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October 30, 2006

Perspective on Middle East politics: A response to opinion piece by professor Terry Burke

Editor’s note: 
Currents Online publishes opinion pieces in order to foster the exchange of ideas that are an essential part of any institution of higher learning. It must be emphasized that the opinions expressed in this section of Currents Online are those of the authors only, and do not reflect the opinion or endorsement of the editors of Currents Online or of the UC Santa Cruz administration. Before submitting opinion articles to Currents Online, we advise authors to review our policy statement as well as the campus’s Principles of Community.

By Gilbert Stein

To understand the logic of Terry Burke's opinion piece in Currents last July, one needs to go back to the first Gulf War in the early 1990s. Burke opposed the U.S. involvement in that war in which U.S. forces supported the government of Kuwait against Saddam Hussein's Iraq. The elder President Bush created a coalition of both Arab and non-Arab countries to assist the effort. Israel was involved in two ways: she was asked by the United States to not take any military action and so when Israel was attacked by Iraq with scud missiles she did not respond. Also, because of Israel's action several years earlier in destroying the French-built nuclear reactor, there was no Iraqi nuclear threat. Despite the fact that Americans were sent to the Middle East to defend an Arab nation and that Israel was attacked, I recall that Professor Burke made a public comment to the effect that American boys were dying for Israel. Some 15 years later, such a sentiment only makes sense if you believe in an international Jewish conspiracy.

Burke starts his piece by posing two either/or questions: Was the July operation in Lebanon a joint U.S/Israel operation or was the United States caught by surprise? Are these the only two possibilities and is it an either/or proposition? Of course not. Nevertheless, he proceeds to piece together non-sequiturs to support his conspiracy theory that Israel had planned to invade Lebanon with American complicity.

Burke emphasizes that Israel had plans to invade Lebanon. His "evidence" in part comes from a San Francisco Chronicle article by Matthew Kalman. He quotes Professor Gerald Steinberg saying that "of all Israel's wars since 1948, this was the one for which Israel was best prepared." In an August 1 interview for the Council on Foreign Affairs, Steinberg answered the question, "was this a long-planned attack," as follows:

"This response was something the Israeli military explicitly prepared as a scenario it was likely to face. The Israeli public understood the implications, meaning that there would be this length of bombardment....But the Israeli public was prepared mentally, psychologically, and I guess one could say strategically."

Although Burke quotes Steinberg he doesn't understand the public support for responding with force to Hezbollah that Steinberg outlined. Washington had nothing to do with fomenting this: It was Hezbollah and Hamas which made it clear to the Israeli public that unless Israel took forceful action, the attacks and kidnappings wouldn't stop. Hezbollah's Nasrallah now says that he would not have kidnapped the soldiers if he knew that Israel would respond with such force.

Burke then questions the timing of the Israeli response, noting that Hezbollah has carried out cross-border raids and rocket attacks before. True enough, which is why it was necessary for Israel to respond with such force that Hezbollah would think twice about ever doing this again. Burke completely ignores the kidnapping and killing of soldiers by Hamas a couple of weeks prior to the Hezbollah attack. With two instances of her international border being violated and hundreds of rockets being launched from Gaza and Southern Lebanon what government would not respond with as much force as necessary?

Burke also claims that Kalman suggests "the recent war marks the coming of age of a generation of Israeli military commanders who had begun their careers in the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and who never accepted its failure in the humiliating 1990 withdrawal. They resolved to try again.” First of all the Israeli withdrawal was in 2000 not 1990 as Burke wrote. Secondly, the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 was a military success as Israeli forces expelled the PLO. The military occupation of Southern Lebanon was the problem, which is why no Israeli political or military leader advocates a reoccupation of Lebanon.

Another example of Burke's misguided thinking is his statement that a political solution was so close prior to July 12. Iran continues to tweak its nose at the U.N. and Hamas had just kidnapped Gilad Shalit and was shooting into Israel on a near daily basis. Syria certainly had not made any peace overtures to either Israel or Lebanon.

It seems to me that Terry Burke has attempted to show that Israel planned with the United States to destabilize the Middle East by attacking Lebanon as part of a much wider plan. He has provided no evidence to support his contention. Had he looked at the Hamas-Hezbollah-Iran connection he might have a better conspiracy theory. Was there a connection between the Hamas attacks from Gaza and Hezbollah attacks from Lebanon? Did Iran encourage Hezbollah to divert attention from its nuclear program or perhaps to boost its standing in the Moslem world? Was the Hezbollah assault more about internal Lebanese politics? I don't know the answers. There are facts to support all of these possibilities, and when the dust clears we will have a better picture of what happened.

In my opinion, the July 31 piece reflects frustration with current events, both in the United States and in the world. The Bush administration's stance on Islamic terrorism and the continuing American involvement in Iraq is troublesome for any liberal thinker. However, we should refrain from creating conspiracy theories when reality doesn't match what we want to believe. This is especially true if these theories target a specific ethnic group. I read the rhetorical question, "Who's running American foreign policy?" as a not-so-subtle insinuation that it is the Jews and Israel to blame for our foreign policy disasters. My concern is that this is not that much different than the accusations of Hitler and Stalin more than half a century ago.

Gilbert Stein is a UCSC alumnus (Stevenson '71); he practices law in the Santa Cruz area.

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