After October 7

The war in Gaza has to be put in regional, global and historic context. Moshé Machover talked to Yassamine Mather at a Voice of Revolution meeting held online on December 20

YM: I’m very pleased today to introduce and ask questions of Moshé Machover - an old-time comrade and friend of the Iranian working class long before I knew him. Moshé is a mathematician, philosopher and a political activist. He is noted not just for his writings against Zionism, but also for very valuable work on political economy. Born to a Jewish family when the British mandate of Palestine was in force, he’s a founder-member of Matzpen, the Israeli socialist organisation that was set up in 1962.

He is also the author of a number of books, but I’m only going to mention two that have to do with political economy: How labour powers the global economy, with Emmanuel Farjoun and David Zachariah, and Laws of chaos: a probabilistic approach to political economy - again with Emmanuel Farjoun.

Welcome, Moshé, and I would like to ask you about the inevitability of events in Gaza that have created such a disaster for the region.

MM: The disaster is going on and I am afraid that it is going to go on for a while, because the Israeli leadership is not to going to stop any time soon. They have reasons to prolong it.

First of all, I want to mention that the main aim of this war has become not the one that is declared for international consumption: to eradicate, eliminate, destroy Hamas. This is a convenient official aim, because it is limitless. But there is no end to it: a complete elimination of Hamas is not going to happen, ever. But in my opinion the real aim of the war is ethnic cleansing, and this is happening in front of our eyes.

No-one who sees the horror of what is happening - the scale of dislocation, the scale of hunger and thirst, and the scale of destruction - can deny that this is actually ethnic cleansing in action. But the question with ethnic cleansing is where will the two million Gazan people go? I think (and looking here at the experience of the Nakba of 1948), the Israeli leadership would prefer the Palestinians of Gaza to, as it were, ethnically cleanse themselves - to do it of their own accord. They are creating conditions which are so unbearable that people, in the end, are forced to flee.

This, by the way, is in line with the long-term aim of the Zionist project: to create a Jewish state in the whole of Palestine. But a really stable Jewish state requires a Jewish majority, which in turn requires ethnic cleansing of the large number of Palestinians from this area.

I could add that I’ve been predicting ethnic cleansing for several years now, based on this logic. But I did not predict, of course, that this would start in Gaza, and in this respect the Israeli leadership has always been opportunistic. They will accept any opportunity that falls into their lap, that can be used to further the aims of Zionism.

So the onslaught by Hamas on October 7 gave them the excuse, the pretext, to perpetrate, to achieve, what is in fact the long-term aim of the Zionist project.

YM: Can I ask you just as a follow-up how you would expect Egypt to react, because it clearly doesn’t want a single Palestinian. I know ordinary Egyptians have been supporting the Palestinians and demonstrating in their favour, but Egypt is a military dictatorship. So how would you see it reacting? I know this is speculative, but they are not to going to welcome these Palestinians: they are going to try to prevent it. But will they start shooting them, killing them, as Israel is doing in Gaza? Will the Israeli leadership care?

MM: The Israeli leadership will not care. They will say, ‘It’s not us who are doing it. We warned the Palestinians’ - to move from areas of danger to areas of more danger, as they have been doing. Israel will claim that it’s all the fault of Hamas, of Egypt, etc. Of course, this is not going to improve their relationship with Cairo, but I’ve heard talk of Egypt being compensated for accepting Palestinians by financial grants from the United States.

But Israel, I think, has plans for developing the Gaza Strip, where gas deposits appear to be huge. That may be used partly to compensate Egypt for accepting Palestinian refugees.

YM: What is the role of Vladimir Putin and Russia in all this? I know it’s a side issue, but for Iran it is an important one, given the Islamic Republic’s close relations with Russia.

MM: Surprisingly enough for some people, the relationship between the Netanyahu government and Russia has been quite cordial. Putin visited Israel not long ago and was warmly received.

First of all there is a big number of immigrants from Russia and from the former Soviet Union in Israel. They have quite fond memories and relations - they go back and forth to Russia. Putin has said that Israel is the only country where there is a big Russian-speaking community outside what used to be the Soviet Union.

But there are more solid grounds for this warm relationship and that is Syria. As people may know, the Russian airforce controls the sky over Syria. Israel has an interest in and makes frequent incursion into Syrian airspace. This is done to target the supply route between Iran and Lebanon, which goes through Syria.

There is a considerable Iranian presence in Syria, which Israel is keen to attack, but it cannot do this without permission from the Russians. It has a notification agreement with Russia in order to prevent accidental clashes between Israeli and Russian aircraft, which would be catastrophic, provoking an unwelcome international incident.

This coordination over Syrian airspace with Russia is necessary for the low-intensity war between Israel and Iran. So the relationship between Israel and Russia is an aspect, a derivative of this.

YM: I also wanted to ask your opinion about what was and still is called the Axis of Resistance. And here I am confused, I think, because, on the one hand, the Iranian government denied any advance knowledge of the events of October 7. This seems to be correct - there were reports of some kind of disagreement, although I don’t know how reliable they are.

When Putin visited Iran and met with ayatollah Ali Khamenei, he gave a kind of confusing message, which has been interpreted as a U-turn regarding Iran’s position vis‑a‑vis the Israel-Palestine conflict. What he has said is that Iran does not call for the end of the Israeli state.

This has been interpreted by sections of Middle Eastern media as meaning that Iran is moving towards a two-state solution. Here, of course, Russia and China will be influential, and Iran is very much part of those discussions. I know that across the Middle East there has been some criticism of Iran’s position. Have you any information about this?

MM: I think we should listen carefully to what people say and especially to the tone in which they say it - a lot can be deduced from open information. It is clear that both the Iranian leadership and Hezbollah were taken by surprise by October 7.

Secondly, I don’t think that what Khamenei said is a big innovation. Internationally Iran has been misrepresented as saying that it would put an end to the state of Israel. Iran has said that it looks forward to the demise of Israel as a Zionist state, but it was taking the line that history would take care of things. I think Iran has made it clear that it will support any solution of the Palestinian problem that the Palestinian leadership would support.

And, by the way, this has also been said by Hamas, which has its own messianic view of what is going to happen in the long run. We know that Hamas has said it will accept any solution that the Palestinian people will agree to. But the policy of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank - that is to say the Palestine Liberation Organisation leadership - is to accept a two-state solution, but that is not going to happen. It is an illusion. Israel is in no way going to allow it, yet this is the official policy of the so-called ‘international community’, of the Palestinian Authority and of the United States. I wrote in the 1970s an article explaining why a so-called two state solution was not going to happen, and I think my analysis was correct then and has been proven right.

As for the so-called Axis of Resistance, surprisingly the most active element are the Houthis, whose actions have been extremely effective in terms of repercussions worldwide. This reminds me of the oil-producing Arab states in 1973, when they actually caused a global crisis. Similarly the Houthis have stopped the traffic of oil through the Suez Canal, and have lengthened the supply routes by 20 days. Instead of going through the Suez Canal, the tankers have to go around the whole of Africa.

This is of enormous consequence. What the so-called ‘international community’ is going to do about it, is another question. Few would have speculated that the Houthis were going to step in. They have made certain noises, they have fired a few rockets towards Israel, but the effect is way beyond what people expected. It is way beyond what Hezbollah is doing (or Iran, for that matter). But, of course, the low-level war between Iran and Israel is going on all the time.

YM: That was well put, because it places the whole debate where it should be.

I was going to ask you about what people generally, at least in the Middle East and particularly in Iran perhaps, are saying about how far Israel is an extension of the US armaments industry. That is, how far it plays the role of selling what might be called ‘illegal state security’ to many of the allies of the ‘international community’: ie, of the United States.

MM: Oh, it’s more than what you have defined it as. I think there is complete synergy between the United States arms industry, the military-industrial complex and the Israeli armaments and high-tech industry. The two should be taken together.

There are several aspects to it. First of all, in replying to the Israeli supply of spy software and various means of crowd control, there is a good book which I would like to recommend: The war against the people by Jeff Halper. I think it’s about seven years old now, but it’s still an interesting read, because the author goes into detail about Israel’s supply not only of spyware and hardware, but also other means of controlling the masses, controlling demonstrations, controlling opposition and so on.

Israel’s role in supplying spyware to various, mainly unpleasant, regimes is well known. I Googled ‘Israel spyware’ recently and you know how many entries I got? Nearly two million! This story is well known and I don’t need to go into detail, as Israel has been caught red-handed doing it, and in some cases it even got slapped on the wrist by the US, because it sold some of the software to regimes that the United States did not necessarily approve of.

There is one aspect that goes beyond this. Israel’s high-tech industry is intimately locked into the American military-industrial complex, and this translates into very sophisticated high-tech elements that Israel contributes to American weaponry. It specialises not in producing aircraft, but elements that are used in them - navigation equipment, weapon direction, etc. Now, anyone can produce unmanned drones, but Israel was a pioneer in producing drones both for spying and for assassination. This is very well-developed in Israel, which is locked into, and is very helpful to, the American industry.

One more thing - Israel is by far the biggest recipient of American aid, and was, before this current war, receiving $3.5 to $4 billion annually in wholly military aid. Israel long ago stopped receiving any other economic aid from the US, for which it has no need, but the Israeli military is in much need of this additional help and it is in fact a hidden subsidy from and to the US. How come? Because by agreement Israel is obliged to spend a lot of this military aid on American equipment - fighter planes, etc.

If Congress is asked to provide a direct subsidy to Israel, this might involve some questions, but when it is addressed as giving aid to our loyal junior partner in the Middle East, it sails through Congress without a problem. But in fact it is a hidden subsidy to the American military too.

YM: Very interesting. I learned a lot from that. You know very well that China in the last few years has pursued the policy of ‘Belt and Road’, where, according to the Chinese government, it invests without exploitation - but in reality the level of interest it gets is a form of exploitation. In the Middle East there is a lot of talk that India, some of the Arab Emirates and Israel are still in the process of building an alternative trading group in order to compete with China’s Belt and Road. Is there any truth in this?

Of course, all of this would have been pre-Gaza because relationships, even with Saudi Arabia, have soured. But was there any indication that there was such cooperation?

MM: I cannot answer that fully. I suspect there is. The relations between the Modi regime in India and the Israeli state are very close, both politically and ideologically. I could go on into the similarities between the ideology of the movement that Modi leads with Hindus and Zionist ideology, and this translates also into a close political relationship.

Additionally, of course, the hostility to Islam is common to both, so I wouldn’t be surprised. I think Israel, as in the case with Russia, is trying to play an independent role vis-à-vis China. It would like to have a closer relationship with China than it actually does, but there is a limit to what Israel can do without angering the United States too much.

But, as in the case of Russia, it does proceed further than some other US allies. I think Israel is trying to play both sides, to create an alternative. Of course, it is thinking strategically and knows that the relationship between the United States and China is probably not going to improve in the next decade - especially given the likelihood of who is going to be the next American president! I think they are hedging their bets here.

YM: That covers a lot of what was suggested by comrades who asked me to pose these questions.

Earlier you mentioned gas and oil. Particularly in Iran many people are saying that Israel’s takeover of Gaza is because that will give them access to gas and oil. I find this difficult to believe, because I would say the primary question here is ethnic cleansing. But, given the strength of these allegations amongst what I would call Middle East pundits, I would like to know what you think of these comments.

MM: I agree that this is not the main aim of the Israeli war at the moment, but it would come as a very welcome bonus for Israel to get control of these deposits, which are huge.

If you look at the maritime border between it and Lebanon, you see that Israel is now exploiting some gas deposits - areas on both sides of the line have deposits. This was an important issue which required a tacit agreement between Israel and Hezbollah, because Hezbollah is a powerful player in Lebanon’s politics. They finally came to an agreement on how to divide these fields, but what has been discovered offshore near Gaza is far in excess of this. Recently it has been found to be a huge amount.

Now does this play a role in Israel’s calculation? Of course, it does raise various questions: Will Israel be within international law? Will it be allowed to develop this asset? It cannot do this without the complicity of international conglomerates. It will need to make use of some of the big oil and gas corporations, which will not risk involving themselves in terms of breaking international law. So there will be many problems to solve, but I think the appetite is whetted.

YM: Thank you for the clarification.

Two more questions. Some time ago we saw protests in Israel about hostages, especially after the killing of the three Israeli hostages in Gaza. We have seen demonstrations that were more significant than previously. So what is the state of the Netanyahu government? Has he gained a lot of support because of the war, or have the protests, especially about the hostages and lack of preparation about October 7, played a negative role, as far as his political position is concerned? I’m well aware that, once the war finishes (if the war finishes!), he faces court cases for corruption, so I wondered if you could talk about the state of the opposition in this context.

MM: This is very complex. Usually when there is a war it tends to unify a nation. In this case if you look at the Jewish majority of the citizens of Israel it has and it hasn’t. Something like 80% think it is a just war, but they don’t approve of all its conduct. Public opinion is deeply divided - I think that more or less half would say is that when the war ends we will get rid of the rascals who caused this catastrophe.

So, when the war ends, Netanyahu is going to face investigations - not only about his corruption, but also about his failure in political and military leadership, in terms of being properly prepared to use information about October 7 that was available but ignored. The opposition to the leadership is strengthened by the pressure of the relatives and supporters of the hostages still in the hands of Hamas. They notice that what Israel is doing is putting their relatives in big danger. The killing of the three escaped hostages by Israeli soldiers strengthen this view.

There are hundreds of these relatives who demand an end to the current hostilities because ‘you are putting our dear ones in danger’. They now realise that this is a side effect of the murder of the three escaped hostages, which was murder in cold blood. The hostages came half naked, called for help in Hebrew and were waving a white flag. But we only heard about it because they happened to be Israelis. But it tells you what the Israeli military is doing to Palestinians in the streets of Gaza.

The Israeli military leadership says that these murderers were acting against explicit instructions about how to open fire. But this is a lie. They are not going to put these murderers on trial. There is no plan to. Why? Because if they put them on trial they would reveal that they acted according to what to them is normal practice. Whether these are official instructions or not, I don’t know, but they obviously acted in accordance with their normal practice when faced with Palestinians, so that would come out in a trial, which therefore could not be allowed. If a soldier opens fire without authorisation, against explicit authority, he could be court-marshalled. But these people are not going to face any such action.

YM: You have been amongst the people who have never, as far as I know, supported a two-state solution. I think Matzpen’s ideas about the resolution of what is called the Palestinian-Israel conflict is more sophisticated than what is proposed by some people - a simple one-state solution. So I wondered if you could expand on both your criticism of the two-state solution and your proposals. Right now, people who for many years were supporters of the two-state solution now no longer defend it, given the current situation.

MM: This could require, I think, another whole-day discussion! It is a vast subject.

But I think that what was claimed as a two-state solution was never really that. It was at best, a one-state solution with a sort of subservient, disarmed, Bantustan-type mini- or micro-Palestinian state. That was the most that Israel has ever considered.

Israel has never agreed to a two-state solution, so it has never accepted any sovereignty by Palestinians of any part of Palestine between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. Right from the immediate aftermath of the 1967 war, Israel began the colonisation of the West Bank. It was led, of course, by the religious messianic Zionists, but the Israeli authorities were always in a position to prevent it, if they had wanted to. In fact, they passively encouraged it.

If you are serious about the two-state solution, you are not going to colonise the part which is supposed to belong to another state. It has been compared to people negotiating over how to divide a pizza, while one of them is actually eating part of it as they discuss it. I think people who advocate a two-state solution are either misguided, misinformed or ill-intentioned, in that they are trying to deceive us. I call it a ‘two-state illusion’ or ‘two-state deception’.

There is a quite another project that we hear about - a single, democratic, binational state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. I don’t think this is a harmful idea, but I think it is impossible in the way it is proposed. At least it has the advantage of throwing a challenge to the powers that be. Why should you oppose this idea? It’s a very nice idea if it could be realised. It would create a situation which is far better than what we have - just like the end of apartheid in South Africa created a better situation. Not an ideal one, but better that what existed previously.

But the point is that the Israeli colonisation is very different in its political economy from the South African one. In the case of South Africa, apartheid could be overthrown by the working class that was the major, direct producing class under the regime. It was their power that enabled the overthrow.

Some people hoped that the end of apartheid would be a coupled with socialism - I think many believed in this ‘permanent revolution’ idea. Okay, maybe. But the case of Zionist colonisation is different. It is based on a completely different political economy - Israel does not depend on the labour-power of the Palestinian people - at least not to a major extent. The overthrow of the Zionist regime, which is a necessary condition for any solution, requires it to be from the inside. But who is going to do it?

The majority of the Israeli Jewish working class has nothing to gain by overthrowing a Zionist regime under a capitalistic economic order. It would lose its privileged position as part of a dominant, exploiting nation. It would lose its position as part of a dominating, hegemonic nation in Palestine, without gaining anything: it would still remain an exploited class, because the economic social order would still be capitalist. So from being a exploited but privileged class, it would become an exploited unprivileged class. What would be the gain? So you cannot expect the Israeli Jewish working class to overthrow the Zionist regime under these circumstances. So who will do it?

The Zionist regime can only be overthrown in a situation where the working class would exchange its position of an exploited class as part of a dominant nation to be part of a ruling class without national privileges. This is a deal which makes sense, but would require far-reaching revolutionary developments in the whole of the Middle East region. It cannot possibly happen under the present capitalist order.

Of course, this is a very brief sketch and we don’t have time to go into detail. But I have previously written quite extensively about this.

YM: Thank you very much. I’m very grateful for the time you’ve given. I’ve learned a lot from what you have said and I’m sure that those who read or listen to this will also benefit.

MM: Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure talking to you.

This meeting can be watched at voice-of-revolution.com and the video is available at www.youtube.com/@voice-of-revolution