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The war on Iraq:
Conceived in Israel

Part four

By Stephen J. Sniegoski

Posted February 10, 2003



Armchair strategists

Neoconservatives not only have determined the foreign policy leading to war against Iraq but have played a role in molding military strategy as well. Top military figures, including members of the Joint Chiefs, initially expressed opposition to the whole idea of such a war. [62] But Perle and other neoconservatives have for some time insisted that toppling Saddam would require little military effort or risk. They pushed for a war strategy dubbed "inside-out" that would involve attacking Baghdad and a couple of other key cities with a very small number of airborne troops, as few as 5,000 in some estimates. According to the plan's supporters, such strikes would cause Saddam's regime to collapse. American military leaders adamantly opposed that approach as too risky, offering in its stead a plan to use a much larger number of troops — about 250,000 — who would invade Iraq in a more conventional manner, marching from the soil of her neighbors, as was done during the Gulf War of 1991.

Perle and the neoconservatives, for their part, feared that no neighboring country would provide the necessary bases, so that this approach would likely mean that no war would be initiated or that, during the lengthy time needed to assemble this large force, opposition to war would so burgeon as to render the operation politically impossible. Perle angrily responded to the military's demurral by saying that the decision to attack Iraq was "a political judgment that these guys aren't competent to make." [63] Cheney and Rumsfeld went even further, referring to the generals as "cowards" for being insufficiently gung-ho about an Iraq invasion. [64]

Now, one might be tempted to attribute Perle and the other neocons' rejection of the military's caution to insane hubris — how could amateurs pretend to know more about military strategy than professional military men? However, Richard Perle may be many things, but insane is not one of them. Nor is he stupid. Undoubtedly he has thought through the implications of his plan. And it is apparent that the "inside-out" option would be a win-win proposition from Perle's perspective.

Let's assume that it works — that a few American troops can capture some strategic areas and the Iraqi army quickly folds. Perle and the neocons appear as military geniuses and are rewarded with free rein to prepare a series of additional low-cost wars in the Middle East.

On the other hand, let's assume that the mini-invasion is a complete fiasco. The American troops are defeated in the cities. Many are captured and paraded around for all the world to see. Saddam makes bombastic speeches about defeating the American aggressor. All the Arab and Islamic world celebrates the American defeat. American flags are burned in massive anti-American celebrations throughout the Middle East. America is totally humiliated, depicted as a paper tiger, and ordinary Americans watch it all on TV. How do they react?

Such a catastrophe would be another Pearl Harbor in terms of engendering hatred of the enemy. The public would demand that American honor and prestige be avenged. They would accept the idea fed to them by the neoconservative propagandists that the war was one between America and Islam. Washington would unleash total war, which would involve heavy bombing of cities. And the air attacks could easily spread from Iraq to the other neighboring Islamic states. A war of conquest and extermination is the neocons' fondest dream since it would destroy all of Israel's enemies in the Middle East. (It appears that the Pentagon has augmented the magnitude of the Iraq strike force to reduce the risk of the aforementioned scenario.) [65]


"Our Enemies, the Saudis"

Indications are plentiful that the war will not be limited to Iraq alone. On July 10, 2002, Laurent Murawiec, at Perle's behest, briefed the Defense Policy Board about Saudi Arabia, whose friendly relationship with the United States has been the linchpin of American security strategy in the Middle East for more than 50 years. Murawiec described the kingdom as the principal supporter of anti-American terrorism — "the kernel of evil, the prime mover, the most dangerous opponent." It was necessary, he claimed, for the United States to regard Saudi Arabia as an enemy. Murawiec said Washington should demand that Riyadh stop funding fundamentalist Islamic outlets around the world, prohibit all anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli propaganda in the country, and "prosecute or isolate those involved in the terror chain, including in the Saudi intelligence services." If the Saudis refused to comply with the ultimatum, Murawiec contended that the United States should invade and occupy the country, including the holy sites of Mecca and Medina, seize her oil fields, and confiscate her financial assets. [66]

Murawiec concluded the briefing with the astounding summary of what he called a "Grand Strategy for the Middle East:" "Iraq is the tactical pivot. Saudi Arabia the strategic pivot. Egypt the prize." In short, the goal of the war on Iraq was the destruction of the United States' closest allies. It would be hard to envision a policy better designed to inflame the entire Middle East against the United States. But that is exactly the result sought by neoconservatives. [67]

Predictably, the day after the briefing, the Bush administration disavowed Murawiec's scenario as having nothing to do with actual American foreign policy and pronounced Saudi Arabia a loyal ally. [68] However, the White House did nothing to remove or even discipline Perle for holding a discussion of a plan for attacking a close ally — and individuals have frequently been removed from administrations for much smaller faux pas. We may be certain that the Bush administration's inaction failed to assure the Saudis that Murawiec's war plan was beyond the realm of possibility.

Murawiec's anti-Saudi scenario simultaneously emerged in the neocon press. The July 15, 2002, issue of The Weekly Standard featured an article titled "The Coming Saudi Showdown," by Simon Henderson of the neoconservative Washington Institute for Near East Policy. And the July/August issue of Commentary, published by the American Jewish Committee, contained an article titled, "Our Enemies, the Saudis." [69]

The leading neoconservative expert on Saudi Arabia, Stephen Schwartz, made his views known, too, though he did pay a price for it. Schwartz has written numerous articles as well as a recent book, The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa'ud from Tradition to Terror, in which he posits a Saudi/Wahhabist conspiracy to take over all of Islam and spread terror throughout the world. As a result of his anti-Saudi comments, Schwartz was dismissed from his brief tenure as an editorial writer with the Voice of America at the beginning of July 2002, thus becoming a martyr in neoconservative circles. [70]

As Thomas F. Ricks points out in the Washington Post, the anti-Saudi bellicosity expressed by Murawiec "represents a point of view that has growing currency within the Bush administration — especially on the staff of Vice President Cheney and in the Pentagon's civilian leadership — and among neoconservative writers and thinkers closely allied with administration policymakers." [71]

By November 2002, the anti-Saudi theme had reached the mainstream — with an article in Newsweek alleging financial support for the 9/11 terrorists from the Saudi royal family, and commentary on the subject by such leading figures in the Senate as Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Charles Schumer (D-New York), and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.). [72]

Bush administration policy has come a long way but has still not reached what neocons seek: a war by the United States against all of Islam. According to Podhoretz, doyen of the neoconservatives: "Militant Islam today represents a revival of the expansionism by the sword" of Islam's early years. [73] In Podhoretz's view, to survive resurgent Islam the United States must not simply stand on the defensive but must stamp out militant Islam at its very source in the Middle East:

The regimes that richly deserve to be overthrown and replaced are not confined to the three singled-out members of the axis of evil. At a minimum, this axis should extend to Syria and Lebanon and Libya, as well as "friends" of America like the Saudi royal family and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, along with the Palestinian Authority, whether headed by Arafat or one of his henchmen.

After the great conquest, the United States would remake the entire region, which would entail forcibly re-educating its people to fall into line with the thinking of America's leaders. Podhoretz acknowledges that the people of the Middle East might, if given a free democratic choice, pick anti-American and anti-Israeli leaders and policies. But he proclaims that "there is a policy that can head it off" provided "that we then have the stomach to impose a new political culture on the defeated parties. This is what we did directly and unapologetically in Germany and Japan after winning World War II." [74]


Expulsion redux

Within Israel herself, however, the Arabs would not be expected to adopt a "new political culture"; they would be expected to vanish.

Expulsion of the Palestinians is inextricably intertwined with a Middle Eastern war — or, in Ben-Gurion's phrase, "revolutionary times." As the post-September 11 "war on terror" has heated up, the talk of forcibly "transferring" the Palestinians has once again moved to the center of Israeli politics. According to Illan Pappe, a Jewish Israeli revisionist historian, "You can see this new assertion talked about in Israel: the discourse of transfer and expulsion which had been employed by the extreme Right, is now the bon ton of the center." [75]

Even the dean of Israel's revisionist historians, Benny Morris, explicitly endorsed the expulsion of the Palestinians in the event of war. "This land is so small," Morris exclaimed, "that there isn't room for two peoples. In fifty or a hundred years, there will only be one state between the sea and the Jordan. That state must be Israel."

According to a recent poll conducted by Israel's Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, nearly one-half of Israelis support expulsion of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians, and nearly one-third support expulsion of Israeli Arabs. Three-fifths support "encouraging" Israeli Arabs to leave. [76]

In April 2002, leading Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld held that a U.S. attack on Iraq would provide the cover for Prime Minister Sharon to forcibly remove the Palestinians from the West Bank. In Creveld's view, "The expulsion of the Palestinians would require only a few brigades," which would rely on "heavy artillery." Creveld continued: "Israeli military experts estimate that such a war could be over in just eight days. If the Arab states do not intervene, it will end with the Palestinians expelled and Jordan in ruins. If they do intervene, the result will be the same, with the main Arab armies destroyed.... Israel would stand triumphant, as it did in 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973." [77]

Although Creveld did not express any opposition to this impending expulsion, in September 2002, a group of Israeli academics did issue a declaration of opposition, stating, "We are deeply worried by indications that the 'fog of war' could be exploited by the Israeli government to commit further crimes against the Palestinian people, up to full-fledged ethnic cleansing." [78]

The declaration continued:

The Israeli ruling coalition includes parties that promote "transfer" of the Palestinian population as a solution to what they call "the demographic problem." Politicians are regularly quoted in the media as suggesting forcible expulsion, most recently [Knesset members] Michael Kleiner and Benny Elon, as reported on Yediot Ahronot website on September 19, 2002. In a recent interview in Ha'aretz, Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon described the Palestinians as a "cancerous manifestation" and equated the military actions in the Occupied Territories with "chemotherapy," suggesting that more radical "treatment" may be necessary. Prime Minister Sharon has backed this "assessment of reality." Escalating racist demagoguery concerning the Palestinian citizens of Israel may indicate the scope of the crimes that are possibly being contemplated. [79]

In the fall of 2002, the Jordanian government, fearing that Israel might push the Palestinian population into Jordan during the anticipated U.S. attack on Iraq, asked for public assurances from the Israeli government that it would not make such a move. The Sharon regime, however, has refused to publicly renounce an expulsion policy. [80]



To part five (conclusion)


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