Sun Tzu had the Art of War. Von Clausewitz had On War. Britain used divide and conquer to maintain control of its colonies. Now Israel has transformed the strategy into a fine art in its manipulation of its Arab neighbors.
Earlier this week, Israel’s intelligence minister, Israel Katz, who has already announced his intention run for Likud Party leadership should Bibi Netanyahu be forced to step down due to corruption investigations against him, published an interview on a mysterious Saudi website often used by the Saudis and Israelis to float trial balloons they fear might be controversial in the Arab world.
Ironically, Katz is an intelligence minister who oversees no intelligence agencies. An Israeli security source once commented:
“Wake me up when at least one intelligence agency will become subject to Katz. For now, I regard him as transportation minister and I take him into consideration only when he speaks about Tel Aviv Light Rail.”
Among other news, Katz invited Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed ibn Salman (MbS) to make an official state visit to Israel. He also asked MbS to reciprocate with a state visit by Netanyahu to Riyadh.
What’s most laughable about this is that the website which published the interview, buried the lede by refusing to include the invitation to exchange official visits. That was a bridge too far for the Muslim Guardians of the Faith.
As a result, Katz was forced to publicize his own interview by telling the media what the original source wouldn’t even mention. A rather shameless bit of self promotion.
MbS has, of course, already visited Israel, but that trip was secret, since the Saudis weren’t prepared to tell the Arab world they were preparing to bed down with the very Israelis who’d been the enemies of the Arab world for generations.
Katz also made a vague pitch to the Saudis: that they and Israel, and potentially other parties, should invade Lebanon in order to rid the country once and for all of Iran’s “terrorist ally,” Hezbollah.
He offered the suggestion in a typical Israeli fashion, saying while the latter was a peace-loving country and didn’t want war, if Iran and Hezbollah provoked one, Israel would send Lebanon back to the Stone Age:
“What happened in 2006 will be a picnic compared to what we can do. I remember a Saudi minister saying they will send Hezbollah back to their caves in south Lebanon. I am telling you that we will return Lebanon to the Stone Age.”“At the same time, we don’t want war, and we have no interest in destroying Lebanon, but we will not accept a Lebanese assault on us. For example, I recently suggested to Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu that we act militarily…[and] apply sanctions on Hezbollah and Iran and that, under the leadership of the United States and with the consent of China and Russia, we intervene militarily if there is a need.”
This is nothing new. Israeli generals trot out these threats every time they either want to look tough, throw the fear of God into the Lebanese, or persuade the rest of the world that they’re prepared to incinerate the entire Middle East to get their way, just as Samson toppled the Philistine temple, killing himself along with his enemies.
The sad fact for the Israelis is that no one believes them, but they keep making the same threats anyway. Of course, Israel can do enormous damage to Lebanon and its civilian population. And it will face no war crimes charges despite the enormous damage done to the country.
But the point is that not only don’t the threats intimidate, even as Israel carried out its massive military campaign, it loses regardless. It hasn’t won a war since 1967. Its invasions of Gaza and Lebanon ended, at best, in what might be called draws. But when you are a major regional military power and your enemy is a militia, a draw is a defeat.
The “innovation” (or insanity) in Katz’s statement is that he invites the Saudis to join in a new military adventure by invading Lebanon to depose Hezbollah and Iranian power. He also seems to believe that the Russians and Chinese will somehow endorse this nonsense.
But the scariest part of all this is that MbS is just rash enough to swallow this line from the Israelis and get drawn into an even more catastrophic military adventure than the current failed Yemen intervention.
Israel’s Arab Strategy: Divide and Conquer
Israel has the greatest success when it divides individual Arab states or the Arab world against itself. It’s done this countless times in the past. In Lebanon it created the Christian South Lebanon army to act as a buffer against Lebanese Shiites. In the 1980s, in order to defang Arafat, Israeli intelligence agents aided in the founding of Hamas. It also performed a similar role in order to counter PLO influence in Lebanon, by aiding in the founding of Hezbollah. In Syria, the dog it picked in the fight to tipple Bashar al-Assad was the al Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra militia.
Of course it learned this strategy at the hands of the British, who used it time and again to play off rival tribes or ethnic groups against each other, and thereby weaken any potential opposition to its colonial rule.
The Israeli courtship of Saudi Arabia is part of a similar strategy: to exploit natural enmities & rivalry among Muslim sects (Shia vs Sunni) and states, in order to weaken them & render them impotent in opposing Israeli interests.
With Sunnis fighting Shia, the Palestinian conflict becomes a sideshow in the eyes of the Muslim world, and Israel is free to maintain its suffocating Occupation.
Nor does the world feel under any obligation to intervene. It figures if the Arab world is divided and places lower priority on solving the Israel-Palestine conflict, why should we bother?
It’s important not to collapse onto cynicism or despair in the face of such machinations. The Arab and Muslim world should develop a coherent, coördinated strategy figure Israel and the U.S. (and even Saudi Arabia possibly) to pay a price for their betrayal of Palestine. Diplomatic sanctions, UN recognition of Palestine as a member state, transformation of BDS from a grassroots movement into a national policy fur those progressive states which are will g to successfully solidarity with Palestine.
Entering Dangerous Times
These are especially dangerous times, when war looms on the horizon. It may be no accident that just as Fatah and Hamas appeared ready to unite in a solid front against Israel, that the U.S. and Israel concocted this insult to Palestinian intelligence: the Jerusalem proclamation. This development has sucked the air out of the regional conversation, and no one is paying any attention to Palestinian reconciliation.
Similarly, Israel’s bombing of an Islamic Jihad tunnel in Gaza and the deaths of one of the group’s top commanders in the assault, along with the Shabak assassination of two IJ militants who may have been planning an attack, has led to boiling tensions in Gaza. Both sides, Israel and the Gaza militant factions are spoiling for another fight, it appears. Those who suffer the most naturally will be the Gaza civilians who will die in the ensuing slaughter.
Such a war would suit Netanyahu just fine as a distraction from the four corruption investigations besetting him. No police commander or State attorney would commence a prosecution of Netanyahu in the middle of a war. And after the war ends, in what Bibi hopes will be a major IDF victory, no prosecutor would have the guts to bring down a leader who just took his nation to victory.
This is Israel’s geo-strategic strategy in a nutshell: cynicism raised to the highest level.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.