For many years now,
successive US administrations have been vigorously trying to persuade as many Arab countries
as possible—especially those that are still in a state of war with
Israel—to undertake “confidence building measures” in a purported attempt
to “entice” Israel into being more forthcoming in the peace diplomacy…
Now, an episode
involving the respected Lebanese political scientist Dr Amal
Saad-Ghorayeb shows us that the US-dominated NATO
alliance has also been part of this campaign.
Unless you’re a
particular kind of a military-affairs afficianado you
may not be aware that NATO runs its own institute of higher learning, the NATO
Defense College (NDC) , in Rome. Through the work of this college, as
well as in other ways, NATO has been trying for some years now to impose its
own form of (military-based) normalization on the relations between Israel and
several Arab states– including Lebanon, a country that (a) is still in a
formal state of war Israel now, as it has since 1948, (b) has been the victim
of numerous acts of Israeli aggression over those decades, including a string
of extremely lethal major military invasions, occupations, and assaults, the
most recent (and one of the most lethal) being that undertaken in 2006, and (c)
continues to this day to be subject to Israeli aggression, including in the
form of very frequent military overflights.
In these circumstances,
it is scarcely surprising that Lebanon has a law barring its citizens from
having any contact with Israeli military personnel. Ah, but now it turns out
that NATO—a body that proclaims its support for (a certain version of)
the rule of law—has been seeking to tempt Lebanese citizens to skirt or
break this law by meeting with Israeli military officials in a clandestine,
“off the record” kind of way.
I could digress a bit
here and write about the deep problems NATO has been experiencing ever since,
with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991-3, it suddenly lost its
foundational raison d’etre and had to start inventing
“missions” for itself in various places far distant from its originally
envisaged Central European battlefields.
(As I’ve blogged quite a few times in recent months, the continuing NATO
“mission” in Afghanistan is one that’s particularly ill-suited to NATO’s
capabilities, and may well bring about the dissolution of the alliance in its
present, neo-imperial form.)
back to NATO and Lebanon. Sometime this summer, Florence Gaub, who
works with something called the NATO Regional Cooperation Course (NRCC), which
is run out of the Rome-based NDC, invited Amal Saad-Ghorayeb to give a lecture to the members of this
fall’s NRCC course. Saad-Ghorayeb agreed to do it.
She also, not surprisingly, sought the assurance of those inviting her that she
would not be expected to work with Israeli military personnel while she was
This assurance was not
forthcoming. On September 8, Gaub wrote to Saad-Ghorayeb noting that Israel was a full partner of
NATO’s in the NATO-sponsored “Mediterranean Dialogue”, one of the co-sponsors
of the NRCC course. She also wrote that, “I can not ensure that any of the NATO officers present does not by
chance hold a second Israeli passport.”
(This latter statement is
intriguing. How many of NATO’s member countries allow
members of their militaries to have Israeli– or other—second passports?
Or is it only Israeli passports that are permitted? Also, several NATO members
have sizeable military units serving in the beefed-up UNIFIL peacekeeping force
in south Lebanon. Might some of those soldiers be holders of Israeli passports?
An interesting thought, right there… )
In her September 8 email, Florence Gaub added,
here at NATO Defense College we provide a free
academic environment under Chatham House rules, meaning that nobody can be
quoted from discussions taking place here. We are not under Lebanese law and
invite academics in their private capacity…. It is for this reason that we
have been able, in the past, to invite scholars from very different backgrounds
and to ensure frank discussions, even among Israelis and Arabs, and even among
Israelis and Lebanese.
If this obstacle is not surmountable to you, I regret that we will not be
able to host you as a lecturer here.
Saad-Ghorayeb replied to Gaub (Sept. 9)
The main issue for me is not how I can circumvent Lebanese law, with
Chatham House rules, but rather, my refusal to violate the laws of my country
even if I were able to circumvent them.
While I understand your disinclination to "disinvite" your
Israeli guests, I would like to point that you don’t seem to have had any
reservations about disinviting me, your proposed speaker.
Perhaps it might interest you to know that the organizers of all other
events featuring Israeli officers and diplomats, which
I have been invited to, have respected my position on this issue. They have
always found a way to accommodate my constraints.
Given your clear position on this issue, I have no desire to give
Gaub’s boss, NRCC Director Sandy Guptill,
also wrote an email to Saad-Ghorayeb on Sept. 9,
which was notably more measured in tone than Gaub’s. Guptill wrote:
I have been kept fully informed of your
situation and I fully respect your academic, professional and personal
integrity and your observance of the laws of your nation. Ironically I find
myself in a similar position. We cannot dis-invite
any nation from participation here at this College. That is a
political decision which rests with NATO nations and
[is] simply not within our remit.
Please rest assured that we do not take
lightly the loss of the opportunity to hear your thoughts and views.
(I added the emphasis
there.) Of course, the biggest single nation in NATO is the US, which is also
far and away the greatest supporter of Israel, in every imaginable way.
Including—as noted above– for many years US diplomats have pushed and
pushed Arab countries, including Lebanon, to engage in “normal” relations with
Israel even before Israel makes any concessions in the negotiations with them…
approach has been roundly rejected by the vast majority of the Arab
governments—including, very recently and decisively, by Saudi Arabia. It is described by many Arab diplomats as “peace for
land for peace”: a perversion of the longstanding idea of “land for peace”, and
one that, when applied in the past (including at Oslo), has too often allowed
Israel to pocket all the concessions the Arab parties made while it continued
to hang onto and exploit Arab land and resources.
… Anyway, after
receiving Guptill’s email, Saad-Ghorayeb
sent him (or her?) a reply in which she expressed appreciation for the tone of
his email and the “outrage” she had felt at Gaub’s
Implicit in [Gaub’s] words is the suggestion
that my invitation only stands if I break Lebanese law… [I]n
so doing, she was compromising my standing with the law ; according to
Lebanese law, the penalty for any interaction (meeting, discussion etc.)
between Lebanese civilians and Israeli military personnel is a prison sentence
with hard labor.
But it is not only Gaub’s apparent
indifference to my fate which I find disturbing, but
her clear disrespect for my country’s legal system, which she deems violable. I
wonder if she would as readily countenance the reverse scenario had
I invited her to give a lecture where representatives of
some state or non-state actor deemed an "enemy" by her native
Germany, and I then attempted to persuade her to break German law
by assuring her the utmost secrecy…
Gaub’s behavior, Saad-Ghorayeb
wrote, amounted to a particularly crude form of neo-Orientalism.
Saad-Ghorayeb had sent ‘CC’ copies of this email to a number of
officials at NDC/NRCC, including NDC’s Dean of Academic Affairs, Dr. Grant T. Hammond.
Hammond then made the mistake (who hasn’t, at this point?) of hitting “Reply to
all” with his first response to it.
Which, um, sent straight back to Saad-Ghorayeb and a number of other people the following
While I find this despicable and the most unjust, vitriolic piece of
academic claptrap I have ever encountered WE DO NOT RESPOND! If
she makes the effort to write me or the Commandant, we
will do so. But do not get involved in a pissing contest over this.
Florence—you did nothing wrong. But let’s not get into a series of
negative e-mail exchanges on [t]his…
And that was the point when a copy
of this whole exchange found its way into my in-box.
I wrote Hammond and asked him to
clarify a number of points. In particular, I asked these questions,
[I]s it the policy of NDC
to demean the legal system of another country to the extent that it asks
nationals of that country to break the law?
Did the NDC make any attempt to find a reasonable and legal accommodation of
Dr. Saad-Ghorayeb’s concerns?
Hammond replied, courteously and at some length, as follows:
The Faculty Advisor who invited Dr. Saad-Ghorayeb was not aware of the Lebanese law which prohibited her from speaking to an audience in
which Israelis were present. This is regrettable and the initial cause of
the misunderstanding. But there was no intention to, and it certainly is
not the policy of the NATO Defense College, to demean
Dr. Saad-Ghorayeb or Lebanon. We would not
expect her to break the laws of her nation. While Dr. Saad-Ghorayeb finds it hard to believe that Dr. Gaub was unaware of the Lebanese law, Dr. Gaub and indeed others here at the College, find it hard to
believe that Dr. Saad-Ghorayeb was not aware of the
15 year old relationship between NATO and the Mediterranean Dialog (MD) countries—which
include Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan and Israel.
As a NATO body, we were not in a position to prohibit Israeli participants who
have been invited by the North Atlantic Council to participate in a NATO
sponsored program of large size and duration since 1994. That being the
case, and Dr. Saad-Ghorayeb having legal stricture
preventing her participation in the NRCC, Dr. Saad-Ghorayeb
in effect, by her nation’s law, had to refuse to participate, and thus,
Dr. Gaub’s reference to a
free academic environment at the NATO Defense College
and the use of the Chatham House Rule was an effort to describe the interchange
that occurs in the discussions held here and that we have scholars from a
variety of backgrounds—and course members—who have been able to
have frank discussions of very serious issues. Not knowing the specifics
of the Lebanese law, and the circumstances to which it applied, Dr. Gaub indicated that if the exclusion of the Israelis were
required, we would not be able to host Dr. Saad-Ghorayeb.
misunderstanding of the legal circumstances involved on both sides is
regrettable, the “despicable and most unjust, vitriolic piece of academic
claptrap” to which I referred in my e-mail sent to all (unintentionally
including Dr. Saad-Ghorayeb) in a previous
message—for which I am sincerely sorry—referred not to the legal
strictures affecting Dr. Saad-Ghorayeb, or her
integrity in following them, but to what I considered a harsh and unnecessary
personal attack on Dr. Gaub, who, to my way of
thinking, had done nothing wrong, either personally or professionally in
explaining the situation to Dr. Saad-Ghorayeb.
Dr. Gaub’s reply to Dr. Saad-Ghorayeb
left the matter to decide about her participation up to her, and she declined
to come. Dr. Saad Ghorayeb
appeared to hold her invitation as her paramount concern and not an
appreciation for the circumstance of the College, Dr. Gaub
or the NATO Alliance in this matter. In essence, her ignorance of the
NATO circumstance mirrored Dr. Gaub’s ignorance of
the Lebanese law.
Dr. Gaub’s tone was neither “discourteous” nor “offensive,” nor
“ungracious” and “disrespectful” in explaining the nature of the discussions
held here. While it may well be true that Dr. Saad-Ghorayeb
has never spoken to a group where Israelis might be present where others
“always found a way to accommodate my constraints,” it was simply not the case
here. The charge that this is a “crude form of neo-Orientalism,”
is extreme and unwarranted. The language used to describe Dr. Gaub’s behavior and imputed
intentions was also.
the entire circumstance is regrettable, it is another illustration of different
cultural sensitivities and the work we all have to do to better appreciate each
other’s social, political and cultural context.
assure you—and Dr. Saad-Ghorayeb—that her
academic expertise and reputation were the reason that she was invited to
address the NRCC course. That this is impossible under Lebanese Law and
NATO course participation regulations is, under the circumstances, our
loss. But there is no personal slight in her being “disinvited.”
She refused to participate under the circumstances. She was asked to
address the course, a condition of her doing so was to ask the Israeli course
members to absent themselves, and this NATO cannot do. As
members of the NRCC course, they are all treated equally. While this may
not be seen as appropriate from a Lebanese point of view, and I am well aware
of why this is so, it was not in the power of the NATO defense
College to prohibit a particular nationality from participating in its NATO
approved course offerings.
Well, it strikes me that no-one at the NDC/NRCC had ever tried to find a legal and
reasonable way to meet Saad-Ghorayeb’s concerns. (A number of possible formulas for
doing this suggest themselves to the agile mind.) And Hammond was telling me
they had no intention of even trying to find such a formula. He, like Guptill, was simply saying that
“this is how NATO insists things be done; take it or leave it.”
“NATO”, of course, is not some
abstract, bureaucratic body. It is an alliance between member-states who
allegedly uphold the values of democratic accountability and the rule of law.
“NATO” as such cannot insist that Israeli officers who are participants in an
NRCC course be physically present if a Lebanese lecturer comes into the room.
“NATO”, or rather the faculty of the NATO Defense
College, could certainly ask those Israeli officers to step into another room
in deference to the request of an invited lecturer, whose democratically
elected government has criminalized any contact between its citizens and members
of Israel’s military.
Who knows, perhaps even a video link
might be provided?
But at a broader level, I wonder
what is the point of having this inter-military “Mediterranean Dialogue”
that NATO has been running for the past 15 years? Especially since, as Hammond
indicated, it involves– along with Israel and the two Arab League states that
have made peace with Israel– four other Arab states that have yet done so?
We could also note that neither
Mauritania nor Jordan is actually a Mediterranean state. So this venture is not
just “about” Mediterranean-basin concerns.
It does look very much like an
attempt to ram a certain sort of inter-military “normalization” down the
throats of those Arab states.
Now, maybe this kind of
“cooperation” would be worthwhile if, at times of crisis, the democratic
countries of NATO and the governments of the Arab countries involved in this
“dialogue” could use all the relationships they have built up with Israel’s
military in order to restrain Israel from pursuing some of its baser and more
But I guess that didn’t happen in
1996, when Israeli PM Shimon Peres unleashed the IDF into a big and very
harmful assault against Lebanon. It didn’t happen in 2002, when Sharon sent the
IDF into the West Bank and Gaza to demolish the infrastructure of the
(European-funded) Palestinian Authority there. It didn’t happen in 2006 (Olmert; Lebanon), or in 2008 (Olmert;
Gaza)… So really, I do wonder, what is the point of this “Mediterranean
Well, as I noted above, NATO is
still floundering around, trying to look for a “mission”; and it is running
into deep, deep troubles in Afghanistan…
It truly is time for all the
reasonable, equality-loving people of the world to get together and devise a saner
approach to restoring security to the world’s troubled regions than that pursued
since the end of the Cold War pursued by the pro-Israeli militarists of