The chill in the Chilcot inquiry
Our sometime man in Moscow seems bent on placing Israel at the heart of Iraq investigations
In all the stürm und drang over the Chilcot inquiry into the war in Iraq, one feature has so far escaped attention. That is the emphasis placed on Israel’s role in the crisis, not least by the inquiry panel member Sir Roderic Lyne.
To those of us of a nervous disposition, the way Lyne, formerly Our Man in Moscow, has been dragging Israel into the story of what happened in 2003 is more than a little grating.
It feels gratuitous, and seems to play to the odious narrative that the real source of Islamic aggression is Israel’s foot-dragging over peace with the Palestinians, and that the war in Iraq was brought about by a conspiracy stretching from Jerusalem to the White House.
Lyne seems to believe that one bad consequence of the Iraq war he had opposed was to divert President Bush from the real priority in 2003 — the Middle East peace process.
He also seems to believe that Israel was the main obstacle to that process, that Bush was negligent in not putting the thumbscrews on Israel and that Blair was negligent in not pressuring Bush to do so.
This preoccupation with Israel as the villain behind the scenes emerged in the evidence by Sir Anthony Meyer and then by Jack Straw, who chose to praise the “very courageous efforts” of the first President Bush and his Secretary of State James Baker “to seek to face down the government of the State of Israel” by suspending its debt facilities and subsidies.
But it was also Tony Blair who dragged Israel into the discussion, saying that it was a “big, big issue at the time” and — most intriguingly — that when he met President Bush at Crawford in March 2003, “there may have been conversations that we had even with Israelis”.
This was because, like Lyne, Blair believed that the Middle East peace process was essential to get “moderate” Arab states on side against Iraq and other Islamist terror-supporting regimes.
The conflict is not between Israel and the Palestinians but between Israel and the Muslim world
As Blair said, though, when Lyne pressed him about Bush’s failure to “act more decisively on the Middle East peace process”, there was actually an intifada raging at the time.
It did not seem to occur to Lyne that, with Israelis being blown up on buses and in pizza parlours, to expect them to sit down with, let alone offer compromises to, the people perpetrating such atrocities against them was not only absurd but a morally obnoxious position.
But Blair also said this: he totally disagreed that “the existence of Israel has provoked this conflict” (with the Palestinians), but that “the resolution of the conflict would have an enormously beneficial impact on relations with the Muslim world”.
Here, surely is the perennial naivety and muddle in Tony Blair’s own position — even though he is the most pro-Israel British leader in recent times. Of course, relations with the Muslim world would improve if the Israel/Palestinian conflict were resolved. But the Muslim world is the reason it has not been resolved.
What Blair has never acknowledged is that it is not a conflict between Israel and the Palestinians but between Israel and the Muslim world, which pulls the Palestinians’ terrorist and rejectionist strings.
Solving Israel/Palestine will not defuse the problem of the Islamic threat to the world; defeating the Islamic threat to the world will solve the problem of Israel/Palestine.
It is indeed the existence of Israel which lies at the heart of the Middle East conflict, because the objective of the Muslim world is that Israel should cease to exist.
What Blair probably meant, however, was that the belief that Israel was the reason for the wider Islamic threat to the world was false.
That is absolutely correct; and precisely that toxic piece of bigotry is fuelling the hysteria which dragged the former Labour Prime Minister before the Chilcot show trial and the baying mob outside.
Melanie Phillips is a Daily Mail columnist