Let’s beware of our friends for, our enemies, we know them already
A very strange stage-managed drama played out on the floors of the US Congress on Tuesday March 3rd. In the midst of numerous thunderous standing ovations from members of the House, the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, addressed the US Congress at the invitation of Republican House Leader John Boehner, a fortnight ahead of Israeli election due to take place on 17th March and about a month before the UN deputed P5 +1 are chalked out to reach a deal about keeping under international control Iran’s heavily contested nuclear programme.
(The P5+1 is a group of six world powers which in 2006 joined the diplomatic efforts with Iran with regard to its nuclear program. The term refers to the P5 or five permanent members of the UN Security Council, namely United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, and France, plus Germany. P5+1 is often referred to as the E3+3 (or E3/EU+3) by European countries.)
Netanyahu’s address was a sort of a broadcast back home to Israeli voters, with a purpose – a manner of hijacking a US platform to influence voters at home but also to drive a wedge in American politics between Republicans and Democrats. Such is the power of the Israel lobby AIPAC in America that Congressmen and women stood up on their feet time and again during Netanyahu’s 40-minute speech to express their admiration of the craftily chosen words of the Israeli leader. Such was the scale of frequent applause from them that they appeared to have gone totally oblivious of the ruthless massacre on the population of Gaza inflicted under the orders of the same man barely months ago during the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In fact, the backdrop of his entire speech was the threat of radical Islam in the Middle East region, referring in particular to Iran and ISIS.
The Israeli election will decide whether the incumbent Likud Party Prime Minister, Netanyahu, will lead Israel again. The more fear of the future he instills among Israeli voters, the more he will put himself in the posture of their saviour and this is precisely what he set out to do in a carefully crafted speech before Congress, putting Israel in the posture of an international victim. He referred at one point in time to a Jewish book according to which, 2500 years earlier, a previous Iranian leader plotted to destroy the Jewish people, a plot which was foiled, in a manner of convincing his audience that he is fighting up against crime travelling down since such a long time. The statement was greeted by another round of applause and ovation by Congress members.
On the other hand, he seemed to know in advance the contents of the secret forthcoming deal between the P5+ 1 and Iran on the nuclear issue – Iran accepting to curtail its nuclear bomb capacity such that it could not be activated before one year is lapsed, if ever, and Iran giving up its nuclear bomb work-in-progress for ten years from now.
The latter secret negotiations with Iran are being led by US Secretary of State, John Kerry — supported by President Obama and seen as a distinctive foreign policy achievement of the Obama administration if it were to materialize. They will determine whether the tensions around Iran’s nuclear weapons program – which it claims are meant for civilian purposes – will be eased.
All through the Israeli Prime Minister’s speech before Congress, it was not difficult to make out that his objective was to derail the P5+ 1 deal in a bid to stand up Iran as a warmonger against Israel. This meets Netanyahu’s local political objective to scare Israeli voters into submission as if it were telling them: “You need a strong hand like me to keep America’s military might at Israel’s disposal.” No matter he took the opportunity to also paint in his speech an apocalyptic picture of American security conditions – a dart against Obama’s management of this portfolio – were America to give a porte-de-sortie-de-crise to Iran by agreeing a deal.
For all this, Netanyahu had nothing pragmatic or truly concrete to offer America to solve the tension which has come about on the Iranian nuclear programme. Other than some 60 democrats who boycotted his speech, the majority of Congressmen cheered him when he ended on this note.
All this may look like things that are esoteric and relevant only to the power struggle going on between Netanyahu and President Obama and not directly related to us. All this may appear unconnected to us. But there are some lessons to be drawn by us, though.
Israel has moved so much into the heart of American policy-making – thanks partly to its strong Israel American lobby group, AIPAC — that one of its political leaders can stand up and defy, right there on Capitol Hill not too far from the White House, the highest office holder of the land and one of the most powerful men of the planet – President Barack Obama. If a country is not careful enough to rein in the so-called “friendly” country, the latter can use your own secret Cabinet Papers to frustrate national objectives, for the pursuit of its own geopolitical interests, no matter if this kind of pursuit hurts yours.
Such a “friendly” country can foster a divide within the ruling political class to get to its own objective – even if that prevented you from achieving laudable objectives for the betterment of your people or for your economic advancement. We are particularly prone to fight it out publicly among ourselves all the time in Mauritius; so, the pasture is greener over here for carrying out such a divisive ploy. It will not matter whether you want, in your own legitimate right, to develop your territory – onshore and offshore. This doesn’t count. It is not difficult for an outside party to play easily inflammable chaps against each other and walk away with the prize.
The “friendly” country is least bothered about how the achievement of its own objectives prevents you from developing. On the contrary, it will, with the media’s help, nurture division of perceptions between one part of the people against another, the same way Israel has stepped in between the Republican and Democrat sides of the US to advance its own perception of how global politics should be played out.
The consequences of how you tear yourself apart in the process are none of its preoccupations. Netanyahu inflamed the existing divisions in America by appearing to side with the Republicans against the Democrats when addressing the prospective Iran nuclear deal. His plea before Congress was that the Iran deal being negotiated by the Obama administration, with the blessings of the UN, represents a predicament for the whole of America and, indeed, the rest of the world. We have to see for ourselves how much we expose ourselves to this kind of risk of becoming irrational vis-à-vis outside powers when we keep washing our dirty linen in public.
We carry a baggage of past ethnic divisions here in Mauritius. We’ve been doing that for far too long. The divisions constitute the fatal flaw which outsiders can exploit to get to their own agenda for the country – and, why not, the entire region – to override our real social and economic interests. Weakened by these divisions and facing an uncertain future on account of it, we remain open to being lobbied up by outsiders who may seek to have governments here which suit their convenience. We have to remain awake to this reality.
It is clear which path we should tread if we are truly independent. We don’t have to offend anybody in particular. But, at the least, we should be free to choose our friends who will, while collaborating with us, not undermine our frail social fabric or our independence.
* Published in print edition on 6 March 2015