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The History of the Green Light - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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With no let up in Israeli attacks on Lebanon, Amr Moussa, Secretary General of the Arab League angrily said, on Saturday, “The United States has given Israel the green light to do what it wants in Lebanon.”

At the same time, Bryan Knowlton wrote in the New York Times, “The U.S has given Israel the green light and contradicted the view of the majority of its allies who insisted on a halt to Israel’s vengeful attacks on Lebanon.”

Yet, others believe that the issue is bigger than a green light, as US support to Israel extends throughout the US administration. With mid-term Congress elections scheduled for later this year, many members of Congress have rushed to show support for Israel. George Allen, a Republican Senator, recently said, “We have to stand with our friends the Israelis”. For his part, Christopher Dodd, a Democratic Senator said, “I know that Hezbollah and Hamas are responsible for what is happening now.”

Yet, according to Dr. Jon Alterman, Middle East program director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “ Israel doesn’t need a green, yellow or red light. The era of traffic lights in the US-Israeli relation has ended.”

When President George W. Bush, “announced a war on terrorism and put Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas at the top of the list, he settled this issue. Israel became certain that its enemies are those of the United States.”

In the current crisis between Israel and Hezbollah, Tel Aviv “didn’t need a green light,” perhaps because the current US President is more hostile to Hezbollah than Israel itself.

Breaking away from the behavior of US presidents before him, Bush publicly supported Israel’s attacks on Lebanon and allowed it to continue its military campaign until it achieves its preliminary goals. In a conversation with British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the G8 summit in St. Petersburg, the US president was accidentally overheard saying, “What they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it’s all over…”

In a recent press conference, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did not only support Israel’s attacks on Lebanon but also supported waiting before bringing an end to hostilities. “Yes, a ceasefire is necessary. But it won’t be beneficial if it is exploited by Hezbollah to fire its missiles at Israel, or for Hamas to exploit it and benefit from it in the future when it kidnaps an Israeli citizen.”

The above statements indicate that a green light still regulates Washington’s relationship with Tel Aviv. In the last week, the US has used it twice: to target Lebanon and to continue the bombing.

Sheldon Richman, an expert at the Cato Institute in Washington D.C, wrote about the history of bilateral relations between the US and Israel and the role of the green light in the last 60 years. He indicated that the first green light was given for the foundation of Israel itself in 1948. A decade later, President Dwight Eisenhower refused to give Israel the green light to participate with France and the United Kingdom in invading Egypt, as part of the Suez war. According to Richman, the US leader, “opposed the return to colonial policies and tried to win over third world countries. He was afraid of Soviet Russia widening its sphere of influence in the region.”

For his part, President Lyndon Johnson hesitated for some time before giving Israel the green light to attack Egypt, Jordan and Syria, in the six-day war in 1967. Abba Eban, the Israeli foreign minister at the time, traveled to the US capital and met with Johnson on 26 May 1967, ten days before the start of the war. He told his American host that Israeli intelligence had gathered information on Egyptian troop movement in the Sinai Peninsula, after Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser shut the Gulf of Aqaba. He asked Johnson to give Israel the green light to attack.

But Walt Rostow, national security advisor at the time, opposed Israel’s request because Israel had refused to support the American intervention in Vietnam. Dean Rusk, the Secretary of State, also opposed the request, “because declaring war would be a horrible mistake”, while Robert McNamara, the Defense Secretary, said, “We are busy in Vietnam and don’t want to open a new front”.

With Johnson not ready to reject his advisors’ recommendations, Eban asked him, “Where does your conscience stand, Mr. President?” to which Johnson replied, “I am from Texas and I am 6’4’’ and a friend of Israel.” Therefore, the green light was given.

In 1973, US President Richard Nixon did not need to give any light to send Israel huge quantities of weapons, as he believed the Yom Kippur war had been started by Egypt and Syria.

It is no secret that the US Secretary of State at the time, Henry Kissinger, was pro-Israeli, during his marathon visits to the region, in order to reach a ceasefire and then oversee the disengagement plan between Egypt and Israel.

A secret document, made available to the public for the first time three years ago, by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, revealed that Kissinger had given Israel the green light to breach the ceasefire and send its forces, which had crossed the Suez Canal, closer to Cairo.

With the beginning of the 1980s, the conflict between Israel and the Arab world morphed into a war between Tel Aviv and Palestinian and Lebanese organizations. At the time, US President Ronald Reagan gave Israel the green light to strike at Palestinian fighters who were firing missiles towards northern Israel, from Lebanese territory.

Later that year, Reagan gave Israel another green light to bomb the Iraqi nuclear reactor Osirak. In a statement on the attack, the White House declared, “The United States government condemns the Israeli air strike because it increases the gravity of the situation in the region.”

Once more, in the summer of 1982, Reagan gave Tel Aviv the green light to invade Lebanon, reaching as far north as the capital, Beirut. Jimmy Carter, the former US President, wrote that Ariel Sharon, then Israel’s Defense Minister, had visited Washington D.C and met with Casper Weinberg, the US Secretary of Defense at the time. He told him, “Israel has to quickly move towards Lebanon.” Carter added, “After it gained the American green light, Israel invaded and killed, according to Lebanese government statistics, twenty thousand Lebanese and Palestinians.”

When the Israeli army invaded the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 2000 to allegedly “confiscate weapons and missiles used against Israel”, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Ehud Barak had “obtained the go-ahead to carry out military action.”

It was obvious that the “green light” was connected to President Bill Clinton’s anger towards Yasser Arafat because he rejected the US proposals at the Camp David talks, a few months before Clinton’s term in office ended.

Rumors circulated, at the time, that revenge motivated Clinton to give Ariel Sharon, who was then in opposition, the green light to visit Al Aqsa mosque in September 2000 sparking the second Intifada, but this remains unconfirmed.

Under the presidency of George W. Bush, it appeared that the US leader did not trust Arafat because of his political maneuvering and what Bush considered the Palestinian president’s failure to keep his promises to the US administration and allied Arab governments.

When the US vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling on international monitors to be deployed in the Occupied Territories in 2001, in order to stop the Israeli operations, Israel considered this a green light and announced that the Palestinian Authority was a terrorist organization. Tel Aviv also escalated its operations, in order to isolate Arafat from his Palestinian people and the rest of the world.

Uncorroborated reports have also indicated that the US gave Israel the green light to assassinate Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas and the go-ahead to ready itself to target Iranian nuclear reactors.

It is clear that Israel has always looked for and found the green light from Washington D.C in order to carry out its military operations. The ongoing attacks on Lebanon are no exception.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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