Israelis debate regional picture of Middle East without Saddam Hussein.
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
1 ill a post-Saddam Middle East herald a
new promise of regional peke or dire
consequences for the Jewish state?
As the anticipated American show-
down with Iraq nears, the Israeli defense establishment
is sounding increasingly optimistic about the outcome.
Not only will war on Saddam Hussein remove a
potential nuclear, biological and chemical threat to
Israel, they say, it will also open up possibilities for
peace with the Palestinians, the Lebanese and possibly
even the Syrians.
Skeptics, however, warn that America's grand plans
for the Middle East might prove to be overly ambi-
tious and, if the United States bogs down trying to do
too much, the results for Israel could be disastrous.
And even if things don't go badly wrong, the skep-
tics say, the end result of U.S. military action could be
far less dramatic than Israel's leaders hope.
The debate is significant as Israelis grapple not only
with the immediate implications of a war against Iraq,
including the possibility that such a war could prompt
attacks against Israel itself, but the long-term impact as
The most upbeat assessment of the future so far has
come from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's national
security adviser Ephraim Halevy.
In a Feb. 9 address at the Munich Conference on
Security Policy, the former Mossad chief spoke of
"shock waves" from a post-Saddam Baghdad that
would have "wide-ranging effects in Teheran,
Damascus and Ramallah."
He also envisions a post-Yasser Arafat Palestinian
leadership negotiating in good faith with Israel, a pro-
gressive and prosperous Iraq rejoining the family of
nations, and Syria, no longer feeling a need to com-
pete with Iraq, loosening its ties with Iran.
This, in turn, Halevy said, could lead to a weaken-
ing of the Iranian hold in southern Lebanon, a Syrian
withdrawal from Lebanon, the disarmament of
Hezbollah and an eventual peace agreement between
Lebanon and Israel.
"Syria could feel comfortable in allowing Lebanon
true freedom, withdrawing the 30,000-odd Syrian sol-
diers from Lebanese territory and opening an embassy
in Beirut for the very first time since Lebanon's inde-
pendence," Halevy said.
"The departure of Syrian and Iranian forces from
Lebanese soil, accompanied by the disarmament of
Hezbollah, could enable Lebanon to make peace with
Halevy is not the only top Israeli security official to
speak in such an optimistic vein. The Israel Defense
Forces' chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Ydalon, foresees
a "regional earthquake" creating a "new regional order"
and predicted the end of the Palestinian intifada
"Remember," he said in an interview in Yediot
Achronot, "the last Palestinian intifada ended in 1991,
with the last Gulf War."
Amos Gilad, Israel's newly appointed "national com-
mentator" on the war with Iraq, called the imminent
American strike a "miracle." But how likely is the
anticipated American attack to
have the kind of impact Israeli
leaders are hoping for?
ed with the population throwing rice and flowers, and
ended with Hezbollah."
Even the skeptics don't deny that taking out Saddam
and his weapons of mass destruction would be a major
strategic boon for Israel. But they would like to see the
United States move out of Iraq as soon as the job is
Moreover, they don't deny that a regime change in
Iraq could put considerable pressure on the
Palestinians to move forward in negotiations with
Israel. Indeed, many Israeli aria-
, lysts believe Palestinian efforts to
re-engage Israel in cease-fire and
peace talks and to establish a
more pragmatic leadership stem
from a fear of being steamrollered
by the United States and Israel in
a post-Saddam Middle East.
Among the skeptics is Maj. Gen.
Ydakov Amidror, a former head of
army intelligence research, on
retirement leave from the IDF,
Role Of Arafat
and just back from a stint in the
The key, American, European and
United States as a fellow at the
Israeli leaders believe, is whether
Washington Institute for Near
Arafat, the Palestinian Authority
leader, steps aside. But some
Although a hawk, Amidror
Israeli officials are brushing aside
argues that American plans for
Arafat's Feb..14 promise to
remaking the Middle East
appoint a prime minister who
through a war in Iraq may be too
would assume most of the day-to-
optimistic and fail to achieve the
U.N. weapons inspectors pass by a
day operations of the Palestinian
hoped-for results. In particular, he
portrait of Iraqi President Saddam
is skeptical about American plans
They 'point out that although
to democratize Iraq and through a Hussein in his hometown of Tikrit.
the new Palestinian Constitution
ripple effect based on a successful
provides for the appointment of a
Iraqi model, democratize the
prime minister, it leaves most of the key powers in the
Middle East as a whole.
hands of Arafat, who would still have the final say on
The deep, underlying goal of the American move
against Iraq, Amidror says, is to neutralize global terror foreign policy and remain the commander in chief of
the Palestinian armed forces. With Arafat still at the
by turning the Middle East, the region where it flour-
helm, skeptics like Amidror say, nothing will go for-
ishes, into a conglomeration of more open, Western-
oriented societies in which Al Qaida-style terror would ward even after Saddam is removed from power in
have no breeding ground.
Similarly, Amidror questions Halevy's vision of
But this grand scheme, Amidror argues, is unlikely
quick progress in a post-Saddam era on Israel's north-
to succeed, and its failure could exacerbate tensions
ern border, with Syria, Lebanon and Hezbollah.
between the Arab world and the United States — and,
"Why should toppling Saddam weaken ties between
by extension, between the Arab world and Israel.
Syria and Iran, their presence in southern Lebanon
Others go further in their pessimism. Former
and their support for Hezbollah?" he asks.
Mossad chief Shabtai Shavit reportedly warned offi-
On the contrary, should things go wrong in the war
cials in the United States that a failed attempt to
with Iraq, Amidror foresees potential for an armed
democratize the Middle East could lead to major
regional instability. It could prove to be a recipe for all- showdown between Israel and Hezbollah. Then, he
says, Hezbollah — with an estimated 1,000 Katyusha
out war between the United States and the Muslim
rockets trained on Israeli targets — could be encour-
world, and a nightmare scenario for Israel, he said.
aged to attack.
Shlomo Brom, a senior researcher at Tel Aviv
The truth may turn out to be somewhere between
University's Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, gives an
Halevy's rosy optimism and Amidror's bleak caution.
example of how things could start to go wrong. "A
But one thing is certain: war in Iraq would create
U.S. military government in Iraq," he says, "would
new conditions in the Middle East and unleash new
strengthen the perception of the war as Western colo-
forces. How they affect Israel's position in the region
nialism in new clothing. The result will be similar to
remains to be seen. ❑
the Israeli experience in Lebanon in 1982, which start-