Bush Prepares Nation For War, Part Two

Covert War at Crucial Stage

by DEBKAfile

5 October 2002

What do Israeli official sources say in response to the American assessment of the Iraqi threat to Tel Aviv? They reply:

1. The Americans are thorough and cautious enough to prepare for the worst.
2. We have no intelligence data proving the Iraqis have developed warheads capable of carrying hundreds of kilos of chemical and biological toxic substances, only very small quantities - and even these amounts would be burnt up in the heat generated during propulsion.
3. Israel’s missile defenses are fully capable of intercepting any such missile before it reaches Tel Aviv.
4. The American Iraq campaign will be a blitzkrieg, the war will be over in two or three weeks, and one of its first priority will be – if it is not already – to destroy Saddam’s WMD capabilities.
5. The Iraqi ruler knows that Israel will respond to serious harm in kind against his main cities, including Baghdad.

These answers effectively gainsay [contradict] the official Israeli claims that Iraq has few missiles or none at all with launching range of Israel.

Last week, the top operational echelon of Israel’s defense minister, was abruptly summoned to Washington for urgent consultations at the National Security Council and the Pentagon. This echelon is still there. In the next ten days, prime minister Ariel Sharon has been invited by the White House.

DEBKAfile ’s sources in Washington account for the urgent need for consultations by the fact that American military preparations for the Iraq offensive are complete but for the final go-ahead from the president. This can be given any time from a week from now to two months hence. The date depends on one man’s decision.

Our military sources stress that, notwithstanding the domestic and international importance attached to a formal, authorized declaration of war, battle has already been joined on the ground in Iraq.

The question exercising Bush’s war planners is this: How long will Saddam Hussein join Washington in the pretense that international diplomacy, focusing now on the UN Security Council, has the power to prevent the outbreak of war? Until now, the charade suited Baghdad for two reasons:

First, although much of northern Iraq has fallen to combined American-Turkish-Iranian forces - and heavy US-UK air raids have blasted most of his air force and air defense commands - Saddam remaines firm in the saddle in central and southern Iraq and his army is still holding together.

Second, he has watched the Bush administration cross the Rubicon with no way of retreat and looked forward to the moment that America could no longer pursue a covert war without incurring casualties. That moment may now be at hand.

Our military sources calculate that Bush finds himself tied down by the constraints of protracted political and diplomatic processes that prevent him from admitting to ongoing combat in the field and force him to keep it low key. He dare not throw into the fray substantial air, sea or land forces, even though it is indicated by every tactical consideration.

Last week, Iraq began to exploit this dilemma to military advantage by mounting a counter-attack on the American-led forces outside the strategic H-3 complex of bases in western Iraq. In other words, Saddam started to blunt the edge of the American-led vanguard operation inside the country.

Bush, like the proverbial cork stuck in the neck of a bottle, can either push forward or out – but not stay put.

This situation is fully grasped in Moscow, Paris, and Beijin, none of whose leaders is raising a finger to extricate the Americans from the bottleneck. Sharon in Moscow last week tried his hand at talking President Vladimir Putin round to backing the United States. He was greeted with smiling faces and a firm nyet.

The American central command chief, Gen. Tommy Franks, who leads the Iraq campaign, must come up with a way to break the H-3 base standoff. How he solves the predicament will depend on how much license he receives from the White House. That response will also influence Saddam’s calculations. He may decide to emerge from the low-key, semi-clandestine war and openly bend all his resources to counter-attacking his adversaries.

Such a counter-attack could well take the form of a missile strike against Israel. If that happens, Washington knows Israel will strike back.

To prepare for both contingencies, the Americans summoned top Israel defense officials to Washington. They also published the presumed scale of the threat they estimate as confronting Israel as one of Baghdad’s foremost targets.

With so much vital information affecting every Israeli spilling out, it becomes increasingly inappropriate for Israel’s leaders, top officials and army chiefs to try and fob the country off with such generalities as: “Israel is the best prepared country in the world against an Iraqi attack.”

The nearly 2 million inhabitants of Greater Tel Aviv, like the rest of the country, feel entitled to credible information about any potential threats fromIraq. If Israeli officials believe American estimates and figures are exaggerated or wide of the mark, they ought to set the record straight. Their failure to confirm or refute Washington’s evaluations sets up the confusion and fear that overtook Israel in the first Gulf War 11 years ago. Then, too, Israelis were told that the chances of an Iraqi missile attack were very slim - until 39 Scuds hit Tel Aviv and Ramat Gan, 8-12 in each salvo – an experience that has left its mark on the national psyche up till the present.

That mark will not be erased by official "soft soap" proclamations." [Emphasis added]