The war in Iraq has polarised Washington's
political class

The fall of Baghdad broke the spine of the Syria-Iraq-Iran axis, created a progressive oasis in a desert of anti-Western states and will set in motion the project of liberalising the region and creating more Israel-like democracies.

Or so at least say proponents of the Iraq war.

Now, with the unravelling of law and order in post-Saddam Iraq appearing to confound expectations of a smooth transfer of power, another school of thought is emerging.

The fall of Baghdad, this theory says, was just the first step in a series of moves instigated by a pro-Israel group within the Bush administration that will promote Israel's geostrategic goals, allow a majority of US and British companies to profit from Iraq's reconstruction and administration and ultimately lead to the further repression of the region's peoples by their Western-backed governments.

Long the conviction of Arab commentators, the belief that Israel might be behind the US-led campaign in Iraq has increasingly gained credence in European and liberal American circles.

Leaping beyond the pages of left-wing, establishment newspapers such as Le Monde and The Guardian, the argument that the Israel stands to gain from a pro-Western administration in Iraq has splashed continental journals.

Doubts in Washington

In the States, speculation on what benefits lie in store for Israel has bounced around the pages of a variety of publications, from the liberal New York Times to the hallowed pages of the American Conservative.

The New York Times editorialised that the choice of Iraq was "no accident".

Iraq: "A demonstration of the new,
Clausewitzian concept of war as the
continuation of diplomacy"

"The reason Iraq was chosen is that it was relatively weak, because the possibility of getting mired there was small. Hence, it was ideal for a demonstration of the new Clausewitzian concept of war as the continuation of diplomacy."

 

The paper quoted Israeli strategic analysts saying that regime change in Baghdad brings to "an end to any future Iraqi nuclear threat and a possible move by other Arab enemies to avoid confrontation with Israel now that its best friend has muscled its way into the neighbourhood.”

Rashid Khalidi, a Palestinian-American academic who edits the Journal for Palestine Studies, sees an unquestionable link between US President George Bush’s closest advisers and Israel’s national interests.

“The triumphalist wing of the US administration are soulmates of the Sharon government. The hawks who brought us the war in Iraq are former advisors to the Likud party.”

In a February opinion article in The Washington Post, New Republic senior editor Lawrence Kaplan also highlighted Israel's role in the impending conflict.

"How the Bush administration has arrived at the brink of war with Saddam Hussein, and to what extent Israeli influence has brought it there, is a legitimate question about which there is ample room for disagreement," he wrote.

Thomas Stauffer, a lecturer at the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute, wrote in Middle East International that the intimate group of advisers around President Bush have an agenda that goes beyond ‘conservatism’.

“They are typically designated as “neoconservatives”, but that is a misleading euphemism for a small cabal with intimate links both to Israel and Israeli espionage against the US,” he wrote.

The Israeli connection went from lingering comments to being put squarely on the table when Patrick Buchanan, writing in the American Conservative, bluntly states that "a cabal of polemicists and public officials seek to ensnare our country in a series of wars that are not in America's interest. We charge them with colluding with Israel to ignite those wars and destroy the Oslo accords. We charge them with deliberately damaging US relations with every state in the Arab world.* 

Peres: “Just the beginning”

In Israel, a country far more liberal in discussing such ‘taboo’ topics than the US, the debate was high-profile in public forums well before the military campaign kicked off. Even former prime minister Shimon Peres told Israel’s Channel One Television that "the war in Iraq is just the beginning."

"Problems of the first magnitude can be expected thereafter, as well: Iran, North Korea, and Libya. The problem is, can you simply abandon the world to dictators, to weapons of mass destruction?"

Asked if that meant America might then be facing as many as five or six years of war at this point, Peres replied, "That is very possible. I don't know how long it will take, but the problem is a global one, and it will not end in Iraq, even if a new regime is instituted – say a regime like Jordan's, not a democracy, but orderly and responsible rule."

Haaretz noted in a recent editorial that “From certain points of view, the invasion worked in Israel's favour. The work of the just is always done by others. Iraq, despite all the bombastic pronouncements by President Bush, is not a strategic threat to the United States or to the free world, but it is definitely a threat to Israel. That threat has been removed, more or less.”

The US Army has been accused of
advancing Israel's strategic goals

But the elimination of Iraq is a double-edged sword that brings with it a US military presence in the region and “dramatically lowers Israel's stock as a strategic asset.” Calling Israel “a most obedient and faithful vassal” of the US, Haaretz adds that “American readiness to go on paying so as to extricate us from the morass in which we are mired will be diminished.”

Getting in on post-war rebuilding

Barely had US troops occupied the whole of Iraq, that Israel moved in to capitalise on the regional realignment by promoting its companies in the race to secure contracts for Iraq’s restructuring.

The Israeli daily Maariv reported that Israeli companies are in negotiations with US and British firms to be a part of the rebuilding of Iraq's infrastructure.

Although the article did not mention specific companies involved in seeking to be part of the estimated $100 billion rebuilding project now that Saddam Hussein's government has fallen, it did say that they were in the electronics, communications and construction sectors.

Maariv said Israeli companies have already turned to USAID, the American aid agency dealing with contracts for reconstruction work.

But by far the most ambitious initiative to have been discussed has been the possible restarting of an oil pipeline from Mosul to Haifa that was shut 55 years ago.

The project - should it get beyond the planning stages - would send Iraqi oil from Mosul to the northern Israeli port of Haifa, reducing Israel's fuel costs by 25 percent.

But the assumption that a pro-Western government will be set up following the US-led war may be a bridge too far.

The day after tomorrow

Now, Israel seems to be directing the US military machine towards new enemies. US neutralisation of a possible threat from Syria is being touted as a spur for the Israelis to restart peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

Forward, a liberal, New York-based Jewish magazine, reported that Israeli government sources in Washington are trying to turn the Pentagon’s focus onto Hizbullah. The magazine quoted Israeli government warnings directed at American officials that the Shia organisation that forced the Israeli army into ending its 22-year occupation of Lebanon, will destabilise the whole region if not stopped immediately.

“Hizbullah can easily flare up Israel’s northern border and drag us into a war with Syria,” said an Israeli diplomat in Washington. “This is potentially very dangerous.”

Not so, says Khalidi, who argues that Israeli strategists know full well that no Arab country is a match for the Israeli army.

“Although Israel does have concerns about the military potential of Iran, the government knows full well how weak Syria is.”

"No chance": Israel's military has little to
fear from Syria

Khalidi argues that Syria has “no chance” against Israel which is “a nuclear power with complete air superiority and a formidable military. Syria has barely been able to keep its own forces modernised let alone match the Israeli army.”

“This talk is aimed at simply scaring naïve, foolish and easily stampeded Americans into doing their dirty work for them. Whereas Iran does have considerable strategic potential, it doesn’t have the useful capacity to project its power,” Khalidi says.

Forward notes that “working level” talks have been held “between the two countries on post-war priorities,” suggesting that cooperation between the US and Israel is being held at the highest levels. Two senior Israeli government officials, National Security Advisor Efraim Halevy and the prime minister's bureau chief Dov Weisglass, visited Washington in April to discuss the region in the aftermath of the Iraq war.

Sources quoted in the Forward piece say that one plausible scenario “would be an American green light for Israeli strikes against Hizbullah targets in southern Lebanon.”

“Clearly, we would have to work together closely on this one,” one Washington-based Israeli diplomat is quoted as saying.

Tel Aviv’s efforts to direct US President George Bush’s zig-zagging "war on terrorism" against Israel’s enemies have found fertile ground in Washington. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has said that Hizbullah “is on the list, their time will come. They have a blood debt to us and… we’re not going to forget it,” referring to several anti-American attacks for which the group has claimed credit.

Calling the US a “high school wrestler,” Armitage believes that “in good time we’re going to go after these problems… we’re going to take [them] down one at a time.”