Israel’s position in today’s Middle East is somewhat similar to that of France in Europe during the Thirty Years’ War, in that it is surrounded by neighbors who kill each other for religious reasons. As opposed to Cardinal Richelieu, however, Israeli leaders don’t need to betray foreign coreligionists for the sake of “raison d’État” (national interest). In today’s parlance, Realpolitik has replaced raison d’État, but both terms express the same policy of which Richelieu was a master: the interests of the state precede moral considerations. Richelieu was a cynic, no doubt, but at least he knew how to identity and defend his country’s interests. The same cannot be said of France’s current foreign minister, Laurent Fabius.
Fabius recently made a point of expressing support for Saudi strikes in Yemen, and he also indicated that France would support an upcoming United Nations Security Council resolution on Palestinian statehood. Both moves show the trickiness and pitfalls of selecting “good guys” in the Middle East, not least because embarrassing details were recently revealed about the involvement of Saudi Arabia and of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in terrorism.
Iran’s ruthless attempt to take control of Yemen should indeed be resisted, but the Saudis are hardly freedom fighters. They might be the least of two evils, but evils they are. Two days before Fabius’ official visit to Riyadh, lawyers representing Saudi Arabia filed papers in Manhattan’s federal court asking the judge to reject claims by families of victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that the Saudi government “directly and knowingly” helped the hijackers who blew the Twin Towers. According to al-Qaida member Zacarias Moussaoui (who is serving a life prison sentence for conspiring with the 9/11 hijackers), Saudi Arabia did not cut ties with al-Qaida and with its ringleader Osama Bin Laden after 1994. Lawyers for the families of 9/11 victims claim that they have amassed new evidence suggesting that the Saudi government, or senior Saudi officials, individually funded al-Qaida. While this claim still needs to be fully substantiated, describing Saudi Arabia as a pro-Western ally is a fraud.
The same goes for the PLO. At the United Nations Security Council, France is working on a resolution that would impose the establishment of a Palestinian state along the 1949 armistice lines between Israel and Jordan, including in east Jerusalem, as well as a “fair” solution to the refugees issue. France insists that it is promoting a Palestinian state on behalf of the PLO (“the good guys”) and not on behalf of Hamas (“the bad ones”). This, despite the fact that Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas added Hamas to his government last summer; that Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian elections; that Hamas would likely win the first (and last) elections held in a newly established Palestinian state; that Hamas’s regional backer is Iran; and that Iran has declared that it would actively arm a Palestinian state once it is established in the West Bank. So France is both supporting the anti-Iranian coalition in Yemen and the establishment of an Iranian base west of the Jordan River.
Attempts to invent a dichotomy between the PLO and Hamas are absurd not only because both organizations jointly run the PA, but also because the PLO has never ceased its terrorist activities –a fact that was also brought to the attention of a New York court recently. Less than two months ago, a New York jury ruled that the PLO and the PA were the catalysts for terrorist attacks in Israel between 2002 and 2004, and it ordered them to pay $218.5 million to the victims and their families.
Fabius’ two recent Middle East initiatives defy logic, and both rely on assumptions whose flimsiness was revealed (or is being disclosed) in US courts. “Deception is the knowledge of kings,” wrote Richelieu in his Political Testament. In the Middle East, this knowledge is not the privilege of royals.