Anger over Gaza is a distraction. We cannot forget that Israel is the
West’s best ally in a turbulent region
By Jose Maria Aznar
For far too long now it has been unfashionable in Europe to speak up
for Israel. In the wake of the recent incident on board a ship full of
anti-Israeli activists in the Mediterranean, it is hard to think of a
more unpopular cause to champion.
In an ideal world, the assault by Israeli commandos on the Mavi
Marmara would not have ended up with nine dead and a score wounded. In
an ideal world, the soldiers would have been peacefully welcomed on to
the ship. In an ideal world, no state, let alone a recent ally of
Israel such as Turkey, would have sponsored and organized a flotilla
whose sole purpose was to create an impossible situation for Israel:
making it choose between giving up its security policy and the naval
blockade, or risking the wrath of the world.
In our dealings with Israel, we must blow away the red mists of anger
that too often cloud our judgment. A reasonable and balanced approach
should encapsulate the following realities: first, the state of Israel
was created by a decision of the UN. Its legitimacy, therefore, should
not be in question. Israel is a nation with deeply rooted democratic
institutions. It is a dynamic and open society that has repeatedly
excelled in culture, science and technology.
Second, owing to its roots, history, and values, Israel is a fully
fledged Western nation. Indeed, it is a normal Western nation, but one
confronted by abnormal circumstances.
Uniquely in the West, it is the only democracy whose very existence
has been questioned since its inception. In the first instance, it was
attacked by its neighbors using the conventional weapons of war. Then
it faced terrorism culminating in wave after wave of suicide attacks.
Now, at the behest of radical Islamists and their sympathizers, it
faces a campaign of delegitimisation through international law and
Sixty-two years after its creation, Israel is still fighting for its
very survival. Punished with missiles raining from north and south,
threatened with destruction by an Iran aiming to acquire nuclear
weapons and pressed upon by friend and foe, Israel, it seems, is never
to have a moment’s peace.
For years, the focus of Western attention has understandably been on
the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. But if Israel is
in danger today and the whole region is slipping towards a worryingly
problematic future, it is not due to the lack of understanding between
the parties on how to solve this conflict. The parameters of any
prospective peace agreement are clear, however difficult it may seem
for the two sides to make the final push for a settlement.
The real threats to regional stability, however, are to be found in
the rise of a radical Islamism which sees Israel’s destruction as the
fulfillment of its religious destiny and, simultaneously in the case
of Iran, as an expression of its ambitions for regional hegemony. Both
phenomena are threats that affect not only Israel, but also the wider
West and the world at large.
The core of the problem lies in the ambiguous and often erroneous
manner in which too many Western countries are now reacting to this
situation. It is easy to blame Israel for all the evils in the Middle
East. Some even act and talk as if a new understanding with the Muslim
world could be achieved if only we were prepared to sacrifice the
Jewish state on the altar. This would be folly.
Israel is our first line of defense in a turbulent region that is
constantly at risk of descending into chaos; a region vital to our
energy security owing to our overdependence on Middle Eastern oil; a
region that forms the front line in the fight against extremism. If
Israel goes down, we all go down. To defend Israel’s right to exist in
peace, within secure borders, requires a degree of moral and strategic
clarity that too often seems to have disappeared in Europe. The United
States shows worrying signs of heading in the same direction.
The West is going through a period of confusion over the shape of the
world’s future. To a great extent, this confusion is caused by a kind
of masochistic self-doubt over our own identity; by the rule of
political correctness; by a multiculturalism that forces us to our
knees before others; and by a secularism which, irony of ironies,
blinds us even when we are confronted by jihadis promoting the most
fanatical incarnation of their faith. To abandon Israel to its fate,
at this moment of all moments, would merely serve to illustrate how
far we have sunk and how inexorable our decline now appears.
This cannot be allowed to happen. Motivated by the need to rebuild our
own Western values, expressing deep concern about the wave of
aggression against Israel, and mindful that Israel’s strength is our
strength and Israel’s weakness is our weakness, I have decided to
promote a new Friends of Israel initiative with the help of some
prominent people, including David Trimble, Andrew Roberts, John
Bolton, Alejandro Toledo (the former President of Peru), Marcello Pera
(philosopher and former President of the Italian Senate), Fiamma
Nirenstein (the Italian author and politician), the financier Robert
Agostinelli and the Catholic intellectual George Weigel.
It is not our intention to defend any specific policy or any
particular Israeli government. The sponsors of this initiative are
certain to disagree at times with decisions taken by Jerusalem. We are
democrats, and we believe in diversity.
What binds us, however, is our unyielding support for Israel’s right
to exist and to defend itself. For Western countries to side with
those who question Israel’s legitimacy, for them to play games in
international bodies with Israel’s vital security issues, for them to
appease those who oppose Western values rather than robustly to stand
up in defense of those values, is not only a grave moral mistake, but
a strategic error of the first magnitude.
Israel is a fundamental part of the West. The West is what it is
thanks to its Judeo-Christian roots. If the Jewish element of those
roots is upturned and Israel is lost, then we are lost too. Whether we
like it or not, our fate is inextricably intertwined.