Israel and the Conflict
From Israel's perspective, this account of Israeli-American relations during the Gulf The American retreat from the Middle East—caused by the post-Iraq war. (The Israelis had already bombed Iraq's nuclear reactor at Osirak.) The history of America's relations with Saddam is one of the sorrier tales in. By launching his rickety rockets against Israeli cities, Saddam Hussein, the . The impact of the crisis on US-Israeli relations was also discussed at the meeting.
Although internally unstable, Iraq emerged as an independent power on the international stage. Its government pursued neutralism in the Cold War and flirted with the Soviet Union and other communist states. It also sought political influence among Arab states and contested Egyptian dominance of the Arab community of nations.
Iraq remained technically at war and occasionally skirmished with Israel. Management of the delicate Kurdish problem in the s led Baghdad into alternating conflict and cooperation with Iran. In the era, the United States pursued interlocking goals in Iraq. On behalf of U. For several years after the coup, U. They maintained diplomatic relations, negotiated the peaceful termination of the Baghdad Pact, averted conflict in an Anglo-Iraqi showdown over Kuwait indispensed foreign aid to Iraq, and promoted business opportunities there.
In light of evidence that the Soviet Union backed Iraqi Kurds, officials in Washington did nothing to alleviate the Iraqi suppression of that ethnic group. Iraq severed diplomatic relations in because it considered the United States complicit in Israeli military conquests during the so-called Six Day War of June In the early s, Iraq nationalized U. Although Iraq neutralized the Kurdish problem through diplomacy with Iran, it criticized foreign powers that backed the Kurds and it displayed renewed anti-U.
Quickly, Hussein brutally suppressed all domestic rivals and thereby built internal stability in Baghdad, ending decades of political turmoil.
A secularist, Hussein also positioned himself as a vital bulwark against Islamic fundamentalism in Iran, where the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took power in and declared an intention to export his revolutionary ideals across the region. Iraq initially occupied 10, square miles of Iranian territory before Iran stymied the Iraqi thrust. Iran then gradually recaptured its territory, leading to a stalemate in the battle front by A series of massive land offensives proved to be ineffective at breaking the deadlock.
Yet the war ground on, widened by missile attacks on cities and by mutual assaults on oil tankers on the Gulf. Bythe two states together counted more than one million casualties.
Initially, Reagan continued the policy he inherited from Jimmy Carter of practicing strict neutrality in the conflict. Byhowever, the government in Washington began to shift toward a position of supporting Iraq. Iran's military advances worried U.
Despite Hussein's political despotism, U. Thus the Reagan Administration provided Iraq with economic aid, restored diplomatic relations, shared intelligence information about Iranian military forces, and otherwise engaged in what it called a "tilt" toward Iraq designed to ensure its survival.
Bythe Reagan Administration even assumed limited military involvement in the war on behalf of Iraq. When Iran attacked oil tankers carrying Iraqi oil to world markets, Reagan ordered the U. Navy to patrol the Gulf and protect those tankers. Armed clashes occurred between U. Taking advantage of the relaxation of Cold War tensions, Reagan also worked with Soviet and other world leaders to fashion a United Nations ceasefire resolution that provided a legal framework for ending the hostilities.
Iraq promptly accepted the ceasefire but Iran refused, demanding that Iraq first must agree to pay war reparations. Pressured by the U. Navy, however, Khomeini eventually accepted the ceasefire in July Peace on the battlefields would end the bloodletting between the two belligerents and restore lucrative commerce. At the same time, the dramatic improvement in U. With Khomeini contained, U. Subsequent events would demonstrate that such U.
The military clash originated in Saddam Hussein's decision, in the aftermath of the Iran-Iraq War, to seek territorial and economic gains at the expense of Kuwait. In andHussein signaled a growing intention to use force to against the tiny emirate. Hussein's aggressiveness was prompted by multiple incentives: His proposal introduced a new term into the Middle East diplomatic lexicon - linkage.
Overnight Saddam became the hero of the Arab masses and the saviour of the Palestinians. The Gulf conflict and the Arab-Israeli conflict which Israel had laboured to keep apart now became linked in the public mind.
A government spokesman dismissed Saddam's proposal as a cheap propaganda ploy. On the one hand, they did not want to reward Saddam Hussein for his aggression; on the other hand, they could hardly deny that the long-festering Arab-Israeli conflict also required a settlement. President Bush's way round this dilemma was to deny that there was any parallel between the two occupations but to promise that once Iraq left Kuwait, a settlement of the Arab-Israeli problem would be high on the international agenda.
In other words, he rejected the simultaneous linkage of the two conflicts in favour of a deferred linkage. This placed Israel once more on the defensive.
On 12 August, a comprehensive review of the situation was carried out at a meeting convened by the Deputy Chief of Staff. General Barak summed up the discussion with the observation that, on the one hand, Saddam was afraid of an Israeli response but, on the other hand, he had a powerful motive to involve Israel in the conflict in order to break up the coalition that the United States was building up against him.
It was thought that Saddam may pre-empt by attacking Israel if he felt that the United States was about to attack him. Some of the participants in the discussion suggested that red lines be drawn to warn Iraq. Both the Chief of Staff and his deputy, however, took the view that Israel ought to speak in more general terms and avoid a commitment to a particular course of action in advance.
The impact of the crisis on US-Israeli relations was also discussed at the meeting. A number of officers pointed out that in the event of an Iraqi defeat without the help of Israel, Israel's value as a strategic asset for the United States would be called into question. Despite these doubts, it was resolved to ask the United States for a hot line for the transmission of real time intelligence about Iraqi deployments in general and preparations for launching missiles in particular.
The General Staff prepared operational plans for alternative courses of action against Iraq. The politicians stepped up the verbal warnings, promising dire retribution in the event of an Iraqi attack but without spelling out what precise form the retribution would take.
While public warnings to Saddam Hussein became an almost daily occurrence, part of a calculated policy of deterrence, both soldiers and politicians were agreed that there would be no automatic response to an Iraqi attack and that co-ordination with the United States was of paramount importance. The Likud government was intent on bringing about the destruction of Iraq's military potential and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. For Israel this was the nightmare scenario.
This is why the prospect that the Gulf crisis would be resolved by United Nations mediation or by an Arab solution so alarmed the Israeli government. Israeli ministers could not be too outspoken in opposing diplomacy and pressing for military action to topple Saddam Hussein and defeat his army.
They did not wish to be seen as war-mongers, particularly when the lives of the Western hostages were at stake, nor did they want to supply grist to Saddam's mill just when he was portraying the American military build-up in Saudi Arabia as part of a Zionist plot. But they maintained an active lobby behind the scenes in favour of decisive American military action. In an article in the Los Angles Times of 19 August Kissinger argued that if sanctions are too uncertain and diplomacy unavailing, 'the US will need to consider a surgical and progressive destruction of Iraq's military assets - especially as an outcome that leaves Saddam Hussein in place and his military machine unimpaired might turn out to be an interlude between aggressions.
Israeli sources advised that 'the best way to hurt Saddam is to target his family, his personal guard and his mistress,' revealed Michael Dugan, US Air Force Chief General who was fired for shooting from the hip.
And it was a far cry from Israel's traditional motto of 'give us the tools and we will do the job. Although Israeli leaders hotly denied that they were pushing America to go to war, lobbying was an important aspect of Israeli policy during the crisis.
In Israel, America's reluctance to share intelligence and to treat Israel as a strategic partner was a cause for particular concern.
Israel–United States relations
Arens requested a substantial increase in American economic and military aid to preserve Israel's qualitative superiority.
He used America's promise of a massive arms package to Saudi Arabia to buttress his case. Cheney countered with the Pentagon's estimate that the threat to Israel had decreased as a result of the strong American presence in the Gulf and consequently declined most of Arens's requests for aid and strategic co-ordination. For the first time, Arens also heard an explicit American request that Israel should not pre-empt or respond to an Iraqi attack so as not to splinter the coalition assembled by America against Iraq.
At the meeting with General Scowcroft the following day, Arens dwelt on the danger that Saddam Hussein would launch missiles against Israel and Israel's need for anti-ballistic missiles, singling out the Arrow as the only reliable weapons-system for dealing with this problem.
Scowcroft conceded that, as a desperate gamble, Saddam Hussein might try to harm Israel but added that Israel should not allow herself to be provoked. Surely, Israel had the right to respond if it came under attack, said Arens.
Not necessarily, replied Scowcroft, America would prefer to deal with the missile bases herself.
Iraq–Israel relations - Wikipedia
To soften the blow, Arens was promised some supplies of ammunition and aircraft but even this modest promise was not kept in full. For a nation haunted by memories of the Nazi gas chambers, this was a highly sensitive issue.
The difficulty of resolving it was compounded by the fact that IDF had no reliable information as to whether Iraq was capable of fitting chemical warheads to its Scud missiles.
Saddam Hussein's threat to incinerate half of Israel seared itself in the mind of the public but his Foreign Minister, Tariq Aziz, later said that Baghdad would use chemical weapons against Israel only if Jerusalem launched a nuclear strike.
Most senior IDF officers were opposed to the distribution of the masks because of the doubt surrounding Iraq's capability and because they worried that the distribution of gas masks would cause panic among the civilian population. In cabinet, David Levy pressed for immediate distribution against the opinion of Moshe Arens and the defence establishment. Arens initially argued against distribution, suggesting it would cause panic and might be misperceived by Iraq as an indication that Israel was planning a pre-emptive strike.
To ensure that this did not happen, Prime Minster Shamir made a series of public statements of mounting severity, making it clear that any attack on Israel would meet with an Israeli response.
His words were carefully chosen and the adjective 'terrible' featured prominently in characterizing the promised response. Shamir's warnings were widely interpreted by commentators in Israel and abroad to mean that an Iraqi attack on Israel with chemical weapons could provoke an Israeli nuclear response. Shamir did nothing to contradict this interpretation of his statements.
He seemed content to let the Western media drive home the message that tangling with Israel may lead to the obliteration of Baghdad. He recalled the Arab claim that chemical weapons were intended to balance Israel's nuclear weapons. They have now been warned, he said, that the outcome might be different: He rejected out of hand a Soviet proposal in early September for the convening of an international conference to deal with all the disputes in the Middle East.
The United States also rejected the Soviet proposal. Following a meeting with David Levy in Washington, Secretary of State James Baker stated that the Iraqi-Kuwaiti dispute and the Israeli-Palestinian dispute were two separate matters which had to be treated separately. Israeli security forces used live ammunition to deal with a Muslim protest that turned into a riot, killing 21 of the demonstrators and wounding Israel was back in the headlines.
The massacre on Temple Mount unleashed a universal wave of condemnation. Arab governments who had joined in the American-led coalition against Saddam Hussein came under attack for complicity in American double standards in rushing to the defence of Kuwait while doing nothing to end the year old Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
The very linkage that Saddam Hussein had failed to achieve was now highlighted by the brutal behaviour of the Israeli security forces.
America was driven to vote in favour of two UN resolutions condemning Israel. President Bush also summoned several American Jewish leaders and warned them that Israel was undermining the coalition against Saddam Hussein. He even hinted that if the Jewish lobby turned against him, he would state publicly that Israel's behaviour endangered the life of American soldiers in the Gulf.
Previously the Shamir government had hoped that the crisis in the Gulf would enable Israel to maintain the status quo in the occupied territories and abort the Bush administration's efforts to promote an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. But the benefits of the Iraqi aggression for Israel turned out to be extremely short-lived. What the universal condemnation demonstrated was that there was a new equation in the making: This became the source of permanent tension in US-Israeli relations.
This tension was temporarily relieved on 29 November when the Security Council passed resolution'the mother of all resolutions,' authorizing the use of 'all necessary means' against Iraq unless it withdrew from Kuwait by 15 January The ultimatum seemed to suggest that America and her allies meant business. Israel's elation was punctured the next day, however, when President Bush offered to go 'the extra mile for peace' by inviting Tariq Aziz to Washington for talks.
While careful to avoid the impression that they were goading America to go to war, Israel and her influential friends in Washington questioned the wisdom of a policy of appeasement. Professor Yuval Neeman, the leader of the Tehia party and a leading cabinet hawk, recalled that George Bush had compared Saddam Hussein to Adolf Hitler and said that there was therefore no escape from comparing Bush with Neville Chamberlain.
David Levy told a delegation from the European Parliament that Israel would assume the highest profile should her security come under threat. Levy also summoned the US Ambassador, William Brown, and told him that Israel expected the United States to stand by the commitments it took upon itself after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. In Israel's view, Levy said, the two principal US commitments had been to bring about the withdrawal of Iraq from Kuwait and to remove the Iraqi military threat.
Levy added that Israel had agreed to adopt its 'low profile' policy during the crisis largely because of this perception.
U.S.-Iraq Relations, – - Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History
This was the first time that the Israeli public heard about the alleged commitments from their powerful friend. Yet, taken together, Levy's statements to the European parliamentarians and the US ambassador amounted to an official warning that in the absence of firm action by the international community against Iraq, Israel reserved the right to take military steps on her own.
On 11 December, Shamir had a two-hour meeting with Bush at the White House which went some way towards repairing the rift between them. Bush assured Shamir that in the event of an unprovoked Iraqi attack, the US would come to Israel's aid.
Bush stressed that his administration was doing its utmost to avoid linkage between the Gulf crisis and the Palestinian issue and that it was essential that Israel should do the same by refraining from unilateral action against Iraq.
According to one report in the Washington Post, Shamir promised not to mount a pre-emptive strike and to consult Bush before responding to any Iraqi attack. This report was denied, however, by officials in the Prime Minister's office.
The test-firing of a Jericho anti-ballistic missile without notifying the US seemed to illustrate Israel's intent on preserving its own independence in the event of an Iraqi attack.
But by the end of the month, co-ordination between the Pentagon and the Israeli military had been stepped up. In return for pledging full consultation with the US before launching military action against Iraq, Israel was given access to prime US intelligence not normally supplied to other countries.
This provided a significant inducement for Israel to maintain the low profile and to refrain from creating unnecessary tensions. But here they met with a firm American rebuff. Israeli frustration was deepened by the news that James Baker was going to meet Tariq Aziz for talks in Geneva on 9 January.
The experts in Military Intelligence were convinced that Saddam Hussein would not yield but they also estimated that unless he was knocked off his perch, he would be able to add nuclear capability to his arsenal within a few years.
Despite Bush's categoric rejection of any compromise in the upcoming talks, Israeli officials were privately wary of what was known as the 'no-deal deal. They also feared that some form of linkage between the Kuwaiti and the Palestinian issues may emerge out of the Geneva talks. Baker, however, rejected such linkage point-blank at his six-hour meeting with Aziz.
When Aziz rejected the American ultimatum, Israel's fears were finally laid to rest. IDF was put on the highest state of military readiness, with its reconnaissance and combat aircraft in the air around the clock and the civilian population prepared with sealed rooms and gas masks. The failure of the talks was also followed by an escalation of the war of words, with the Iraqis saying that if they are attacked by America, they will attack Tel Aviv; the Americans saying that such an attack would constitute a flagrant provocation; and the Israelis warning that anyone who attacked them may not live to regret it.
Prime Minister Shamir thought that Israel should continue to exercise self-restraint. The other school demanded a military response to neutralize the Iraqi threat. On 11 JanuaryUnder-Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger who was noted for his pro-Israeli sympathies, arrived in Israel at the head of a high-level delegation.
Their purpose was said to be 'to co-ordinate policy and strategy with Israel in the event that hostilities break out,' but their real mission was to act as babysitters, to ensure that Israel continued to lie low. At the meeting with the Prime Minister, Eagleburger conveyed the President's request that Israel should refrain from retaliating against Iraq, even if attacked.
Shamir made it clear that under no circumstances would Israel undertake not to retaliate if attacked. However, he promised that Israel would try to stay out of the Gulf conflict, 'if it is only possible. This was a radical enough departure from Israel's traditional preference for surprise attacks.
But he and his colleagues were unanimous in their view that Israel, as a sovereign state, could not relinquish its basic right to self-defence.
Under these circumstances, Eagleburger had to decline Shamir's request for operational co-ordination between the Israeli military and the US forces in the Gulf. They promised the Israeli officers swift and efficient action against the missile launch sites in western Iraq.
They said that the treatment will commence at the outbreak of hostilities and asked that Israel should not intervene. In their estimate, all the launchers could be destroyed in two days and they doubted that Israel could do any better. They met with scepticism and a polite refusal. Eagleburger then offered two batteries of Patriot missiles with their American crews in return for an Israeli promise not to respond to an Iraqi missile attack. Once again he met with a polite refusal.
Both the Chief of Staff and the Minister of defence wanted to preserve the principle that no foreign power could be entrusted with Israel's security.
Another abrupt change of policy occasioned by the Gulf crisis involved Jordan. The Likud, on the other hand, took the line that 'Jordan is Palestine' and, consequently, that if the Palestinians were to overthrow the monarchy and turn Jordan into a Palestinian state, this would not endanger Israel's security and may indeed be a welcome change.
Ariel Sharon, the Housing Minister, was the most consistent and aggressive advocate of this line of argument inside the cabinet. This attitude had played an important part in pushing King Hussein into an alliance with Iraq, an alliance which provided him with his only deterrence against a possible move by Likud to realize its thesis that Jordan is Palestine.
During the Gulf crisis Jordan assumed ever greater importance as a buffer and potential battleground between Iraq and Israel. Likud leaders suddenly discovered the value of having a stable country under a moderate ruler on their eastern border. The change of tune was unmistakable. Instead of issuing threats, the government began to send, through third parties, soothing messages to Amman to assure the King that Israel had no plans to attack him and to urge him not to allow the entry of Iraqi troops into Jordan.
Shamir now sought a more direct channel of communication with Amman. On 4 January, the director-general of his office, Yossi Ben-Aharon, met senior Jordanian figures who were close to the King. Ben-Aharon assured the Jordanians that Israel had no intention of seizing the opportunity offered by the crisis in the Gulf to try and bring about a change of regime in Amman.
For their part, the Jordanians made it clear that under no circumstances would they allow Israeli forces to enter their territory or Israeli aircraft to use their air space. Some politicians, on the extreme right, did not share in the sudden conversion to the royalist cause.
Ariel Sharon was not impressed with the argument that Israel had to do her utmost to stop Jordan getting embroiled in the Gulf conflict. On the contrary, one of his motives for advocating swift and forceful military action against Iraq was his desire to destabilize the regime in Amman. The cabinet continued to receive intelligence briefings on the situation in Jordan but following the expiry of the ultimatum for Iraqi withdrawal, it redirected its attention to developments further east.
On this and subsequent occasions, the Americans were very economical with the information they provided to their Israeli colleagues. Cheney had been charged by the White House with the task of keeping the Israelis plugged in, but not so plugged in as to make them de facto members of the coalition.
After months of uncertainty and bluster, Saddam Hussein carried out his threat to attack the Jewish state, dramatically raising the stakes in the Gulf War. It was the first air attack on an Israeli city since The damage caused was limited because the Scud missiles, according to one military expert, were 'stone age technology.
Another reason for the limited effect was that the Scuds were armed with only light warheads to enable them to cover the distance to reach Israel. But the psychological impact of the attack, both in Israel and in the Arab world, was profound. Arens held an emergency meeting with the Chief of Staff and his deputy. Arens wondered whether they should not put aside the principle of self-reliance and accept after all the American offer of two batteries of Patriot missiles.
The Patriots were a success story in Saudi Arabia, the other target of the Iraqi Scuds; the public wanted them badly; and awkward questions were beginning to be asked by people in the know about the earlier refusal of the American offer. IDF experts did not rate the Patriots very highly but, taking public pressure into account, Dan Shomron recommended acceptance.
Having had a phone call from Baker urging continuing restraint, Arens now called Cheney who instantly agreed to send the Patriots and promised that the Americans were going after western Iraq full bore and that there was nothing the Israelis could do which was not already being done. On 19 January, another 5 Scuds hit Tel Aviv, provoking a new round of tough oratory. The real test came at the cabinet meeting on the 23rd, the day after a single Scud landed in Ramat Gan, killing three and wounding 96 people.