For all who yet don’t understand what we mean to do, President Bush sent a message to government sponsors of terrorism last week in his speech to the American Enterprise Institute. He announced a new vision for the Middle East, an American vision that brings peace and democracy and above all ends the threat of terrorism that so many governments there feed, fuel and fund. At least one terror sponsor understood the message. At last week’s summit of the Arab League, Syrian strongman Bashar Assad said the United States’ plan to remove Saddam Hussein was aimed to serve Israel’s interests and dominate the Middle East. “We are all targeted,” he said. “We are all in danger.” Congratulations, Mr. Assad. Too bad you have neither the sense nor the guts to make the choice the president has offered you. To end the terrorism it breeds and feeds, America must change the face of the Middle East. Sitting in the path of the next Desert Storm is Israel.
Israel today is a grim place. One friend who just returned from there told just me how grim. The Palestinian territories are now locked down because Israel expects Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah to strike it hard when our Iraq campaign begins. No one is allowed in or out. Israeli civilians are mobilized. They have been told to expect Iraqi missiles carrying chemical and biological weapons, and that they will have three minutes or less to take cover in sealed rooms. Sources who have spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and senior members of his government say that Sharon is deciding to respond, not preempt. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lives may be lost as a result of that decision.
President Bush sees — correctly — the need to preempt the threat of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. Hollywoodenheads — such as “Left Wing” star Martin Sheen — who oppose the war also oppose preemption. In the new battle of the celebrity commercials, Sheen says inspections work and war won’t. Answering Sheen, “Law and Order” star and former Senator Fred Thompson tells us why preemption is vital. Those who oppose preemption — says Thompson in the ad — ask what Saddam has done to us. Thompson’s answer: before 9-11, what had the hijackers done to us? Every nation’s right to self-defense includes the right to strike preemptively when the threat demands it.
That Israel could preempt the threat of Saddam’s missiles is fairly certain. Just as it preempted his nuclear program with the 1981 air strike on the Osirak reactor, Israel could at least reduce significantly the threat posed by the Scuds. But if Coalition special forces and airstrikes don’t wipe out Saddam’s Scuds in the first two hours of the war, they will be launched at Israel.
Israel’s second line of defense is its own Arrow antimissile system and the Patriot batteries on loan from us. No one expects Arrow and Patriot to function much better than they did in the 1991 Gulf War. Then, only one or two Scuds were hit by the antimissile systems. If one out of three is hit this time, the defense will have exceeded all expectations. Which means that two out of three will get through.
Saddam has about fifteen Scud batteries, and about six war shots for each. That’s about ninety missiles. If the spec ops guys now roaming western Iraq are smart and lucky, most or all of them will be destroyed before they launch. But what if two or three batteries escape? They can launch about eighteen missiles. If Arrow and Patriot take out one-third, about twelve will hit some target inside Israel or wherever our troops may be. If the missiles are armed with chemical or biological warheads as expected, twelve missiles could kill hundreds of our troops, and thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of Israeli civilians.
The mood in Israel is one of grim determination, even acceptance. It is the strangest of times. For the Israelis to accept the possibility of mass casualties without attempting preemption is simply not consistent with their history or their war plans up to this moment. There is only one explanation for it.
The Israelis can’t strike Iraq now because to do so would risk interfering in our war plan. If they put any significant forces in Iraq or strike at Saddam’s missiles, they could well throw us off schedule or even accidentally kill many of our troops. They are counting on us to defend them, and they are betting lives on our ability to do it. And they are setting the stage for a risky plan to end many of the other threats they face.
One source told me that if Israel is attacked with non-conventional weapons, or suffers mass casualties, the decision has already been made to destroy the Palestinian Authority, and kill Arafat. That same source confirmed that when Israel strikes against Hezbollah — the Syrian terror subsidiary that controls southern Lebanon — the Israelis will take the fight all the way to Damascus, and destroy Bashar Assad’s regime. If they do, we should applaud them for doing so. But not for killing Arafat, though he richly deserves it.
Israel has the same right against of preemption we have against Saddam, Hezbollah or Syria. But deciding to absorb mass casualties as the price for taking retaliatory action makes no sense. Those who would condemn Israel for taking preemptive action will only delay — not even moderate — their criticism of a responsive strike. Israel will buy neither peace with the Arabs nor the respect or support of Europe with its losses. And if it chooses to kill Arafat, Israel may give the radical Islamists a victory they desperately seek but cannot themselves achieve.
Saddam and Arafat — dead at the hands of Israel and the United States — will be martyrs for the radical Islamists to rally around. Even more, if Israel kills Arafat, that will make the radicals’ propaganda more credible when they say America is at war with the whole Arab world. Arafat is a bloody-handed terrorist. But he is worth much more to us alive than dead. If it were possible to capture both Saddam and Arafat and exile them to ridicule and ignominy, the fruits of our coming victory in Iraq would be magnified tenfold and they — and the ideology they represent — would be diminished. We will probably not have the chance to take Saddam alive. The Israelis have missed many opportunities to take Arafat and throw him out for good.
Rather than kill him, Israel should set up another chance to exile Arafat, and then banish him to some destination that itself reeks of irrelevance, shame and futility. How about Paris? Saddam delendus est.