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Tomorrow, after Hans Blix, the head of the United Nations inspection team in Iraq, submits his interim report, time will again begin to run out on the world clock. The world's only female national security adviser will again warn Saddam Hussein about the consequences of noncompliance with the inspectors. But who will warn the rest of the world?

There is probably only one country in the world where the Iraq war is being treated in the same way as the seasons of the year: as a matter for forecasters. The war will break out in February or March? Which is more convenient, winter or spring? Because if America has decided that there should be a war, then a war there is going to be.

No questions are being raised in Israel concerning the need to fight Iraq. Is the danger inherent in a war not greater than the possibility that Saddam has stashed a few hundred liters of chemical weapons in some cellar? And anyway, don't Syria, Egypt and Israel have those kinds of weapons? Come to think of it, how did 10 years go by without our fearing the Iraqi weapons until suddenly, one day in 2002,we started to take note of the existence of an Iraqi threat?

If the danger was so great, and the United States is ready to act even without a world coalition, why did it wait an entire year and give Saddam more opportunity to develop his weapons? Why did America wait for four years after the inspectors left Iraq the last time around? Why did it agree to the inspection regime if it believes that it is ineffective? And if Iraq, why not also Iran, North Korea or Pakistan? They all have nuclear weapons, they all have motivation of some sort to annihilate Israel, to loathe the United States and to threaten their neighbors.

For 12 years, the American administration tried to convince the world that the sanctions policy was working. But it failed. The fact is that we now "need" a war. For years the U.S. tried to make everyone believe that the dual containment policy - of imposing sanctions on both Iran and Iraq - was the intelligent course to follow. But that policy was a failure. Europe and Russia replaced America there. After such a resounding failure, how likely is it that a war against Iraq will also become a debacle?

In every progressive country - that is, a country affected by what happens in the world - people are demonstrating, whether for or against a war against Iraq. They understand that a major international event is going to occur, and they have an opinion about it. In Israel, as in countries where the leaders are elected with 99 percent of the vote, the policy is also known in advance. If the United States goes to war against Iraq, Israel "refreshes" gas masks and asks no questions.

Bright promise

What is the secret charm of getting rid of Saddam Hussein? Apart from sweet revenge for the Iraqi missiles that struck Israel in 1991, his ouster embodies some sort of heavenly promise, which in large measure resembles the promise that is encapsulated in dumping Yasser Arafat. If only those two were out of the way, life would be wonderful. Peace will break out, the conflicts will be terminated, terrorism will come to an end, the economy will flourish, the price of oil will fall, unemployment will be a thing of the past, a New Middle East will come into being.

It's doubtful that any of those scenarios will come to pass.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has a life of its own, which has never depended on the existence of any particular Arab leader. Moreover, if a war does take place and the American armed forces become rulers of Iraq, the status of the United States in the Middle East will resemble that of Israel in the territories: an occupying power that has to be removed by any possible means. Then the real horror show will begin.

If we can judge by the American experience in Somalia, and even in Afghanistan, within a short time the American public will grasp that this war was a major mistake and that the previous status quo was preferable, mainly because of the United States' powerful hold on the region. And that is no longer only an American interest.

Because if the status of Israel's strategic asset (the U.S.) declines in relation to the European states, Israel should be concerned. Maybe even more concerned than it is about Saddam's missiles.