Before and During World War Two

Realizing that it needed Arab support to fight in the coming war, the British followed an appeasement policy that was quite willing to sacrifice the Jews for Arab help — or at least non-interference — in the battle. If the Arab side had cooperated with these pre-war plans, Arab Palestine might have emerged in 1948, with the Jews driven out or massacred shortly after.

Instead, the radical Arabs — both nationalists and Islamists — made a deal with the Axis. Germany and Italy supported these forces in order to destroy the British and French position in the region, just as the Germans had done in World War One.

While the British worked with the Zionists during the war on common endeavors, there was never any notion that a Jewish state would aid British interests in the region. Quite the opposite. The British focused on moderate Egyptian and Iraqi politicians plus the kings of Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

After World War Two

The British quickly sought to use moderate Arab forces to ensure their position. That’s why they were the real founders of the Arab League. The Zionists fought the British. The United States supported partition of the Palestine mandate and the creation of Israel but with no strategy of using Israel as a tool in Middle East policy. Indeed, the United States had no ambitions in the region at the time. Israel was largely ignored by the United States during its first two decades of existence

The sole exception to the general pattern emerging was that the French did cooperate with Israel during several years of the 1950s, and the British for a briefer period at that time, to counter a radical Egyptian government (the Suez Affair of 1956) but in the British case that period lasted for a few months and ended decisively before the end of the year.

The U.S. government at first adapted the too-clever-by-half attitude that it could use the Arab armies as a modernizing force that would be simultaneously anti-Communist and opposed to the corrupt old system. Then it thought perhaps Islamism would make a useful anti-Communist force. It helped stage a coup (or counter-coup) in Iran when it feared — with reason — that the Communists were becoming too strong. Mostly, though, it tried to use Iran, Turkey, and some moderate Arab forces (but not Israel) to counter the pro-Soviet Arab camp.

The Recent Era

Only after 1970 did the United States start to support Israel as part of the Cold War fight against the USSR and its local Arab allies. During the following decades, American policy also backed a number of Arab states which, for their own survival, also needed to ensure the Soviets and their allies didn’t triumph. At any rate, this was a defensive measure and if you believe that the Cold War struggle against Communism was a Western imperialist action then…you are probably a university professor.

The idea in U.S. policy regarding Israel was that the country effectively combated radical, pro-Soviet clients to prevent the USSR and its allies from taking over the region. Israel was useless, however, regarding the oil-rich Persian Gulf. It is important to stress the point that the United States wanted Israel to defeat pro-Soviet Egypt and Syria. The idea, of course, was to resolve all of the contradictions by brokering an Arab-Israeli peace agreement so the United States could be allies with both sides at once and undercut the appeal or usefulness of the Soviet Union. This was the basis for American policymakers pushing Israel to make more concessions in the hope of achieving peace or at least of easing tensions. In Washington, or at least in the State Department, Israel was viewed as a liability because — parallel to the pre-1948 British view — it made it harder to gain and enjoy total cooperation from Arab clients. From a radical perspective, then, the truth is that Israel impeded rather than furthered “American imperialism.”