Skip to comments.So is it war?
Posted on 11/15/2002 11:25:38 AM PST by SJackson
The war plans are on the president's desk and, by any measure, the force assembled in the Persian Gulf is immense.
Tens of thousands of troops, three aircraft carriers, hundreds of fighter and attack jets, dozens of bombers and 575 cruise missiles are poised to strike Iraq following its refusal to open suspected weapons sites to United Nations inspectors. Predictably, Saudi Arabia will not allow the US to launch strikes on its neighbor from the Prince Sultan air base. But smaller Persian Gulf states are proving amenable, and 15 nations have joined the US-led coalition, despite resistance in the UN from France and Russia.
In the White House, a top administration official tells the president the time to "diddle around" with UN resolutions is over, and the other principals agree. "Finally, after years of frustration with the Iraqi dictator," goes the report in The Wall Street Journal, "the unanimous judgment came almost with a sense of relief."
A preview of next month's news? Not exactly. This was the state of play on February 17, 1998, just days before UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, with the aid of six Cuban cigars, secured from Saddam Hussein (who "only smokes cigars with people I trust") a pledge to open all suspected sites, including presidential palaces, to UN weapons inspectors. In the event, Saddam violated the terms of the agreement and expelled the inspectors that summer. A four-day Anglo-American air strike dubbed Operation Desert Fox followed in December, but by that time the urgency of the moment was lost and the effects of the attack on Iraq's weapons' capabilities were negligible.
It is too soon to tell whether a repeat of this scenario is in the offing. On Friday last week, the UN Security Council unanimously endorsed Resolution 1441, holding Iraq "in material breach" of its past disarmament obligation and offering it "a final opportunity to comply" lest it face "serious consequences."
Iraq decided Wednesday to accept the resolution and has until December 8 to provide a "currently accurate, full and complete" list of any weapons of mass destruction still in its arsenal. For its part, the UN must place a team of inspectors - known by the acronym Unmovic - in Iraq by December 23; a full report from the team is due 60 days thereafter, when the matter will again be taken up by the Security Council for review.
The Bush administration sees Resolution 1441 not only as a diplomatic triumph but also as cover for all-but inevitable military action. Though the resolution gives Saddam the opportunity to avert his own overthrow by complying fully with its terms, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told CNN that was about as likely as him "jumping over the moon." Other commentators agreed. "Bush joyous as way opens to topple Saddam," went the headline in the November 9 issue of Britain's Daily Telegraph.
Not everyone is quite so sure, however. Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, tells The Jerusalem Post that war with Iraq is now "further off, because there's less of a chance of Saddam misreading the international politics of the situation." Sam Lewis, the former US ambassador to Israel, agrees. "War is less imminent than a month ago," he says. "The UN resolution, though it's tough, leaves room for Saddam Hussein to stall and delay long enough to confuse the issue."
Stall, delay and confuse have been the hallmarks of Saddam's dealings with the UN over the past decade. According to US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, the administration plans to take a "zero tolerance" approach to "the next material breach" by Iraq of Security Council resolutions. Yet the term "material breach" remains substantially undefined and open to interpretation. What's more, its definition rests largely in the hands of Unmovic chief Hans Blix, a former director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency whose record as a whistle-blower is not encouraging.
During his tenure at the IAEA before the Gulf War, Blix adjudged Iraq's compliance with the agency "exemplary," even as the country secretly moved forward with its nuclear weapons' program. Then too, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal, in 1993 Blix tried to muzzle former IAEA inspector David Kay when he went public with allegations (since confirmed) of North Korea's nuclear program. "The way that Blix has now chosen to intervene," wrote Kay in a letter to the Journal, "gives the appearance of an attempt at coercion and suppression of uncomfortable ideas."
Blix's questionable reliability is not the only potential obstacle to America's military designs. "Against the full resources of a nation state, with thousands of people and many intelligence and security organs, it was a hopeless endeavor," says Charles Duelfer, a former top UN weapons' inspector, of the inspections process.
Since Israel's destruction of the Osirak reactor in 1981, Hussein has dispersed his WMD programs across the country, so that it is now nearly impossible to uncover without the aid of defectors. In 1995, the West caught a lucky break when information gleaned from one such defector, Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamel Hassan al-Majid, gave inspectors details about undeclared and unsuspected WMD production sites. The text of Resolution 1441 insists that Iraq furnish Unmovic with "immediate, unimpeded, unrestricted and private access to" anyone suspected of involvement in Iraq's WMD programs. Yet Blix sees "practical difficulties" with this approach, meaning he's unlikely to pursue it. Fresh intelligence is thus not likely to become available via the UN.
Yet perhaps the greatest pitfall for the US is partial Iraqi disclosure. "Hussein will certainly try to create the impression that he is complying with the resolution," writes Dennis Ross in The Washington Post. "No doubt he will turn over voluminous quantities of documents; he may even turn over materials he has heretofore hidden. But he will not turn over the crown jewels of his WMD programs."
For the administration, then, two things are required for Iraq to be found in material breach of 1441: not just hard information on previously undisclosed Iraqi WMD sites, but information Saddam does not suspect the US already to have and is unlikely to turn over on his own. "If Saddam comes forth on December 8 and says 'I've got A, B and C,' and we say, 'that's ludicrous, you've also got D, E, and F, and that is it, you've lied,' that would be great," says William Kristol, publisher of Washington's influential conservative Weekly Standard. But whether the administration actually has "D, E and F" is not yet known.
Of course, the administration may tire of playing by the UN's rulebook, just as the Clinton administration nearly did in 1998. Nor is the US technically obliged to go back to the Security Council to seek another resolution authorizing force against Iraq. Yet having chosen to go the UN route, it is difficult to imagine the US now backing out of it barring flagrant Iraqi provocation. "The administration has promised its allies that they will go ahead and prove Saddam is lying," adds Kristol. "They'll send inspectors in to confirm. Once you get inspectors on the ground, the thing drags out."
For how long? The 105-day process currently mandated by Resolution 1441 - 45 days for Blix to get his people on the ground, plus 60 to produce a report - concludes at the end of February. That gives the US and its allies sufficient time to assemble a massive military force in the region. But it gives little time, given meteorological conditions and probable diplomatic imbroglios, to launch and conclude a successful invasion.
By then, the US may face a radically different, possibly more hostile, international climate. The winds of war may abate. Or Saddam may unveil, to an astonished world, the Arab world's first nuclear bomb. Whatever happens, the countdown has begun, but towards what nobody can yet say.
THE WEAPONS: HOW GRAVE A THREAT -
From Baghdad to the health ministry of a European country comes the eeriest of questions: How does one treat an outbreak of anthrax? Several weeks later, another odd missive, this time to a Turkish pharmaceutical supplier: an order for a million doses of 18-cm. atropine auto-injectors. Atropine is a drug used for heart attack victims. It is also a nerve gas antidote.
It is not clear whether the first message was intended as a warning to the West of what an invasion force might expect or as a genuine plea for help following an accidental outbreak at a weapons lab. What isn't in doubt is that over the past decade Iraq has produced huge quantities of chemical and biological weapons. According to Kelly Motz of the Washington DC-based Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, this includes 3.9 tons of the VX nerve agent and 12,500 gallons of anthrax, among other poisons. Nor is it a secret that Iraq retains a limited capacity to deliver these weapons ballistically, with up to 20 al-Hussein missiles with a 1000 km. range.
But it is equally clear that even in the event of a US-led attack, which most analysts believe will prompt Saddam Hussein to strike Israel with every weapon at his disposal, the missiles pose only a limited threat, for three reasons. First, because Iraqi missile sites are more difficult to conceal than weapons-making facilities, and will be among the first targets of an American air strike. London's Sunday Times has also reported that Israeli commando teams may already be trying to locate and destroy the missiles in the deserts of Western Iraq. Second, because Israel's anti-ballistic missile defenses, bolstered by the Arrow, are relatively robust. And third, because ballistic missiles are not effective vehicles for dispersing chemical or biological agents over wide areas.
But the threat doesn't end there. "Under ideal delivery conditions," write terrorism experts Laurie Mylroie and Richard Speier, "one manned or unmanned aircraft - operating upwind outside of Israeli airspace - could cover 10,000 square kilometers with a lethal [anthrax] dose."
There's another delivery system: a terrorist. Palestinian suicide bombers have been known to soak the nails packed in their explosives with rat poison and have attempted to use cyanide as well. Conceivably, too, terrorists could deposit antibiotic-resistant anthrax spores in the ventilation systems of large buildings or contaminate Israel's water supply with nerve gas. Israelis might then begin dying in massive numbers before the government could mount a preventive campaign.
Oh, and smallpox. In 1994, UN weapons inspectors came across a freeze-dryer at an Iraqi medical complex labeled "smallpox"; US and UN officials are convinced Iraq possesses the smallpox virus in weaponized form. So far, the government has vaccinated 15,000 emergency workers. Yet Israel has not vaccinated children for smallpox since 1980. In the event of an outbreak, nearly two million young Israelis would have to be inoculated within four days.
In the end, however, nature herself may prove the best deterrent. Palestinians seeking to spread disease among Israelis would run a high risk of contaminating the Palestinian and Arab-Israeli populations as well. Also, anthrax spores are mainly infectious at night; a few hours' exposure to daylight quickly kills them. As US Justice Louis Brandeis said in a wholly different context, sunshine really is "the best disinfectant."
THE REGION: WIDER WAR?
But the threat to Israel's security comes not only from Iraq and its Palestinian minions and fellow travelers. There are other terror groups, Hizbullah especially, that might seek to draw Israel into a wider war.
European diplomatic sources in close contact with Syria and Iran tell The Jerusalem Post that Hizbullah is unlikely to attack. And Syria's vote in favor of Resolution 1441 does suggest that Bashar Assad, who's in a position to put the brakes on Hizbullah, was "buying life insurance" in the war on terror, as New York Times columnist Tom Friedman put it Wednesday.
Israeli experts are less sure. The younger Assad is known to have a love affair with what he views as the swashbuckling adventurers of Hizbullah. And Hizbullah also takes its cues from the power-wielding radicals of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, who would certainly not relish the establishment of a pro-Western government in Iraq. In such circumstances, it is conceivable that Teheran might try to use its Lebanese proxy to exacerbate an already volatile situation.
According to Gabriel Ben-Dor, director of the University of Haifa's National Security Studies Center, Hizbullah might also be emboldened by the perception that, in the event of war, it would enjoy a free hand against an Israel "restrained by the US and international considerations, which was the case 11 years ago." What does that entail, exactly? On the low end, Ben-Dor believes, Hizbullah could send infiltrators to Israel in support of Palestinian groups; on the high end, "it will use its missiles to attack targets in northern Israel, as far south as Haifa."
A nightmarish scenario thus comes into view: chemical and biological attacks by Iraq, Hizbullah bombardments and missile strikes and terror attacks from the Palestinians. Will Israel then be restrained? Former Labor minister Ephraim Sneh told the Post last month that Israel would do what it could to placate America. But, he added, "we're not going to sit on our ass."
THE PALESTINIANS: SHALL WE DANCE?
If an American attack on Iraq - and an Iraqi attack on Israel - puts the Jewish state in a quandary, something similar goes for the Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority is instinctively sympathetic toward Iraq; the Palestinian media speak of "our sister Iraq." And to date, Saddam has given the Palestinians some $25 million; $10,000 apiece to the families of suicide bombers.
"The same feeling that engulfs the Palestinian street also engulfs the Iraqi one," says Mordechai Keddar of the Begin-Sadat Center at Bar-Ilan University. "They are in the same ditch, fighting the same powers, with no support from the Arab world."
Yet just as Israel might be forced to stay its hand against Iraq, the Palestinian Authority also has reasons - as it did on September 11 - to tamp popular expressions of support for Iraq. Israel, many Palestinians believe, will use the distracting spectacle of a war against Baghdad to wipe out the PA or carry out wide-scale population transfers. As a result, Keddar believes, even as some Palestinians dance on their rooftops, most "will get into the shelter in order not to have the wrath of Israel and the States fall upon them." They will do so, moreover, under the watchful gaze of a PA terrified of losing the last shred of support it enjoys from the American administration.
Then again, maybe not. On Wednesday, the Fatah web site published an Internet poll showing 80 percent support for suicide bombings on both sides of the Green Line. Other polls in the Palestinian press indicate 60% to 70% support for the attacks. And there has been no attempt by either Yasser Arafat, his Fatah organization or his mouthpieces in the media to slow the pace of terror, as this week's attack on Kibbutz Metzer shows. If war comes, says Itamar Marcus of Palestinian Media Watch, Palestinians "would probably want to show they're doing their bit for Saddam" in their common struggle against Israel and America. That means more terror attacks, not fewer.
He may be right. Precisely because Arafat is today so unpopular among Palestinians (surveys regularly show Saddam is the more admired figure of the two), he may be reluctant to clamp down on pro-Saddam demonstrations, much less reign in Hamas, Islamic Jihad or his own al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade. Then too, the consequences of Arafat's support for Saddam during the first Gulf War were not, in retrospect, utterly catastrophic. Though Palestinians were expelled from Kuwait and Arab states cut their support for the PLO, within three years he was making his triumphal entry into Gaza.
THE FUTURE: A NEW NEW MIDDLE EAST
And so it could happen again. Even today, scenarios are being limned for the proverbial "day after," not just in Iraq, but throughout the region.
"Saddam's removal," says Dennis Ross, "would represent a seismic change in the Middle East. But like any earthquake the land resettles, and if the seismic change is to mean anything, action would be required quickly to promote longer term change in the region - including on the peace process." Ambassador Lewis agrees: "After a war - a successful war that doesn't leave the US trying to pacify a country that's fallen apart - then there will be another phase of effort to get movement on the Israeli-Palestinian front, something analogous to the Madrid conference."
Israelis with bitter memories of where that conference led - huge pressure from the US on a Likud-led government leading to its collapse, followed by seven divisive and ultimately fruitless years of Oslo - may look on this scenario with alarm. But not everyone thinks that history will repeat itself.
Amir Taheri, an Iranian-born journalist and editor of the French magazine Politique Internationale, notes one difference. In the first Gulf War the Arab states lined up solidly behind the US, for which they expected, and got, something in return. This time, he says, "the US is not treating the Arabs as a bloc anymore. They are treating them according to their performance individually." Countries like Oman, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait may expect favors from the US. Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the most recalcitrant of America's "partners," may see their relationships with Washington reassessed.
There is another difference. In 1991, Arafat was widely perceived as the only man who could "deliver" the Palestinians and thus deliver peace. But Israel is unlikely to travel that road again. In 1991, too, the reigning paradigm in American policy circles was "land for peace," which put the onus on Israel to make the hard concessions. By contrast, President George W. Bush's doctrine of June 24 suggests a new framework: reform for land. The purpose of a second Madrid conference, says Ross, "would have to require the Palestinians to assume a responsibility for ensuring their territory would not be a safe haven for those who attack Israel - not in words but in deeds."
But that is still some time off. In the meantime, the world girds for a war that may yet never be fought.
With reporting by: Khaled Abu-Toameh, David Rudge, Janine Zacharia, Margot Dudkevitch, Elli Wohlgelernter, Leora Eren Frucht and Jenny Hazan.
Concern over a homeland security reorganization that will take over a year and a half to complete. We can organize an attack on Iraq in four months but can't do anything to protect the public. Where are the priorities being decided in this country? How many lives will have to be lost before our government gets its act together?
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