- JERUSALEM - It echoes the
hawks in the Bush administration, but Israel has its own agenda in backing
a US attack on Iraq. As Egypt and other Arab allies issue vehement warnings
to dissuade Washington, Israel's fear is that the US will back off.
- "If the Americans do not do this now," said
Israeli Deputy Defense Minister and Labor Party member Weizman Shiry on
Wednesday, "it will be harder to do it in the future. In a year or
two, Saddam Hussein will be further along in developing weapons of mass
destruction. It is a world interest, but especially an American interest
to attack Iraq."
- "And as deputy defense minister, I can tell you
that the United States will receive any assistance it needs from Israel,"
- Viewed through the eyes of Israel's hawkish leaders,
however, a US strike is not about Iraq only. Decisionmakers believe it
will strengthen Israel's hand on the Palestinian front and throughout the
region. Deputy Interior Minister Gideon Ezra suggested this week that a
US attack on Iraq will help Israel impose a new order, sans Arafat, in
the Palestinian territories.
- "The more aggressive the attack is, the more it
will help Israel against the Palestinians. The understanding would be that
what is good to do in Iraq, is also good for here," said Ezra. He
said a US strike would "undoubtedly deal a psychological blow"
to the Palestinians.
- The Palestinian Authority, for its part, is concerned
that a US action would elicit Israeli echoes in the West Bank and Gaza
Strip. "I'm afraid that with a government like Sharon's that is not
restrained, the situations during a war might allow them to do more atrocities
than now," says PA leader Ghassan Khatib. "This could mean more
killing, more demolition of houses, more tightening of occupation."
He added that some Palestinians are worried about an Israeli "transfer"
(a forced removal of the Palestinian population.)
- Israel, Iraq, and the Palestinians have had a complex
relationship since the 1991 Gulf War, when Baghdad lobbed 39 Scud missiles
into Israel. At least one Israeli was killed, and the strikes were believed
to have contributed to dozens of fatal heart attacks. Some Palestinians
in the West Bank cheered the strikes from their roofs.
- In the view of Bar-Ilan University political scientist
Menachem Klein, "it is too pessimistic to think that under cover of
an attack on Iraq and in an atmosphere of Palestinian pro-Saddam demonstrations,
Israel can transfer out the Palestinian population. What Israel can do
is to expel Arafat and completely destroy the Palestinian Authority."
- Yuval Steinitz, a Likud party member of the Knesset's
Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, says he sees another advantage for
Israel. The installation of a pro-American government in Iraq would help
Israel vis-¦-vis another enemy: Syria.
- "After Iraq is taken by US troops and we see a new
regime installed as in Afghanistan, and Iraqi bases become American bases,
it will be very easy to pressure Syria to stop supporting terrorist organizations
like Hizbullah and Islamic Jihad, to allow the Lebanese army to dismantle
Hizbullah, and maybe to put an end to the Syrian occupation in Lebanon,"
he says. "If this happens we will really see a new Middle East."
- "It might be enough not to invade Syria but just
to have an American or UN blockade so that no one can ship weapons to it,"
- Mr. Ezra predicts a US strike would "calm down the
entire region" by eliminating "the extremism of Saddam."
- But some independent Israeli analysts fear things might
work out differently. Dave Kimche, a former director-general of the Israeli
Foreign Ministry, said that while Iraqi nuclear weapons would pose a "mortal
danger," an American attack's fallout on the region could harm Israel.
"It could be very dangerous for Israel if Jordan were to collapse,"
he said of Israel's eastern neighbor, which signed a peace treaty in 1994
that is opposed by much of its population. An American strike might also
harm Israel by "radicalizing the Palestinian street and weakening
the more responsible elements," he said.
- Israeli doves, preoccupied with the issues of the Israeli-Palestinian
confrontation, have thus far not made much noise about the government's
stance toward an American strike against Iraq. But Zehava Galon, a liberal
member of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, says, "It
is hard to understand the government's fervor. This is an American matter
and not one we should be involving ourselves in. The Europeans are making
clear there is no coalition, while we are pushing for a war. Beyond that,
Israel is going to get hit if there is a war."