Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Review: The Palestine Laboratory

Send to Printer, PDF or Email

The Palestine Laboratory: How Israel Exports the Technology of Occupation Around the World Antony Loewenstein, 2023, Verso Books/ Scribe Publications 

Reviewed by Owen Hsieh, Jan. 9, 2024

“The economy abandoned oranges for hand grenades” - An Army Like No Other: How the Israel  Defence Forces Made a Nation – Haim Bresheeth-Zabner 

In May 31st of this year, Antony Loewenstein, an independent journalist from Australia wrote a  history of the Israeli arms and surveillance industry examining how their products are ‘battle tested’ in Gaza and the West Bank and sold across the world.  

The Palestine Laboratory was published only a few months  prior to Hamas’ Operation Al Aqsa Flood and Israel’s swift  and brutal response, which has been likened to a second  Nakba. Loewenstein and The Palestine Laboratory have since garnered a lot of public interest with the title being catapulted to the best-seller list.

Israel is in the top ten weapons dealers in the world, its arms exports surged in 2021 by 55% to be worth  approximately US$11.3 Billion. The production and export  of arms is Israel’s leading export and a mainstay of its  economy.

The state of Israel has repeatedly demonstrated it will sell weapons to anyone who wants them, including pariah states such as: Apartheid South Africa, Suharto’s Indonesia, or Chile under Pinochet. Israel has approved every defence  export since 2007 without exception. 

The Israeli arms industry is guided by a philosophy summed up by the former head of Israel’s Defence Export Control Agency, Eli Pinko,  quoted at a private conference in 2021:  

“It’s either civil rights in some country or Israel’s right to exist. I would like to see each of your face  the dilemma and say: ‘No, we will champion human rights in another country.’ Gentlemen it doesn’t work.” 

This can be understood by looking at Israel as playing a role of minor partner for US Imperialism and  as ‘sheriff’ for the Middle East. Where the US has preferred covert support in lieu of public backing, Israel has been able to act as its proxy and provide the material and technical support to states in  official disfavour.  

“With Reagans war on communism, and Washington’s partnering with right-wing death squads from  Nicaragua to Honduras and El Salvador to Panama, Israel’s role was viewed as indispensable in providing both weapons and on-the-ground experience.” 

“Israel Supported the police forces of Guatemala, El Salvador and Costa Rica during the Cold War  when the US Congress had blocked the had blocked US agencies from officially doing so.” 

Loewenstein has used WikiLeaks cables and a variety of other sources to uncover information which  highlights the role that Israel has played in global politics, gaining insights and information that is usually secreted and hidden from public oversight, subject to national security censorship in Israeli  state archives.

Loewenstein has taken many notes from the other notable histories of the Israeli Defence Forces,  including Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel's Targeted Assassinations by Ronen Bergman and has catalogued a wealth of other information including the role of Israeli military contractors in  patrolling and monitoring European borders to maintain Fortress Europe, and selling spyware such  as Pegasus to some of the world’s worst human rights abusers such as Bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, who used Israeli software to track and murder the dissident voice of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. These secondary narratives in The Palestine Laboratory deserve a feature length  history in and of themselves.



dave_bruce said...

Hamas’ Operation Al Aqsa Flood and Israel’s swift and brutal response

While accepting the review's core points, it is misleading to claim that "Operation Al Aqsa Flood" was some sort of Hamas initiative. Though accurate reports are hard to find these days in the western press, Hamas' actions were clearly a reponse, albeit a prepared one, to Israel's highly provocative occupation of al Aqsa mosque late last year and a longer-term escalation of anti-Palestinian violence, esp on the West Bank.

See e.g. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/9/17/israeli-forces-attack-palestinian-worshippers-at-al-aqsa-mosque and elsewhere.

The Israeli establishment sought a casus belli and got one. That it severely underestimated its enemy is a discussion for another time.


Alex Steiner said...

You write,

"The Israeli establishment sought a casus belli and got one. That it severely underestimated its enemy is a discussion for another time."

You could just as easily have written,

"Hamas sought a casus belli and got one [by provoking an Israeli reaction to the October 7 massacre of Israeli civilians]. The Israeli occupation of al Aqsa mosque was the pretext Hamas was looking for, having planned the October 7 action for more than year." [Which is not to imply that the occupation of al Aqsa mosque was not a terrible event but was it any worse than dozens of other actions by the Israeli government in recent years, such as the killing of peaceful protesters on the Gaza border?]

Many commentators have rightly indicated that the purpose of Hamas' October 7 action was to upend the normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which has succeeded, at least for the time being.

It is also not so clear that Israel was looking for a pretext to wage a war against the population of Gaza. Hamas had in fact been a silent partner with Israel for many years, despite their mutual antagonism. As is well-known the Israeli government financed Hamas in its infancy from behind the scenes as a counterweight to the influence of the more secular and more left wing Palestinian nationalists. Even after the Israeli government switched sides about 20 years ago and decided to support the now tamed Palestinian Authority against Hamas, they still relied on Hamas to maintain some sort of order in Gaza, in effect acting as a proxy for the Israeli occupation of Gaza.

Hamas action on October 7 took the Israeli government by surprise even though they had intelligence reports of Hamas' preparation for a major attack on Israeli soil. The powers that be in the defense - intelligence establishment did not take those reports seriously.

See Did Israel allow Oct. 7th attack?

[I am aware that conspiracy theorists will take great exception to that assessment as they cannot imagine that a defense-intelligence bureaucracy can ever be negligent and dismissive of warnings as happened on 9/11. For the conspiracy theorists everything has to be an "inside job".]

The Israeli government was fine with Hamas counting on them to act as a proxy for the occupation of Gaza until October 7. I don't think there is any evidence that Israel was looking for a major war. From a strictly cost-benefit point of view it is much more efficient and less risky to dominate a people through an arrangement with a proxy than to wage a war.

And while Israel clearly underestimated Hamas it is also obvious that Hamas underestimated Israel's genocidal response. And here we can also ask questions about the intelligence failure on the part of Hamas. Knowing Netanyahu's history of support for the atrocities of the settlers on the West Bank and knowing that his cabinet included out and out fascists and Jewish supremacists, should not Hamas have anticipated the ethnic cleansing and genocide of Gaza that we have seen for the past 3 months?

The lesson here is that trying to figure out who started the Gaza-Israeli war or who responded to who is a fool's errand. It is akin to determining who fired the first shot in World War I. We want to know the essential processes that led to the Great War and not simply which historically contingent event is credited with being "first". In any case, what one considers "first" depends on an arbitrarily selected timeline. To make sense of the facts you have to approach it through a theoretical foundation. This is why it is critical to study the nature of imperialism today, the relations between classes on the national and international stage, the peculiar nature of the Israeli settler state, the history of Zionism and bourgeois nationalism and how it has evolved, and many other things.

Alex Steiner