Bush's Desire for a Conflict With Iran Is A Crisis Made in Israel
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The following is an excerpt from Scott Ritter's new book " Target Iran: The Truth About the White House's Plans for Regime Change" (Nation Books, 2006).
To understand Israel's present stance on Iran, perhaps the best place to begin is at Yad Vashem, Israel's main Holocaust museum and memorial. It is at Yad Vashem that Israelis reflect on the very reason there is a modern Israeli state, namely because of the genocidal forces that brought so much suffering upon the Jewish people in the past century. Modern Israelis are also reminded here of the political forces that continue to seek the elimination of not only the Jews, but also Israel itself.
Recognizing the powerful influence that the Holocaust plays on the psyche of Israel is not just important in terms of understanding why Israel would never tolerate the existence of forces opposed to its survival, but also how an issue of such emotional depth has the potential to poison an environment, to the point that Israel and its supporters can support policies that can end up being exploited for purposes that are detrimental to the long-term survival and prosperity of the Israeli state.
Anyone who has visited Israel as an official guest, as I have done a number of times, has been provided a tour of that tiny nation, and as such can sense Israel's perceived vulnerability. There is a certain paranoia that dominates the Israeli psyche, one that is not without some merit. The high number of suicide attacks bears witness to the reality that there are in fact organizations and people "out there" who seek to do harm to the state of Israel and the Israeli people.
It should come as no surprise then that senior Israeli politicians chose Yad Vashem as the place from which to make clear the Israeli policy regarding Iran's nuclear ambitions. On this year's Holocaust Remembrance Day two Iranian-born Jews delivered these remarks. "I call on the Western world to not stand silently in the face of the nations that are trying to acquire nuclear weapons and [who] preach the destruction of the State of Israel," Israeli President Moshe Katsav remarked during prepared remarks made at Yad Vashem. On the same day, at the opening of the Center for Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University, outgoing Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz highlighted Israel's contention that Iran had funded terror groups operating inside the Palestinian territories with close to $10 million in financial assistance since the start of 2006. Mr. Mofaz went on to say that the Israeli policy should be focused on seeking the demise of the current regime in Tehran.
However, there is an element of hypocrisy inherent in the Israeli position. Israel possesses nuclear weapons capabilities that were acquired surreptitiously, and fields a force of modern ballistic missiles capable of firing nuclear warheads into not only Iran, but also every other nation in the region. The irony of Israel, a nation born of the Holocaust and alone among Middle Eastern nations in possessing the holocaust-generating power of nuclear weapons, condemning Iran for its rhetoric while itself espousing the demise of the Iranian government, is lost on few outside of Israel and the United States, and for a large part explains why the legitimacy of the Israeli concerns about Iran to a large extent fall on deaf ears.
The reality of the Holocaust (from an historical perspective) and the concept of the Holocaust (regarding Israel's future) dominate the national security thinking of the Israeli state. It is wrong to characterize the emotions and beliefs of over five million people in the person of a single individual, especially when it comes to the issue of Israel's national security, Iraq and Iran. However, there is one man who has so dominated these issues for over the past decade that it is impossible to speak of these issues without referring to his name over and over again -- Amos Gilad.
When meeting Amos Gilad, it is at first hard to imagine such serious matters being rolled up into the personage of such a man. He is medium height, with a thinning shock of white hair, possessing a soft, pudgy frame, and pale skin reflective of a career indoors, rummaging through papers and sitting through briefings; one would be hard pressed equating the physical impression of the man with the near-mythological status he holds as one of Israel's premier spymasters. But when the man speaks, and in doing so exposes his intellect to his audience, the physical no longer matters as the sharp insights and analytical capacity of Amos Gilad becomes clear. Whether one agrees with his assessments or not, there is no escaping the fact that with his soft but firm voice and direct presentation, Amos Gilad projects confidence.
This confidence is born of an adult lifetime spent in the service of the Israel Defense Force, serving as an officer within the Aman, or Military Intelligence. Born in 1954 to a father who immigrated from Czechoslovakia to Israel in 1939, and a mother who was a survivor of the Holocaust, Amos Gilad had the history of the persecution and near-extermination of Europe's Jews seared into his being from youth. The legend of Amos Gilad tells of how he wrote a paper on Auschwitz which involved research so detailed that it enabled the young Amos to correct any errors in stories told by camp survivors. A serious student, he enlisted in the Officer's Candidate Academic Studies Program upon graduating from high school, allowing him to earn a Master's Degree in Political Science from the University of Haifa before going on active duty.
With his advanced degree and sharp intellect, Gilad was a natural for assignment to Military Intelligence. He entered military service in the aftermath of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and as such joined an intelligence branch stinging from the embarrassment of failed analysis, a process which has taken on the shameful title of "konseptsia," from the Hebrew word for conception, a derogatory reference to the pre-1973 assessment of the head of Israeli Military Intelligence at the time, Eli Za'ira, who "conceived" that Egypt would not launch an attack against Israel, ignoring a huge amount of intelligence the contrary. In the aftermath of Eli Za'ira's konseptsia, the Aman put in place analytical checks and balances throughout the military intelligence system in order to make sure that never again would Israel fall victim to assessments void of fact.
The rigorous training in the art of intelligence paid off. In 1978, as a junior officer, Amos Gilad made a name for himself when he accurately predicted a PLO terror attack along the Israeli seacoast. In 1982, by now a major, he became embroiled in Israel's invasion of Lebanon. Assigned to the Aman's research branch, Gilad was very critical of Israel's close ties with the Lebanese Christian Phalangist militias. Major Gilad predicted that Israel's decision to allow the Phalangist militia into the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila would result in the massacre of the civilian population. On the night of September 16, 1982, Amos Gilad arrived at a forward command post near Beirut, and started immediately to send warnings of an impending slaughter back to his higher headquarters. His warnings were ignored, largely because analysts in the rear headquarters believed that Gilad was responding to a gut feeling, rather than hard fact?
The official investigation into the role of the Israel Defense Force (IDF) in Sabra and Shatila revealed that Major Gilad was acting on far more than gut feeling; he had overheard conversations between Israeli officers that indicated that a massacre was underway. The horrible events at Sabra and Shatila left a mark on Amos Gilad, making him not only more cognizant of the soundness of his analytical thinking, but the absolute requirement to press this analysis home in the face of doubters or bureaucratic inaction. Gilad worked his way through various assignments within the Aman, until fate had him, by this time a Colonel, serving as the head of the Iraq desk on the eve of the escalation of tensions with Iraq over its nuclear program, Saddam's subsequent threat to "burn half of Israel" with a chemical weapon, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and the American build-up in Saudi Arabia in response. As the head of the Iraq desk, Amos Gilad monitored Iraqi military developments continuously, and would brief his findings to the Director of Military Intelligence, and more often than not, to the Defense Minister and Prime Minister.
At the time of Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, the United States, through the Department of Defense, maintained an intelligence sharing program with the IDF, which operated under the code name Ice Castle. While the history of modern U.S.-Israeli intelligence sharing programs have as their genesis the tumultuous period surrounding the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the specifics of the Ice Castle program were tied to the crisis of Spring 1990, when Israeli intelligence detected a resurgence of activity within Iraq related to nuclear matters, prompting Israeli politicians to publicly speculate about a repeat of the 1982 attack by Israel on the Osirak nuclear reactor outside of Baghdad, an action that many today believe retarded Saddam Hussein's nuclear ambitions by over a decade.
Iraq, for its part, put Israel on notice that any such attack by Israel would result in an Iraqi counterattack, including the use of chemical weapons that would, according to Saddam Hussein, "burn half of Israel." The Ice Castle program revolved around Israel's concerns relating to Iraqi capabilities to launch such an attack, and U.S. intelligence data, specifically satellite photographs of western Iraq, was provided to Israel (via Israeli liaison officers dispatched to Washington, D.C.) to help detect any suspicious Iraqi activity in the deserts of western Iraq. Of specific concern for the Israelis were Iraqi SCUD missiles, armed with chemical warheads, which when operating from locations in western Iraq would be able to range all of Israel. In the period of heightened tensions between Israel and Iraq that followed into the summer of 1990, the Ice Castle cooperation detected a surge of ballistic missile related activity in western Iraq on the part of the Iraqi military, including the establishment of numerous fixed-arm missile launchers oriented toward Israel, and the survey of missile launch sites for Iraq's mobile SCUD launchers.
Theory quickly became reality when, following Iraq's August 1990 invasion of Kuwait, the Iraqi military deployed nearly a dozen chemical warhead-tipped SCUD missiles to the deserts of western Iraq. Even as U.S. forces surged into the Middle East in the months following the Iraqi invasion, Israel pushed the United States for more information on the Iraqi missile threat. However, the U.S. planning priority had shifted away from dealing with an Israeli-centric issue revolving around missile threats in western Iraq, to a larger matter of assembling a large, multi-national coalition comprising many key Arab allies, which would not only defend the eastern oil fields of Saudi Arabia from the threat of expanded Iraqi incursions, but also launch a counterattack designed to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi occupation. Israel's concerns were no longer America's concerns, so much so that Ice Castle imagery was diverted to U.S. military planners (myself included), while Israeli liaison officers sat empty handed in Pentagon briefing rooms.
Israeli military and political leaders grew increasingly irritated by the lack of U.S. sensitivity regarding what they viewed as a serious threat to Israeli security. Many in Israel talked of an Israeli preemptive strike on Iraq, but were pressured by the United States to stand down so as to do nothing that could be detrimental to the Arab-heavy coalition being assembled in Saudi Arabia to confront Iraq. On January 13, 1991, a U.S. delegation led by Assistant Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger went so far as to guarantee that after the second day of military action against Iraq, no Iraqi missiles would ever impact on Israeli soil.
This lack of American attention took on considerable political consequence when, in January 1991, Iraq fired SCUD missiles from western Iraq into Israeli cities following the initiation of military action on the part of a U.S.-led coalition designed to liberate Kuwait. In the early morning hours of January 17, the Israeli seaport of Haifa was struck, in rapid succession, by three Iraqi SCUD missiles. Two missiles impacted in the sea off the city proper, exploding on contact with the water. The third missile struck a shopping mall under construction, located near the checkpoint for the northern entrance to Haifa. Fortunately, the shopping mall was empty, most people had left their apartments for bomb shelters, and there were no casualties.
Shortly after the missile attack in Haifa, five more SCUD missiles struck Tel Aviv. The first missile exploded in the air over the suburb of Afeka, spreading debris over the trajectory flight path. The second missile struck a civilian factory structure in Azur, destroying that building. The third missile impacted in the Ezra quarter of Tel Aviv, completely destroying seventy-six housing apartments, and damaging nearly 1,000 more. It was this missile which caused most of the damage and all of the casualties in this first wave of missile attacks, wounding sixty-eight people, several seriously. Two more missiles fell over Tel Aviv that morning, one crashing into an orchard in Rishon Letzion, and the other exploding in the sky above Ganei Tikva.
But the damage had been done. For the first time in its post-1948 history, the heartland of Israel had been struck a heavy blow by the means of a deliberate attack by Arab military forces. Denied through American diplomacy the traditional Israeli defensive tactic of preemptive strike, and now facing the specter of dozens of wounded Israelis being rushed to hospitals amid the debris of their destroyed or damaged homes, all eyes in Israel turned to their military for swift and effective retribution.
Watch Amy Goodman interview Scott Ritter on this subject, HERE.
Scott Ritter served as chief U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 until his resignation in 1998. He is the author of, most recently, Target Iran: The Truth About the White House's Plans for Regime Change (Nation Books, 2006) and Iraq Confidential: The Untold Story of the Intelligence Conspiracy to Undermine the U.N. and Overthrow Saddam Hussein (Nation Books, 2005).