Last week, Donald Trump’s visit to the Orient was remarkable by its conformity and continuity with previous American policy. Notably, he included in his Israeli press conference a repeat of the traditional diplomatic line that Israel is an important ally in the “fight against terrorism”. It is a common theme with Israel and its supporters, and the main argument for it against critics, that Israel acts as a sort of dam against the ocean of barbarism and violence that lies beyond, ready to flood our civilisation…. It is as comfortable to believe as it is grotesque.
The main reason people are ready to believe it is that, despite its importance, Israel is really only ever mentioned in the news when it is directly involved in conflict, most conspicuously with Hamas, which is indeed a salafist and a terrorist group. But it would be foolish to think it has anything to do with the kind of terrorism that threatens Europe, or any other part of the world for that matter. Hamas only ever threatened Israel, whose moral situation vis-à-vis Palestinians is different from ours anyway since it is a colonial power to them, whereas we are not. In fact, terrorism is a constant among occupied peoples, whereas what threatens us in Europe obviously has different causes.
Hamas also only exists as a movement of “resistance” to Israel’s ambitions, not ours, on Arab territory, and furthermore it is not a secret, nor even an official secret, that Israel was happy to help Hamas in its inception, and even today is not really willing to extirpate the group or arrest its leaders, despite what might appear from the regular bombing campaigns in Gaza. So yes, if Israel wasn’t there, it wouldn’t be there to fight Hamas; but Hamas would not be there either.
This touches on a more general element which is key to understanding the paradoxical relation between Zionism and salafism: asside from all moral considerations, there is an obvious strategic alliance between the former and the latter.
For one thing, one dominant feature in salafist movements is their incredible cowardice and complacency towards those, like Israel, whom we might expect them to fight on religious grounds. Ask yourself, what has any salafist regime, like those in the Gulf for example, ever done to really harm Israel or any nation which is involved in attacking or occupying the Orient? In fact they only ever harm those who are weaker than they are, usually other muslims.
Not only that, but when salafists like Hamas do use violence, it is always in the form of terrorism, which on top of being immoral, is also spectacularly ineffective at achieving anything. Of the thousands of rockets fired by them in 2014, the only result was minor material damage and a total of three casualties. As it concerns Israel’s ambitions for the ultimate wiping off of Palestine from the map, this threat from Hamas can be measured at exactly zero.
Lastly, it is an incredible tool of legitimation. This conflict with Arabs that began in 1917 reached a nodal turning point in 1979, when the government of Egypt essentially gave up liberating Palestine after four unsuccessful confrontations with Israel on the ground. Since then, Israeli supremacy in the region has been all but total militarily, economically and diplomatically.
Yet, to quote Rousseau, “the strongest can never be strong enough to always remain the master if he does not turn his strength into law”; in other words, after having defeated its enemies on the ground, Israel must now persuade all those interested that its victory is also right ethically. In that cause, claiming to be moved by a design to protect our dearest civilisation from the evil of obscurantists and theocratic bearded throat-slitters goes a much longer way than stating openly that it is engaged in a colonial war against natives who have the gall to disapprove of their dispossession and the end of their own dearest civilisation. It’s not for nothing that Israel’s current Prime Minister was reported to say in 2008 that “[Israel is] benefiting from one thing, and that is the attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and the American struggle in Iraq. [The events] swung American public opinion in our favour”.
Salafists are really not Israel’s true enemies; they both have the same enemy: Arab nationalism. When Israel was really under some form of threat in the wars of 1948, 1967 or 1973, was it Saudi Arabia or Kuwait leading the assault? It was the pan-Arab secular dictatorships, whose main enemies domestically were precisely the Muslim Brotherhood and such, who famously tried to assassinate the most respected figure of Arab nationalism, Jamal Abd Al-Nasser.
Today, I do not see Netanyahu calling for any action against Saudi Arabia’s role in the promotion of salafism; rather against nationalist regimes like Saddam Hussein’s first, then Bashar Al-Assad’s and of course Iran’s, all of which are hostile, with good reason, to Wahhabism. Recall he was among those who applauded Trump’s decision to bomb a Syrian base two months ago.
One cannot fail to notice the objective alliance that exists – as it always has – between Israel and those who are indeed the antithesis of our own standards of life and thought.
What our relation should be vis-à-vis the actors of that region is a complicated question. But we must stop basing our answer to it on the notion that an alliance with Israel will shield us from terrorism.
There is no truth in that.