rich Zionists.

    Thankfully however the Internet has provided a real alternative to these phony “Left-wing” gatekeepers.

  7. Max Shields said on July 12th, 2010 at 8:44pm #

    Deadbeat can you explain how you use anti-Zionists language to create the illusion of one thing while begin another?

  8. mary said on July 13th, 2010 at 12:48am #

    Justice of sorts for two brothers who were injured by the police in the demonstrations outside the Israeli Embassy in January 2009 when Cast Lead was being enacted on the people of Gaza, but no justice for all those arrested and jailed. I saw the police, using riot squads with batons and dogs, kettle the very large crowd into a tight space in Kensington High Street.

    http://www.channel4.com/news/articles/world/middle_east/gaza+protesters+receive+met+police+payouts/3708382

  9. Deadbeat said on July 13th, 2010 at 12:48am #

    Max Shields writes …

    Deadbeat can you explain how you use anti-Zionists language to create the illusion of one thing while begin another?

    Your first mistake is to create a strawman Max.

  10. Deadbeat said on July 13th, 2010 at 2:25am #

    I thought I’d provide a more detailed response. I didn’t even notice Max’s original comments but will take this opportunity to answer his question.

    My response was to Charlie who statement I generally agreed with…

    Corporate America sees the US government as a tool for making money; Zionists see it as a warehouse full of temporarily valuable slaves.

    The point of my previous comments is to affirm Charlie’s statement although I prefer saying Capitalism over “corporations” since corporations is a “legal” form representing Capitalism. At one time it was called “big business”.

    The goal of Zionism differs from that of Capitalism. Zionism who supremacist ideology seeks greater expansion. To do that Zionism uses Capitalism for that purpose. On the other hand Capitalism uses exploitation to expand its drive for capital accumulation.

    The other point I made regards to the “Left’s” hypocrisy in blaming “corporations”. Not only does the Left receive funding indirectly from corporations through foundations, the money they receive places them in a class over and above the people and principles they claim to advocate. The Left uses the indictment of “corporations” as a meaningless talking point in order to avoid indicting the Capitalist system. Getting rid of corporations won’t eliminate Capitalism so their complaints is simply empty rhetoric. Clearly we’ve seen this in 2003 when the “oil corporations” were blamed by the Left for the war on Iraq thus deflecting attention away from the Zionist influence of Middle East policy.

    Another foil is “U.S. Imperialism” which is a rhetorical device that ignores the policy makers. When the Left did identify for example Dick Chaney they identified his “corporate” connection but failed to mention that Chaney was also a signatory to the Zionist Project of New American Century (PNAC). Therefore Zionism today has a great deal of influence upon what the Left calls “U.S. Imperialism”.

    Therefore I generally agree with Charlie’s comments and offered additional context and background.

  11. Max Shields said on July 13th, 2010 at 5:29am #

    When you say the “Left” did not note Cheney as a signator of PNAC, who exactly are you talking about? What do you consider yourself, Deadbeat? Who is writing about the connections with the Zionist and neocons? We know about the connections. PNAC and Zionism and the Zionist/Israeli lobby are all known as is their role in the US government foreign policy.

    If you think Chomsky has a motive and is understating the role of PNAC fine. I might even agree on that point. But just because the same person says the US has had and still maintains an empire is like disagreeing with him because he drinks water.

    But you are not satified, you need enemies, so you call anyone who would mention some history about the US, a Chomskyite Zionist or liberal Zionist or whatever. This is pure denial of the facts on your part, it is an attempt to slander anyone who has read history and attempts to provide a full spectrum of the context in which these matters are going on. Disagreeing is one thing (however baseless I think your disagreements are), but making it seem as if someone is “covering up” for Zionists is pure bull shit.

    But to the point – so you do not believe that US HQ corporations have been behind much/most of the US base building throughout the world. The list of corporations are quite extensive in terms of their direct complicity. The military industrial complex is composed of many for-profit corporations. Do you think that this conglomerate has not pushed for military build ups? Once you build up what then?

    But you deny this history and this current state of affairs. You are in effect saying there is really only one reason why the US invades – it is soley for Israeli Zionism. From Korea to Vietnam, to Cambodia, to the death squads of Central and South America, all of these and many more are wars for Israel?

    There is a natural order. The US empire is collapsing. It props up the Zionist state. The latter will begin to crumble. It is simply an unsustainable situation. All the ideology in the world will not let this continue.

    Your zeal to excuse the US raises some serious questions and that is what I meant by “anti-Zionist language” and the veil it provides.