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If he is attacked by the Americans, Saddam Hussein will respond with an attack on Israel, just as he did in 1991 - this is the assessment in the United States. It must also be taken into account that in this case, the Iraqis will use weapons of mass destruction. According to one assessment presented to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, if Israel incurs heavy losses in an attack by weapons of mass destruction, it will retaliate with atomic weapons on Iraqi targets. Such a grave Israeli response is not automatic, but would depend on the losses it suffers. Toward this end, Israel has already carried out very extensive air maneuvers.

Western intelligence services, as well as Israeli intelligence services, have no information that Saddam posseses nuclear weaponry at present. However, there is general agreement that the Iraqis have a relatively large quantity of chemical weaponry and of jet propellants that will ensure the explosion of a chemical warhead on a missile at a certain altitude, as opposed to hitting the ground or a hard object. The most important effort is in the production of "dry" and coated biological weaponry (for example, anthrax) that can easily be stored, instead of "wet" biological weaponry.

Military expert Dr. Anthony Cordesman, who recently testified before the U.S. Senate on a possible war with Iraq, noted that the lethal potential of "dry" biological weaponry is immense and could approach that of nuclear weaponry.

As for missiles, the assessment is that Iraq still has about 70 to 80 Scud and Al-Hussein missiles. The UN has permitted it to have rockets with a range of up to 150 kilometers. After the UN inspection of Iraq was stopped, the Iraqis continued to develop missiles and chemical and biological weapons. In the last test they conducted of a rocket with a range that is not supposed to exceed 150 kilometers, they "erred": The rocket was launched a distance of about 200 kilometers.

According to information in the hands of American intelligence, and as Cordesman testified in the Senate, for a while now, the Iraqis have been trying develop pilotless planes that will carry chemical and biological payloads and be operated by remote control. To this end, they have tried to adapt a jet training aircraft that they purchased in Europe (an L-29), as well as one of the models of the Mig-21 which is in the hands of the Iraqi air force.

This is just some of the evidence of the preparations that have not ceased in Iraq in the area of the development of nonconventional weapons, as well as of preparations for defense against an American attack. The preparations are being made in many areas: from acquisition of arms, spare parts and equipment, in many cases via Syria, which transfers the arms to Iraq through its ports, to sending Iraqi experts to get information from the Serbs about the bombardments by the Americans and the NATO air forces during the Kosovo War.

In this way, the Serbs are returning a favor: Before the Kosovo War, they went to Iraq to hear details about the American bombardments in the Gulf War. This advice was not of much use. The Iraqis were able to learn that the quantity of bombardments had increased considerably since the Gulf War: If in that war, 7 to 8 percent of the bombs dropped by the Americans were "smart bombs," in the Kosovo War, the proportion rose to about 56 percent.

The coalition

The expected war on Iraq was the subject of discussion on several occasions between Israeli and American representatives. For example, in two of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's meetings with U.S. President George W. Bush, Sharon said that although there was a real possibility that Israel would be hurt when this war begins, it unreservedly supports the American move.

As in 1991, Israel has not been asked to join the international coalition for a war on Iraq nor is it offering to do so. The decision is "not to butt in." This does not mean that Israel will not find itself in the midst of the hullabaloo. As opposed to the case of other countries, this does not depend on Israel but on Saddam Hussein.

At a certain stage, Israel feared that Washington would apply pressure for exaggerated Israeli concessions on the Palestinian issue, in order to enable itself to promote an inter-Arab coalition against Saddam Hussein. This was the tendency of some of the heads of the American administration, but the Palestinians' murderous terrorism has lifted this pressure off Israel. There was a stage at which the voices prevailed of people at the Pentagon who argued that these were two separate trajectories and that the one should not be made contingent on the other. This question will return to the agenda after the war.

In 1991, at the end of the war, the Israeli-Arab conflict was brought up for thorough discussion at the Madrid conference. The Sharon government would almost certainly want the fight against terror in the Middle East not to be limited to a war on Iraq, but it is doubtful that the prime minister would like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be in the forefront again. Other voices are seeking some way out of the conflict and arguing that this has to be an Israeli interest.

Meanwhile, Israel is going along with the anti-Iraqi coalition that is being formed with difficulty on the side of the United States. Outwardly and in public statements, it looks as though Washington has no partner in the war against Saddam Hussein. This is not the whole picture. Although there is no similarity to the situation in 1991 after the occupation of Kuwait, behind the scenes, secret negotiations are going on. Statements in the media are one thing and strategic agreements are another. The negotiations with Turkey, which is a key state in this war, are drawing to a conclusion and involve very extensive foreign aid. And no less important: It appears that agreements have been reached with Jordan, as well as with Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman.

The timing

As in the United States, the basic assumption in Israel is that the American attack on Iraq will lead to an Iraqi attack on Israel in its wake, but it is not clear what weapons Saddam Hussein will use. Will the Iraqi ruler decide to break the rules of the game?

On the basis of this assumption, Israel has asked two important things of Washington. One is to be informed as early as possible of the beginning of the American attack. Israel has stipulated a certain amount of advance warning. The Americans were surprised and wanted to know why exactly Israel was asking to know relatively early about the attack. It is doubtful that the Israeli request will be granted in full.

The second request is that the United States place special emphasis in the first phase of the war on hitting Iraqi missiles in western Iraq. In 1991, the Americans ascribed secondary importance to the western part of the country, and the launching of Iraqi missiles from there continued almost until the end of the war. As there is a danger that the Iraqis will use weapons of mass destruction, the Israeli request takes on another dimension.

Deterrence

Is it possible to deter Saddam Hussein? The intention is overall deterrence - and deterrence against the use of weapons of mass destruction, in particular. It would appear that in the situation that has developed, if a war begins, Saddam will feel that he is "going for broke." If the American message is that, in any case, the intention is to get rid of him or to kill him and hit his family and his heirs, then there is nothing that will deter him from harsh counter-actions. Thus, he will be in the Samson situation of "May I die with the Philistines." First, he will do everything he can to deter the Americans and their potential partners from war. If a war does begin, he will have nothing to lose and will attack Israel, which he sees as the enemy of all the Arabs.

Another possible Iraqi response is to destabilize Jordan; to strike at key figures in the state and to cause riots there with the help of the Palestinians. The chances of an Iraqi invasion of Jordan are small, as its forces would be vulnerable to massive attacks from the air as they move, exposed, through the desert. Moreover, an invasion of Jordan would be a repetition of the mistake Saddam made in 1990 in Kuwait. It is reasonable to suppose that the Americans have worked on a plan to aid Jordan.

In the meantime, there is a war of nerves going on between the two sides. For his part, Saddam Hussein is now concentrating on the question of how to ensure that the Americans do not succeed in their attack, so that the war will be chalked up as a victory for Iraq and for him, in particular. It is clear that if an American attack develops and a clear victory over Saddam is not ensured, it would be best to refrain from action at the moment until better conditions for victory develop. If the United States fails militarily - and Saddam should survive and stay in power - the results could be devastating for Jordan, Egypt, the Gulf States and, of course, Israel.

The issue of deterring Iraq is not at all a limited and personal move against Saddam Hussein alone. The deterrence should include a broad stratum of the senior Iraqi command. These people need to know, even before the war breaks out, that if they follow orders to operate weapons of mass destruction, each of them will be considered personally responsible and will be tried as a war criminal. As for Saddam, there are those who believe that at a certain stage, it would be worthwhile to send him a message that in special circumstances, if he were to relinquish his rule, it would be possible to find asylum for him in some other country.

The response

In any case, if this time too Iraq hits Israel, Israel will not refrain from a military response. This is another Israeli basic assumption and it was noted in the discussions with the American administration. In his meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer also said that Israel would not restrain itself after an Iraqi attack.

In 1991, the United States exercised means of persuasion, along with aid, so that Israel would not respond. This time, the Israeli considerations are altogether different. In the Gulf War, Israel was told that a military response on its part against Iraq would undermine the inter-Arab coalition. This time around, this coalition does not exist. It was also said at the time that action by Israeli planes over Iraq could cause hitches in American action. However, Israeli representatives have said that there is a readiness for full operational coordination with the American forces.

Great emphasis is being placed this time on Israel's deterrent capability after, in 1991, debate ensued as to whether not having responded to the launching of missiles into its territories had harmed its deterrent capability. President Ezer Weizman thought so at the time. Today almost everyone agrees that if Israel refrains this time from reacting to an Iraqi strike, its deterrent power will be very much eroded. This would certainly be interpreted by its enemies as basic weakness and as an invitation to taunt it at every opportunity. This is also the reason that, in the case of a military response against Iraq, Israel must not make do with a simple "visit" to western Iraq. It must do everything so that the retaliatory action will make its mark in the Iraqi memory and in the Arab memory as a whole. This would certainly be the case if there is an Iraqi attack on Israel with weapons of mass destruction. If there is such a strike, it cannot expect that others, or the international community, will act on its behalf.

An Israeli military response against Iraq raises an important question concerning Jordan. The most convenient and shortest way for Israeli planes to fly east toward Iraq is through Jordanian skies, if Israel chooses to respond that way. However, an Israeli aerial action east of the Jordan River would necessitate quiet coordination with Jordan - and the determination of a different flight route. Israel has no interest in hurting Jordan and its stability.

The strike

And what will happen if there is no war? According to the way President Bush has presented America's aims, it is clear that if his country retreats from its plans and its warnings, its prestige and its status in the Middle East will suffer a severe blow. It is reasonable to assume that once the threat of war is no longer hanging over his head, Saddam Hussein will continue rapidly to develop his capabilities in the area of nonconventional weapons.

In such a situation, Iran will conclude that it is only a matter of time, and apparently not very much time, before Saddam Hussein completes his development of nuclear weaponry. This will spur Iran to accelerate its plans for nuclear weaponry of its own. If India and Pakistan can possess nuclear weapons with impunity and the sanctions on them are lifted, and if Saddam also allows himself to develop nuclear weaponry with impunity, even though this is a clear violation of UN Security Council decisions - why should Iran not do something similar? In this way, it will ensure the regional status it feels it deserves and will also be taking an important defensive step.

The significance of this for Israel is that the danger from the direction of Iraq, if its production of nonconventional weapons is not damaged, will increase even further within several years. Hence, Israel is in a situation in which its security situation could be worse in a few years both from the direction of Iraq and from the direction of Iran, if Saddam Hussein maintains his status and is not hurt.

Meanwhile, the debate in the United States is only beginning. About 10 days ago, the open discussion began in Congress. Before that, the reports were based mostly on leaks having to do with operational plans.

It turns out that the Americans' overall strategy is not only focusing on the operational side. A key question in the eyes of the American planners is how to avoid a situation in which America will have to occupy Iraq and leave an occupying force there for a long time. This, too, could be a recipe for disaster, even if the military move is successful. This is especially so if the Americans inflict many losses on the Iraqi population. And there is also another question: If Saddam Hussein is deposed - how can it be ensured that he will not be replaced by another dangerous ruler?

Israel should have an interest in the questions that deviate from the military aspect. The Israeli interest is deposing Saddam Hussein and reducing the dangers inherent in the Iraqi war machine. However, it has no interest in the war causing other shocks in the region. It has no interest in Turkey feeling that its "red line" on the Kurdish issue has been crossed and that it has to send its army into action to capture territories in northern Iraq.

Therefore, it would seem that Israel has no interest in the dismantling of Iraq, but it does have an interest in the country being more democratic - insofar as this is possible in the Middle East and in Arab countries - and in having the various minorities in the state being represented in the Iraqi regime.

The defeat of Saddam Hussein could be an important chapter in the achievement of stability in the Middle East. However, this is a chapter after which, as far as Israel is concerned, there are further chapters - such as dealing with Hezbollah, which is doing all it can to thwart any chance of peace with Israel. A victory over the Iraq of Saddam Hussein could also be an important catalyst for the renewal of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The defeat of Saddam cannot be a substitute for the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, or even a reason to postpone it.