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The sigh of relief that arose from the throats of opponents of war with Iraq following Hans Blix's report to the United Nations was premature. And the joy expressed by supporters of the peace process over Yasser Arafat's announcement that he will appoint a prime minister was exaggerated.

The shapers of the U.S. administration's policy who, in the end, will determine the fate of the Middle East, decided years ago to change the face of the region.

Their vision does not include an arms-control agreement with Iraq - an alternative to toppling Saddam Hussein. It also has no place for restarting the Oslo process - as an alternative to getting rid of Arafat.

They do not need a "smoking gun" to prove the existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction or the connection between Saddam and Osama bin Laden.

Their vision was not born on September 11, 2001, and did not expire on February 14, 2003. If it were up to them, Ariel Sharon would long since have been allowed to exile the Palestinian Authority's leadership.

The current shapers of American policy have never hidden their opinions and plans.

Everything is written in black and white, in letter and position papers that they have sent over the years to decision-makers in the administration and Congress. Two of their names also appear on a memorandum submitted by the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies to Benjamin Netanyahu, after he was elected prime minister in the spring of 1996.

The neo-conservative strategists, Richard Perle, today head of the Pentagon's advisory committee, and Doug Feith, currently undersecretary of defense, signed onto the following sentence: "Since Iraq's future could affect the strategic balance in the Middle East profoundly, it would be understandable that Israel has an interest in supporting the Hashemites in their efforts to redefine Iraq."

The document continued: "Israel can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq."

On June 3, 1997, a group of Republicans signed a "statement of principles" criticizing the "incoherent" foreign and defense policies of the Clinton administration. The signatories included Dick Cheney (currently America's vice-president), Donald Rumsfeld (the current secretary of defense), Paul Wolfowitz (today deputy secretary of defense), Governor Jeb Bush (brother of President George W. Bush) and Elliot Abrams (current head of the National Security Council's department for Middle East affairs.)

The statement's authors urged the president "to meet threats before they become dire" and to challenge regimes that are hostile to American values and interests (all those who complain that the Europeans' opposition to war with Iraq is merely due to their "interests" please take note).

The statement continued: "We need to accept responsibility for America's unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity and our principles" (America's security and prosperity - not "those of the free world," for example).

After they gave up on Clinton, this same group wrote to the Republican leadership of Congress and declared that only the overthrow of Saddam and his regime would eliminate the Iraqi threat. Even then, three years before the terror attacks in the heart of the United States and the creation of the "axis of evil," they urged the "democratization of Iraq."

Another letter signed by Perle and dated September 20, 2001, nine days after the attacks, urged Bush to replace Saddam with members of the Iraqi opposition, "even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack." But in a letter dated April 3, 2002, one of the reasons Perle gives for overthrowing Saddam is that Iraq maintains ties with al-Qaida.

To remove any doubt that this security lobby does not need a "smoking gun" in order to open fire, here is a key sentence from the memorandum that Netanyahu received: Israel, it said, must make a "clean break from the slogan, `comprehensive peace,' to a traditional concept of strategy based on balance of power." And as if for the benefit of those Israelis who hope that after Bush realizes his "Iraqi dream," his policy-makers will convince him to impose order on Israel's relations with its neighbors, the memorandum details what that balance of power entails: "`peace for peace,' `peace through strength' and self reliance."