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  Opinion   Columnists  18 Dec 2023  Saeed Naqvi | Amid differences with US on Gaza, Israeli lobby has to work overtime

Saeed Naqvi | Amid differences with US on Gaza, Israeli lobby has to work overtime

The writer is a senior journalist and commentator based in New Delhi
Published : Dec 18, 2023, 3:08 am IST
Updated : Dec 18, 2023, 3:08 am IST

The genocidal war continues but US wouldn’t like to be seen pressing for a ceasefire without terminating Hamas

In this picture taken during a media tour organised by the Israeli military on December 15, 2023, army spokesman Daniel Hagari shows the entrance of a tunnel that Hamas reportedly used to attack Israel through the Erez border crossing on October 7. (AFP)
 In this picture taken during a media tour organised by the Israeli military on December 15, 2023, army spokesman Daniel Hagari shows the entrance of a tunnel that Hamas reportedly used to attack Israel through the Erez border crossing on October 7. (AFP)

A brutal tragedy is being played out on an epic scale between Israel and Gaza. Though the scale is truly epic, it still constitutes but a sub-plot in the cosmic drama of a hegemon’s fall.

This is a particularly poignant moment for America because at least two of its stellar proteges are at risk. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu is riding a tiger. Should he dismount, he will be devoured, so he must continue pounding a hapless people.

The other protégé, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is running around, cap in hand: “Please Sir, may I have some more.”

The genocidal war continues but US wouldn’t like to be seen pressing for a ceasefire without terminating Hamas. The absurdity of this war will dawn on Tel Aviv and Washington when the guns fall silent, as Hamas will still be there, possibly more rejuvenated.

In Elia Kazan’s Viva Zapata, named after the Emiliano Zapata who led a peasant revolt against a corrupt Mexican landlord, the army surround the hero (played by Marlon Brando) and pump a hail of bullets in him to make absolutely certain that Emiliano is dead. In a symbolic last shot, Kazan focuses his camera on Emiliano’s trusted white stallion dancing in the hills.

The Idea of Zapata will ride on.

Mr Netanyahu and his fearsome right wing make rational debate impossible. America’s displeasure matters not a jot because Israel, by its lights, is not protected by the US. It is protected by the Old Testament’s books contained in the Torah!

This reminds me of a huge distortion in the Idea of Israel that has always puzzled me. The projection of the conflict in Israel in Muslim-Judaic terms is patently false.

In Andalusia, Spain, Jewish philosophers like Maimonides who complied the Mishneh Torah, were much celebrated during the long Muslim rule. During the “Reconquista”, when Muslims and Jews were hounded out by the Inquisition, Jews found refuge in Morocco, where the Royal Palace to this day invites representative form world Jewry for an annual jamboree. I interviewed the second-most powerful man in the kingdom, Andre Azoulay, a Jew, principal adviser to the King.

This explained photographs of King Hasan V on the walls of many Sephardic Jews in Jerusalem. This is only one of the social habits which separates Sephardics from Ashkenazi Jews who migrated from Europe and Russia. They control most levers of State power. Prime Minister Menachem Begin was the leader of Irgun, the avowedly Israeli terrorist outfit which blew up the British headquarters at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, killing 96 British subjects in 1946.

This is simply to provide perspective. Now that President Joe Biden is unequivocal that Israel’s Gaza bombing is “indiscriminate”, I suspect he has gone as far as he can. But will Israel’s defence minister Yoar Gallant and internal security minister Ben Gvir take note? Their support base flaunts Biblical guarantees to neutralise most US advice that moderates hardline “Bibi” Netanyahu’s position.

Washington often has to look over its shoulders at the all-powerful Israel lobby before outlining serious policy options. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s classic The Israel Lobby is strewn with nuggets on the lobby’s extraordinary influence. An American participant at Camp David in 2000 told the authors: “Far too often, we functioned as Israel’s lawyers.”

It is well established that on any matter relating to Israel, the lobby can trump any policy. Remember how Barack Obama’s opposition to a Netanyahu visit was thwarted: the Israeli PM sailed over the President’s head and addressed a joint session of Congress.

Mr Biden’s words of caution to minimise civilian deaths were largely ignored during the current Israeli brutalities. In this operation, as in earlier ones, Israel derives its impurity largely from the lobby’s capacity to manipulate the US establishment.

Secretary of state Antony Blinken’s signal to Mr Netanyahu two weeks ago was clear: you must complete the operation of “destroying” Hamas within a limited time. Civilian deaths on this scale are leading to a collapse of support worldwide. The ground situation shows Dresden-like destruction, but there is no evidence of Hamas having been destroyed.

To the contrary, the chief commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami, says Israel is in a “quagmire” as “Palestinian youth” are adopting new methods. “So far 180 of their 1,600 tanks have been destroyed.” The number of dead Israeli soldiers is in three digits.

This is a do-or-die situation for Israel and its patron, the US. Vladimir Putin, whose nose the West was determined to rub in the dust ever since the “special military operation” began in Ukraine on February 24, 2022, looked none the worse after nearly two years, as he visited Saudi Arabia and the UAE and received Iran’s President Raisi in Moscow. Meanwhile a high-powered EU delegation, with European Council president Charles Michael and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, met President Xi Jinping and implored him to use his influence in Moscow to end the Ukraine conflict.

Just when Ukraine and Gaza were both looking unmanageable, Nicolas Maduro opened up a front claiming a 61,000-km oil/gas-rich disputed Essequibo enclave on the border with former British colony Guyana.

Venezuela is right under America’s nose. Moreover, just a year ago, Washington produced one Guan Guaido as its preferred President. The country is oil-rich, you see. This eager-beaver initiative was abandoned because it was so patently childish. Now Mr Maduro’s move has invited a tepid response from secretary of state Antony Blinken. He turned up in Guyana but said not a word about the disputes. President Trump’s secretary of state Rex Tillerson once famously thundered: “The Monroe doctrine is still alive.” Really?

Tags: benjamin netanyahu, volodymyr zelenskyy, israel-palestine conflict, viva zapata