Doug Bloomfield

Jewish World Review Sept. 14 , 1998 / 23 Elul, 5758

Douglas M. Bloomfield

Saddam: Israel's unintentional benefactor

SADDAM HUSSEIN'S LATEST OUTRAGES -- his decision to bar international weapons inspectors who were zeroing in on his illicit arsenal, and his ongoing attempt to undercut U.N. economic sanctions -- exposed the confusion that dominates American policy towards Iraq.

The Clinton Administration, preoccupied with lesser affairs at home and increasingly timid abroad, is hobbled by growing avarice and weakening resolve among its partners on the Security Council and in the Arab world.

Unlike other times when Saddam banned inspectors, this challenge may go unanswered. That is bad news in Israel, which cannot be happy with the American decision to drop threats of force to pry open the doors to Saddam's secret arsenals. Many Israeli defense planners feel diplomacy not backed with force is bound to fail.

It is no secret that the moment international sanctions are lifted, Saddam will resume building his arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to deliver them -- if he hasn't already -- and Israel, Saddam';s longtime favorite target, will again be in his cross hairs, as it was during the 1991 Gulf War.

But Saddam has also has done much to help Israel, making it stronger militarily, politically, economically and diplomatically. All unintentionally.

His invasion of Iran nearly two decades ago tied down both nations, strained their treasuries, and killed or wounded over a million men on both sides, soldiers that the leaders of both countries would rather have sent to kill Israelis.

Saddam's initial attempt to go nuclear led to the dramatic Israeli raid on the Osiraq reactor in 1981 that won public condemnation and private gratitude throughout the Arab world.

It told potential adversaries that Israel has a long, lethal and accurate reach.

Most of all it was Saddam's invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990, that led to the Gulf War, which altered the course of history.

"It was one of the best wars from the Israeli point of view," said Gen. Ze'ev Livneh, Israel's military attache in Washington. "The price we paid of being hit by long-range missiles, compared to what happened to the Iraqi forces, was completely worthwhile."

The Gulf War also affirmed the end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union as a superpower.

Russia could do little to protect its lucrative Iraqi client, and in the end it had no choice but to endorse the U.S.-led war that not only devastated the Iraqi army but humiliated Soviet military equipment and doctrine.

It was no coincidence that Syria, another similarly outfitted Soviet client, was invited to join the coalition. That gave Assad and his generals one more chance to see a head-to-head between Soviet and American weapons and training. They'd already seen it up close in prior wars with Israel, particularly the 1982 Lebanon conflict which devastated the Syrian air defense system.

Israel was a big winner because of its courageous restraint in the face of a barrage of Iraqi Scud missiles intended to provoke it into retaliating and breaking the American-led coalition.

That discipline, admired by the Arabs, opened the door to the peace process. Ironically, the man responsible for that policy was Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who did not welcome the peace opening, although a majority of Israelis did, a preference that was evident when they replaced him with Yitzhak Rabin.

Saddam begat the Gulf War and that conflict begat the Arab-Israeli peace process.The Bush Administration parlayed the victory and Israel's admirable conduct into an international peace conference attended by nearly every Arab state, including Syria.

It's a memorable day when Israel looks better in Arab eyes than PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and Jordanian King Hussein, but that is what happened when that odd couple opted to side with Saddam. Joining a peace process as a combined delegation became the key to their international rehabilitation.

Since the war, Saddam's frequently fomented crises have only strengthened U.S.-Israeli military cooperation, and they have improved public understanding of the threats Israel faces in that nasty neighborhood where it lives.

Conversely, the recent Arab rush to re-embrace Saddam and lift the international sanctions only damages their standing in American eyes. Saddam has been spending billions to build palaces and make sure he and his favored continue to live the good life while many ordinary Iraqis suffer because Saddam is using them to generate pressure to lift all sanctions. He wants the restrictions removed not to feed his people -- he could easily do that today -- but to resume building forbidden weapons.

Saddam's latest decision to freeze cooperation with UN arms inspectors keeps in the American consciousness the potential threats facing Israel. It generates sympathy for Israel and intensifies defense and intelligence cooperation between the two countries.

Since the Gulf War, the Untied States has begun providing Israel real-time intelligence, instead of filtered and delayed information; the two allies are working much more closely on the development of anti-missile systems and other advanced weapons.

"Cooperation is very close, deep and consistent; we are very happy," Gen. Livneh said.

The longer Saddam refuses to meet the terms for ending the inspections and lifting sanctions, the better, and safer, it is for Israel (as well as the Arabs).

Gen. Livneh credits the war and subsequent inspections with blocking Iraqi development of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). "We know for sure that Iraq was very close to nuclear capability during the Gulf War; it already had acquired chemical and biological and long range missile capability."

Saddam showed the Israelis, Saudis and everyone else that missiles are a real threat, not an abstract matter of superpower ICBM's with multiple nuclear warheads, and that even small countries can acquire and deliver WMD.

Saddam Hussein is a despicable human being, a mass murderer, a brutal dictator and every other nasty appellation you can think of. But as long as he lives and stays in power, Iraq will be under the microscope. He would never willingly do anything good for Israel, but unintentionally he's already done a great deal.

Douglas M. Bloomfield is JWR's Washington correspondent


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©1998, Douglas M. Bloomfield