Substituting relevant knowledge and the ability to accurately gauge geopolitical circumstances, when combined with false notions of the nature of Pakistan’s relations with the Middle East and the ‘Arab world’, has tended to sometimes produce odd conclusions by some Pakistani analysts regarding our ‘need’ to recognize Israel. The reasoning provided seems to continuously incorporate themes imported from ‘intellectual’ circles with a history of ignorant, fraudulent commentaries on the Middle East, the ‘Arab world’ and Israel and a healthy dosage of knee-jerk logic that suggests just any sort of change from a past policy would be a good thing. The ‘we must recognize Israel’ line of thinking – and I don’t mean to imply that it is coherently and seriously represented in terms of lobbying, or academia, or in the media or any similar niche – represents a waste of time and yet the need to nip this reactionary trend in the bud is perhaps greater at this period where Pakistan potentially begins a series of wide-ranging foreign policy shifts. Misconceptions toward a region as intrinsically important to Pakistan as the Middle East should be amended, what with so much having happened there since Pakistan itself came into being in 1947 with Israel arriving on the scene a year later.
‘Pakistan has done so much for the Arabs, they did not return the favour’
It seems reactionary pseudo-analysts wish for the country’s policymakers to think along the same vein that they do. I will allow the realization of the myth of the ‘Arab world’ (air quotes) as a singular, politically homogenous bloc beyond just the Gulf regimes to be absorbed through the rest of this piece. And thus the notion that Pakistan helped all of them in any serious way to subsequently dissipate as well.To think that anti-Israeli, anti-colonialist nationalist governments such as those of Gamal Abdel Nasser or Hafez al Assad are somehow the same thing as Sheikhdoms and monarchies planted by the colonialists is objectively ludicrous. I do not offer a commentary on how effective it would have been to cast our lot with these states; merely that it is senseless to assume they are the same to the Gulf regimes.
To then go on and state that Pakistan cozying up to every one of these planted monarchies and Sheikhdoms who in turn do nothing to oppose Israel (what a surprise, Western vassal states not protecting Gaza from bombardment, how utterly shocking) was somehow Pakistan doing ‘the Arabs’ a favour is even more ridiculous. To then proceed from this starting point of complete ignorance of Middle East affairs and cite the Gulf regimes’ moral bankruptcy as a reason to ‘cease to stick up for the Arabs against Israel’ sets perhaps a world record in ignorance. Pakistan has always been close to those Muslim states which bore the Western seal of approval. It has not forged relationships based on affinity for the Arab peoples or the Arab leaders who took principled stances against the Zionist entity.
It is important, to state here, that Pakistani nationalists are also guilty of peddling the myth that Pakistan is a stronghold of Muslim unity, citing its closeness to regimes any pan-Islamist with their wits about them would advocate the dismantling of as their justification.
The Lebanese resistance Hezbollah that pushed Israel out of Lebanon in 2000 after a bloody, brutal 18 year occupation featuring several slaughters of Arabs of all sects and religions received no support from Pakistan. Nor did it receive any when it defeated the Israelis in open war in 2006. The al Qassam brigade of Hamas is not armed by Pakistan, but by Iran. The same goes for groups such as Islamic Jihad and the PFLP. Pakistan was busy joining Western-led military pacts such as SEATO and CENTO that were created in the 50s and 60s as a response to nationalist upheavals in Arab countries such as the Iraqi revolution of 1958 which removed the puppet monarchy there and the United Arab Republic experiment of Syria and Egypt in 1958. The message had unfortunately been sent by Pakistan, that it cast its lot with those who oppressed Arabs. This may have not been the message Pakistan intended to send, but one can hardly fault Arab leaders such as Nasser for criticizing Pakistan for such foreign policy moves. The point is also not to castigate a country like Pakistan whose hands are full with security dilemmas in its own region, but delusions about its role in the Middle East in history must not be entertained.
‘Saudi Arabia recognizing Israel represents the need for Pakistan to do so as well’
This comes up very often. I will assume that this ridiculous reasoning hints at some manner of ideological shift redefining relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel and thus which could potentially redefine relations between Pakistan and Israel and not merely ‘the Saudis are doing so and thus we should to’. The latter would, of course, run contrary to the ‘Pakistan’s interests first!’ slogan that this clique of pseudo-analysts loves to refer to when advocating our recognition of a hyper-aggressive apartheid state.
How anyone, let alone from a country with geographical proximity to a number of important players in the Middle East, could assume that Saudi Arabia, a state that has remained a Western vassal since the early days of Ibn Saud’s collaboration with the British against the Ottomans (in exchange for personal wealth, not a unified Arabia as other less dishonourable anti-Ottoman Arab leaders had demanded) would ever truly be enemies with Israel is hard to fathom. At least for those who follow affairs in the Middle East closely and not sit back and make reckless assumptions with strong undertones of the vastly discredited ‘Clash of Civilizations’ mentality that would deem any Arab state would be opposed to Israel for the sake of it being Israel. Saudi Arabia was always pro-West whether it was rising against the Ottomans and then consolidating rule over the Hejaz with a pro-Western regime, combating the Arab nationalist uprising in Yemen in the 1960s inspired by Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, being the de facto leader of the Gulf Cooperation Council filled to the brim with Western military bases and which ensured the strength of the US in financial markets via the petrodollar or providing the ideological fuel to the violent Wahabi radical militants the West – and Israel – employed in the Middle East throughout history to curb Arab nationalism or Iranian influence such as the Ikhwan ul Muslimeen, Jabhat al Nusra and ISIS in more recent times.
The knowledge that a Western vassal state which depends so heavily on the West for security, whose elites invest heavily in the West and which is a major purchaser of Western weapons has never been a rival to Israeli ambitions in the region should come fairly easily to any analyst worth their salt. Furthermore, the recent bringing-to-the-forefront of Saudi-Israeli relations in a more official way is driven, quite obviously, by strategic considerations. Saudi Arabia’s been on the losing side in major conflicts it involved itself in with regard to Syria (where Iran backed the government and Saudi Arabia the rebel-terrorists) and even Yemen which has seen a more unified military response rise against the Saudi bombing campaign and numerous failed advances by the Saudis and their allies against the Middle East’s poorest country. Iran has risen as a regional power, in contrast, and without any serious shaking up of its internal political apparatus as was done by Mohammad bin Salman in Saudi Arabia with his purging of several important officials last year. The Saudi attempt to kidnap Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Harriri and stir up conflict in Lebanon was acknowledged as a joint Israeli-Saudi ploy to destabilize the brittle state and target Hezbollah whose political ascension was fast eroding the power of the pro-Saudi and pro-West Harriri bloc in Lebanon. The Israelis and Saudis had also signed a memorandum of understanding regarding military cooperation in 2014, information that was not made immediately public.
Backdoor diplomacy has been a feature of GCC-Israel relations in the previous decades, but we can expect the rapid upgrading of open relations to continue and for specifically strategic interests. Nothing to do with cultural or social change as some erroneously suggest.
‘Israel is the main power in the Middle East and Pakistan must concede!’
Israel gets tens of billions of dollars worth of unconditional aid every year and the ability to sway US policy in a decisively pro-Israel direction via a network of rich and powerful lobbying organizations present there (many of which pre-date the setting up of a Jewish state in Palestine). It has also had, up till the relatively recent and remarkable rise of the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis, no real rivals to its policy of expansion, be it through the continues, racist settlements it constructs or active territorial annexations via pre-planned warfare. It stole the highly-enriched uranium it required for building nuclear weapons from the US in the 1960s – an operation its current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was personally involved in. Israel finally being able to neutralize its first major rival in Egypt, a post-colonial state, took false-flag terrorism in the form of the ‘Lavon Affair’, a joint France-UK-Israel invasion of Egypt’s Suez Canal in 1956 an Israeli attack on the USS Liberty in 1967 with the intent of blaming Egypt and securing a US attack on Egypt. The neoconservative movement – a movement of Israel-loyal Jews in the US with interlocking personal, academic and journalistic careers that ascended into important Pentagon positions during the Reagan, Clinton and Bush administrations – would ensure yet again Israel utilizing the US against a major enemy; this time, Saddam Hussein’s powerful Iraq. These officials, called by Collin Powell ‘the JINSA crowd’, referring to a think tank established in 1976 staffed by individuals obsessed with Israel’s objectives as opposed to those of the US, ensured that Israel yet again had the US to use as a bludgeon and cash cow for fighting its enemies.
The long-term result, however, of plunging the US into conflict repeatedly hasn’t strengthened Israel’s position and Israel’s main target – and thus, that of the US – since the Iraqi threat was mostly neutralized in 1991, which is Iran, has grown stronger in terms of its regional influence and presence. Iranian-recruited forces filled the void left by the Iraqi military’s collapse against ISIS in 2014 and are almost solely to be credited with the defeat of the terrorist group on the Iraqi front, which was supported and invested in heavily by the US, the GCC and Israel as a weapon against mainly Bashar al Assad in Syria. Qatar has been driven into Iranian arms, Turkey maintains cordial relations with Iran and a tripartite team with it and Russia to politically resolve the Syrian conflict and the independent Kurdistan movement has taken blow after blow across Iran’s geopolitical backyard as well. There is not a pro-Israel government in place in Baghdad, and the Nuri al Maliki era saw Iranian influence reach deep into Iraq and gradually erode that of the US or the GCC. Hezbollah and its allies occupy more parliament and cabinet seats in Lebanon than at any time before and most of Syria is still under the control of the government, an Arab nationalist government allied with Iran and Hezbollah.
‘The Middle East is destroyed, who else to work with?’
As made obvious before, the defeat of huge terrorist groups created via recruitment from all around the world is a positive achievement for a bloc that is united by opposition to Israel. Syria has undergone immense suffering because that is what happens in a massive war; a country such as Pakistan which has had to wage war against terrorists alone (albeit not always against terrorists with the capability of waging protracted war and pitched battles) should respect that. Several enemies of the Zionist entity are much stronger than they’d been in previous years, despite the ability of Israel to continuously ‘easily move’ American policy against them, as Netanyahu smugly stated many years ago. Turkey is barely an enthusiastic collaborator with NATO anymore after a series of large conflicts-of-interest with it and enjoys good relations with Iran without compromising upon them because Israel desires it to. Iran co-exists with Russia amicably enough given the vast amounts of influence it has managed to cultivate throughout the Levant and even among its neighbours’ large Shia communities. The Russians maintain their anti-terrorist global crusade, the main motivating factor for the September 2015 intervention in Syria and which may now expand to Afghanistan via partnership on that issue with Iran and Pakistan. More EU member states display a slightly growing will to resist the sanctions on Iran demanded by the US, which were being largely pushed by Israel’s lobbyist AIPAC even during the JCPOA days.
The most viable partners for Pakistan to work with in the Middle East do not include a country that supplies terrorists in Balochistan to attack Pakistan’s emerging partner Iran, which openly allied in Syria with inherently anti-Pakistan groups such as ISIS, very deep relations with the Indian BJP government and which knows only the language of force in its foreign policy. Pakistan has begun to construct meaningful relations with states such as Iran, Russia and China and the Israelis’ objection to Pakistan as a militarily powerful, nuclear armed state is open knowledge as well. Pakistan is a direct beneficiary of the gains made by Israel’s adversaries, and in very obvious ways.
Pakistan stands at a political crossroads, with much cause for optimism. There is a new government expected to not be at odds with other vital institutions of the country, a charismatic new leader, strides being made against corruption and a chance to formulate a properly-thought out foreign policy. Recognizing Israel and creating bilateral relations with it remains as ridiculous a suggestion as it was during the 1980s when Israel and India planned airstrikes against Pakistan’s nuclear facilities.
Pakistan’s policies are changing for the better and its best that we learn to acknowledge that Pakistan never had any properly thought-out Islamic unity-driven approach to the Middle East or out of affinity toward actors who had the interests of their besieged peoples at heart. The dark years of unhealthy collaboration with the Gulf-US combo have been over for some time now and a proper reformation of our policy toward countries that are predominantly Muslim should be cognizant of the mistakes of the past.
Pan Islamism cannot truly ever be removed from the hearts and minds of the Pakistani people and one cannot castigate Pakistan excessively for being leveraged in the past by ‘unhealthy partners’. A new outreach toward new Muslim partners in the Middle East, such as Iran and Turkey as well as the Syrians and Iraqis, could mark the beginning of a new era of Pakistan as a positive actor in the affairs of Muslim countries. For those with even a slight understanding of Israel’s ruling elite and their approach to geopolitics, they will know well that it has revolved largely around destabilizing regional countries in order to ensure military competitors with Israel do not rise. Exploiting ethnic and sectarian faultlines and cultivating alliances with the most ill-fated and toxic movements and ideologies – be they Kurdish separatism or transnational Takfirism – has been part and parcel of Israeli strategy for a long time now. Al Qaeda, recently known better as Jabhat al Nusra and ISIS, have, as former MOSSAD director Efraim Halevy put it, never been an Israeli adversary.
I can hardly say that appeals to Pakistan. Or to anyone, really.