[Israeli general says: ] Waging war on Iraq is not justified

Aharon Levran

[Israeli general says: ]
Waging war on Iraq is not justified

By Aharon Levran*

Haaretz, Tuesday, September 24, 2002 Tishrei 18, 5763

What are we fighting for? That is a crucial question when going off to a war — and certainly before initiating one. The Bush administration has no solid grounds for waging war on Saddam Hussein and the arguments about the variety of risks Saddam poses are exaggerated.

The interpretation of the threat Saddam poses, and the way it is being presented are deficient, because the U.S. administration is attributing the same megalomaniac ideas and ambitions to the Iraqi leader as he had before the Gulf War.

Despite his bombastic lying declarations, Saddam is well aware he was defeated. It is clear to him that he cannot take on the might of America, and it is no accident that he he has folded now on the issue of the nuclear weapons inspectors. Before the war he had built up hopes of gaining hegemony in the Gulf vis-a-vis Iran and his Arab "sisters," and he was ready even to challenge the United States. This does not seem to be the situation now. His ambitions since the war are curtailed. His limited aims are to protect Iraq and deter others from harming it and — of course — to survive.

Specifically he is striving to remove the burdensome economic sanctions and the humiliating inspection regime. It is doubtful if he has concrete desires to expand in the region or beyond it, if only because it is clear to him what its immediate cost would be. However, to achieve his limited purposes he needs power to back them, especially its non-conventional components, for they are the only things which give his power an added value. A brutal and crafty despot, Saddam has proved to be careful and sane in his moves. He might wish to return to his megalomaniac desires, but his capability is restricted.

Iraq today has no nuclear power, mainly because it has no fissile material like plutonium or enriched uranium, although it has a general potential to manufacture an atomic bomb. Before the war Iraq was, indeed, about six months away from manufacturing a bomb, but this is because it had the use of the fissile material in the reactors transferred to it by the Soviet Union and France and which were "under the inspection" of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

This material was taken away from Iraq, and today it does not have the capability to enrich uranium with centrifuges (which have been destroyed) or in other ways. Attempts to buy fissile material in the quality and quantity required for a bomb have failed in the past and it is doubtful whether the could succeed in the future.

It is also doubtful that post-war Saddam is striving wholeheartedly to build a nuclear bomb, because the moment he approaches it, this will not go unnoticed in United States and he would be sentencing himself to an immediate liquidation attempt. This would also be the case if he transferred nuclear arms of any kind to terrorists.

On the other hand, Saddam probably has chemical and biological weapons which are easy to manufacture and conceal. But even when he used chemical weapons in the Iraq-Iran war, he restricted himself, and even when his army was defeated and driven out of Kuwait, he did not dare to use those weapons.

The risks of non conventional weapons depend on having the means to launch them — mainly airplanes, pilotless drones and missiles. And here the Iraqi Air Force, even before the war in 1991, did not demonstrate any considerable attacking power — never mind after the war when it was very much weakened. However, even a single plane can carry out an infiltration and attack. Iraq has had drones for years, intended among other things to spray chemical and biological agents from the air. But their range and the abilities of the control systems are unclear — controlling drones across hundreds of kilometers or a thousand kilometers is not an easy matter to be taken for granted.

The ballistic missile issue also has two sides — there is no evidence that Iraq, (even since getting rid of the inspectors in December 1998) has many launchers and missiles, especially in the middle range. Their operational condition, and that of the war heads — especially the presumably hidden non-conventional heads — is not at all clear. Judging by the condition of chemical weapons the inspectors found in the past, such doubts are well placed. There is also the question of whether they could be operated freely in western Iraq as they were in 1991 to hit Israel and Saudi Arabia.

It seems one may establish that the risks from Saddam Hussein are not so bad as they are made to appear. Moreover, certain threats — and much more acute ones — are presented by others in the region, like Iran and Hezbollah. But these are not high on the U.S. list of priorities.

It is not desirable that the United States, so important to the free world, should pitch its power against a danger that is not first rate.

* Brigadier General (res.) Levran is the author of "Israeli Strategy after Desert Storm," published by Frank Cass.