Iraq May Deliver First Strike: Israel or U.s. Likely Target

by DEBKAfile

21 September 2002

DEBKAfile’s military sources point to the danger of Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein attempting to turn the tables on the American offensive against his regime by stealing a leaf from the Bush administration’s newly- enunciated first-strike strategy.

An Iraqi pre-emptive could take three forms:
1. Nuclear, biological or chemical terror strike in a major American city or closer to home against Israel.
2. Military or terrorist action against one of the Persian Gulf nations that have made bases available to the United States, with Kuwait, Qatar and Oman first in line.
3. A large-scale missile assault on Israel.

The latest official pronouncements have played down any such threat to Israel.

US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Thursday, September 19, that he trusted Israel would not react if struck by Iraqi missiles, while the Israel chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon said last week that he is less worried about the Iraqi threat than he is by Palestinian terror. Nonetheless, neither official is oblivious to the possibility of an Iraqi first strike action and both the United States and Israel have made appropriate preparations. DEBKAfile reports as a certainty that, far from refraining to respond, Israel will reply to any Iraqi strike by making its military presence known to Iraq in the full strength.

The threat of an Iraqi military strike increases the closer the Americans come to launch-date for their overt war against Baghdad. Washington admitted Saturday, September 21, that a detailed Pentagon plan containing the military options for deposing Saddam had been delivered to the White House in early September.

In its latest issue, on September 20, DEBKA-Net-Weekly reported that, on September 10, the Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, and the head of the Central Command, General Tommy Franks, informed President Bush they had wound up the preparations for war and it was over to the president for the countdown to D-Day. The exclusive report noted that covert military operations are advancing stage by stage, concurrently with the White House’s all-out bid for support in and outside the United Nations and in the US Congress.

“It is a kind of modular exercise” - one high-placed Washington source put it, "structured so that when it is completed, the commander in chief can signal the transition to open war without further preliminaries on the ground.”

DEBKA-Net-Weekly ’s military sources report that special forces units from the United States,Britain, Turkey, and Jordan are operational inside Iraq. A steel ring furthermore encloses Iraq by land and sea, some of its links formed by bases in such countries as Saudi Arabia (despite its ifs and buts - as we first revealed on August 2), Egypt,Qatar, Bahrain,Oman, Kuwait.

Friday, September 20, President George W. Bush, when he hosted Russian defense and foreign ministers at the White House, opened the door to a compromise on Moscow’s resistance to a new and tougher UN Security Council on Iraq that spelt out the consequences for Iraq’s failure to disarm. This was confirmed in the US president’s conversation with Vladimir Putin at his Black Sea holiday resort. In any case, US counteraction by veto is in the air. US Secretary of State Colin Powell warned Council members that if they refuse to endorse the American resolution, Washington will vote against sending UN arms inspectors to Iraq.

Baghdad has meanwhile announced that it will not admit inspectors dispatched in accordance with the American-formulated resolution.

Cutting through this diplomatic cat’s cradle, Franks stepped forward Saturday, September 21, to confirm his forces are ready to undertake whatever activities and actions may be directed as soon as the president makes the decision to go to war. He spoke while touring US bases in Kuwait after calling two unscheduled training exercises that could quickly be converted into war action in neighboring Iraq.

The evidence in hand at the moment points to the first or second week of October as the likeliest time for the overt side of the war to be launched by Washington – barring any unforeseen Iraqi pre-emptive move.

With telling timing, the Bush administration unveiled Friday, September 20, its national security strategy, a document that emphasized military pre-emption as the prime means for maintaining America’s political and military superiority against the newly-emerging threats.

“As a matter of common sense and self-defense”, says the paper, “America will act against such emerging threats before they are fully formed”. It is therefore willing to launch pre-emptive military strikes against perceived dangers posed by tyrant state and terrorist networks before they reach American shores. Terrorists and rogue states were identified as the common enemy of the world’s great powers. “The greatest danger our nation faces lies at the crossroads of radicalism and technology.”

The paper addresses the transformation of national security institutions, stressing the need to improve intelligence.