Jewish World Review Oct. 16, 2002 / 10 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | We hear a great deal about the dangers of urban combat from those whose military experience consists of watching films of the siege of Stalingrad on the History Channel.
The brief siege of Ba'adre, a Kurdish village in northern Iraq, in December, 2000, gives us a pretty clear picture of how intensely the Iraqis will fight. A Republican Guard formation surrounded a much smaller Kurdish force and prepared to attack. A few American warplanes buzzed the Iraqis. More than 100 immediately surrendered. The rest retreated.
A few months later, Michael Rubin had lunch with the father of an Iraqi soldier in a restaurant in the city of Sulaymaniyah. "Do you really think my son wants to be in uniform?" he asked. "Or anyone in his unit? He hears about life outside of Iraq. That's what he wants to live, not what he wants to fight."
The notion that many Iraqis will fight house to house in Baghdad for Saddam, who isn't even there (he's been holed up for nearly a year in Tikrit) is ridiculous. Even if many were willing to fight, we wouldn't fight them that way. Saddam is elsewhere. His weapons of mass destruction are elsewhere. The oil is elsewhere. We wouldn't fight house to house. We'd cut off the water and the power, and we'd wait.
Also ridiculous is the notion that an attack on Iraq will produce an explosion in the Arab "street." History makes it clear that the more resolutely the West acts, the quieter the Arab "street" becomes.
An attack on a French oil tanker off the coast of Yemen illustrates the far more likely danger. On October 6, an explosion tore a 26 foot hole in the hull of the Limburg as it waited for a pilot boat to guide it into the port of Mina al Dabah. Initially, Yemenese and French officials said the explosion was the result of a fire on board. But Lloyds of London said photographs show jagged edges of metal pointing inward, and the skipper said his vessel was struck by a small boat laden with explosives.
The method was similar to the attack on the destroyer USS Cole in another Yemeni port two years ago, and occurred on the second anniversary of that attack. Hours after it, al Jazeera television broadcast a tape purportedly from Osama bin Laden in which the speaker said: "I call on you to understand the lessons of the New York and Washington raids. The youth of Islam...will target key sectors of your economy until you stop your injustice and aggression."
If al Qaeda was behind the Limburg attack, it would be the first time the terror network has attacked Middle Eastern oil interests, which Osama bin Laden once described as "Allah's gift to the Arabian and Muslim peoples." The tanker attack could delay war with Iraq and refocus attention on al Qaeda, which would be good for Saddam but bad for the terror network, concluded STRATFOR, a private intelligence service.
If Al Qaeda was behind the Limburg attack, it could indicate closer cooperation between al Qaeda and Iraq than many currently believe exists. The Limburg attack indicates what Saddam is most likely to do with his weapons of mass destruction if he is attacked. Chemical and biological agents are terrific terror weapons, but poor military weapons, especially if one has to rely on missiles for distribution. The warheads on SCUD missiles are too small, and the number of missiles Saddam is thought to possess too few to have much effect upon troops in protective suits.
But if Saddam were to use biologicals and persistent chemicals like the nerve agent VX against his own oilfields and those of neighboring countries, he could do savage harm to the economies of the West. Attacks on oil tankers could give Saddam's sailors a better chance of survival than attacks on U.S. warships.
A CIA report declassified by the Senate this week estimated the probability that Saddam would initiate the use of weapons of mass destruction is low, but the probability he would use them once attacked is high. Part of Saddam's retaliation could be conducted by sleeper agents here in the United States.
The tactical challenge we face is to distinguish real dangers from illusory ones. The strategic challenge is to determine if the risks of inaction are greater than the risks of taking action. I think the risks of inaction are greater. But the risks of acting are profound.
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10/10/02: Silence more despicable than seditious noise