Commentary Magazine


Blair, Israel, and the Global Struggle

In a weekend interview with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Haaretz asked why British public opinion is “the most anti-Israel” in Europe. “Look, there’s criticism everywhere,” Blair responded. “But that’s partly because people don’t understand how difficult this situation is when you come under attack, your civilians come under attack, and you’re a democratic government and you’re expected to respond.”

Even by itself, that’s a remarkable statement: the problem, according to Blair, is not Israel’s actions; it’s that other Western countries, not facing the same daily assaults, refuse to recognize that if they did, they might respond similarly.

Even more remarkable, however, is the next sentence: “I mean, we face this [situation] continually. We face it now, actually, in places like Afghanistan.”

In short, Westerners should understand Israel because they’re in the same boat: their own armies are causing civilian casualties “in places like Afghanistan” for the exact same reasons.

So why do many Westerners either refuse to see the parallels or regard their own armies’ behavior with similar incomprehension and outrage? In Blair’s view, the heart of the problem is that too many Westerners fail to understand that they face a determined enemy waging a long-term global struggle, not a series of discrete, unrelated local conflicts.

“People sometimes say to me, no, it’s not really Iraq, it’s Afghanistan,” he said. “Someone else will say, no it’s Pakistan, and someone else will say it’s Iraq, and someone else will say it’s Yemen. But actually it’s all of these because in different ways, they represent different challenges that are unified by one single movement with a single ideology. And this is going to be resolved, in my view, over a long period of time. But what is important is that wherever it is fighting us, we’re prepared to fight back … unfortunately, we can’t say: ‘Look, let’s concentrate it here, but not here, and here, and here,’ because that’s not the way this thing’s working. …

“There is a unifying theme, in my view, between what’s happened in countries like our own country with terrorist activity, and what’s happening in places like Yemen or Afghanistan or Somalia or, I’m afraid, other countries. The key to understanding this is [that] this is a global movement with a global ideology and it is one struggle. It’s one struggle with many different arenas. …

“Personally I think we will defeat this terrorism when we understand it is one battle, one struggle.”

Blair never explicitly mentions Israel as a front in this global battle, but his linkage of Israel’s situation with the one “we face … in places like Afghanistan” makes the implication clear. And the conclusion, while similarly inexplicit, is equally clear: were the West to acknowledge its enemy’s true nature, its view of Israel might change.

Since no current Western leader exhibits anything like Blair’s moral clarity, that’s unlikely to happen soon. But given the nature of the enemy, it almost certainly will happen someday. Hence, rather than capitulating to its enemies, Israel’s goal, like Britain’s in World War II, must be to hold fast until then.

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