Despite the growing list of voices supporting the concept of linkage—the notion, accepted at the highest levels of the U.S. military, that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will help promote U.S. strategic interests in the Middle East—neoconservatives continue to push the narrative that pressuring Israel to make necessary concessions for peace with its neighbors is a futile effort. Instead, they argue, the U.S. should focus on removing Israel’s enemies in the Middle East.
On Tuesday the list of voices endorsing the linkage argument grew longer. Former President Bill Clinton, as reported by the Associated Press, told an audience of Egyptian businessmen that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would “take about half the impetus in the whole world – not just the region, the whole world – for terror away” and “It would have more impact by far than anything else that could be done.”
But the long and growing list of politicians and military leaders who have endorsed the linkage concept doesn’t deter neoconservative pundits from continuing their pre-Iraq war era “reverse linkage” argument which claims that Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and the stalled peace process have little role in shaping the regional dynamics.
The Hudson Institute’s Lee Smith wrote today in Tablet Magazine that Iranian support for Hezbollah plays a far greater role in the group’s rise to power than Israel’s 18-year occupation of Southern Lebanon.
In other words, what seems like Hezbollah’s war with Israel is in reality the Iranian Republican Guard’s 30-year war against almost everyone else. The Zionist entity in this contrived scenario is a little like the Washington Generals to Hezbollah’s Harlem Globetrotters—except that here it’s the eternal rival who sets the tempo and the Globetrotters who can’t get a break.
The majority of Smith’s argument is based on allegations that captured Hezbollah documents show that the militant Shi’a organization was receiving its marching orders from Tehran.
“During the 2006 war, we captured a number of Hezbollah documents, dealing with everything from religious ideology to military doctrine, the lion’s share of the important texts was clearly written by and for the IRGC and then translated into Arabic,” Shmuel Bar, a former Israeli intelligence officer, told me. “In human influence operations, Hezbollah’s modus operandi is the same as Iran’s.”
Smith omits the information that Shmuel Bar is a colleague of his at Hudson and simply mentions him as a “former Israeli intelligence officer” and “the founder of IntuView an Israeli tech firm that does automated meaning-extraction from terrorist-related documents.”
While Shmuel and his “automated meaning-extraction” system appear to offer enough evidence for Smith to conclude that, “…what seems like Hezbollah’s war with Israel is in reality the Iranian Republican Guard’s 30-year war against almost everyone else,” even he has to admit that Israeli leadership doesn’t necessarily agree with this analysis.
Even Israel’s current defense minister, Ehud Barak, argues that, “It was our presence [in southern Lebanon] that created Hizbullah”—a rationalization for his decision as prime minister to withdraw from Lebanon that dovetails perfectly with this Hezbollah info op.
The reverse-linkage argument that Israel is the victim of external, existential threats and that Israeli actions have little impact on the regional dynamics is finding fewer and fewer supporters. Smith is forced to dig deep into the Hudson bullpen to find voices that support this argument while Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak are clearly placing themselves in the realist camp.