In NYT, Karsh still trying to dispel ‘linkage’

With regard to Iran, Efraim Karsh’s Sunday op-ed in the New York Times is an important example of what analyst Tony Karon called “recycl[ed] really tired Israeli PR lines.” Indeed, in his conclusion, Karsh, with gaps in his logic bigger than the Grand Canyon, suddenly busts out with one of Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s favorite talking points in his early days of locking horns with the Obama administration: the idea of “linkage.”

Early on in his term, Obama and his team adopted the idea that ending the Israeli-Palestinian and broader Israeli-Arab conflicts would go a long way toward helping the United States address its interests in the region — including combating extremism and terrorism, and dealing with the question of Iran’s nuclear program. The plight of the Palestinians is a consistent recruiting tool for extremists and a propaganda tool for the ethnically-Iranian Islamic Republic to make inroads in the Arab world, thereby increasing their regional clout.

Netanyahu, with all the organs of the right-wing U.S. Israel lobby behind him, publicly and vociferously battled this notion. While the Obama administration didn’t challenge Netanyahu’s rhetoric, it didn’t exactly give in either: Linkage has never been repudiated stateside and its pervasiveness in the military suggests it’s still very much the conventional wisdom in Washington’s strategic establishment.

Nonetheless, the Times gives space to Karsh to continue asserting that linkage is a bogus concept. Karsh writes, “[T]he best, indeed only, hope of peace between Arabs and Israelis lies in rejecting the spurious link between this particular issue and other regional and global problems.”

Yes, that would probably quite please Bibi. But, as Karon put it, by making that assertion, Karsh “reveals his ideological underwear,” because as Karon goes on to note, “even the U.S. military acknowledges that American support for Israel in the context of its treatment of the Palestinians is perhaps the most important determinant of Muslim attitudes towards the United States.”

Even Karsh, two paragraphs above his talk of the “spurious link,” acknowledges that there exists a never-ending “history of Arab leaders manipulating the Palestinian cause for their own ends while ignoring the fate of the Palestinians.” The important point here is that these “Arab leaders,” for whom Karsh seems to have nothing but contempt, clearly benefit from exploiting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One of them — not Arab, but I won’t bother Karsh with the distinction now — is the Iranian president.

Can anyone doubt the importance of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Iran’s support of what is now being termed the “Axis of Resistance” — namely Hamas, Hezbollah, and Syria? If Hezbollah, whose dangerous ceasefire-without-peace with Israel is on the verge of collapsing, was at peace with Israel, would there be posters of Iranian political figures up in Lebanon? Even the right-wing group The Israel Project never tires of mentioning that Iran supports Hamas and Hezbollah (any and all mentions of these groups seem to be prefaced with the phrase ‘Iranian-supported/supplied/funded/backed’) — but do they insist that the only connection to be had between the parties is alleged anti-Semitism?

Getting rid of “linkage” is merely a way for Israel and its right-wing U.S. backers to solidify Israeli intransigence on the moribund peace process and absolve themselves of any blame when the time comes that Bibi finally decides, as he just may, that he needs to bomb Iran.

Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.



  1. Very good points. You perhaps go too far, however, when you imply that the U.S. military as a whole gives high priority to a resolution of the I-P issue, or at least regards lack of a settlement as the number one problem in U.S. relations with the Muslim world. There is a sizable minority of opinion (particularly, I think, in the Air Force) that possesses something of a Crusader mentality toward the Muslim world. Lower-ranking military personnel that I know personally are, most of them, rather anti-Arab and anti-Muslim in outlook, and were before 9/11. I think that Mullen, Petraeus, and many other high-ranking officers feel that I-P resolution is crucial, but as to the military generally, I’m not so sure. Opinion is at least more divided than you seem to imply.

    Are there any contemporary Arab leaders (political leaders, that is) for whom one should feel something other than contempt? I am straining my brain trying to think of one.

    Your concluding paragraph is particularly strong and I agree with it 100%.

  2. I should say that, insofar as I know him, I respect Mohammed El-Baradei (sorry if I mispelled the name). But I don’t consider him a political leader. He hasn’t announced his candidacy for the presidency of Egypt, has he?

  3. I wrote the following to Mr. Karsh this morning, after researching his background a bit (thank you Facebook profiles), though your article is much more articulate and thought out. Thank you for posting it.

    Mr. Karsh,
    Palestinians are fully aware that they fight their battles alone amidst neighboring Arab nations. Many Israeli (Jewish) citizens I encountered while living and writing in Jerusalem argued that the Jews “needed” Israel, while the Palestinians were welcome to become citizens of any Arab state. The Palestinians have no other home, much as the children of the holocaust (a Facebook group to which you belong), felt they had nowhere else to go. The 6 million Palestinian refugees, displaced after 1948, now residing in Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and other states around the world have no civil rights. In Lebanon they, nor their descendants, are permitted to own land or even to become doctors and lawyers.

    I find it disturbing, at best, that someone who subscribes to “The Institute for Zionist Strategies, Jewish Ideas Daily and the Jewish Review of Books,” to write such a misleading article for the New York Times without discussing his political leanings. Your biography clearly states, your status as a professor of Middle Eastern studies at King’s College London, and authorship of “Palestine Betrayed,” leading your readers to believe that you must indeed have Palestinian interests, or at least knowledge, in mind. What you wrote was the “long conventional wisdom,” of the Zionist movement in Israel, not the “conventional wisdom,” of those whom you write about nor those who are truly educated regarding Palestinian relations with the rest of the Arab world.

    The last line of your article, “The sooner the Palestinians recognize that their cause is theirs alone, the sooner they are likely to make peace with the existence of the State of Israel and to understand the need for a negotiated settlement,” is not only forthrightly Zionist, but also incorrect. The Palestinians recognize that they are alone in “their cause,” [which I must assume means to return to their homes and receive justice for the incessant breeches of international law they face from the occupying force of Israel], but you make no argument as to how that recognition would pre-empt a recognition for the existence of the State of Israel.

    Not to mention, the “staggering 71-percent” of Arabs who are no longer interested in peace talks is not so “staggering” after all. What percentage of the Palestinian population is interested in more talks? How is it staggering that no one is interested in an on-going process which produces no results?

    I’m glad I did my research on you and your background Mr. Karsh. I only wish you would be more open about your zionist-leanings in your editorial, so your readers could appreciate your credibility on the matter of ‘what Palestinians should be doing,’ for themselves.

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