Israel Sees War in Iraq as Path to Mideast Peace [i.e. Israeli Domination]
By JAMES BENNET, February 24, 2003
JERUSALEM, Feb. 24 — Israelis once believed that the Oslo agreement with the Palestinians would usher in a new Middle East of comfortable Israeli-Arab co-existence.
With Oslo in tatters, they are now putting similar hopes in an American war on Iraq.
Other nations may cavil, but Israel is so certain of the rightness of a war on Iraq that it is already thinking past that conflict to urge a continued, assertive American role in the Middle East.
Shaul Mofaz, Israel's defense minister, told members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations last week that after Iraq, the United States should generate "political, economic, diplomatic pressure" on Iran. [Chutzpah?]
"We have great interest in shaping the Middle East the day after" a war, he said. [Gentiles fight and die while Jews reshape and thrive.]
It may seem paradoxical that the country most vulnerable to an Iraqi attack in the event of war is most eager for that war to begin.
But Israel's military intelligence has concluded that the chances of a successful Iraqi missile strike here during this war, while ever-present, are small. Israel believes that Mr. Hussein seeks devastating weapons but has far less capacity for mayhem now than he did during the first Persian Gulf war, when he fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel. The army also believes its own national defenses are much improved.
Israel regards Iran and Syria as greater threats, and it is hoping that once Mr. Hussein is dispensed with, the dominoes will start to tumble.
According to this hope — or evolving strategy — moderates and reformers throughout the region will be encouraged to put new pressure on their regimes, not excepting that of Yasir Arafat in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
"The shock waves emerging from post-Saddam Baghdad could have wide-ranging effects in Tehran, Damascus and in Ramallah," Efraim Halevy, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's national security adviser, said in a speech in Munich this month. Until recently, Mr. Halevy was the chief of Mossad, Israel's spy agency. "We have hopes of greater stability, greater enhanced confidence from the Persian Gulf to the Atlantic shores of Morocco," he said.
Israelis have also suggested that the war might salvage their economy and prompt recalcitrant Labor to join Mr. Sharon's coalition in a new government of "national unity."
Expressed in its broadest, vaguest terms, this theory has come in for the sort of withering mockery that the idealistic vision of Oslo's effects suffered from the right. The accusation is the same: fuzzy, wishful thinking.
Uzi Benziman, a journalist and author of a biography of Mr. Sharon, wrote recently in the newspaper Haaretz, "Israel is looking for Ares, the ancient Greek god of war, to play the part of the deus ex machina in this drama."
Referring to this "almost pagan faith," he continued, "it's still hard to shake the feeling that what the fervency of Israeli expectations regarding the war really attests to is despair." Polls here have shown a strong though not overwhelming majority in favor of war.
The precise mechanism for converting the war into regional stability and comity has not been detailed.
"The Israelis are counting on the lesson that will be learned from taking on Saddam Hussein," said Rep. Gary L. Ackerman, the Queens Democrat, who met here last week with some of Israel's security leaders. "This is the whipping boy theory." According to this theory, he explained, a prince who misbehaves mends his ways after courtiers demonstrate the possible punishment on a poor boy — Iraq — dragged off the streets.
The problem, Mr. Ackerman said, is that mere examples and even saber-rattling may not do the trick. "What do you then do?" he asked. "March on Iran?"
Mark Heller, a senior researcher at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, said that no one expected the Americans to march on Iran. Rather, he said, the potential engine for change would be the example of a transformed Iraq.
"It's at least conceivable that Al Jazeera will end up showing pictures of Iraqis celebrating in the streets, in which case people in other places — like Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt — are going to start saying, `If Iraqis deserve decent government, so do we.'"
Israeli officials say that only sustained American pressure can turn this hope into reality. Mr. Mofaz warned that, without continued attention to the rest of the region, an Iraqi collapse could in fact strengthen Iran.
As they look ahead to the aftermath of an Iraq war, Israeli officials are also considering how the Bush administration's present diplomatic struggle could help or hurt them. A top Israeli official predicted that after the war would come a fork in the road for American policy and "a battle for the heart and mind" of President Bush.
He said that the administration might try to mend relations with Arab and European nations by wringing concessions from Israel toward the Palestinians.
But he said it was more likely that rising American frustration with Europe would work to Israel's benefit.
Mr. Sharon has been alarmed by the recent efforts of the so-called Quartet — the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia — to intervene in the conflict here. Mr. Sharon would much prefer to deal only with the United States, regarding the other players as less supportive of Israel's interests.
The top Israeli official said that the Quartet may prove a "casualty" of an Iraqi war.
"The idea of using the Quartet as the great instrument of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — there are people in Washington [i.e. Israeli-firsters] who are going to say, `What do we need these people for?' " he said.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company