The bombing of Libya by the United States in April 1986 provoked a storm of public protest across Europe and the Middle East. Even in Britain there was outrage, despite Mrs Thatcher’s lapdog support for President Reagan. Only one country in the world gave wholehearted and enthusiastic support to the USA. And that country was Israel.
The symbolic significance of the bombing raid was immense. It came shortly after a massive fall in oil prices had raised concern in the West about instability and social unrest in the oil-producing countries of the Middle East and their dependents. This in turn had led to concern about future access to Middle East oil – still by far the world’s most important supply line.
It was also the first American bombing raid on a foreign country since Vietnam. Was the US now free of the “Vietnam Syndrome”? Since its humiliating defeat in Vietnam more than a decade earlier, the US had steered clear of direct military intervention when it needed to protect its global interests. Instead it had relied on covert operations by the CIA intelligence agency, or “regional strongmen” such as the Shah of Iran or President Pinochet of Chile. But this policy had not been a great success. CIA covert operations failed to prevent the overthrow of the Somoza regime in Nicaragua, and massive aid for the “Contras” had since failed to undermine the Sandinistas. Other regional strongmen, ranging from the Shah himself to President Marcos in the Phillipines and the tinpot “Baby Doc” in Haiti, had been overthrown by popular uprisings.
The fall of the Shah was particularly devastating. In March 1979 the US magazine Business Week published a special issue on The Decline of American Power. It stressed the Middle East: “The military retreat which began in a place that held no natural resources or markets [Vietnam] now threatens to undermine the nation’s ability to protect the vital oil supply and energy base of the global economy.”
The same point had been made several years earlier by Henry Kissinger, former US Secretary of State and President Nixon’s “roving troubleshooter” for the Middle East: “If we cannot manage Central America it will become impossible to convince threatened nations in the Persian Gulf and in other places that we know how to manage the global equilibrium.”
It was to re-assert American power, and American military management of the “global equilibrium”, that Ronald Reagan was elected US president in 1980. But it cannot be said that Reagan has been a great success either. True, he succeeded in the invasion of the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada, but any prospects of a direct military intervention in the Middle East disappeared when 250 US marines were killed by one massive bomb in the Lebanon in 1983. As Time magazine put it: “American boys should not be seen dying on the nightly news ...”
So Reagan too has found himself heavily dependent on surrogates. And the main surrogate in the Middle East is Israel ...
Israel was ecstatic at the bombing of Libya. Its entire history has been spent convincing America that it alone serves US interests best. The Israeli press was full of celebration of the bombing raid – and Israel’s involvement. As the influential paper Ha’aretz reported:
Israel was provided with an up-to-the-minute report about the progress of the us attack ... The report was presented by the military simultaneously in the United States and Israel. In exchange, Israel supplied the United States with intelligence data ... about Libya. A joint study of the lessons of the attack, taking into account the functioning of the weapons’ systems, and the communications and the command structure, will be undertaken soon. 
In another article Ha’aretz pointed to the deepening of Israel’s links with the US military:
The United States will be expanding its purchases from Israel to a level worth a further 400 million dollars. What the Americans are going to buy in Israel are goods and services for their forces stationed in Europe. By doing so, the us Administration will be complying with the request made by Prime Minister Peres during his recent visit to Washington.
But the most interesting article was by the paper’s top policy analyst, Yoel Marcus, headlined Welcome to the Club. Marcus pointed out that the USA had now committed itself firmly to the fight against “terrorism” – opposition to Libya’s “support for terrorism” had been the main reason given for the bombing raid. The article continued:
Suddenly, we are hearing familiar noises. Here people talked about the “two-legged animal” [former Israeli Prime Minister Begin’s description of the Palestinians]. Over there in Washington they now talk about the “mad dog”. Here people used to say that the Arabs only understand one language, over there they say they dealt with Gadaffi in the only language he understands, that of force ...
The club they are joining is so exclusive that Israel was for ages its only member. This is not because only few countries suffer from terrorism, but because no country wanted to dirty its hands by aggressively defending itself against it. 
Thus, argued the paper, Israel and America together will rid the world of terrorism in a heroic display of superior force, both morally and physically.
Many people, otherwise unsympathetic to the aims of America in trying to reassert its power in the world, may be taken in by this argument. After all, Israel retains a great deal of support in the West because of the Holocaust, when six million Jews were slaughtered by the Nazis during the Second World War. Israel’s “struggle against terrorism” has been presented as a heroic struggle by a previously persecuted people against evil-eyed assassins and bloodthirsty fanatics hellbent on murderous destruction of the Israeli state.
However, the history of Israel suggests the opposite interpretation. The state of Israel was founded upon just those principles of terror: for at its foundation Israel expelled three-quarters of a million Palestinians through assassination and murderous destruction. The “terrorists” that Israel and the US want put to death are often the sons and daughters of those same dispossessed Palestinians.
Israel’s evolution has seen the increasing use of state terror on a monumental scale. This, combined with American backing for the militarisation of its economy, has turned Israel into a ruthless outpost for Western domination of the Middle East. The pious noises about “terrorism”, from Israel, America and indeed Britain, conceal this deeper motivation.
1. The influential Israeli daily paper Ha’aretz, 18 April 1986.
2. English language translations of the Hebrew press in Israel are published fortnightly in Britain by the Israeli Mirror (available from 21 Collingham Road, London SW5).
Last updated on 4.8.2001