Dr. Jorge Aspizua Turrion Interview

March 20th, 2009

Featured Interview with Dr. Jorge Aspizua Turrion
Defense Advisor to the Spanish Socialist Party and Former Advisor to the Spanish Ministry of Defense
(Spanish Parliamentarians and Journalists, September 2006)

1. How would you characterize the political relationship between Spain and Israel? Could you share with us your sense of how that relationship has evolved in the past years and where you see it heading?

I think that the Spanish-Israeli relationship can be described as a “cold friendship.” I am not qualified to assess the issue from the Israeli perspective, but my personal observation of the Spanish reality leads me to say that the coldness toward Israel has deep and complex roots.  On one hand, the traditional culture of anti-Semitism, of Catholic origin, is still very important. On the other hand, there are anti-Jewish sentiments in minority sectors of the Spanish “political right wing” that have links to 20th Century European Fascism.  Finally, in the “left,” regardless of their perception of the reality of Spain as a nation, the anti-Israel speech existing in Europe since the late 60s predominates and is linked to anti-Americanism.

I must underscore, to my surprise and satisfaction, that an important part of the “right wing” Spanish elite, whether they are of a “Spanish nature” or Catalonian or Basque nationalists, understand in a very positive way the right of Israel to exist as a Western democratic state in the Middle East. Despite the ideological and tactical differences between myself and what former President Aznar represents, I must compliment his leadership for the change in attitude among conservative and Catholic political circles, something impossible to fathom 20 years ago.

2. How would you describe common public perceptions or sentiment towards Israel?  In what sectors do you find the most support or hostility towards Israel?

The most hostile speech against Israel comes, without any doubt, from the leftist intellectual elites. These groups control a large part of the mass media and university faculties. It is curious to find out that their arguments and rhetoric normally involve more subtle and hidden facts. Those individuals that can be found in important sectors of public service, whether they are leftist or not, are mostly non-politicized professionals working for the State and its administrations.

Common people, despite the important influence from TV, radio, and newspapers, keep their distance in relation to issues that they do not feel are close to them. In my daily relations, I frequently notice that the influence, in many cases a negative influence in relation to Israel, does not affect the attitude of the people when it is time for them to discern good from evil. It is gratifying to discover, among the humble and the illiterate, that the sense and the sentiment of personal and communal freedom is a strong antidote against the poison of manipulation.

3. How would you characterize the outcome of the Lebanon War for Israel and Hizbollah – in either military, economic, political or diplomatic terms? How was the war portrayed in the mainstream press?  How did the Spanish public react to the conflict?

The 33 Day War in Lebanon has possibly meant a changing point in the public debate on Israel.

I must say that Spaniards have been educated, first during the Franco years, then through the slow process of establishment of the democracy, and finally during the last ten years, in the idea that all wars are to be rejected and that it is necessary to achieve and to maintain peace at any price without paying attention to any other things. The echoes of the Spanish Civil War, still alive in Spanish families through the memory of grandparents, have contributed a lot to this general perception.

Political and journalistic speeches are drafted taking into consideration this vision shared by a large majority. Not even Mr. Aznar dared to strongly use the term “war against dictatorship and terrorism” during the campaigns that first removed from power the Taliban in Afghanistan and then Sadam Hussein in Iraq.

The fact is that, for the first time since the 1982 Lebanon War, voices and papers supporting the right of Israel to defend itself have appeared in Spain with strength and strictness. Even within the Socialist Party, my party, there has been a movement that, rejecting the unfortunate expressions and actions of our party during last summer’s war, has started an enduring political campaign to convince our colleagues and countrymen that the cause for Israel is as relevant today for the democratic left as it was in 1948 for the world.

4. Could you summarize Spanish foreign policy priorities and goals in the Middle East? What is your view of recent attempts to resolve regional conflicts by promoting further and deeper engagement with Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Jordan or Egypt?

Spain, as Israel, is one more Nation-State, pressured by conditions among which the most important one is the need to guarantee the security and development of its citizens. In developed Nation-States, such as Spain and Israel, these factors are key for the existence of consecutive governments and for the legitimacy of the democratic political system.

In addition to the speeches about the Alliance of Civilizations, promoted by President Zapatero, and the defence of democracy throughout the World, promoted with a “Spanish style” by Spanish conservatives, there are objective facts that set the Spanish diplomatic agenda. For example, Spain is a net consumer of imported energy. And at the same time, we decided twenty years ago not to build nuclear plants in Spain to produce electricity.

Our reliance on natural gas -almost 17% of our energy consumption- was 44.9% from Algeria in 2005. The Emirate of Qatar, in the Persian Gulf, along with the multi-ethnic Nigeria in Africa provided 14.2% and 15.2%, respectively, of our total consumption. Egypt and Oman, together, provide 13.5%. I have to point out that Algerian gas gets to Spain through a gas pipe that goes through Morocco and that it will soon be complemented with another pipe that will link Algeria and Spain, directly, under the sea; a gas pipe very similar to the one that will link Germany and Russia which will replace the one through Poland.

In terms of oil, which is 53% of Spanish consumed energy, the figures seem less overwhelming. But if we take into consideration Russia’s general strategy in relation to the Arab countries and Iran -countries that provide Spain 38.8% of our oil, in addition to the natural gas I mentioned earlier- it is easy to understand some important symbolic diplomatic attitudes, i.e. President Zapatero allows a person to put on him a Palestinian kefiya during the Lebanon war.

But this data also explains the final reason for some Spanish conservatives to strongly defend the establishment of Russia’s energy and technological interests in Europe, regardless of the positions of Germany and France. These facts, by the way, are not covered by the media when it discusses Israel. Israel can neither provide gas, oil, or big public works contracts to Spain nor consume massive Spanish export products. This is Israel’s weakness, according to the cold calculations of the astute Spanish politicians and businessmen, both on the right and on the left of the political spectrum.

Just considering the Spanish energy problem, countries like Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan, or Egypt, together or on their own, are in a better situation than Israel to gain Spanish support under any government and for anything.

5. If Iran has not agreed to suspend its enrichment of uranium by February 21, the UN Security Council may contemplate more severe sanctions. Although France severed all ties with Iran from 1987-1988 due to Hizbollah’s involvement in terrorist attacks in Paris from 1985-1986, Chirac now appears to be abandoning the implementation of sanctions as a possible recourse. As a Security and Defense expert for HARKA, how would you recommend the West address this issue?

I love France, especially its culture, almost as much as an American educated in New Orleans or a Sephardic educated in the Aliance Française of Casablanca. But, just as would Spain and Israel, France will use its power for its own benefit and it will court any partner. We should also not forget that in Europe, France has the highest Muslim population, closely followed by Germany and the U.K.

On the other hand, France needs to balance its relationship with a Germany that has benefited from the enlargement of the European Union toward the East. In this relationship Russia is the referee, as well as it is the referee, in my opinion, in the management of the world crisis to which the Iranian nuclear programs, and other programs not so well publicized, could create.

In this context, France, as any other Nation-State that must take care of itself, and its businessmen will make its cold calculations. I am afraid that, in answer to your question, the crisis of the “french-fries” of 2003 could return to both sides of the Atlantic, but with more venom.

Don’t forget that shortly after the signing of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, founding the text of the current EU, France academically promoted the use of its nuclear weapons to the service of the security and defence of Europe, independent of the U.S. Remembering my conversations in 1997 with now deceased General Fricaud-Chagnoud, Permanent Advisor to the Presidency of the Republic on nuclear issues from the De Gaulle times, I still believe that France’s will is to lead European policy on nuclear weapons everywhere and at any time. But not everything is already written in advance. Not in vain, during those conversations, General Fricaud-Chagnoud praised Mordechai “Motta” Gur, his classmate from the École Militaire of Paris.

6. Over the past few years, many European countries have experienced rapid growth in their immigrant and minority communities.  Could you tell us briefly about Spain’s approach toward the integration–societal, political and economic–of these immigrant groups?  What are the challenges or obstacles Spain faces in that process and how do you think they could be overcome?

From my point of view, the regularization in 2004-2005 of most of the illegal immigrants who arrived in Spain over the previous ten years was one of the most pragmatic and democratic decisions made by the current Spanish government. Despite the uproar, politicians on the right quietly complained about this decision. France and Germany, on the contrary, have made Spain pay for this decision within the EU, and especially in their common policies for the prevention of illegal immigration, and, I am afraid, for the prevention of and fight against terrorism.

Why? Spain, along with the U.S. and Finland, will be the only OSCE country with strong economic growth in the next few years, as reports from institutions such as the Deutsch Bank indicate. Those reports, confronted with reality, confirm that this growth is mainly based on the labour, business, and financial contributions of immigrants. But, this manna, and its beneficial effects, will soon stop raining in Spain, and the problems linked to immigration and the social and mental differences between successful and unsuccessful people will present themselves as in any other place.

Nonetheless, unlike in the rest of European countries, the migration of Hispanics from Latin America puts a limit on the cultural clash always associated with racism. And many Hispanics have come to Spain - more than one million people in a country where only fifteen years ago it was rare to see an American Indian or an African-Hispanic-American, unless he was a rich tourist or an artist. They mostly come from a Catholic culture and they know the Castilian language -the common Spanish language. They have vital aspirations very similar to today’s Spaniards, and they are not “leftist,” such as Chávez or Castro. The result is that they integrate easily into Spanish society. I would like to add that quite a few of the American Hispanics who arrive in Spain are of Ashkenazi origin, especially those coming from Argentina and Uruguay.

Immigrants who come from North African countries, the Sahel, and even from the Gulf of Guinea, have similar characteristics to people living in other European countries. In a nutshell, most of the Arabs and Africans who come here have aspirations similar to ours. Only a minority of them can be manipulated by radicals preaching jihad. The criminal acts of those who fall into these networks must not lead to the collective punishment of their communities in Spain.

The Spanish population, in general, accepts the threats and benefits associated with immigration. A problem will only arise when immigration stops creating business opportunities and social benefits are no longer derived from Spanish productivity. Since the 1960s, our economic structure has evolved and improved. It has not changed what is needed to compete in all areas of human activity, to create wealth and welfare in a world which is, thank goodness, more and more global.

7. How did the Madrid attacks impact Spanish daily and social life? What steps has the government taken and what recommendations would you make? How are secular separatist groups, such as ETA, as opposed to Islamist groups, such as Al Qaeda, differentiated in policy-making and public opinion?

The immediate shock caused by the M-11 attacks facilitated a change of government in Spain through the general elections that took place three days later with all of the constitutional guarantees. But the long-term commotion is very similar to the one that happened after the so-called Annual Disaster in 1921, when the Rifeian insurgents from the North of Morocco killed close to 20,000 Spanish soldiers in about three days.

All the political, social, and ideological debates in Spain during the last three years have revolved around the idea of terrorism as a criminal act. The consequences have already affected the ideological and constitutional debate in Spain as demonstrated by the almost one-year ETA truce broken by the group with its December 30 attack on the Madrid airport.

To the list of mistakes made by the Aznar government on March 11, other mistakes can be added: those made by politicians, journalists, intellectuals, and public servants before and after. Sectors very close to Mr. Aznar continue spreading the theory that a conspiracy linked ETA and the Moroccan Salafists who physically committed the crimes; a conspiracy in which French and Moroccan secret service agents and police officers close to Spanish Socialist leaders participated.

The fact is that Spain has not known open cases of Arab or Islamic terrorism, except the unsuccessful attack against the Jewish businessman Max Mazin in 1978 and the attack sponsored by Libya in 1985 against a restaurant frequented by U.S. servicemen. The special relationship between Spanish public authorities and Arab secret services dates back to the Mufti of Jerusalem in 1945. Despite its operational success, it has sadly lacked a strategic continuity.

ETA had operational relations with Boumedian’s Algeria and George Habache’s Palestinian faction which was sponsored by Syria. It is possible that ETA’s relations with Habache had something to do with the murder of Spanish Ambassador Pedro de Arístegui in Beirut on April 16, 1989. Arístegui, a strong opponent to ETA, negotiated with Habache’s people on behalf of Spain. But I very much doubt that ETA had any relationship with Al Qaeda or any other Sunni terrorist group, neither before nor after M-11. In any case, the M-11 trial has begun, and the judicial truth will be established. In relation to the Iranian Pasdharan … everything is possible.

In any case, as Mr. Aznar said not too long ago, terrorism is terrorism.

The destroyed and burned bodies caused by terrorist attacks have a terrible affect.

But the most important thing is the message sent by every terrorist crime. The terrorists’ will is based on the conviction that violence, and only violence, gives them legitimacy. The case of ETA is a paradigm. Over almost 40 years, all their crises have been solved by using violence against the Spanish population, and, with Nazi-like precision, against their own armed members and the political and social organizations that support them.

Regretfully, the wicked “education for peace” campaign promoted by the Franco regime, with the goal to exercise political domination over the population and surprisingly accepted by all democratic governments until recently, limits democratic capacities to fight terrorists no matter where they come from or with whom they join forces. I have suspected for a long time that the uneasiness created in Spain by the resolute fight of Israel against terrorism has something to do with our own lack of a rigorous democratic formation about how and up to what limits it is legitimate to use violence to defend our own lives, common material and ethical values.

The oldest writings already teach us that all ethics is politics and that all politics is ethics.
But, an old book by Ernst Gellner, “An Anthropological View of War and Violence” (Robert A. Hinde (ed). The Institution of War. Basigstroke and London: Comminan: 1991) warns about the shrewd use of violence by terrorists and other criminals and the political and moral consequences that can be produced among free men and women today. I am afraid that the many other good books and articles about this issue have not been widely read in Spain. It was not that long ago, twenty-five years, when traditional Spanish political militarism enjoyed open support, and when ETA, itself, had some kind of regard among quite a few intellectual sectors of the Spanish left.

Thankfully, I am aware that in other places the democratic concept about the limits and goals of the use of violence, although damaged, are still strongly rooted in many hearts and minds. I am thinking, in relation to the U.S. and the influence that Gellner may have, about the intellectual fighters in CETO-USMC and the Petraus boys.

8. You traveled to Israel on an educational seminar in September, 2006.  Could you share with us some of the people you met and places you found most interesting or memorable?

That one was my first physical trip to Israel, and I know it won’t be the last one. You are asking me to write something memorable to me. The following is a summary of what I wrote in my personal blog in Spanish:

Sabbath in Jerusalem. Jewish believers, fulfilling their obligations, according to each of their rabbinic schools and inherited cultural customs. In a disco bar in Jerusalem, dozens of young people, of all colours and sexual orientation, are dancing. They are celebrating life as they see fit, protected in the exercise of their freedom as citizens of Israel after having defended people of other faiths in the city so they too can live as they please. That memorable fact, now that I am older than 40 years old, in love with a woman and a father of four boys, has a title for me, which I have not used yet: “Thomas Jefferson in Jerusalem.” And be aware that I consider having read “The Destruction of the European Jews,” by Raoul Hillberg, more important for my education as a human being than reading any book by Hannah Arendt.

9. Many Project Interchange alumni return to their home countries with increased interest and background knowledge about Israel and the Middle East.  Did your participation in the seminar impact your professional life, and if so, how?

I would not have been trying to respond to this questionnaire as rigorously as possible if it had not been that way.

Walking in the streets and the fields, talking with diverse people while breathing the same air and eating the same food, is the only antidote against the madness of politicians and intellectuals. And I am afraid that, as any other human being, I am a politician and an intellectual subject to the dangers of craziness.

To learn and understand Israel, its situation and its people, forces you to make personal and public decisions, that are, at times, difficult and compromising. Without going into details, this trip has forced me to make decisions. And one of them is to answer this questionnaire for its publication.

10. Project Interchange is based on the premise that personal travel and experience in Israel can significantly advance and expand understanding of Israel — in all its complexity and diversity. Do you agree with this?

Yes, without any doubt whatsoever.