Ben Gurion’s Plan for Regional Conquest and Israeli Empire
Odeh Bisharat, one of Haaretz’s few Israeli-Palestinian columnists (Sayeh Kashua is another), published an incisive article on what he calls “the end of the road” for Zionism. But the first paragraph, which comprised a quotation from David Ben Gurion (the full archival passage in Hebrew is here), really opened my eyes. At the first meeting of the Haganah military command after statehood was declared on May 15, 1948, he told the assembled leadership his strategic goals for the coming war. This grandiose vision dispels a long-standing claim by proponents of the Israel-as-victim view, who argue that Israel’s enemies have commenced all the wars against it and that the “Jewish state” has only acted in self-defense:
“We must immediately destroy Ramle and Lod. … We must organize Eliyahu’s brigade to direct it against Jenin in preparation for [conquering] the Jordan Valley. … Maklef needs to receive reinforcements and his role is the conquest of southern Lebanon, through bombing-support against Tyre, Sidon and Beirut. … Yigal Allon must strike Syria from the east and from the north. … We must establish a Christian state whose southern border will be the Litani [River]. We will forge an alliance with it. When we break the strength of the [Jordanian] Legion and bomb Amman we will eliminate Transjordan too, and then Syria falls. And if Egypt still dares to fight, we will bomb Port Said, Alexandria and Cairo.
… That is how we will end the war – and make a reckoning on our forefathers behalf with Egypt, Assyria and Aramea.”
Pro-Israel advocates will chalk this up to the braggadocio of a national leader preparing the troops for battle. He offers them a vision full of victories and maximalist territorial gain. It cheers them for the difficult battle ahead. Defenders may argue that Ben Gurion had to have been realistic enough to know that the new state had little chance of achieving such objectives.
But in my reading of Ben Gurion, there are two separate personalities: one of the pragmatist who accepts half a loaf instead of the whole; the other the ambitious politico-military strategist harboring imperial visions of Israel’s future (including the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian inhabitants of the new state). But even the pragmatist is only pragmatic in the moment. Ben Gurion makes clear that his pragmatism is only temporary until Israel is in a position to realize its maximalist goals.
The irony here is that it is Israeli advocates who continually claim that conspiring Palestinian militants only accept Israel on an interim basis until they are powerful enough to eradicate it. Therefore, Israel may never trust such enemies and never make peace with them; because a knife in the back is the only future Israel can expect from them. We can see that it is Israel that the Arab states had reason to distrust.
Another bitter irony is the claim by Israel and anti-Iran forces in the U.S. and elsewhere, that Iran has a nefarious plan to spread Shia hegemony throughout the Middle East to Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and the Gulf region. In truth, Ben Gurion shows that Iran is a piker by comparison. He envisioned a Greater Israel not just from the river (Jordan) to the sea (Mediterranean), but a Davidic imperium spreading its influence from Syria to Egypt. Even those Arab states Israel permitted to remain would be little more than vassals of this new regional Goliath.
Just think how Ben Gurion’s successors implemented most of the strategic vision he proclaimed that day: a Christian state in southern Lebanon; the fall of Syria; Israeli bombardment of Arab capitals in Beirut, Damascus and elsewhere. The only elements of his plan that were unrealized (conquest of Jordan and the pacification of Egypt) weren’t necessary because both states sued for peace.
Today’s radical settlers, with their considerably ‘pared-down’ vision of a pure, racialist Judean state, rid of Palestinians, from the Jordan to the sea are inheritors of Ben Gurion’s legacy.
Bisharat quotes another telling statement from a pre-State Zionist leader who could be describing current Israeli strategy of sabotaging peace negotiations with the Palestinians. This was written in 1937:
“It turns out that we have put out our hand for peace, but took it back right away, when the other side expressed its interest in accepting it. This dangerous game did not help to raise our honor in their eyes as honest people, and the accusation that they blame us for, that we are conducting two-faced politics: On one hand we pretend as if we are asking for an agreement, and on the other hand we only want to gain time – is not baseless.”
This clearly explains Netanyahu’s Bar Ilan speech of 2009 in which he pretends to embrace a two-state solution (under severe pressure from the Bush administration to do so). The few times since when the Israeli leader has trotted out his affirmation of a two-state solution were times when he was under great duress and had to throw a sop to foreign interlocutors like the Obama administration. Clearly, Bibi’s heart is not in it, nor does he believe it.