Newsletter Thursday February 19, 2015
Efforts to portray the Iranian threat as some kind of electioneering campaign are nothing new. Former security officials desperate to remain in the limelight have repeatedly claimed that the Iranian threat is being exaggerated and used for personal political purposes. These days various media outlets are trying to rewrite history and downplay the threat once posed to Israel during the reign of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and present the geopolitical reality under Saddam’s Baath party as having been better for Israel than the current reality. By doing so they imply that to get involved in Iran would be to repeat a past mistake that will likely negatively impact Israel’s security.
But this implication, and those claims, crumble when held up to reality and history. The Baath party tried to get its hands on weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear arms, since day one. In the 1970s, Saddam said that as long as Israel has nuclear arms, Iraq would not be able to attack it freely, and that he planned to use that kind of weaponry to “drown the enemy in rivers of blood.”
Saddam Hussein’s first attempt at acquiring nuclear arms failed in 1981, after Israel bombed the nuclear reactor in Osirak and carried out numerous other operations to hamper Iraq’s progress toward an atomic bomb. Months after the Osirak strike, Iraq appealed to France to purchase another reactor, but the many sanctions imposed on Iraq during the Iraq-Iran war made it difficult.
After running into trouble trying to get Western assistance, Saddam decide to develop a secret uranium enrichment program in Iraq. This new program, with its many facilities, spread throughout Iraq in secret underground compounds, requiring a budget 15 times that of the Osirak reactor.
Between 1981 and 1987, Iraq’s nuclear efforts revolved around research, and only between 1987 and 1990 did they advance to an operative phase of actually developing weapons. The nuclear program was halted by the entry of coalition forces into Iraq during the First Gulf War.
In 1998, then-U.S. President Bill Clinton ordered the launch of Operation Desert Fox, a four day bombing and missile strike campaign against Iraqi targets in response to Iraq’s refusal to comply with a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for American inspectors to come make sure Iraq was not developing weapons of mass destruction. The stated goal of that operation was to diminish the Iraqi regime’s capacity to produce, store or use such weapons. Operation Desert Fox paved the way for the Second Gulf War and the U.S. invasion of Iraq during George W. Bush’s presidency, which resulted in the fall of Saddam Hussein.
The claims that Iraq is now more dangerous than before and that the Islamic State group developed as a direct result of the U.S. invasion of Iraq are simply wrong. Iraq currently has no desire or ability to produce weapons of mass destruction. Moreover, the country poses no threat to Israel. This crucial change allows Israel to invest its resources in more pertinent and volatile areas.
Secondly, Islamic State is the result of many factors, and not necessarily a direct response to American involvement. It is possible that the group would have never formed, even after the U.S. occupation ended, had the U.S. acted more wisely. It is not unreasonable to think that had U.S. forces stayed in Iraq longer and bolstered the central Iraqi government, instead departing early and abandoning the land, they could have thwarted the rise of Islamic State.
If the U.S. had imposed a Western/American standard of civilian involvement in the central Iraqi government, and allowed for better representation of the Iraqi population, it could have prevented the sectarian tension that currently exists between the government’s Shiites, sponsored by Iran, and Sunnis who were brutally oppressed after the fall of Saddam — another factor that contributed to the establishment of Islamic State.
In retrospect, Israel’s call for intervention in Iraq, and the subsequent intervention by the U.S., served to defuse a very serious threat facing Israel. When confronting Iran, the same approach should be adopted. Iran must be forced to give up its nuclear ambitions, at any cost