Yesterday, brought ominous news regarding yet another aggressive Israeli projection of its military power in the Mideast. Since 1967, with but a few exceptions (Osirak being one), Israel has mainly satisfied itself by retaining dominance over its frontline neighbors and not attempting to meddle in affairs of more far-flung states. But with Bibi Netanyahu’s new policy of projecting Israeli power far outside Israel’s immediate sphere and threatening Iran with attack, we have an Israel ready and willing to step far outside its former comfort zone.
To show that Bibi’s aggressive, interventionist approach isn’t a fluke, UPI reports that Israel is negotiating with Greek Cyprus for placement of an Israeli air base on the island, ostensibly to protect the new Israeli-Cypriot joint gas exploration project:
Israel is already preparing to launch a major security operation to protect the offshore fields and the attendant facilities in its waters.
This will involve missile-armed patrol vessels, round-the-clock aerial surveillance by unmanned drones and other naval detachments, primarily to defend the energy zones against attack by Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed force in neighboring Lebanon.
This field is in dispute with Lebanon, which also claims title. Turkey too disputes the area on behalf of Turkish Cyprus. This certainly is one reason for the Israeli move.
But an even more important one in the long-term, is Israel confronting Turkey with its power. It’s a rather naked move. A flagrant invasion of Turkey’s sphere of influence, which can only bring a Turkish response. The response will likely come within an area under Israel’s sphere of influence. Oh say, like Gaza. Someone with a cool head ought to start looking at this developing rivalry and see where it could lead (or end).
There is only one way to resolve territorial disputes of the nature of the one concerning the Cypriot gas field, negotiation. Israel, however, doesn’t believe it negotiation. It believes in naked projections of military strength. An Israeli base on Cyprus would be a forward projection of Israeli power in the same way that the U.S. base in Diego Garcia is our forward projection of power into the Mideast (currently threatening Iran, but previously used to bolster invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan).
It’s bad enough with the U.S. making a pretense of being the cop of the world and getting itself mired in places it should never be. But do we want Israel, with its history of wars and endless bloodshed, tangling not just with Palestinians or Arab militant groups like Hezbollah, but with full-fledged regional powers like Turkey? Let’s not forget that country’s age-old rivalry with Greece which has also led to centuries of historic conflict. Now Israel is playing footsie with the Greeks and becoming best friends with the current economic basket case of Europe. Greece is only too happy to oblige and take advantage of the power Israel has to offer.
Do we really want Israel playing with fire in this way? I fear this can only end badly.
Another related matter that concerns me is the economic bonanza that this new-found oil portends for Israel, one of the most economically striated nations in the world. The new gas and oil deals promise to make the Israeli elite even richer. It will bring untold billions to Israeli politicians and generals who will flock to consult for the new enterprises (as has Meir Dagan). One place this wealth will not go, is into the pockets of those who need it most inside Israel: the poor, the disenfranchised, etc. The Haredi and Israeli Palestinian poor will stay poor. There will be few, if any programs to share the wealth or provide benefits to those in need. After all, this is Bibi Netanyahu, a disciple of Milton Friedman, an economic Hobbesian. It’s dog-eat-dog in the Likud world. Just as long as Bibi and his party cronies are taken care of, little else matters.
In truth, this would likely happen whoever was in power. The only thing that would change is the names and faces of those benefitting. Labor and Kadima would be no better as anyone who knows about Ehud Barak’s wealth-producing consulting jobs while he was out of power, is aware. So for any who believe in the dreams of liberal Zionism and the Declaration of Independence, that Israel is a nation meant to realize a vision of brotherhood, tolerance and human dignity, the coming oil boom will frustrate you. But undoubtedly, if you’re a liberal Zionist, you’ll, as Tim Hardin wrote, “still look to find a reason to believe.”