With Covid-19 dominating everyone’s thoughts and actions, it is also dominating the news media. At first glance, this would seem obvious. But is it?
Clearly people need to be updated with the latest information about this killer virus, particularly when governments are trying to wreck lives and economies over it, and blaming their citizens for breathing rather than their own lack of preparation. But is the virus actually news? Even if it is, do people want to hear about nothing else 24 hours a day, when it is most of the content of their lives already?
In such circumstances it is always wise to look for the stories which casually leak out under the oppressive weight of the preferred one. Where would we find them? One of the best mainstream sources is a journal little read outside the borders of its own country, The Jordan Times.
Jordan is a moderate country on the wrong side of the global political argument. So the articles there offer straightforward news from a different perspective, and a lot of stuff which the rest of the world won’t touch ends up in there, not as a sensation but simply a matter of interest to its differently-thinking readership.
Like all other newspapers, The Jordan Times is full of articles about the virus at present. But there is one story which has snuck in which might explain a lot of why our attention is being directed away from it – and possibly part of the reason this virus was invented, as it probably was, given that it was warned about long before 200 scientists from around the world descended on Wuhan.
We all know Israel manufactures and exports a lot of weapons. We also know Jordan is on the opposite side to Israel in regional politics, so you would expect it to complain about this.
But look at the detail in this story. It doesn’t derive from Jordan, and its conclusions are both credible and of global significance. What better story to leak out when people are obsessed with coronavirus?
It is the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute which has released a report claiming that demand for weapons in the Middle East has grown a whopping 61% between 2015 and 2019. But even this is putting it politely.
You can only accurately measure demand if everyone has an unlimited choice of everything. People only order weapons if they think they can get them, and are the best option available. All this statement can mean is that 61% more weapons are being sold in the region, according to verifiable channels, which as we know is not even close to the full picture in the arms business.
The significant fact here is that, although Russia is deeply involved in Syria and this is reported frequently, its own official arms exports have fallen. It remains one of the top five suppliers worldwide, but while the other four (the United States, France, Germany and China) have increased their exports, Russia’s have fallen by 18%.
How often do we hear about the involvement of France, Germany and China in Middle East conflicts? The Russians were invited, unlike any of these countries, and are also present in many other places. Yet even though Moscow accepted the Assad government’s request to provide military assistance, its overall arms exports have fallen, whilst those of other countries have increased.
This is explained by the fact that Russia has lost much of the Indian market. India has always been a Western ally, so why did Russia, and the Soviet Union before it, ever have that market?
India has always known how to play its position. Upon creation in 1947 it was the “good guy” and Pakistan the “bad guy,” put alongside it so the good guy couldn’t use its vast potential to challenge superior countries.
The initial plan was that if India stepped out of line, “those nasty Muslims” in Pakistan would come along and cause trouble. That is precisely what happened, several times. But this only entrenched India’s status as the “good guy,” regardless of who did what in these conflicts.
Consequently, India was able to access Soviet arms and technical support to a greater degree than any other Western ally. If any other country courted the Soviets, it would be branded as Communist and its government. But India was allowed to play both sides because nobody had the nerve to brand it a bad guy, after it had won its independence from the mighty British Empire through a long campaign of public non-violent resistance.
Russia also played its position after its re-establishment by touting its Indian connection. “We are Russia, not the Soviet Union, because we have Western friends such as India.” Again, the West wanted to believe and encourage this, largely so it could become the old Soviet Union itself whilst pretending otherwise. If the West could control Russia’s arms trading with India, this would not disturb the balance of power in the region or globally.
But Russia hasn’t lost the Indian market due to international pressure on the Indian government, which is what you would expect after what happened to Yanukovych and how that was presented. It has lost it because India now buys its arms from Israel.
A country with a population of 8.7 million is now the preferred ongoing arms supplier to a country with a population of 1.3 billion, rather than a major power with a population of 144.5 million. Just think about how extraordinary this is.
Israel must have an amazing competitive advantage to pull of such a commercial coup. It’s simple – unlike most countries, Israel sells arms to anybody without demanding political preconditions. You don’t have to promise anything to get them, don’t have to work with anyone to get them.
Arms smugglers theoretically do the same. If that trade is run by independent businesses, as the US claims, Israel would not have this advantage. The huge expansion of the Israeli arms business merely exposes the fact that the illegal arms trade is also run by governments.
Even more political conditions are attached to illegal arms sales because the vast majority are being made for political purposes by the sponsors of various terrorist groups. Israel of all countries should know that, as it never stops complaining about terrorists attacking it, and its neighbours never stop complaining about Israel harbouring other terrorists.
So Israel has taken advantage of the situation to line its pockets, as any country would. India is very proud of the independence it has long demonstrated through being allowed to do arms deals with Russia and the Soviet Union. An Israeli-Indian “defence agreement” is a marriage made in heaven, provided of course you think hell is preferable.
Friends are more of the same
The Israeli-Indian arms deal is the largest is Israeli history, worth around 2 billion dollars officially. The actual signatory is Israel Aerospace Industries, which is a fully state-owned company, so this is a not a government-brokered deal, it is an intergovernmental deal.
Apart from the financial considerations, there are many other reasons why Israel should be interested in expanding its arms business. Having been plonked between several hostile neighbours, whom it dispossessed in its creation, it is always going to spend a large proportion of its GDP on weapons. But there is also a wider reason why a country which needs peace and accommodation with its neighbours wants to peddle conflict everywhere.
We have all encountered street alcoholics who claim to know a number of famous people, and to have had glittering careers before the drink took over. In some cases, these stories are true. But in most they are simply psychological projection – knowing the wretchedness of their circumstances, they want to believe that those they admire are actually just like them.
Israel is in the same position. The mere fact that the State of Israel exists is recognition of the historic sufferings of its people. If the state doesn’t have victim status, it has nothing. So in order to profit, it not only has to be the perpetual victim but export its problems, so that everyone else is the same, and Israel is the norm.
Both the Soviet Union and modern Russia are very familiar with the situation where the rest of the world condemns as “Soviet/Russian aggression” actions which Moscow calls defensive. There is a mixture of right and wrong on both sides of this argument, in individual cases.
But part of the reason the Soviets saw the expansion of Communism as defensive was that, deep down, they knew it was built on false foundations. It would never achieve the egalitarian utopia, or even basic functionality, it promised. So it wanted all its neighbours to be the same, to persuade as many people as possible that a fundamentally wrong and bad system was alright really, and represented a higher level of human progress than the systems of its enemies.
Few states have made the political and economic progress Israel has in such a short time. Other governments may loathe it, but the Western powers have been unflinching in their enthusiastic support for it. The Jewish people have every right to consider themselves victims, and to want to be compensated for that. But for Israel it is simply good business to be a continual victim, and to keep making the point it needs continual conflict.
Continual conflict, however, means a continual problem. Who would want to be the only country seen as a continual problem, or to inflict that problem on its citizens? When fighting breaks out in any country, the rich embassies get their nationals out of there, while the poorer ones can’t. Is that a situation any country wants to put itself in voluntarily?
Israel can’t afford to be seen as a perpetual problem, as one day its sponsors might simply wash their hands of it. So other countries have to have the same problems. That is why there are no political strings attached to Israeli arms sales; sponsoring conflict for the sake of it, to make other countries the same as Israel, is the political string it uses to control these countries.
Winning at public expense
It would be naive to think there really are “no political strings attached” to Israeli arms sales. Israel has its allies, and its actions are a reflection of their policy. Israel has gained so much from the goodwill of those allies, and is so surrounded by enemies wishing its destruction, that this isn’t going to change.
We all know which other countries want to spread conflict, and why. The US military-industrial complex, like those of its allies, depends on war to maintain its funding levels and keep many people in jobs. Any other powerful country needs to maintain its position, and imposing conflict on anyone who might threaten its self-importance is a tried and tested method, until that conflict spills over into the country which started it.
If India is signing a big arms deal with Israel, it is being allowed to fulfil a wider agenda. To both Indians and outsiders, the obvious target of any weapon would be Pakistan. Any conflict with Pakistan now presents India with more potential gain than ever, as the subcontinent’s Muslim homeland has outlived its usefulness since the invention of Daesh.
Nuclear armed Pakistan will not submit to conquest by India, or even coming out on the losing side, despite the two countries fighting a conflict of convenience in Kashmir. But if wider agendas are involved, controlled by other parties, conflict with India might give Pakistan a new purpose after all.
The West wants out of Afghanistan, and is finding that even if you take the troops away, you haven’t really left if your own mess is all people have. In order to protect your own interests, you have to keep defending what you imposed, or it will be overturned root and branch, and the influence of its sponsors with it.
What is now Pakistan was part of Afghanistan during the Durrani Empire. The best way out for both countries, and for the West, would be a strategic partnership between the two, however, This would be difficult to achieve through diplomacy, given the role each has played in destabilising the other. But if the alternative is rule by weapons-rich India, the hearts and minds of the two governments will proverbially follow.
This would mean everyone wins except the people. This is what democracy is supposed to protect us from. Hardly surprising therefore that the story emerges while people are being buried under coronavirus, by those who can retire with dignity having served their time.
Seth Ferris, investigative journalist and political scientist, expert on Middle Eastern affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.