UN Security Council Acts within Constraints Set by Great Powers

Noam Chomsky interviewed by Nermeen Al Mufti

The New Anatolian, August 21, 2006

UN Security Council Resolution 1701 came very late and posed a fragile ceasefire, yet there will be another war as long as the Bush-backed Israel has the pretext of “safer borders,” and Bush himself is insisting on going further in his war against terrorism.

Eminent Professor Noam Chomsky, in this interview with The New Anatolian, speaks about Israeli-Lebanese war and the UN Security Council.

TNA: The first question is very simple yet has never been answered: Why does Israel have the right of self-defense while the Arab countries don’t? The U.S. has the same right, while Iraq doesn’t!

Chomsky: The answer was given a long time ago by Thucydides (the Melian dialogue, in The Peloponnesian War, Book 5): The strong do as they can, and the weak suffer as they must. One of the leading principles of international affairs. Many Arab States declared that they will not boycott relations with Israel; in the same time (breath) they declared the war is Hezbollah’s war and fault.

TNA: Do you think there was and still is an American pressure behind this, or are the Arab regimes afraid of “regime change” and doing their best to satisfy the White House?

Chomsky: At an emergency Arab League meeting, most of the Arab states (apart from Algeria, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen) condemned Hezbollah. In doing so, they were willing to “openly defy public opinion,” as the New York Times reported. They later had to back down, including Washington’s oldest and most important ally in the region, Saudi Arabia: King Abdullah said that “if the peace option is rejected due to the Israeli arrogance, then only the war option remains, and no one knows the repercussions befalling the region, including wars and conflict that will spare no one, including those whose military power is now tempting them to play with fire.”

Most analysts assume — plausibly I think — that their primary concern is the growing influence of Iran, and the embarrassment caused by the fact that alone in the Arab world, Hezbollah has offered support for Palestinians under brutal attack in the occupied territories.

TNA: Was there any legal or moral justification for this war, as President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Western media insisted?

Chomsky: We can ignore Bush and Rice, who are participants in the U.S.-Israeli invasion of Lebanon. We know very well that by Western standards, there is no moral or legal justification for the war. Sufficient proof is the fact that for many years, Israel regularly kidnapped Lebanese, sending them to prisons in Israel, including secret prisons like the notorious Camp 1391, which was exposed by accident and quickly forgotten (and in the U.S., never even reported within the mainstream). No one suggested that Lebanon, or anyone else, had the right to invade and destroy much of Israel in retaliation. As this long and ugly record makes clear, kidnapping of civilians — a far worse crime than capture of soldiers – – is considered insignificant by the U.S., UK, and other Western states, and by articulate opinion within them quite generally, when it is done by “our side.” That fact was revealed very dramatically once again at the outset of the current upsurge of violence after Hamas captured an Israeli soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, on June 25. That action elicited a huge show of outrage in the West, and support for Israel’s sharp escalation of its attacks in Gaza. One day before, on June 24, Israeli forces kidnapped two civilians in Gaza, a doctor and his brother, and sent them off somewhere in Israel’s prison system. The event was scarcely reported, and elicited little if any comment within the mainstream. The timing alone reveals with vivid clarity that the show of outrage over the capture of Israeli soldiers is a cynical fraud, and undermines any shreds of moral legitimacy for the ensuing actions.

TNA: Is there any pretext that could justify the daily massacres in Lebanon and Gaza?

Chomsky: With a vivid imagination, one can conjure up all sorts of pretexts. In the real world, there are none. And we may add the forgotten West Bank, where the U.S. and Israel are proceeding with their plans to drive the last nails into the coffin of Palestinian national rights by their programs of annexation, cantonization, and imprisonment (by takeover of the Jordan Valley). These plans are carried out within the framework of another cynical fraud: “convergence” (Israeli “hitkansut”), portrayed in the U.S. as “withdrawal,” in a remarkable public relations triumph. Also long- forgotten is the occupied Golan Heights, virtually annexed by Israel in violation of unanimous Security Council orders (but with tacit U.S. support).

TNA: I couldn’t understand this Israeli arrogance. Do you?

Chomsky: The maxim of Thucydides again. And it is worth bearing in mind that Israel can go just as far as its protector in Washington permits and supports.

TNA: As an Iraqi, I understand that the ongoing war against Lebanon and Gaza is an essential part of the Bush scheme toward reshaping the region — I mean redrawing the borders drawn by the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement.

Chomsky: I doubt that most of them have even heard of Sykes-Picot. They have their own plans for the region. Primary among them is the traditional commitment to control the world’s major energy resources. Those who do not fall in line can expect to be targets of subversion or aggression. That should not be

surprising, at least to those familiar with the history of the past century (in fact well before).

TNA: How could we explain the role of the UN Security Council in destroying Lebanon and Gaza now, and Iraq before?

Chomsky: The Security Council acts within constraints set by the great powers, primarily the United States, by virtue of its enormous power. It can generally rely on Britain, particularly Blair’s Britain, which is described sardonically in Britain’s leading journal of international affairs as “the spear-carrier of the pax Americana.” In the early post-war years, for obvious reasons, the UN was generally under U.S. domination, and was very popular among U.S. elites. By the mid-1960s, that was becoming less true, with decolonization and the recovery of the industrial societies from wartime devastation. Since that time, the U.S. has been far in the lead in vetoing Security Council resolutions on a wide range of issues, with Britain second, and none of the others even close. Correspondingly, elite support for the UN sharply declined in the U.S. — though, interestingly, popular support for the UN remains remarkably high, one of the many illustrations of an enormous gap between public opinion and public policy in the U.S. Over and above that crucial constraint, U.S. power allows it to shape those resolutions and actions that it is willing to accept. Other powers have their own cynical reasons for what they do, but their influence is naturally less — again, the maxim of Thucydides. Popular forces could make a substantial difference, and sometimes do, but until the prevailing “democratic deficit” is reduced, that effect will be limited.

TNA: Do you think that Iran and Syria were behind this war, as Bush said?

Chomsky: It is generally assumed that they at least gave Hezbollah authorization for the July 12 attack on the Israeli military forces at the border. However, many of the most serious analysts of Hezbollah, and of Iran, have expressed their conclusion that Hezbollah’s actions are on its own initiative.