Re-printed from The Jerusalem Post of March 19, 1998
Oh perfidious Albion is how the French would describe British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook's blundering efforts to lay down the law to the Israeli government Rajah-style, visiting the natives in their primitive land during his visit to Israel this week.
He clearly gave the impression that he had been infected by the firmly entrenched three-headed virus of the British ruling class: arrogance, appeasement and distaste of Jews. This last feature is a meld of old-fashioned antisemitism and a British Foreign Office love affair, Lawrence of Arabia-style, with Middle Eastern Arabs idolized as handsome, Omar Sharif tribesmen galloping their pure-bred steeds across the desert. Cook follows a long line of such gentlemen ranging from Neville Chamberlain, Ernest Bevin and diplomats whose favorite postings are in Middle Eastern Arab countries.
But it is not our intention to take Cook to task for following this less than noble line of his predecessors, even though one confesses to feeling a little queasy in the stomach watching the way he made the first pass when he met Yasser Arafat in Gaza. The British foreign secretary grabbed and hugged his startled host before the PLO chief could even purse his lips to kiss the cheeks of his English gentleman guest.
Instead, we will relate some details of how the Israelis have the greatest admiration for the British people and showed it in a very practical way. We speak of 1991 and the beginning of the Gulf War. A guest was ushered into that London holy of holies called the Cabinet Office, where the real business of directing Britain's destiny is conducted. The group of men present were reinforced by the presence of chaps from MI-6, the UK's version of the Mossad. The emissary from Israel did not waste time. He gave his stunned listeners precise details of where Saddam Hussein had stored much of his war material, and other vital data concerning the Iraqi army's command headquarters.
The British checked out this information as fast as they could. Their airmen carrying out air strikes, and commando units operating deep behind enemy lines, were risking their lives daily. And thanks to this accurate data which arrived like manna from heaven, not only were their soldiers and flyers more effective in their activities, they were safer.
The UK government was so impressed that it sent, for the first time, an official letter of thanks to the office of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir. It was a generous gesture, as Britain has never forgiven Shamir for his role as leader of the Stern underground group. A similar situation occurred when a British policewoman was shot dead outside the Libyan embassy in London. It was Israeli intelligence who passed on the details that the shooting was no accident. It had been ordered in person by Muammar Gadaffi. The Israelis were also responsible for providing British authorities with details showing how Libyan agents played a key role in planting a bomb aboard the Pan Am plane which blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland.
This time it was the MI-5 internal security forces who were delighted when Israeli intelligence officials revealed how Gadaffi was providing military aid and training facilities to the IRA in Northern Ireland. The importance of all this vital data flowing to London from Jerusalem can be gauged by the fact that MI-6 decided to refocus its major attention from the Soviet Union to the Middle East. In the past when MI-6 appointed a new chief, he came directly from the branch of the service involved with Eastern Europe. But the new boss of the organization is nowadays the individual who ran the Middle Eastern bureau.
In the light of this close cooperation between Jerusalem and London, it seems strange that the Foreign ffice to this day continues its strong anti-Jewish line. In 1944 Chaim Weizmann, who became Israel's first president, appealed to the Foreign Office to bomb the railway line bringing Jews to the furnaces of Auschwitz. The response of the head of the southern command, a Mr. William D. Allen commented in a note: "We waste a disproportionate amount of time to listening to the wailing Jews." Auschwitz was never bombed.
A question must be asked: Were Foreign Office officials responsible for briefing Robin Cook and telling him that he should come to Israel and behave like a bull in a china shop? We suspect this must be so. For only yesterday Cook's entourage expressed astonishment at Israel's strong reaction to his making Har Homa his main call during his visit to Jerusalem. The "perfidious Albion" comment clearly should be aimed at the Foreign Office in London.
(c) Jerusalem Post 1998
Uri Dan and Dennis Eisenberg are Jerusalem Post columnists.