A World of Trouble

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Patrick Tyler, Portobello Books, £12.99

With grim inevitability, the US voted against the UN's endorsement of the Goldstone Report which condemned Israeli war crimes in Gaza (Britain, heroically, did not take part in the vote). The Obama administration has shown that, as far as Israel is concerned, US policy is unchanged.

This will come as no surprise to readers of Patrick Tyler's new book. It is a massive 600 page lament at the weakness of US presidential leadership. Too often, according to Tyler, US presidents have allowed the Israeli tail to wag the American dog; the expansionist settler state has regularly acted without any regard for the interests of its imperial patron.

This was not always the case. In 1956 Eisenhower asserted US power in the region by forcing not only Britain and France to withdraw from Egypt, but the Israelis as well. The Israeli prime minister, Ben Gurion, was determined to incorporate Sinai into Israel, but relentless US pressure forced him to pull out.

Tyler contrasts this hard-nosed pursuit of US interests with the failure of US presidents since Lyndon Johnson to restrain Israeli ambitions. In June 1967 Israel's surprise attack on Egypt, Jordan and Syria was launched despite Johnson having been promised that they would do no such thing. Indeed, the Israelis even attacked a US spy ship, killing 34 US seamen. Despite this, Johnson tamely acquiesced in their seizure of the West Bank, the Golan Heights and Sinai. This, Tyler insists, was a disaster for the US and has destabilised the Middle East ever since.

At the same time, the US was completely opposed to Israel's secret nuclear weapons programme which it believed would unleash an arms race in the region. In 1968 Johnson urged, indeed pleaded with, the Israelis to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. They refused. Even though Israel was completely reliant on the US rearming it after the Six Day War, Johnson refused to apply any pressure and was predictably ignored. There was certainly no talk of sanctions. Successive US presidents, along with their British clients, have since routinely endorsed the possession of nuclear weapons by the most warlike state in the Middle East.

In 1973, during the Yom Kippur War, the Israelis actually got ready to use nuclear weapons against the Egyptians and the Syrians. This was a war fought not to ensure Israel's survival but to keep hold of the 1967 conquests.

Tyler puts the failure to protect US imperial interests down to weak presidents succumbing to Israeli influence, bullying and mendacity. This is not credible. In real life tails do not wag dogs. While Israeli defiance of US governments is well documented, it only takes place within certain limits, and even this is only tolerated because Israel is regarded as being the final guarantor of US interests in the Middle East.

Tyler is certainly no anti-imperialist. What he urges is a policy less friendly to Israel, but that still requires the exercise of US power to dominate the region. He argues, for example, that if only the US had intervened more forcefully in Lebanon in 2005 there would have been no Israeli invasion in 2006. His hard-nosed stance is, in the end, revealed as just another imperial fantasy.