December 23, 2005
the war on Iraq rages on with no end in sight, the scandals around its
beginnings continue to proliferate. Because of these scandals, one
question now being revisited is the role the state of Israel may have
played in initiating the invasion of Iraq.
role is debated whenever American policy in the Middle East is
discussed. This is inevitable, because Israel is America’s key ally in
the region and because the Israel-Palestine conflict is the focal point
of attention for virtually anyone who cares about the Mideast.
Some critics of the war on Iraq maintain that the decision to go to war
was made largely to advance Israeli interests. Others maintain that
Israel had nothing to do with it. The evidence suggests, however, that
neither of these views is accurate.
The neocons and Israeli support for the war
know that the Iraq invasion was pushed forcefully by the
neo-conservatives in the Bush Administration. Many of the neocons are
Jewish, though not all of them. But when it comes to US Mideast policy,
there is virtually no disagreement among them in relying on a powerful
Israel as a key component. This, in and of itself, would fly in the
face of the notion that Israel and Israeli interests were completely
removed from the decision to invade Iraq.
number of key figures among the neocon wing of the Bush Administration
were involved in writing an advisory paper for the Netanyahu government
in 1996 entitled "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm".
This paper listed removing Saddam Hussein from power as an "an
important Israeli strategic objective." It defies logic to believe that
the same people, in their push toward war on Iraq, simply didn’t think
about this. Writers involved in the "Clean Break" paper included
Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, David and Meyrav Wurmser and James
Colbert. All of them were powerful proponents, in and out of
government, for the war on Iraq.
support for the invasion was never a secret. Both the Sharon government
and a clear majority of the Israeli populace favored attacking Iraq. A Guardian (UK) report
on the undermining of US intelligence agencies in order to provide
"evidence" to support the invasion describes how Americans working
outside the CIA worked with Israelis operating outside of the Mossad to
help produce that "evidence." Reports
before the war indicated that Israel was playing a key role in
preparing for the invasion, and other indicate that Israeli operatives
have been working among Iraqi Kurds.
Against the idea of a war for Israel
all of this is a far cry from proving that this was a "war for Israel."
While the results of the war don’t necessarily shed light on the
intentions of the planners, the fact is that Israel’s position in the
region is less secure as a result of the Iraq war, as many of us
predicted. Some believed before the war that Israel would use the cover
of the war to expel Palestinians from the West Bank en masse, but this
never materialized. But the war has only increased mistrust in the
United States’ ability to honestly broker the Israel-Palestine
conflict, and the fact that the US allowed Sharon to count the
unilateral disengagement from Gaza as being part of the "Roadmap" is
perceived as an American agreement that Israel may impose facts and
call it a "peace process." The increase in both the number and the
organization of terrorist groups like al Qaeda also increases the risk
to Israel. Whatever gains Israel has made in advancing its policies in
the Occupied Territories and the larger Middle East in the past three
years have not come as a result of the war on Iraq, but despite it.
(For views on this across the spectrum, see www.amconmag.com/2005/2005_11_07/article.html and www.juancole.com/2004/06/situation-in-iraq-acutely-threatens.html
"Clean Break" paper, which is the cornerstone of the "war for Israel"
theory, focuses on the idea of Israel as an independent actor. Where
toppling Saddam is one point among many, promoting an
independently-acting Israel is a major theme of the paper. Although
constant lobbying to maintain and even increase aid to Israel is a
permanent face of Middle East politics in America, the Israeli right,
for whom the "Clean Break" paper was written, has always sought to move
away from American aid so that Israel could act on its own, without
having to worry about Washington’s reaction. Having America intervene
so powerfully on Israel’s behalf flies in the face of one of the "Clean
Break" paper’s central tenets, strongly implying that the decision to
invade Iraq, though contemplated by these very same people, was not a
primary way of advancing the goals set forth in the paper. Israel’s
position was certainly not ignored by the neocon planners of the Iraq
war; but the war does not advance the vision promoted in the
while many may see George W. Bush as a figurehead whose advisers are
really determining policy, few see Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld that
way, and they were the clear ringleaders beating the drums for war on
Iraq. They may define America’s "interests" differently from most of
us, but do we really believe that they have put the interests of Israel
before what they see as American interests? And, if protection of
Israel was not the prime motivation for the war, then what American
interests were thought of as being served by it?
What matters are US interests
is both the obvious and correct answer; specifically, American control
over the region’s oil resources, which also motivates many
policymakers’ support for Israel. It also motivates other policymakers’
urging greater American distance from Israel. The neocons, on the other
hand, are ideologically supportive of Israel, as well as strategically,
but this does not dictate all of their politics.
In a February 14, 2003 article in Foreign Policy in Focus,
Michael Renner describes in detail just how huge the oil stakes were in
Iraq and how big a difference for the US a client government replacing
Saddam Hussein would make. The impact would be enormous, both for
big oil companies and for many individuals connected to them in the
Bush Administration. This is a much more obvious and clear reason for
the war than Israeli interests. Berkeley political scientist Peter Dale Scott runs down a list of the geo-political and financial potential of US control over Iraq,
as well as some of the challenges the US faced from nationalized oil
and competition from the euro that framed the decision to go to war.
These are just two of many sources that document a case, based on hard
evidence, for why America went to war.
major problem with the oil analysis is that it doesn’t bother to
consider the question of Israel. The same problem is mirrored on the
other side—those advancing the "war for Israel" theory either ignore or
dismiss other arguments. That’s the sort of environment in which
conspiracy theories flourish. Israel has always been a special concern
of the United States, for strategic reasons, and so has oil. Any
explanation for why we went to war in Iraq has to address the
consideration of these two most important factors in American Middle
Perhaps Michael Kinsley,
writing for slate.com, put it best: "The president’s advisors, Jewish
and non-Jewish, are patriotic Americans who sincerely believe that the
interests of America and Israel coincide. What’s more, they are right
about that, though they may be wrong about where that shared interest
lies. Among Jewish Americans, including me, there are people who hold
every conceivable opinion about war with Iraq with every variation of
intensity, including passionate opposition and complete indifference."
Or there is Juan Cole’s summation:
"Most of the members of Cheney’s inner circle were neoconservative
ideologues, who combined hawkish American triumphalism with an
obsession with Israel. This does not mean that the war was fought for
Israel, although it is undeniable that Israeli concerns played an
important role. The actual motivation behind the war was complex, and
Cheney’s team was not the only one in the game. The Bush administration
is a coalition of disparate forces — country club Republicans,
realists, representatives of oil and other corporate interests,
evangelicals, hardball political strategists, right-wing Catholics, and
neoconservative Jews allied with Israel’s right-wing Likud party. Each
group had its own rationale for going to war with Iraq."
usual, neither extreme is correct. Nothing involving the US and the
Middle East happens without consideration, if not the actual
involvement, of Israel. Israel is always a factor in American strategy
in the region, both as a tool and ally and as a friend whose interests
are a concern. For some in policymaking positions, Israel’s interests
are America’s interests—not because they favor Israel, but because they
believe (quite incorrectly, we would contend) that America’s interests
are best served by having their staunchest ally as the dominant force
in the region.
decision to invade Iraq was motivated by many factors. These included
the fact that the relationship with Saudi Arabia was shaken by 9/11, a
desire for more direct control over Iraqi oil (and the untapped
reserves, which are thought by some to be the largest in the world),
concern over the direction Latin American oil producers were going
(particularly Venezuela), the feeling that the first Gulf War left
"unfinished business" and the propaganda uses in terms of the "war on
terror", among others. Israeli desires were certainly a factor, as was
the perception that the invasion of Iraq would advance Israeli
interests. Israel’s lobbyists here in the US were understated in their
support for the war, possibly because they knew it would go through
without much effort on their part, but certainly were supportive of it.
On a number of levels, Israel was a factor in the disastrous decision
to invade Iraq. But to say it was the major or decisive factor is
enormously out of line with the evidence. Iraq was a war for American
interests as perceived by those who have the power to make those
decisions. It was not a "war for Israel".
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