One of the perennial debates about the nature of the pro-Israel lobby in western countries such as the US and Britain is the degree of influence that it wields over foreign policy. This is often summed up as the question of whether the Israeli tail is actually wagging the US (or UK) dog. My analysis is that Israel is essentially a client state of US imperialism, and as such the US maintains overall control.
However, there's no doubt that the pro-Israel lobby is different in some ways from the lobby groups of other countries operating in Washington, London and other Western capitals. There is a Saudi lobby in the West, for example, but it doesn't seem to go on the attack to the same degree as the lobby working on behalf of Israel, which is dependent on outside military aid and political support to a far greater degree than countries like Saudi Arabia.
The pro-Israel lobby also has an extraordinary amount of funding at its disposal. You may recall that the undercover Al-Jazeera investigation into Britain's pro-Israel lobby revealed that Shai Masot, the Israeli Embassy spy, carried with him an approval for £1 million in funding for Labour MPs (and presumably MPs from other parties too) to travel to Israel on junkets led by pro-Israel groups.
If the Israel lobby in Britain did not exist, it is perhaps true that British policy towards Israel would be more or less the same. However, the lobby is at times very effective is going on the attack with smears and the defamation of pro-Palestine activists, creating fear about even discussing the Palestinian cause and thus shutting down open debate.
Pro-Israel lobby groups, for example, have been instrumental in the highly exaggerated story of the "Labour anti-Semitism crisis," and at times have even fabricated it outright. The Jewish Labour Movement (which is run by a former Israeli embassy officer who maintained her links after she took up her new job) under its now disgraced former chair Jeremy Newmark, has been a wellspring of this dishonest narrative. The Labour Friends of Israel – which admitted in undercover footage that it has strong links to the Israeli Embassy – has also been guilty of fabricating accusations of anti-Semitism.
As Jenny Manson of the left-wing pro-Corbyn group Jewish Voice for Labour put it this week, "The actual result of this… has been that conversation about Israel and Palestine and Palestinian rights within the Labour Party has more or less ceased, people are so nervous now about saying the wrong thing. I think that that's another crisis now that we should be talking about."
So you can say that the pro-Israel lobby is good at lies, fabrications and distortions which cause division and bad feeling on the left. It is also true to say that the lobby in particular and the state of Israel in general, often acts against the "national interests" of its main benefactors in the West. The Edward Snowden leaks, for example, showed that US counter-intelligence agencies consider Israel to be a primary espionage threat in the same league as some of its biggest enemies.
Probably the best analogy to describe the relationship of Israel with the US is that of a vicious attack dog, which the master can set onto its enemies when needed. There is an associated and occasional risk of the dog biting the hand that feeds it.
The truth of the matter, though, is that Israel has been useful to the imperial planners in Washington; not only as their client in the region which contains the world's largest oil reserves, but also around the rest of the world. The Israeli regime under both right-wing Likud and the former Labour governments has supplied weapons and training to some of the world's worst human rights abusing groups and states, including some in Latin America.
In Andrew and Leslie Cockburn's 1991 book about the Israeli-American military-intelligence relationship, Dangerous Liaison, the important Israeli role in aiding Central Intelligence Agency-led regime change and coups in Africa is recounted. The authors explain how, in the 1950s and 1960s when Africa was freeing itself from the yoke of European colonialism and creating independent states, America wanted to step into the gap and take up where the Europeans had left off.
However, the CIA ran into a problem. The Africans were rightfully suspicious of US intentions. As one anonymous former CIA official explains in the book, the Soviets had done "a very good job of spreading the word that we were just the same as the colonialists."
Israel's spy agencies – which had been developing a covert relationship with the CIA since the 1950s – were more than willing to help. As Mossad director around that time Isser Harel explains in the book, "We knew very well how to talk to the black people… The Europeans left Africa and the gate was open for everyone to enter. White people weren't able to get in, except for us. We managed it because they didn't suspect us to be imperialistic. We were the only ones at that time to have a foothold there."
Under a highly classified covert programme called KK Mountain, Israeli agents furnished the CIA with intelligence from Africa and the Soviet Union which it would otherwise have been unable to obtain. In exchange, Israeli spy agencies received a pay-off of around $10-20 million per year from the agency.
At first, some of the newly independent African countries welcomed Israel, but this soon changed after its true role became clear. Israel and the CIA were key to making anti-communist dictators like Uganda's Idi Amin and Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) into "their men".
It also changed after "Israel's identification with the white supremacist regime in South Africa… became evident." The relationship further deteriorated after the 1973 war between Egypt and Israel, when many African nations broke relations with Israel.
In many ways, though, Israel remains the tip of the spear of US imperialism around the world. It continues to try to spread its largesse across Africa, but for whose ultimate benefit?
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.