The American and Israeli strategic thinking behind plans to attack Iraq

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Whatever one thinks of Saddam Hussein, his decision to admit UN weapons-inspectors this month was a diplomatic masterstroke. Apart from undercutting support for the US in the UN Security Council, this coup de main also laid bare Washington’s desire to impose a new government on Baghdad no matter what. “Regime change is the policy”, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer was forced to state explicitly.

Few would oppose the prescription for a change in government, but where we must draw the line is at the creation of another colony in the growing American empire stretching from Venezuela to Afghanistan. This new Rome, which since last September has grown to take in much of Central Asia, is built upon the doctrine of full spectrum dominance. FSD is defined by the defence department as “the ability of U.S. forces, operating alone or with allies, to defeat any adversary and control any situation across the range of military operations”. In terms of the Middle East this means neutralising Iraq, and then the other Muslim éaxis of evil’ countries: Iran, Libya and Syria.

These targets do not pose, individually or even collectively, any military threat to a country whose annual ‘defence’ budget is three times that of the entire European Union. As James J. David, a retired brigadier general and a graduate of the US army’s Command and General Staff College, wrote recently: “No one can launch an intercontinental ballistic missile without the United States instantly knowing its exact location. Therefore, any small country that launches a missile in our direction will know that it is committing national suicide. The warheads on just one of our submarines could cause these small countries literally to cease to exist.” So why the obsession with war?

This war is not about protecting US security; it is about preserving what the US misconceives as its economic and political interests. These, as the oil oligarchy knows, are based on the secure and uninterrupted supply of crude oil. This depends on two things: maintaining pro-Western governments in the Arab countries, and, more crucially, supporting the state of Israel.

Geopolitically Israel is a neo-Crusader state in the Arab-Muslim heartlands, a neo-colonial implant established by the West after the second world war to keep disintegrated the post-Ottoman Muslim world. The relationship sold to the American public as a special friendship is in fact a Faustian bargain whereby, in return for guarantees of its security and supremacy, Tel Aviv acts as the final guarantor of US interests in the region, behind client regimes in the Gulf, such as Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

So it is hardly surprising to find the loudest war-cries coming from Israel and the Israel-first lobby within the US government. Politicians of the left and right in Israel have made clear their desire to see the back of Saddam Hussein as soon as possible. “Any postponement of an attack on Iraq at this stage will serve no purpose,” Ranaan Gissin, Ariel Sharon’s aide, said last month. “It will only give him [Saddam] more of an opportunity to accelerate his program of weapons of mass destruction.”

What these proponents of war are actually advocating is the imposition of a puppet regime, one shorn of the Ba’athist Party’s anti-Israel Arabist ideology. Outnumbered in population by a ratio of about 50:1, Israel has backed up its supremacy in conventional arms over the combined strength of the Arab states by keeping its own ultimate deterrent at its nuclear reactor in the Negev Desert. Today Israel is widely believed to possess between 200 and 300 nuclear warheads. The Arab states’ drive to obtain their own weapons of mass-destruction is a direct response to this.

Twice at least Israel has attacked Iraq’s nuclear-weapons programme. In April 1979, in a Mossad action codenamed Operation Sphinx, three explosions at the nuclear facility of the French firm of Constructions Navales et Industrielles de la Méditerranée, near Marseilles, destroyed reactor cores that were about to be shipped to Iraq. On June 13, 1980, Dr Yahya Meshad, an Egyptian nuclear physicist working for Iraq’s Atomic Energy Commission, was killed in his hotel room in Paris. Meshad had gone to France to check on enriched uranium that was about to be shipped out to be the first fuel for Iraq’s reactor; according to Mossad defector Victor Ostrovsky he was killed by Mossad agents. The assassination was followed in 1980 by bombs at the offices and residences of officials of Iraq’s key suppliers in Italy and France: SNIA-Techint, Ansaldo Mercanico Nucleare and Techniatome. The three firms were supplying Iraq with a reactor and hot cells; their officials and workers were harassed with threatening letters.

Despite these setbacks Iraq got its nuclear reactor, but its triumph did not last. In June 1981 Israel bombed and destroyed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear research facility near Baghdad. At the time the official US reaction was indignation. Calls were made for sanctions against Tel Aviv for breaching the Arms Export Control Act prohibition against the use of American weapons except in self-defence, but proved to be little more than posturing. Reagan made excuses, saying: “Israel might have sincerely believed it was a defensive move… It is difficult for me to envision Israel as being a threat to its neighbours.” Although Washington joined in a unanimous UN Security Council resolution “strongly” condemning Israel, privately American officials made it known that the US would veto any article that called for punitive measures against Israel. As a result UN security council Resolution 487 stopped short of imposing sanctions, and Israel effectively got away wth it flouting international law.

The US posturing also concealed another fact: that the US may have known of the raid. In 1979 then-president Jimmy Carter agreed to supply Saudi Arabia with AWACs planes (advanced warning aircraft) as part of a strategy to protect the monarchy against growing instability in the region. Although Saudi Arabia paid for the AWACs, under the terms of the sale they were flown and operated by US crewmen. The 16 Israeli fighters and bombers that carried out the attack on Osirak first overflew Jordanian and then Saudi Arabian airspace to reach their target. It seems impossible that the AWACs, which can detect planes at high and low altitude, can have failed to observe them.

Turning a blind eye to Israel’s attack on Osirak suggests that while it was in US interests to strengthen Saddam Hussein against the ‘Islamic’ enemy in Tehran, the line would be drawn at his acquiring nuclear weapons. The second Gulf war (1990) followed the same strategy. Iraq could not be allowed to grow beyond the confines determined for it by the US-Israel axis. To let Saddam swallow Kuwait would have been to admit the thin end of a potentially huge wedge in the axis’ divide-and-rule policy, and invite other regional potentates to a land-grab. The sanctions-regime imposed on Iraq after the war should also be seen in this light. It is designed to keep the Ba’athist regime strong internally in order to prevent Iraq from falling to an “Islamist” (or otherwise independent) opposition, but not powerful enough to be a threat to its neighbours. The renewed threats against Saddam have arisen only because he is deviating from the US-Israeli script prepared for Iraq.

Just how central the policy of Arab/Muslim nuclear non-proliferation is to the axis was highlighted in July 2001 in a speech by David Ivry, then Israel’s ambassador to the US: “The destruction of the Osirak reactor changed the course of strategic development in the Middle East. Had we not gone ahead with this mission, Iraq’s nuclear program would have reached completion, posing a grave threat to Israel, the region, and potentially, the entire world… In fact, hanging in my office is an aerial photo of the complex where the reactor once stood, with an inscription from then-Defence Secretary [during Desert Storm] Richard Cheney. It reads, ‘with thanks for the destruction of the reactor, which made our job much easier in Desert Storm’.”

Today the same Richard Cheney is Bush’s vice president. Leading the charge for another onslaught on Iraq, the pair are assisted by two of the most militant pro-zionist policy-makers ever to set foot in the White House. At the head of this viper’s nest is Paul Wolfowitz, the US deputy defence secretary. Hardly had the dust settled after the attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon than he was inflaming anti-Iraq passions in Washington. The New York Times reported (October 12, 2002) that on September 19-20 a “tight-knit group of Pentagon officials and defence experts outside government…met for 19 hours to discuss the ramifications of the attacks of Sept. 11.” The group, known as the “Wolfowitz cabal”, agreed “on the need to turn on Iraq as soon as the initial phase of the war against Afghanistan was over.”

In truth, however, Wolfowitz had been pressing for a puppet regime in Iraq long before last September. In 1998 he criticised Clinton’s containment policy in a speech to the National Security Committee: “The United States is unable or unwilling to pursue a serious policy in Iraq, one that would aim at liberating the Iraqi people from Saddam’s tyrannical grasp and free Iraq’s neighbours from Saddam’s murderous threats.”

Wolfowitz is also the man credited with recruiting into the US government Richard Perle, its arch-zionist apologist. Perle, a former assistant secretary of defence under Ronald Reagan, holds no formal position but advises policy-makers in a quasi-official capacity. Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, appointed Perle to the chair of the Defence Policy Board, a Pentagon advisory panel charged with overseeing military preparedness and engaging in defence-policy planning. Among its other right-wing pro-zionist luminaries are ex-secretary of state and suspected war-criminal Henry Kissinger, and former Republican House of Representatives speakers Newt Gingrich and Tom Foley.

In an interview to the US radio network PBS last October, Perle said: “The question of Saddam Hussein is at the very core of the war against terrorism. There can be no victory in the war against terrorism if, at the end of it, Saddam Hussein is still in power…Let me put it this way: Iraq’s time will come. Either that, or we will end the war against terrorism without a victory, as we ended the war against Saddam Hussein in 1991 without a victory.”

Perle is not beyond lying to bolster his case. On September 8 he told Il Sole 24 Ore, an Italian newspaper, as reported by Agence France-Presse (Sept. 8), that “Mohammed Atta [the alleged leader of the September 11 hijackers] met Saddam Hussein in Baghdad prior to September 11. We have proof of that, and we are sure he wasn’t just there for a holiday. The meeting is one of the motives of an American attack on Iraq.”

Gary Leupp, associate professor of the Department of History at Tufts University, is one of those who find it very odd that Perle, “a man with limitless access to intelligence”, should “first apprise the readers of an Italian business daily of this proof, having neglected to mention it in his well-publicized August 23 London Sunday Times piece explaining to Europeans the U.S. rationale for war with Iraq… Should not such proof make the front page of my morning paper, the Boston Globe? Wouldn’t its revelation clinch the chickenhawks’ case for war? Shouldn’t Perle tell it to CNN’s Paula Zahn rather than some journalist in Milan?”

But Perle’s biggest contribution by far to the war effort is his thinking about the shape post-Saddam Iraq should take. It is contained in a strategy report for Israel that was drawn up not long after Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud government came to power in 2000. The report was authored by the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies; its title is “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.” It was prepared by a Study Group led by Richard Perle.

The document outlines what Likud’s foreign policy should be, and gives an interesting insight into the future sought by the US-Israel axis. It makes no secret of Israel’s desire to be rid of Saddam as a way of undermining another major regional rival, Syria: “Israel can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq – an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right – as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions… Damascus fears that the ‘natural axis’ with Israel on one side, central Iraq and Turkey on the other, and Jordan in the center would squeeze and detach Syria from the Saudi Peninsula. For Syria, this could be the prelude to a redrawing of the map of the Middle East which would threaten Syria’s territorial integrity.”

At the heart of this strategy is the use of the Jordanian monarchy to replace Saddam’s government with a government that, Perle hopes, might be acceptable to Iraq’s Shi’as: “Jordan has challenged Syria’s regional ambitions recently by suggesting the restoration of the Hashemites in Iraq… King Hussein may have ideas for Israel in bringing its Lebanon problem under control. The predominantly Shia population of southern Lebanon has been tied for centuries to the Shia leadership in Najf, Iraq, rather than Iran. Were the Hashemites to control Iraq, they could use their influence over Najf to help Israel wean the south Lebanese Shia away from Hizballah [sic.], Iran, and Syria. Shia retain strong ties to the Hashemites: the Shia venerate foremost the Prophet’s family, the direct descendants of which – and in whose veins the blood of the Prophet flows – is King Hussein.”

King Hussein is long gone but Prince Hassan, his slighted brother, was recently the guest of honour at a conference of Iraqi opposition groups in London, at the same time as Amman was publicly opposing military strikes on Iraq. Also in attendance was Sharif Ali bin al-Hussein, a cousin of the late Iraqi king. The interest of the Hashemite royals is not waning. They have long yearned for a return to the heyday of the post-first world war era, when they ruled Iraq as vassals for the British Mandate (Iraq and Transjordan were consolation prizes to the descendants of Sharif Husayn of Makkah for the loss of Hijaz) before being removed in a military coup in 1958.

The Hashemites might just be the solution the US-Israel axis has been looking for, to solve the problem of founding a malleable post-Saddam Iraq. The US is said to be divided on the merits of looking to the Iraqi National Congress, its pet opposition group, to form the next government. Although the INC is highly regarded on Capitol Hill (in 1998 Congress passed the Iraq Liberation Act, pledging a large sum of money to Iraqi opposition groups), it has few friends in the state department and the CIA, probably because it has failed to deliver any of Washington’s main policy aims. An INC-led government would also suffer from a severe deficit of legitimacy in the eyes of Iraqi society’s three main groups: the Kurds, Sunnis and Shi’a.

Mr. Faisal Bodi is a freelance journalist and commentator in the UK and editor of UmmahNews.com.

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