After Saddam: One down, one to go?

A nuclear capability would have positioned him at the top of the Arab world. Is Iran following suit?

Saddam trial 88 (photo credit: )
Saddam trial 88
(photo credit: )
Following the execution of Saddam Hussein, Israel's political and military leaders have kept silent. It is a clear and evocative silence. Israel is contented with Saddam's final disappearance from the scene, to which it contributed from afar. But, ultimately, Saddam was brought down by a narrow coalition of the US and Britain, although his trial and execution were conducted by the new Iraqi government. He paved his own destiny. From the moment he initiated military clashes with Iran, then invaded Kuwait and finally attacked Israel with long-range missiles, it was clear that his regime would not persist. It was not his cruel internal tyranny that finally destroyed him. The world has known many tyrants before him whose regimes were allowed to carry on. It was Saddam's aggressiveness in foreign relations and his oppression of the Kurds that led to his downfall. Israel's history with Saddam Hussein is rather complex. Jerusalem realized that in his wish to lead the Arab world, Saddam intended to develop a nuclear ability. By accomplishing that he hoped to succeed in balancing the strategic equation between the Arab world and Israel. A nuclear capability would have positioned him at the top of the Arab world and promoted his regional ambitions, including gaining control over the oil reserves of the Middle East. Once Saddam's nuclear intentions were revealed, to Israel as well as the rest of the world, it was obvious that halting them, by either diplomatic or military means, would be a priority. The international community was taken by surprise when Israel decided to take matters into its own hands and destroyed the Iraqi nuclear facility in 1981. This action drew criticism initially, but brought much appreciation from the international community in the long run. By carrying out its raid Israel postponed - perhaps rescued - the Middle East from a nuclear race. Saddam lost his nuclear capability, but that only deepened his hatred for Israel. From that moment on, we became his number-one enemy. IN AUGUST 1990, after Saddam invaded Kuwait and subdued it within 24 hours, he dubbed his offensive "Operation Jerusalem." Despite the fact that the road from Iraq to Jerusalem does not necessarily pass through Kuwait, he wanted to indicate his final ambition. Saddam saw himself as the new Saladin defeating the "new crusaders" - the Jews - and conquering the Holly Land. He waited six months and in January 1991, right after the Americans attacked Iraq, began launching long-range missiles against Israel from western Iraq. Over five weeks, 40 missiles were launched in 17 separate attacks. The number of injured was negligible and damage to property was rather sufferable. However, we had to admit that Saddam had succeeded in damaging Israel's sense of home-front security. In spite of not being a military thinker, Saddam fully recognized Israel's diminutive dimensions, its high population density and the impact striking at our home front would have. By using long-range missiles he forced us to reexamine our sense of security. Although he never used weapons of mass destruction - despite his threats at the outset - the mere dread of them was enough to raise concern in Israel, forcing us to prepare complicated protective gear. Though it was never clear whether Saddam actually possessed such weapons in 1991 or, for that matter, at any point in the 10 years that followed, the fear alone created the effect Saddam was hoping for. Shortly after the first Gulf War it was disclosed that Israel had planned to assassinate Saddam. That's not quite the whole truth, but, at any rate, the plan failed tragically when a considerable number of fighters were killed during preparations. In retrospect, it was wrong for Israel to try and go after Saddam. The damage caused would have exceeded the potential benefit. The final link in the Israel-Saddam relationship was registered during the Second Gulf War in the beginning of 2003. Israel was prepared for a repeat of Iraq's attack against our home front in the wake of the US and UK invasion of Iraq. This time, for reasons of his own, Saddam renounced the distant targets, briefly battled the attacking forces, lost and finally disappeared. LOOKING back, Saddam Hussein can be considered one of the most influential leaders to have made their mark on Middle East in modern times. He unlocked the gate of a nuclear era in the region and of one where weapons of mass destruction would be used. Furthermore, he managed to position himself among the first rank of Arab rulers leading the battle to liberate Palestine. He demonstrated Israel's weaknesses to aerial bombardment, a lesson Hizbullah and Hamas picked up on. In the pantheon of Israel's enemies, Saddam's place was taken with surprising resemblance by Iran - Iraq's eternal rival. And Iran continues to follow in Saddam's footsteps, seeking nuclear capability, threatening its neighbors' oil reserves and positioning itself at the forefront of Israel's enemies. Moreover, Iran has been operating by proxy via Hizbullah, and now through Hamas, to more closely threaten Israel. Saddam has gone. When will Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's time come? The writer is senior vice-president and director-general of United Jewish Communities' Israel Office.