Sunday, 10 December 2017

Commentary: Rigondeaux Gave Away His Heart

Vasyl Lomachenko and Guillermo Rigondeaux

Last night’s clash between Ukrainian world super-featherweight champion Vasyl Lomachenko and Guillermo Rigondeaux, the Cuban-born super-bantamweight champion was a long awaited date of this year’s boxing calendar. Although it was not contracted as a “catchweight” contest so as to narrow the disparities in both men’s weights, it was eagerly anticipated by aficionados of the fight game because they are two of the greatest amateur boxers in recent history. Each man won two consecutive Olympic gold medals and each had well over 300 amateur contests with Lomachenko losing only once and Rigondeaux on twelve occasions. So while ever mindful of the boxing maxim that a “Good big ‘un always beats a good little ‘un”, many felt that the level of skill possessed by the smaller man would diminish the significance of weight and make it an even contest of sorts. However, what transpired was a stunningly one-sided contest which ended with Rigondeaux quitting on his stool.

I thought that many ‘neutral’ people would be for Guillermo Rigondeaux in the lead up to his clash with Vasyl Lomachenko. What not to root for in a man who was punished for attempting to defect from Castro’s Cuba only to make good his escape in a subsequent effort and begin a professional career in the United States?

But in America, he fell foul of his despotic promoter Bob Arum, and even though he became a multiple champion, he was avoided by scared opponents who use the innovative excuse that he was “too boring”. Getting on in age and acutely aware of the need for a payday, Rigondeaux chased Lomachenko for a marketable fight between two of the most talented figures in the history of amateur boxing who as professionals are feared champions.

However, instead of a catchweight contest, Lomachenko -guided by a shrewd and unforgiving Arum- insisted that Rigondeaux jump two weight divisions and that  get the lower end of the available purse monies: Rigondeaux is reputed to have earned $400,000 to Lomachenko’s $1.5 million. To compound things, the WBA announced that Rigondeaux would lose his title if he lost to Lomachenko even though the fight was not scheduled for that weight.

As Virgil Hunter, the trainer of Andre Ward, said, “it’s borderline criminal”.

This is why I would have expected most to have been rooting for “Rigo”. While the odds continued to be stacked against him, many felt that by fighting at his efficient weight and utilising his slick skills, Rigondeaux might have had enough to neutralise Lomchenko’s split-second changes in ‘angles’ with his own brand of athletic agility and that his explosive one-hit power could be as effective against a bigger opponent.

Yet, while the disadvantages of weight, age, as well as Rigondeaux’s comparative lack of bouts over the past few years must be factored to explain his poor showing,  many onlookers are convinced that Lomachenko’s unique brand of boxing skills which utilises a complex geometry of foot movement and a high punch rate, was the decisive factor in Rigondeaux’s physical and psychological unravelling. He succeeded in forcing Rigondeaux to quit much in the manner that Sugar Ray Leonard boxed Roberto Duran into saying the notorious words: “No Mas”. It is unlikely that any x-ray slides or photographs purporting to corroborate Rigondeaux’s alleged hand injury would displace this opinion.

Teddy Brenner, a legendary matchmaker at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, once said of the great Nigerian boxer Dick Tiger as he fought in his twilight years having moved up to the light heavyweight division: “He always gives away height, weight and reach, but he never gives away heart”.

I thought that was going to be a fitting accolade to Rigondeaux’s challenge to Lomachenko, but apart from the fact that Rigondeaux had a reach advantage over his taller, heavier opponent, it appears that Lomachenko took away his heart.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2017)

Adeyinka Makinde is the author of DICK TIGER: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal and JERSEY BOY: The Life and Mob Slaying of Frankie DePaula

Saturday, 25 November 2017

About Yukio Mishima

Yukio Mishima speaking to an audience of Japanese soldiers at Ichigaya Barracks Tokyo on November 25, 1970.

It is hard to imagine a more surreal scenario than one where a globally famous writer stages an abortive coup d’etat at a military barracks before committing suicide. Perhaps Wole Soyinka’s infiltrating of a Nigerian television station where at gunpoint he ordered a newscaster to stop the announcing of the results of a fraudulently contested election in the mid-1960s comes a distant second (Soyinka was later arrested and charged, but acquitted on a technicality). But by ceremonially disembowelling himself prior to being decapitated, Yukio Mishima had to many modern-thinking and Westernised Japanese seemingly turned the clock back to the Middle Ages.

His actions on November the 25th, 1970 remain incomprehensible to his countrymen.

Where some saw elements of “psychotic craziness” others could discern a carefully choreographed piece of theatre, a last act in the life of a man who was an eccentric but also a brilliant artist. He was a force of literary creativity and public controversy.

He lived in a state of perpetual contradiction.

A man imbued with a love of Japan’s rich heritage and proud of his Samurai ancestry, he was also intensely drawn to the Western world to which he often travelled and from where he relished the acclaim heaped on him. He even lived in an Italianate villa in Tokyo. He was married with two children but was apparently homosexual. And while he often projected the ambiance of a deep-thinking intellectual, he had a fascination with swords and was obsessed with bodybuilding and physical culture. As a boy he had been thin and weak, but later while living amid the trappings of upper middle class gentility, he found an outlet for a yearning to be something of a ruffian gangster, a role he played in cameo roles in films.

Mishima’s love of many things Western did not extend to wholeheartedly embracing Western notions of liberal democracy. He was decidedly right-wing and subscribed to to the ideology of Emperor worship, albeit that he alienated many Japanese monarchists when he denounced Emperor Hirohito for renouncing his claim to divinity. He memorialised what he considered to be the martyrs of the Niniroku Jiken or ‘February 26 Incident’, an abortive coup in 1936 that had been orchestrated by Imperial Japanese soldiers belonging to the Kodo-ha faction which aimed to purge what they perceived to be the corruption in the Japanese political and business classes in order to return Japan to a pre-industrialised and pre-westernised state that would be run along totalitarian lines by the Emperor with the assistance of a bakufu or military government.

Mishima merged his political thinking with his enduring thoughts of death in a short movie in which he starred in 1966 titled Yukoku (‘Patriotism’). In it, he played an army officer linked to the failed plot of February 1936 who commits seppuku.

It was something of a rehearsal of his macabre ending.

In his later years, Mishima would form a private militia he called the Tatenokai or Shield Society. It is from this group of young followers that he recruited the men who would accompany him to the Ichigaya barracks where under the pretense of paying a courtesy call to the commandant, would take him hostage and threaten to kill him unless he was allowed to give a speech to the soldiers in the main courtyard of the establishment.

The soldiers cursed him and mocked him as he enjoined them to rebel and free Japan from what he argued were the shackles of American military and cultural domination. They were, he chided, “American mercenaries” in a Japan that had “no spiritual foundation”.  

It was a fruitless plea and one which most believe Mishima knew was doomed to fail. He had had a death wish, it is widely believed, since his youth when he had feigned sickness in order to avoid being drafted into the Tokubetsu Kogekitai, the air corps of the Imperial Japanese Navy, which in the latter part of the Pacific War employed a strategy of suicidal combat. The guilt of not enlisting as a Kamikaze and perishing honourably in flames haunted him all his life. Some argue that he realised that he had reached his creative peak as a writer and could see no future on earth. He had, after all, been in the running to become Japan’s first Nobel Laureate in literature before he had stepped aside to make way for his mentor Yasunari Kawabata. Others point to writing where he explicitly declared that having built a powerful-looking body, he would not yield voluntarily to the degenerative force of the natural ageing process.

“The body”, he had written in Sun and Steel (1968), “is doomed to decay, just like the complicated motor of a car. I for one do not, will not, accept such a doom. This means that I do not accept the course of Nature. I know that I am going against Nature. I know that I am forcing my body onto the most destructive path of all.”

In death, it is believed that he formed a lover’s pact, taking his male lover, Masakatsu Morita with him into the afterlife.

His call from the balcony at Ichigaya barracks while dressed in his military tunic, for Japan to reclaim its martial past while ostensibly attempting to rouse the Japanese military to armed rebellion was in the final analysis a ruse. It served as cover for the fulfillment of a life-long obsession with seppuku. That he believed it would offer vindication of his life and the values he propagated is clear in the words of an interview he once gave during which he differentiated between the Western and Japanese concepts of suicide:

“Sometimes,” Mishima insisted, “Harakiri makes you win.”

© Adeyinka Makinde (2017)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Wilder-Stiverne: A Tale of Collusion and Chaos

Deontay Wilder bundled away from the prone Bermane Stiverne by referee Arthur Mercante (PHOTO: Getty Images)

The outcome of the recent WBC world heavyweight title bout between Deontay Wilder and his challenger Bermane Stiverne provided the drama of a first round knockout that has provided the impetus for a ratcheting up of interest in a unification bout between Wilder and Anthony Joshua, the holder of the WBA and IBF versions. But the fight, as well as providing a reminder of the perpetually fractured nature of world championship boxing, also raised a number of disquieting issues. First was the legitimacy of Stiverne’s entitlement to challenge for Wilder’s title. Second was the disgraceful physical state of the challenger who weighed in at 254 pounds. Thirdly, is the question of whether on his thirty-ninth appearance in the ring, Wilder’s level of skill is befitting of one bearing the mantle of a world champion. Finally, was the quality of officiating. Lost in the post-fight inquest was an appropriate level of scrutiny of Arthur Mercante Jr’s all too often chaotic style in the ring.

Very few, if any, among the followers of the sport of boxing were overjoyed at the prospect of Bermane Stiverne’s challenge to Deontay Wilder for the latter’s version of the world heavyweight title. In the first instance, Stiverne, the 39-year-old Haitian-Canadian from whom Wilder had won the title in 2015, had been a replacement for the Cuban Luis Ortiz, whose eagerly anticipated clash with Wilder had been derailed by a positive doping test. But before that, aficionados of the sport had expressed concern about Stiverne’s designation as the number one contender for Wilder’s World Boxing Council title given Stiverne’s relative inactivity during the period that had elapsed since his loss to Wilder.

That Stiverne, who had only fought once against journeyman fighter Derric Rossy in November of 2015, could maintain his mandatory status was almost certainly due to the influence of his manager, Don King. King had a close and enduring relationship with the late Jose Sulaiman, the longstanding president of the WBC who was the father of the current president Mauricio Sulaiman. The King-WBC ‘special relationship’ is one that appears to be transgenerational.

The original relationship with Sulaiman Snr was much derided by journalists, rival promoters and managers of fighters who were opponents of Don King-controlled boxers. The late Jack Newfield once lamented that Sulaiman “became more King’s junior partner than his independent regulator.”

While the grip King once had on heavyweight boxing has long been weakened to one that is largely insignificant, many with memories of the King-Sulaiman Snr. ‘partnership’ would be forgiven for their angst at the apparent special treatment given to a contemporary Don King fighter.

Many fans were irritated at the initial resistance shown by Stiverne to take stand-aside money to pave the way for the intended fight between Wilder and Ortiz. The overwhelming consensus was that Stiverne had been beaten comprehensively on points and there was no interest in seeing both men fight again.

Despite Stiverne’s pre-fight threat that he would “kill” Wilder, it was apparent that he was an unworthy challenger given his pot-bellied and generally out-of-conditioned appearance. Indeed, for some, Stiverne’s poorly conditioned frame and lacklustre performance were redolent of the era of overweight and out-of-condition heavyweights of the late 1970s and 1980s, an era dominated by King.

Wilder’s blow-out of Stiverne earned him praise from some quarters including Mauricio Sulaiman who claimed that he had not seen a heavyweight “throw a jab with such sharpness and precision since Larry Holmes.” Others are not so convinced about the level of his ringcraft, contending that Wilder’s modus operandi of throwing his jab low, seemingly from the hip, would be courting disaster against a better class of heavyweight such as Anthony Joshua. And while one of Wilder’s knockdown punches, a straight right that pierced the guard of Stiverne, caught the eye, his overly excited finish composed of wild swinging blows underlined what to some is a champion who remains crude and unlettered in the finer aspects of the sport. The ‘punch stats’ seemingly bear this out: Wilder landed 15 out of 39 punches thrown during the bout.

There are complaints that while Joshua’s title win over Charles Martin was received with caution because he had defeated a decidedly mediocre opponent, Wilder has been serenaded for dispatching a hapless and inept excuse for an ex-champion.

Apart from questions associated with the making of the fight and the quality of the fight -at least in so far as the competence of Stiverne was concerned, is the performance by referee Arthur Mercante Jr.

It was not merely that Mercante’s longstanding habit of whistling at boxers when signalling for them to resume fighting infringes fundamental notions of professionalism and respect for the combatants, he clearly breached a number of rules and conventions governing the officiating of bouts in the jurisdiction of New York State.

For instance, Mercante gave Stiverne a mandatory count of nine after the first knockdown, and in the succeeding one, he gave the fighter a mandatory ‘seven count’. Both are of course deviations from the rule of giving a fighter a mandatory count of eight.

Mercante is no stranger to playing roughshod with both the letter and the spirit of the rules of the game. In 2010, he ignored the pleas of Yuri Foreman’s corner to have the fight stopped and admonished an inspector of the New York State Athletic Commission who had begun to climb the steps to the ring in the eighth round, the round before he stopped the bout. Inspectors have the right to implore a referee to stop a fight.

The ‘innovation’ of a flexible count was not the only infraction.

The standard of practice promoted by the New York State Athletic Commission is that after a knockdown, the downed fighter once upright, at the behest of the referee is expected to take a step forward followed by a step to the side. But Mercante failed to insist that Stiverne take a step to the side. Further, he neglected to keep a firm control on Wilder’s movements after the knockdowns while he was administering the count.

The underlying current of chaos was exemplified by the incident before the final knockdown when Stiverne collided with him as Mercante stood near the ring ropes. This arguably may have delayed Stiverne’s descent and allowed Wilder to connect with more punches than he otherwise would have. In any case, when stopping the fight, Mercante’s act of grabbing Wilder and grappling with him after he was already turned away from the prone Stiverne was unnecessarily theatrical.

Mercante’s longevity in the topflight continues to mystify many who bemoan the controversies and even tragedies that have been associated with poor levels of refereeing - this all the more galling when there is a pool of highly professional officials available, including the veteran Ron Lipton whose talents have been remarkably underused by the authorities in New York.

At a time when boxing is facing competition from the genre of mixed martial arts, the Wilder-Stiverne bout highlights the disquieting features attendant to the sport that only serve to undermine it: shady behind-the-scenes administration by the sanctioning bodies in collusion with promoters, which result in mismatches that demean the prestige of bouts offered to the public as being between combatants at the pinnacle of the sport. That, as well as the evident favouritism shown to certain referees whose levels of competence and professionalism do not stand the test of objective evaluation.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2017)

Adeyinka Makinde is the author of Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal and Jersey Boy: The Life and Mob Slaying of Frankie DePaula.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

The Balfour Declaration: World Zionism and World War I

Only a relatively few historians acknowledge just how close Britain came to losing the First World War.

Although heavy loss of young lives in the stalemated land war on French territory dissipated national strength and morale, Britain’s fate, ominous for a certain period of time, was dependent on the development of the war on the high seas. This was not related to a diminution in the formidable power of Britain’s navy which had imperiously ruled the waves since the time of Lord Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar.

A defeat at the Battle of Coronel off the coast of Chile in November 1914 had been swiftly revenged the following month in the Battle of the Falklands. And while the German High Seas Fleet inflicted heavy losses on the Royal Navy in the epic Battle of Jutland in 1916, the result was essentially a draw, after which the German Navy did not venture out of its ports on the Baltic Sea to confront the British. The problem at sea related to German U-Boat warfare which was inflicting colossal losses on British cargo. An Island nation could only sustain so much before capitulating.

This was the warning delivered in 1917 by the British Admiralty to its political overlords.

America’s resources of manpower and martial machinery was needed to tip the balance. But just as would be the prelude to US intervention in the Second World War, the Americans, for long heeding of the advice given by their Founding Fathers, were wary of getting into “foreign entanglements”.

This is where the leaders of world Zionism came in.

It was a simple bargain: If Jewish leaders such as Chaim Weizmann could call on the Jewish Diaspora in America to use their influence to bring the United States into the war to rescue a desperate situation, then Britain would do what it could to help bring to fruition the Zionist dream of a Jewish state in Palestine.

The ‘Balfour Declaration’ was part of this bargain.

Winston Churchill acknowledged this in a statement he made to the House of Commons in July 1937:

It is a delusion to suppose this was a mere act of crusading enthusiasm or quixotic philanthropy. On the contrary, it was a measure taken. . .in due need of the war with the object of promoting the general victory of the Allies, for which we expected and received valued and important assistance.

Other evidence of the bargain comes from correspondence between Churchill and Chaim Weizmann, a prominent leader of world Zionism. In a letter to Churchill which was dated September 10th 1941, Weizmann while pleading for Churchill to establish a “Jewish fighting force” that would have “our name and flag arrayed against [Adolf Hitler]”, wrote the following:

It has been repeatedly acknowledged by British Statesmen that it was the Jews who, in the last war, effectively helped to tip the scales in America in favour of Great Britain. They are keen to do it - and may do it - again.

The Balfour Declaration was one of several bargains entered into by Zionists en route to the eventual declaration of the State of Israel in 1948. Another would be the controversial Haavara Agreement [or ‘Transfer Agreement’] with Nazi Germany entered into by German Zionists in the 1930s.

Before Israel was born would be the struggle of the Palestine-based Jewish Agency to get Britain, the holders of the Mandate, to allow unrestricted Jewish immigration to Palestine, the bombings and assassinations conducted by Irgun and Lehi against British and Arab targets, the United Nations Partition Plan and a war against Arab armies.

Today the Armenians bemoan the ‘betrayal’ of the Western powers for not enabling the creation of an Armenian nation spanning much of its historical territory, and the Kurds similarly feel ‘betrayed’ by the unfulfilled promise of a homeland made by the 1920 Treaty of Sevres. But few are aware that a Jewish homeland -the Jewish Autonomous Oblast- was created in the USSR under the watch of Joseph Stalin in 1934 with Birobidzhan as its administrative capital. It still exists, albeit with a rather minute Jewish population.

Meanwhile, Israel is approaching its seventieth year of statehood. The Balfour Declaration put into the public imagination the idea of a Jewish state which twenty years earlier, Theodor Herzl, wary of ridicule, was content to write of in his diary after the Basel Congress. “If I said this out loud today,” Herzl wrote on September 3rd 1897, “I would be greeted by universal laughter. In five years perhaps, and certainly in fifty years, everyone will perceive it.”

Lord Arthur Balfour’s declaration to Lord Walter Rothschild was problematic at the time for the reason that Britain had yet to obtain custodianship of Palestine in succession to its Ottoman rulers. But most problematic of all was the caveat that such promise would “not prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities.”

That the Arabs of Palestine, tied for centuries to the hamlets, towns and cities on the land Zionists refer to as Eretz Yisrael, have been subjected to dispossession and occupation while been continually denied a state of their own is surely evidence that Balfour’s condition has not been met.

The Jews created a nation in Palestine, but that created an inevitable injustice against its Arab Muslim and Christian inhabitants.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2017)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Where is Nnamdi Kanu?

Nnamdi Kanu

1. I hope that Nnamdi Kanu has not been seized by the Nigerian security authorities, executed and buried in secret. That would be an unacceptably barbaric and unconscionable act for which the perpetrators would be required to face justice.

2. I would be surprised to find out that Kanu had fled Nigeria given his rhetoric of the righteousness and justness of his cause. Fleeing would be tantamount to leaving his followers in the lurch. Deserting them. He is surely much too courageous to have done such a thing.

3. If he is still in Nigeria, it is rather surprising that he would remain quiet. I had imagined him as the fearless and defiant type who pimpernel like would be sending epistles to his pursuers, the Nigerian security services, chiding them for their inefficiency and “zoo”-like tendencies.

Where, I wonder, is Nnamdi Kanu?

© Adeyinka Makinde (2017)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Trump and Iran

United States President Donald Trump is attempting to set the scene for attacking Iran by continuing with his pre-election mantra of the “bad deal”. Since his assumption of office, he has continually referred to the Iranian state as a “sponsor of terrorism” and has also made his designs clear by referring to Hezbollah, Iran’s ally in Lebanon, as a terrorist organisation responsible for the massacre of American troops in Lebanon in 1983. His decision not to re-certify the ‘Five Plus One’ Agreement is pivoting America towards an armed confrontation with Iran.

1. Ratcheting tensions with Iran is an unmistakable attempt aimed at setting up the United States to fight a war on behalf of Israel, and, it would be remiss not to note, Saudi Arabia, a country with which Israel has developed a symbiotic relationship. Iran has not invaded another country for around 200 years, is a signatory nation to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty with attendant inspections and in addition to this has consented to the multinational ‘Five Plus One’ Agreement. It is also useful to remind that the intelligence community of the United States and even Israel’s Mossad have concluded that Iran has no military objectives related to the acquisition of nuclear power. The Iranian leadership debated this and decided as long ago as the early or mid-2000s not to pursue the nuclear option.

It is a manufactured crisis.

By inflicting the first defeat in recent memory on the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), former President Barack Obama resisted the Israel-Jewish lobby’s insistence on using the United States to mount a military attack on Iran by reaching the ‘Five Plus One’ agreement. This came after a concerted effort by Binyamin Netanyahu to undermine Obama’s position by accepting an invitation from Republican members of congress to speak before America’s legislative body without the express approval of the serving president, an abrogation of established US constitutional convention.

2. Donald Trump recently tweeted a reminder of Hezbollah’s alleged responsibility for murdering US Marines in Lebanon back in 1983. Vice President Mike Pence joined in, but neither man mentioned any other atrocity allegedly instigated by Hezbollah since the period of time when Lebanese militias were resisting what they perceived as the occupation of their country by foreign military powers. The problem with this focus on Hezbollah as an instigator of terrorism is that most of the atrocities committed against the United States and other Western nations by Muslim organisations have been by those of the Sunni-Wahhabist stripe whose ideology emanates from America’s ally Saudi Arabia. These organisations have in fact been covertly used by the United States to harass, destabilise and overthrow America’s enemies in Chechnya (an anti-Russian endeavour), Syria and Libya.

While Trump and Pence invoke the name of Hezbollah in the killing of United States military personnel, neither man has ever publicly memorialised the American sailors who were deliberately murdered and maimed during an attack on the USS Liberty by the armed forces of the state of Israel in June 1967.

Both men will not acknowledge that Hezbollah was created out of the carnage that followed the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the early 1980s, and that it was nurtured by the experience of combating Israel’s 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon.

By threatening to abrogate the multilateral treaty with Iran, it appears that Trump is doing the bidding of the Israel lobby which has had its intentions so far as achieving the destruction of Iran manifested in a number of position papers including many produced by the neoconservative-orientated and now defunct Project for the New American Century (PNAC).

Iran and Hezbollah were also targets proposed in a paper submitted in 1996 to Binyamin Netanyahu during his first tenure as Prime Minister of Israel. Led by the American neoconservative Richard Perle, A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm proposed “rolling back” the Syrian state, a crucial ally of Hezbollah, by proxy warfare.

Further, the “policy coup” referred to by retired US General Wesley Clark which Clark had learned of on two visits to the Pentagon in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks, outlined a neoconservative strategy of taking out “seven countries in five years” including Syria, Lebanon (meaning Hezbollah) and Iran.

Apart from Sudan and Somalia, none of the targeted entities, including Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, shared the objectives of the Sunni extremist ideology that characterised the alleged instigators of the 9/11 attacks. Iraq and Syria were led by secular, nationalist governments with roots in the Baathist movement, Libya’s ruling Jamahiriya Party was also a secular government, while Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iran represented bastions of the Shia Muslim world.

All had in common an implacable opposition to Israel.

Iran, Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon together form the so-called ‘Shia Crescent’, an ‘arc of resistance’ which threatens Israel’s military domination of the Middle East. This alliance also elicits fear and concern from Saudi Arabia, the leader of the Sunni Muslim world, and a nation with which Israel has developed closer, albeit informal relations.

The grand design of neutralising Iran and its allies is one which has continued unabated over the course of three successive United States administrations spanning those of George W. Bush, Barack Obama and now Donald Trump. The foreign policy of Obama did not vary much from that of Bush except in regard to Obama favouring covert action rather than overt foreign invasions by the American armed forces. Thus, the Syrian insurrection of 2011 through which foreign Islamist mercenaries were allowed to infiltrate Syria’s borders with the aid of America’s allies in the region was a policy consistent with the overarching policy of weakening the Shia powers by attempting to isolate Hezbollah by destroying Syria, the conduit between Israel’s Lebanese enemy and Iran.

Hezbollah, which like Iran has participated in defending the Assad government,  is the only military force in the Arab world that is willing and capable of confronting Israel’s military machinery. It was responsible for Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 after an almost two-decade-long occupation and they effectively defeated Israel in duels in the intelligence sphere and on the battlefield in the Lebanon War of 2006.

Israel has for long wanted to extend its frontier to the River Litani because it covets the resource the river provides. But the reclaiming of swathes of Syrian territory from Sunni Islamist groups such as Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra by the Syrian Arab Army with the help of Russian air power, Iranian advisors and soldiers provided by Hezbollah has frustrated the plan to cut Hezbollah off from Iran. It frustrates Israel’s desired ability to act with impunity in Lebanon as well as achieving its goal of securing its illegal annexation of the Golan Heights on the basis that none of the successor statelets of a balkanised Syria would have a claim to that region.

Whereas President Obama refused to yield to Israeli pressure to sacrifice American lives in a military adventure against Iran, it appears that President Trump is willing to pursue a path of aggression. In a speech defending the nuclear deal he had reached prior to a congressional vote in 2015, Obama claimed that “many of the same people who argued for the war in Iraq are now making the case against the Iran nuclear deal.” This was a not very veiled attack on the pro-Israel groups led by AIPAC, which sent hundreds of activists to lobby lawmakers to reject the deal.

Obama’s claim, which he repeated on several occasions, led to expressions of concern by several American Jewish organisations that his rhetoric could lead to a backlash against American Jews who are sensitive to suggestions of warmongering or placing ties to Israel over the interests of the United States.

Yet it remains the case, as Obama put it, that the “choice we face is ultimately between diplomacy and some form of war”. The joint statement issued earlier this month by the leaders of Britain, France and Germany affirming their support for the deal together with the words of the European Union’s foreign policy chief asserting that the agreement was working well clearly demonstrate that Trump is working towards achieving a preconceived agenda.

That agenda is a war agenda and it would be a catastrophe for the US to wage war against Iran on Israel’s behalf.

The malign results of the invasion of Iraq and the proxy war in Syria are apparent to all.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2017)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

The Arab-Israel War of 1973 and its Legacy

The Crossing. Egyptian forces moving across the Suez Canal en route to an assault on the “Bar Lev Line”.

Each of the full-blown wars between Israel and its Arab neighbours have carried a great measure of significance. The War of 1948 led to the creation of the modern state of Israel, a cause for euphoria among the world’s Jews in the post-Shoah-era, in contrast to the Nakba inflicted on the Arabs of Palestine. The War of 1967, during which Israel routed three Arab armies in six days established Israel as a regional hegemon while its defeated Arab neighbours stewed in their humiliation and the Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Gaza came under occupation. The Arab-Israeli War of 1973, known either as the “October War” or as the “Yom Kippur War”, is one which created the impetus for the Camp David Accords of 1978 which paved the way for the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty of 1979. But the war that commenced on October 6, 1973, by the surprise attack on Israel by Egypt and Syria, is also worth examining because it provides a framework towards understanding what has changed and what remains unchanged so far as the dynamics of conflict in the Middle East is concerned.

1. The Preconception. The Israeli rout of Arab armies in the “Six Day War” of 1967 led to laxity borne of overconfidence and arrogance pertaining to Arab military capabilities. The prevailing view was that Arab armies would not attack Israel until they could develop the capability to match Israeli air power. Although hubris was widespread, criticism quickly focused on one person. Moshe Dayan, who had held the portfolio of minister of defence since that war, was largely held to blame for not predicting the Arab attack and the level of unpreparedness the attack exposed. Although a cunning and ruthless general, he was decidedly not a very competent peacetime administrator.

2. The failure of intelligence. Israel’s inability to predict the Arab attack was not simply because the Egyptians had successfully employed Russian-derived deception techniques enshrined in the military doctrine of Maskirovka. It had a lot to do with the monopolization of all-source intelligence by Israeli Military Intelligence. Added to that were a number of false warnings, including one given by Ashraf Marwan, an Egyptian Mossad spy who was the son-in-law of the late Egyptian president, Gamal Nasser. The astronomical costs involved with the mobilisation of the Israeli army may have also contributed to a psychological fatigue and caution in responding to continued warnings in the lead up to the actual attack.
3. The war was not intended to destroy Israel and liberate Palestine. As was the case with the wars of 1948 and 1967, the often propagandized danger of annihilation by combined Arab forces was not present. The armies of both Egypt and Syria had limited objectives. The former wished to breach the “Bar Lev Line” and retake territory across the Suez Canal, while the latter hoped to to retake the Golan Heights lost to Israel during the “Six Day War”. There was no overarching plan to destroy Israel and proverbially “sweep the Jews into the sea”. The intended limited gains were simply to restore a degree of Arab pride and to use the war as leverage in negotiating the return of land occupied by Israel.

4. The oil crisis. Under the auspices of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the Arab states enforced an embargo on oil sales to the United States and any country giving aid to Israel. A five percent reduction in oil production led to an increase in the cost of fuel and contributed to a period of economic stagnation in the West.  

5. The world may have come to the brink of nuclear catastrophe. The Soviet Union is claimed to have deployed Scud missile brigades armed with nuclear warheads, while Moshe Dayan is said to have ordered the preparation of at least one ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. In his book The Samson Option: Israel’s Nuclear Arsenal and American Foreign Policy, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Seymour Hersh wrote that Israel’s missive to the administration of President Richard Nixon requesting an arms airlift, was accompanied by the threat of deploying nuclear weapons onto the field. Although the recollections of Arnan Azarhayu, an Israeli political insider, portray a more restrained reference to recourse to nuclear weapons in cabinet discussions during the war, it is nonetheless established fact that the United States placed its Strategic Air Command, Continental Air Defense Command, European Command and the Sixth Fleet on DEFCON 3 alert because of fears that the Soviet Union might intervene in the conflict on the side of its Arab allies.

6. The war ended as a victory for Israel, although the Arabs declared it a victory. The Egyptians, protected by surface-to-air missiles, crossed the Suez Canal and breached the “Bar Lev Line”. They held onto their gains after the failure of an initial Israeli counter-attack. The Syrians also made gains on the Golan Heights. However, Israeli successes after a counter-attack in the Golan theatre of war meant that President Hafez Assad sent a missive to President Anwar Sadat requesting that the Egyptians attack further into Sinai so as to relieve the pressure on his army. A refusal on Sadat’s part would have left the Syrian front liable to collapse with the effect that the Israelis would have been able to redeploy a substantial portion of its armed forces against the Egyptians.

Meanwhile as the Israeli High Command mulled over the difficult decision of whether to attack across the canal, Mossad received a message from an informant indicating that three Egyptian paratroop brigades were planning to land at specific locations behind enemy lines. But the garbled transcript provided no decipherable information which provided a logical rationale for the Egyptians to make this military decision. However intelligence previously received from Ashraf Marwan filled in the gaps. Earlier in 1973, Marwan had sent his Mossad handlers an Egyptian Army war plan setting out that sending Egyptian special forces behind Israeli lines was to serve as the prelude to the crossing of the canal by attacking formations of armoured divisions.

An Egyptian attack meant that part of its army would need to come out of the protected ‘umbrella’ within which the Israeli Air Force was vulnerable to Soviet-made surface-to-air missiles. It also meant that the Israelis could engage the Egyptians in a defensive action during which they would aim to significantly reduce Egyptian tank strength before launching an attack across the Suez. In the ensuing battles, the Egyptian Third Army became encircled and part of the east bank of Suez recaptured. The Israelis also proceeded with an attack across the canal. The Egyptian failure to hold on to much of their initial gains was offset by the slithers of territory they retained on the eastern bank of the Canal. However, the war ended with Israeli forces about 80 kilometers from Cairo and approximately 40 kilometers from Damascus.

There are a number of matters to ponder.

A. The threat of nuclear war emanating in the Middle East. The Arab-Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973 were both fought by nations allied with the two main contestants of the Cold War. And each conflict, particularly the 1973 war, had the subtext of the threat of Soviet intervention if Israeli gains at the expense of its Soviet-backed Arab foes exceeded an acceptable threshold.

But the ending of the Cold War has not removed the spectre of nuclear war from the Middle East. Israel, a nation which for a long time has acquired a nuclear capability, but has not made itself subject to the international treaties and protocols covering nuclear proliferation, has in recent times continually argued that Iran’s nuclear programme poses an existential threat. This is inspite of the fact that Iran is a signatory state to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and has consented to the regime of inspections by the relevant regulatory authorities. Over and above that are the conditions placed on Iran’s programme by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action reached between Iran and the ‘Five Plus One’ countries. Moreover, the intelligence community in the United States and even Mossad have declared that no evidence exists of Iran’s nuclear programme extending to the development of weapons. There are those who argue that part of the rationale for manufacturing these concerns over Iran’s nuclear programme are a strategic ploy aimed at diverting attention from the question of a settlement of the Palestinian issue.

Today, the threat of nuclear confrontation emanating from the Middle East comes not from Iranian intentions, but from the delicate and intermittently strained relations between the United States and the Russian Federation over the Syrian conflict. The Russians are contributing to a military coalition of Shia powers in aid of the government of Bashar al-Assad against an insurrection by Sunni Islamist groups who are supported by America’s regional allies.

B. The question of Arab solidarity. The limited objectives of the war of 1973 demonstrated, as did the war of 1948, that Israel’s neighbours have consistently been more preoccupied with their own national interests than that of the Palestinian people. The Arab protagonists during the war of 1948 were concerned with acquiring territory and not with the creation of a Palestinian state. Jordan reached a secret agreement with representatives of the Jewish Agency not to attack the soon to be declared state of Israel after the expiry of the British Mandate. Jordan acquired the West Bank and Egypt the Gaza Strip.

The Camp David agreement and the subsequent peace treaty between Israel and Egypt went counter to Palestinian interests. This is based on the logic that their ability to achieve statehood would be better assured within the context of a comprehensive agreement between Israel and all its neighbours rather than through separate agreements. Palestinian resistance to Israel has suffered because Arab opposition to Israel has been weakened by the policies followed by their leaders. After expulsion from Jordan in the early 1970s, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) suffered the same fate in Lebanon. When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, it did so on the assurance from Arab states, other than Syria, that it would not be challenged in its quest to purge Lebanon of Palestinian guerillas. Today, the Arab League possesses neither the will nor the ability to break the blockade and sanctions against Gaza. It is also impotent or indifferent to the building of settlements on the West Bank.

It is also pertinent to note that Saudi Arabia has effectively renounced the idea of using an Arab embargo on oil sales as an option in the cause of Arab and Palestinian grievances. The terms attached to the embargo enforced in 1973 expressly referred to the restoration of the “legitimate rights of the Palestinian people”. While some have subsequently written about the myth of the oil weapon and highlighted the drawbacks to its use, the malign effects of the joint Arab action was clear enough to see. That Saudi Arabia, in recent years, has seen fit to use it against Russia and Iran while disavowing its use as a bargaining device in relation to the Palestinian cause, is indicative of the lack of Arab solidarity.

C. A different coalition threatens Israel’s regional military hegemony. With the peace treaty with Egypt continuing to endure, Syria weakened by internecine strife, Jordan effectively a protectorate state of Israel, as well as the developed symbiotic relationship between Israel and Saudi Arabia, Israel has less worry about the revival of the coalition of nations who fought her in the wars of 1948, 1967 and 1973.

This is why its focus is on the perceived threat of Iran, which is allied to Bashar al-Assad’s secular government in Syria, and Hezbollah in Lebanon. This arc of resistance to Israel domination is often referred to as the “Shia Crescent”. The destruction of the Syrian state would be welcomed by Israel on the grounds that none of the succeeding balkanised entities would be able to revive Syria’s claim to the Golan Heights.

Destroying Syria would also lead to the isolation of the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon which is the only military organisation in the Arab world capable of taking on the Israeli Defence Force. Indeed, it was Hezbollah, an organisation that grew out of Lebanese resistance to Israel’s brutal invasion and 18-year occupation, which forced Israel’s withdrawal in 2000 from southern Lebanon, an area Israel has long coveted because of the resource of the Litani River. In the war of 2006, Hezbollah outmanoeuvred Israel in the intelligence war, and held off Israeli ground incursions to the extent that Israel was eventually forced to withdraw its forces.  

D. Contemporary geopolitical circumstances. The Palestinian West Bank and the Syrian Golan Heights still remain under Israeli control. The West Bank continues to be colonised by the creation of Israeli settlements, which is gradually achieving the Zionist goal of a ‘Greater Israel’, a project undergirded by the belief that the territory encompasses that part of the ancient land of Israel known as Judea and Samaria. Continued expansion has meant that the Palestinian population continues to be squeezed into increasingly smaller enclaves. The Golan Heights, which was illegally annexed by Israel in 1981, was recently declared by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to be permanently and irrevocably under Israeli sovereignty.

Examining the 1973 war and comparing the circumstances of the present to the past provides an idea of what has changed and what has not. Hezbollah’s alliance with Iran, some would argue, has meant that the dynamic of the region has evolved from an Arab-Israeli conflict to an Iranian-Israeli conflict, albeit one so far fought on behalf of Iran by a ‘proxy’ army in the form of Hezbollah.

But what has not changed from all the wars dating back to the one of 1948, is the matter that forms the historical basis of Arab antagonism towards Israel: the plight of the Palestinian people. And with the prospects of statehood diminishing with every expansion of illegal Israeli settlements on the West Bank, the issue of Palestine remains a festering wound at the heart of the Middle East.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2017)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.