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Saturday, August 31, 2002
From The Spectator comes somthing I had not considered:

[Just prior to the onset of Gulf War I] Mr Secretary Baker issued a warning to Saddam. There were thresholds which he must not cross; if he did, he must expect a terrible retaliation. [As I recall, the phrase was "retaliation of biblical proportions". An excellent choice of words, which had precisely the effect intended. - CG] If it was necessary to issue a nuclear threat to Saddam then, it is even more necessary to remove his nuclear threat now. Back then, Jim Baker said what he did in order to ensure that Israel would not use nuclear weapons against Iraq, and that any such escalation would have been a solely American responsibility. If it now became clear to the Israelis that the Americans were giving up the attempt to defang Saddam, they would get ready to do the job. If there were no second war between the US and Iraq, there would still be a war, between Israel and Iraq, almost certainly involving nuclear weapons.

I'm not sure that I agree that the reason Baker said what he did was to prevent Israeli use of nuclear weapons (as opposed to preventing any Israeli retaliation for the use of Scuds), but that is largely irrelevant. Baker said what he said, and his statement had the effect that it had.

Nor does the Spectator give any evidence or make any argument in support of the proposition that Israel will make war if the US does not. The Israelis did take out Saddam's nuclear reactor years ago, in a move obviously intended to prevent or delay his development of nuclear weapons. I have little doubt that, if again faced with the prospect of being joined in the nuclear club by Saddam, Israel would do something about it. The real question is not whether Israel would act but what they would do.

I confess that, other than airstrikes to (again) eliminate Saddam's nuclear capability, I don't see many Israeli options. They have fearsome armed forces, but look at a map (.pdf format/Adobe required). An Israeli invasion of Iraq (which which its shares no borders) must go through either Syria or Jordan. Either route requires that Israel first defeat the armed forces in its way. While I am sure that Israel would not have any qualms about (and probably not much difficulty in) taking out Syria, there is a thirty year history of peace and (relatively speaking) good relations with Jordan to consider. Additionally, having defeated Syria and/or Jordan and cleared the way to Iraq, Israel would then be faced with supply lines stretching through 200 plus miles of hostile territory before they could take an inch of Iraqi territory. My guess is that you would have to add another hundred miles or so before the Israeli expedition gets anywhere near any target worth taking within Iraq.

And once they get there (where ever "there" is) and topple Saddam, what would Israel do? Occupy and rebuild Iraq as a liberal democracy? That would take years, if not decades, that are simply not available to Israel economically or diplomatically. Withdraw and leave chaos in their wake (even granting that chaos would be preferable to a nuclear Saddam)? To my nonmilitary eye, this just doesn't look feasible, either to start or to finish.

That leaves limited preemptive conventional airstrikes, preemptive nuclear strikes and covert destabilization as the only options. And preemptive nuclear war is really only an option in theory. I am fairly sure that Israel would lose Bush as a supporter and de facto ally if it used nuclear weapons except in retaliation for the prior use of nuclear weapons. Bush publicly and severely chastized the IDF for rocketing a house with a few kids (as well as an avowed, dedicated and resourceful enemy) in it in Gaza. How could he even tacitly support the use of nuclear weapons without a huge provocation?

All in all, I would say that Israel's options are extremely limited. Therefore, the Spectator's argument that Israel would presumably strike if we don't does not constitute a very strong justification for our strike.

Don't get me wrong. I am not among those who would wait for Saddam to get one or more nuclear weapons before taking him out. I consider waiting for Saddam to be able to kill hundreds of thousands (possibly on US soil) when you can do it now without incurring that risk to be the height of stupidity. But Israel's possible or probable reaction to a refusal on the part of the US to act is simply not a justification for US action.
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