Back in 2006, when Israel was invading Lebanon, I posted the following on my old blog Cabalamat Journal. I thought I’d be topical to repost it now:
[Israeli] Army Chief of Staff Lt-Gen Dan Halutz said the Israeli military would “turn back the clock in Lebanon by 20 years” if the soldiers were not returned.
Here I intend to approach the subject from a point of view of European (and especially European Union) foreign policy. The EU’s relations with its near neighbour are described in the European Neighbourhood Policy, which applies to the countries coloured green on the map:
The European Neighbourhood Policy aims to encourage peace, democracy, trade and prosperity. For example, the EU’s website describes the EU/Lebanon Association Agreement as having these benefits for Europe:
For the European Union, the Agreement will promote new opportunities to market products and services,
And for Lebanon:
For Lebanon, the Association Agreement […] enables the country to open up to an international competitive market; moreover it is an important foundation to succeed its entry into an efficient economy.
Clearly Israel’s destruction of Lebanon’s infrastructure and blockade of Lebanese ports and airspace does not further the EU’s goals of encouraging economic development in Lebanon or trade between Lebanon and the EU.
Furthermore the Israeli blockade of Lebanon’s ports is a direct challenge to European authority in the Mediterranean. The EU should regard the Mediterranean as Mare Nostrum — “Our Sea” — and should aim to control what does and doesn’t happen there. it should do this because of the co-incidence of two factors: (1) the Mediterranean is in Europe’s “near abroad” and thus what happens there affects Europe, and (2) the EU has the economic and military clout to make what it says stick.
As a consequence, I suggest EU foreign ministers should meet and deliver a note to Israel worded roughly thus:
The European Union views with alarm recent Israeli attacks on Lebanon, the destruction of life, property and infrastructure, and the Israeli air and sea blockades against that country. These actions are contrary to the EU’s policies as expressed in the EU/Lebanon Association Agreement and the European Neighbourhood Policy, and therefore represent action which is against the interests of the EU.If Israel continues its present course of action, the EU will therefore have no choice but to consider Israeli actions as hostile to the EU.
As a consequence, the EU requests that within 24 hours of the delivery of this note, the Israeli government do the following:
1. ceases military activity against Lebanon, particularly including bombing infrastructure targets of killing civilians.
2. ceases its air and sea blockade of Lebanon.
3. agrees to pay Lebanon compensation for the damage caused (the amount of compensation to be agreed by the Israeli and Lebanese governments, or if they cannot agree to be arbitrated by the EU).
If Israel chooses not to comply with this request, the EU will have to reconsider its policies towards Israel and other nations in the region. This reconsideration may include one or more of the following:
1. The ending of trade between Israel and the EU.
2. The EU may further choose not to trade with companies in third countries which continue to trade with Israel and to seize their assets (both physical property and intellectual property) in the EU.
3. If the World Trade Organisation (WTO) or World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) see the above actions as against their rules, the EU will consider withdrawing from those organisations and will seek bilateral trade agreements with countries that wish to trade with it.
4. If the EU seeks an economic embargo of Israel, that embargo will be more effective if more countries join it. The EU anticipates that other countries may wish to join an embargo, including candidates for EU accession, countries with large Muslim populations, and countries wishing to negotiate good terms in bilateral trade agreements with the EU (see paragraph 3 above).
5. The purpose of an EU embargo of Israel would be to punish the Israeli government, not the Israeli people, many of whom disagree with the policies of their government. Therefore the EU may consider allowing all Israeli citizens to travel and seek work in the EU; in particular, skilled workers may be offered relocation packages to help them move to the EU. If large numbers of the most skilled Israelis — who are most important to the Israeli economy — choose to vote with their feet and leave Israel, it will put further pressure on Israel to comply with EU requests.
6. The EU may choose to deter future Israeli air attacks on those of its neighbours which Israel is in the habit of bombing. It could do so by selling these countries Europe’s most advanced surface-to-air missile systems, either at market value or at a discount. If as a consequence, Israeli aircraft are shot down, this would provide a boost for European arms sales to other countries, thus enhancing Europe’s arms industry and increasing high-tech exports.
Nothing in this note should be taken as meaning that the EU does not believe that Israel has the right to defend itself. However, sometimes Israel’s actions are grossly disproportionate, and sometimes this results in harm to European foreign policy objectives. When this happens, it would be imprudent for Israel to rely on Europe turning a blind eye.
If Europe sent a note along these lines, what would happen? Israel would have to consider how damaging a European trade embargo would be. The EU is Israel’s largest trading partner, amounting to 33% of Israeli exports and 40% of Israeli imports. So a trade embargo would bite, particularly if the EU could persuade other countries to join in. This would lead to rising unemployment in Israel, and if as a result many Israelis, including skilled workers, emigrated to Europe, the Israeli economy would be even more damaged. It is likely that foreign investment would be hit too. If Israel’s population was shrinking, and defence spending was static then defence would be taking up a larger and larger part of the economy, making the economic situation even worse. Eventually the existence of Israel might be called into question. While the consequences might not become that serious, it is likely that the Israeli government would view the prospect of an embargo with extreme alarm.
One factor which might counteract the seriousness of the embargo is the Americans. If the USA were to give additional subsidies to Israel to replace the shortfall of foreign exchange due to loss of Israel’s exports to the EU, this would reduce the severity of the embargo. Would the USA do this? It already subsidises Israel by several billion dollars a year, and with the money being spend on the Iraq war the perception in Washington may be that money is too tight to want to bail out the Israeli economy indefinitely.
Furthermore the USA and EU would be considering their relations with each other as well as with Israel. If the USA was to consider taking Israel’s side in this dispute, European governments might point to the number of European troops on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq and point out the difficulty of the USA replacing them with Israeli troops if they think Israel is a better ally than Europe.
Israel would not want to back down, but nor would it want sanctions put up against it. In the end, it is likely that the Israeli government would go for a face-saving compromise if Europe offered one.
If the EU were to follow the policy I suggest, what would the outcome be? I suggest the following (all against a baseline of the EU taking no action):
- It is likely that the level of violence and destruction in Lebanon would be reduced.
- Whether or not Israel called off its current operations in Lebanon, it is likely they would be more reluctant to engage in military adventures in the future.
- The EU would gain status in the Middle East; all countries in the region would regard the EU as someone to be reckoned with, and someone who cannot be annoyed with impunity.
- The EU would assert its authority in the Mediterranean; in future, countries would be reluctant to do anything with would prevent the EU from trading along Mediterranean sea lanes.
- Sensible Arabs (particularly Palestinians) would notice that the EU is a lot more effective in stopping Israel than either Islamic fundamentalism or Baathism are. (Of course, it is not God’s fault that he hasn’t stopped the Israeli occupation of Palestine — how could He, given that He doesn’t exist?)
- Some Israelis will be thinking that Europe has betrayed them. Other Israelis will be wondering that if they are out of line with Western (i.e. European) values, can Israel be considered a part of the West?
Obviously much the same comments apply to the recent Israeli attack on the aid convoy, which carried such deadly armaments as wheelchairs, medicines, and food. The only other thing I’d like to add is that the EU should press for Israel to verifiably disarm its nuclear weapons, because such an aggressive and violent country is obviously a threat to world peace if it has such dangerous weapons.