What Israel hopes to gain from America’s Afghan disaster

Amid the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan, diplomats are airlifted out of the US embassy compound in Kabul (EPN - Newscom)

Ali Abunimah

The Electronic Intifada  /  August 18, 2021

The rapid collapse of the US-installed puppet regime in Afghanistan will be remembered for decades as a defining moment in the decline of American imperial power.

The scenes of chaos and desperation at Kabul airport drew apt comparisons with the humiliating American withdrawal from Saigon in 1975, after more than a decade of American slaughter in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

The hasty American retreat from Afghanistan also recalls Israel’s humiliating withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, after two decades of brutal Israeli occupation failed to crush local resistance.

While Israel had hoped that its proxy, the South Lebanon Army, would remain behind to do its dirty work, the collaborator militia collapsed immediately, its members fleeing to Israel, just as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled his capital – reportedly with suitcases of cash.

The US-led invasion of Afghanistan was the first of America’s two revenge wars following the 11 September 2001 attacks. It was followed by the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

These wars cost trillions of dollars, at least 800,000 lives directly and immeasurable suffering.

To that must added the toll, devastation and cost of America’s “war on terror” and regime-change and proxy wars in Syria, Libya, Yemen and around the world.

Yet Iraq and Afghanistan in particular stand as stark monuments to the inability of the United States to fully impose its imperial will.

The invasion of Iraq was marketed as necessary to destroy nonexistent weapons of mass destruction and bring democracy and human rights. The attack on Afghanistan was justified as necessary to free Afghan women.

These justifications were of course propaganda for public consumption.

The real goals of the neconservative thinkers who dominated the George W. Bush administration when the wars were launched were to remake the region and ensure American global hegemony for the next century.

Many of the neoconservatives who ultimately staffed the US government saw no difference between US and Israeli interests and wanted the United States to destabilize and destroy any state seen as an obstacle to Israeli power and expansion.

With fantasies that American occupation forces would be welcomed with “sweets and flowers,” US planners hoped to turn Iraq into a docile protectorate and military base – like Germany and Japan following World War II.

“My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators,” Vice President Dick Cheney declared on the eve of the Iraq invasion.

Iraq was even to be a laboratory for ultra-capitalist policies that would then be reimported to the United States after proving their success.

Fears

While there can be no overstating the harm these American wars have done and continue to do – including ongoing warfare via economic sanctions targeting ordinary people in Syria and Iran – there is no concealing the pervasive sense of American failure and decline.

That is palpable too in Israel, where some analysts are trying to find a silver lining to the Taliban’s quick advance, and the total collapse of the Afghan army which the United States spent $83 billion to train and equip.

For Yossi Melman, a Haaretz columnist who has covered Israeli intelligence agencies for decades, the “important lesson that Israel must draw from this situation is that the age of American involvement in the Middle East is ending.”

Still, he hopes that Israel could “benefit in an indirect way” by offering itself as the protector of America’s “Sunni” client regimes which might be feeling more vulnerable in the wake of the Taliban victory.

“As the strongest power between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean, Israel could leverage this nascent reality and make itself the backbone of military and strategic support for the Sunni world, which is fearful of Iran and of fundamentalist terror that may well rear its head again,” Melman asserts.

The view that Israel could replace the US is delusional, since it is predicated on the notion that Israel’s power exists independently of Washington.

Israel is of course totally dependent on the US for its military superiority, as well for political and diplomatic backing.

That’s something Israeli leaders understand well, which is why Israel and its lobby invest so much in trying to shore up American support.

However unrealistic, Melman’s hope that Israel could benefit from an American failure is in keeping with the spirit of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who was quick to calculate how Israel could leverage the 9/11 attacks to its advantage.

“It’s very good,” Netanyahu said coolly on the same day a stunned world watched airliners flying into the World Trade Center. “Well, not very good, but it will generate immediate sympathy” – for Israel.

The myth of rugged self-reliance has always been central to the Israeli brand. Ariel Kahana, correspondent for Israel Hayom, tweeted images of the American departures from Kabul and Saigon, along with some advice for Israel.

“Do not rely on foreign forces, even American ones, to keep us safe,” Kahana said.

“No agreement, understandings or goodwill will stand up to extremist, murderous Islam, including Iran, but only extreme pressure, force and toughness.”

Yigal Dilmoni, a settler leader, endorsed Kahana’s words, adding a swipe at the “peace” efforts of the Obama administration and its secretary of state.

“Just think of the delusional John Kerry, who offered us cameras and drones to guard the border in the Jordan Valley, instead of the Israeli army and the settlements,” Dilmoni tweeted.

Escalating against Iran

Eran Lerman, an Israeli army colonel and vice-president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, is equally sober about the blow to US prestige from the Afghanistan debacle.

“To counter this impact as much as possible, it would be vital for the US to demonstrate – elsewhere, since the Afghan case is clearly beyond salvation – that it is not a spent force,” Lerman writes.

Conveniently, the target he suggests for reinvigorated American belligerence just happens to be Israel’s number one regional enemy, Iran.

“Provocations at sea, rocket fire by proxy into Saudi Arabia and Israel, regional subversion; and a rapidly advancing military nuclear project – all these require a robust response, not abject surrender at the negotiating table,” Lerman asserts, listing Iran’s supposed misdeeds.

In fact it has been Israel that has been waging a not-so-covert war against Iran, attacking ships and facilities and murdering scientists.

For good measure, Lerman prescribes more Israeli brutality against Palestinians in Gaza as well, in order to deprive Hamas of the opportunity “to appear as the victor in the ideological struggle with the non-Islamist variant of Palestinian nationalism” represented by Mahmoud Abbas’ Israeli-allied Palestinian Authority.

These analysts are not necessarily mere voices in the wilderness.

One “former senior Israeli intelligence official” told Al-Monitor that “It’s possible to leverage events” in Afghanistan “in our favor.”

The official added that the “humiliating surrender to the Taliban” could prompt President Joe Biden “to toughen up and decide to flex US muscle toward Iran.”

Opportunity for moral posturing

For others, Afghanistan is a golden opportunity for Israel and its lobby to engage in hypocritical posturing.

Israeli journalist Barak Ravid wrote a column suggesting that Israel could score a propaganda coup by taking in some Afghan refugees.

“No one is talking about bringing tens of thousands of people from Afghanistan here,” Ravid told an Israeli radio station, adding that it would only be a “symbolic” number of 50-200 refugees.

“There are other reasons, not just humanitarian or moral,” Ravid said. Next week, he noted, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is heading to Washington for his first meeting with President Joe Biden.

“I think at the political level Israel wants to be perceived as a liberal Western country,” Ravid explained. Taking in a handful of Afghan refugees would be part of that branding exercise.

This is a reprise of calls on Israel to accept refugees from Syria – where Israel aided and armed jihadist groups, including some with ties to al-Qaida.

“Jews cannot remain indifferent when hundreds of thousands of refugees are seeking safe harbor,” Isaac Herzog, now Israel’s president, said in 2015.

Israel did not accept any refugees from Syria, but it still takes enormous chutzpah to even make such calls when Israel refuses to allow millions of ethnically cleansed Palestinian refugees to return home solely because they are not Jews.

In the same vein, the American Jewish Committee, one of Israel’s foremost US lobby groups, is also exploiting the Afghan situation to posture as a beacon of humanitarianism.

This is the same AJC that justified and defended Israel’s barbaric bombardment of Gaza in May, which killed dozens of children and wiped out entire families.

It is the same AJC that claims to find Taliban intolerance abhorrent, but like other Zionist groups opposes the return of Palestinian refugees on the bigoted grounds that they are not Jewish.

Israeli leaders are keeping publicly quiet about Afghanistan, but they are no doubt preoccupied with what events there mean for them.

An Israeli “senior diplomatic source” told Al-Monitor that in Washington, Naftali Bennett will tell Biden that “giving in to Iran after folding in Afghanistan could set off a disastrous chain reaction with deleterious effects for generations to come.”

The source added that “the Americans are the only ones with a credible, significant military option that does not involve boots on the ground, to destroy or at least severely damage Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.”

Despite the bravado and bluster about self-reliance, Israel still needs America to fight its wars.

Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books