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August 31, 2015 / 16 Elul, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Baghdad’

US Troops Leave Iraq as Operation Iraqi Freedom Ends

Sunday, December 18th, 2011

At 7:30am Baghdad time, the final convoy of US troops left Iraq, ending an almost nine-year military operation which began with the toppling of Dictator Saddam Hussein.

Since the first missile strikes of the $806 billion mission were launched under US President George W. Bush in March 2003, almost 4,459 Americans have been killed in Iraq, with 32,200 troops and staff wounded in action.

Military personnel and equipment rolled across the Iraq-Kuwait border just ahead of the December 31 deadline in a highly-organized exit which was planned over several months.  Air Force para-rescue forces remained on alert in case the 500-man convoy faced a critical emergency, yet the withdrawal remained low-key.  At its peak, US forces numbered over 170,000 at more than 500 bases.

On Thursday, US troops conducted a formal ceremony  ending Operation Iraqi Freedom in Baghdad, though a US diplomatic mission will remain on hand as a presence in Iraq, also overseeing military and equipment sales.

The withdrawal was a key component of US President Barack Obama’s election campaign.  As part of its effort to depart Iraq uneventfully, US forces paid $100,000 to tribal sheikhs to ensure their safety on highways toward Kuwait, according to Reuters news agency.

Though it seems the mission succeeded in thwarting attacks in the United States, it appears to have done little for Iraqi stability. Major sectarian violence led to thousands of Iraqi civilian deaths over the years, with a complex and fragile governmental coalition of Shi’ite, Sunni, and Kurdish parties threatening to collapse,  persistent insurgent attacks against government officials, and looming regional power wielders such as Iran and terror group Al-Qaida poised to take control.

Fire From The Skies

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

Thirty years ago next week – shortly after 5:30 p.m. on June 7, 1981 – Israeli fighter jets flew undetected through hundreds of miles of Arab air space and rained fire from the skies over Baghdad, laying waste an atomic reactor and depriving a brutish dictator the potential for mass destruction.

“The precision of the bombing,” marveled a French technician who viewed the wreckage, “was stupefying.”

Ze’ev Raz, the mission’s lead pilot, recalled years later in an interview with The Jewish Press that “things happened there that to this day we have no explanation for. For instance, according to all calculations the Iraqi radar systems were supposed to have spotted us at least 15 minutes before the bombing despite the fact that we flew at very low altitude.

“That’s why we had eight and not four F-16 fighters, because we thought for sure the Iraqis would spot us and send several MIGs to try to down us. We thought we would encounter heavy resistance.

“Don’t forget, the Iraqis were threatened by Iran too, so for sure they had their radar system and fighter MIGs on alert. We never thought we would take them by such complete surprise. But they didn’t do a thing.

“Here is another inexplicable thing: King Hussein was vacationing in Aqaba and saw us on our way toward Iraq. He immediately phoned Amman – our intelligence picked up the whole conversation then – and reported it to them. But those idiots ignored it and didn’t do anything . Of course it was a miracle. How is it possible that even after we bombed the reactor not one plane tried to down us?”

Miracle or not, the world was outraged. Voices that had been silent for years, while Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein courted the feckless nations of the West in his quest for nuclear bombs, were suddenly raised in a chorus of indignation:

“We don’t think [Israel’s] action serves the cause of peace in the area.” – French Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson, whose country supplied Hussein the ill-fated reactor.

“Provocative, ill timed and internationally illegal.” – U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield.

“Armed attack in such circumstances cannot be justified; it represents a grave breach of international law.” – British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

“Israel’s sneak attack…was an act of inexcusable and shortsighted aggression.” – New York Times editorial.

“[The attack] did severe damage to the hope in which Israel’s true security must lie: the hope of realistic relations with all its neighbors.” – New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis.

“[Israel has] vastly compounded the difficulties of procuring a peaceful settlement of the confrontations in the Middle East.” – Time magazine.

Innocent souls unschooled in the machinations of diplomatic flimflam were no doubt mystified by the uproar.

After all, wasn’t the act of separating a ruthless tyrant from a state-of-the-art nuclear arsenal a good thing?

And wasn’t Saddam Hussein, at the very time of the Israeli attack, a year into his bloody invasion of Iran?

And hadn’t Hussein worked long and hard to earn the nickname “Butcher of Baghdad”?

* * * * *
For Saddam Hussein, procurement of an arsenal that could mean the destruction of Israel was a goal of the highest priority.

Iraq had never been reticent in displaying its animosity toward the Jewish state. When the Arab League organized an “Inter-Arab Command” in the months before Israel’s birth, an Iraqi general was placed in charge, and at the conclusion of the first Arab-Israeli war, Iraq refused to sign an armistice – in stark contrast to the Arab front-line states of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

More recently, nine Jews had been hanged in Baghdad in 1969 on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel.

Iraq’s interest in nuclear technology dated back to 1959, when the Soviet Union, looking to expand its influence in the region, agreed to provide Baghdad with a reactor, enriched uranium and a team of scientists and engineers. After several delays – the Iraqis accused the Russians of dragging their feet – the reactor finally went operational in 1968.

Though the Soviets upgraded the reactor’s output (from two to five megawatts) three years later, they steadfastly refused to supply the Iraqis with any material that could have been used in the manufacture of nuclear bombs.

Iraq in the early 1970s had come under the de facto control of Saddam Hussein, though officially Hussein was second in command to General Ahmed Hassan-al-Bakr. Described by those who knew him as “power hungry to the point of insanity,” Hussein destroyed his political enemies, in the process raising the practice of torture to an art form. His stated goal was to succeed the late Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser as undisputed leader of the Arab world.

Possession of nuclear weapons was central to Hussein’s ambitions. But since the Soviets had unequivocally rejected the Iraqis’ requests on that score, the search was on for a country more willing to deal. Fortunately for Hussein, his rap sheet of bloodshed and megalomania meant nothing to the French, who loved to make new friends, particularly ones swimming in oil.

In 1974 France’s foreign minister, Michel Jobert, went to Baghdad and pledged any assistance Iraq might need to build up its technological infrastructure.

“I am happy,” Jobert said in a toast to his Iraqi hosts, “that your great country will now have the means to restore its past glory.”

Not to be outdone by Jobert’s groveling, the French prime minister, Jacques Chirac, paid a call on Hussein the following year and proclaimed the Iraqi dictator a “great statesman whose qualities will lead his people toward progress and national prosperity.”

It wasn’t long after Chirac’s visit that France agreed to build a nuclear reactor in Iraq – strictly for research purposes, both sides claimed.

“Research” was, of course, the last thing on Hussein’s mind, and he let it be known he was in the market for a hot cell – a piece of equipment that would enable Iraq to develop weapons-grade plutonium. Italy proved eager to sell Iraq what it needed, and at that stage only the blind or the French could fail to see what Hussein had in mind.

All the while Israel had been keeping a wary eye on Iraq’s nuclear ambitions. When Menachem Begin took office in 1977, he stepped up behind-the-scenes efforts to prevent Iraq from becoming a nuclear threat. The U.S. was Begin’s best hope, but the Carter administration, for all its talk of the need to halt the spread of nuclear weapons, was less than energetic in pursuing the matter.

As Israel’s diplomatic efforts foundered, pressure of a different sort was brought to bear on the Iraqis. In April 1979, just days before the French were scheduled to ship the nearly completed reactor to Iraq, saboteurs infiltrated a warehouse near the port of Toulon and attempted to blow up the reactor’s core. Damage, however, was relatively minimal.

Fourteen months later, the head of Iraq’s nuclear program was killed in his Paris hotel room.

Israeli agents were believed responsible for both incidents.

* * * * *
Sabotage and assassination notwithstanding, work continued as planned on the reactor the French had name Osirak but the Iraqis called Tammuz 1. By the autumn of 1980, Begin had concluded that Israel would have to take direct military action. As his military strategists set to work on a plan to take out the reactor, Begin kept up the diplomatic entreaties, all to no avail. The French insisted that Iraq’s intentions were of a purely peaceful nature.

By early 1981 the only question remaining for Begin was when to launch an attack on the reactor. The operation was postponed on more than one occasion when members of Begin’s cabinet voiced concerns over how the U.S. would react to the attack.

For his part, Begin expected a sharp reaction from Washington, perhaps even a U.S. vote to condemn Israel in the UN. But, he thought, it would all be so much window-dressing. Ronald Reagan had defeated Jimmy Carter the previous November, and Begin regarded President Reagan and his secretary of state, Alexander Haig, as warm friends of Israel.

As winter turned to spring, Begin began bracing himself for a final decision to strike at Iraq. He’d informed Labor party leader Shimon Peres of the plan to bomb the reactor. Peres made clear his opposition to the idea. Begin now knew the operation would bring harsh reaction not only from the outside world but from within Israel as well.

Adding to his uncertainty, Israelis would be heading to the polls in just a few weeks. Begin was locked in an extremely tight race with Peres and feared he would be accused of staging the raid as an election ploy. But he had an even greater fear – one that convinced him of the need to act before the election and a possible Peres victory.

“He really believed that Peres would never have the guts to order the raid,” said a Begin aide. “And Begin couldn’t bear the thought of Israel living in terror of an Iraqi bomb.”

The attack on the Iraqi reactor was set for early May but Begin called it off at literally the last moment when he learned that precise details of the mission had been leaked to Peres. If Peres
knew about it, Begin feared others – and not just in Israel – might have the same information.

* * * * *
Four weeks later, Begin decided he could wait no longer. In the early afternoon hours of Sunday, June 7 – the eve of the festival of Shavuot – Israeli pilots went through one last rehearsal. Shortly after 4 p.m., the planes – eight F-16s and several F-15 interceptors – took off from southern Israel.

The F-16 pilots were Ze’ev Raz, Amos Yadlin, Dobbi Yaffe, Hagai Katz, Amir Nachumi, Iftach Spector, Relik Shafir, and Ilan Ramon (who would go on to become Israel’s first astronaut, only to perish in the Columbia space shuttle disaster in 2003).

Begin summoned his cabinet to his home in Jerusalem. “Welcome, my friends,” he greeted the assembled group. “At this very moment our planes are approaching Baghdad.”

Not long afterward, Begin received the message he’d been anxiously awaiting.Thereactor had been destroyed and the pilots were on their way home.

Baruch Hashem,” Begin exclaimed. “What wonderful boys we have.”

In Israel, news of the raid set off an atmosphere of euphoria not felt since the 1976 Entebbe rescue. As expected, the Labor opposition was highly critical of the operation and its timing, but the criticism was quickly toned down once Peres and his colleagues realized how out of sync they were with the mood in the street.

The U.S. reacted much the way Begin thought it would. The Reagan administration voted to condemn Israel in the UN, and several F-16s scheduled for shipment to Israel were held back a few weeks. At the same time, President Reagan called Begin to assure him of his continued support.

“Technically,” Reagan would write years later, “Israel had violated an agreement not to use U.S.-made weapons for offensive purposes, and some cabinet members wanted me to lean hard on Israel because it had broken this pledge … but I sympathized with Begin’s motivations and privately believed we should give him the benefit of the doubt.”

Begin survived the international firestorm of criticism and went on to win reelection. His defense of the raid was blunt and emotional.

“The Iraqis were preparing atomic bombs to drop on the children of Israel,” he told a gathering of foreign correspondents in Jerusalem several days after the attack.

“Haven’t you heard of one-and-a-half million little Jewish children who were thrown into the gas chambers? Another Holocaust would have happened in the history of the Jewish people.

“Never again, never again. Tell your friends, tell anybody you meet, we shall defend our people with all the means at our disposal.”

Many of Begin’s Israeli critics would admit to having second thoughts in the weeks and months following the raid.

“Up to this point in time, the fact is that I was not right,” conceded Labor’s Mordechai Gur.

“It was a triumph, no diplomatic harm was caused and Israeli deterrence was reinforced,” said Abba Eban.

Moshe Dayan may have put it best: “Not one Arab would shed a tear were Israel to vanish off the face of the map…. To me, the raid was a positive action. Iraq was producing nuclear weapons against Israel, and we were obliged to defend ourselves.”

It took the rest of the world a little more time to come to grips with Saddam Hussein, but few illusions remained by the time Iraq invaded Kuwait in the summer of 1990.

In 1981 the Soviet Union had characterized the attack on Saddam’s reactor as “an act of gangsterism”; nine years later the Soviet chief of staff called it understandable.

In the fall of 1990, as an American-led coalition prepared for war with Iraq, U.S. defense secretary Dick Cheney publicly thanked Israel for its action.

* * * * *

In his 2007 interview with The Jewish Press, Ze’ev Raz looked back on the raid he led:

The General Staff originally wanted us to carry out the bombing after sunset so it would be harder for the Iraqis to attack us on the way back. But I was opposed to that. I thought if we did the bombing after sunset there wouldn’t be enough light and our planes would miss their target – so I insisted that the bombing take place before sunset.

As a result, we flew back as the sun was setting. But since the planes were traveling at such a fast speed, the sun was out all the time and never set. It was as though it remained standing in the middle of the horizon.

At that time we pilots all radioed each other reciting the same exact biblical verse – Joshua 10:12: “Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and moon, over the Valley of Ayalon.”

You know, as I am recalling this now I am getting goose bumps.

Still Taking Detours To Survival: Obama, Netanyahu And The Twisting “Road Map” To Genocide And War (Part II)

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

We may also consider some very recent postings from the Muslim Brotherhood Children’s Website (based in Egypt, a country allegedly “at peace” with Israel):

Did you know that the Jews murdered 25 of the Prophets of Allah, and that their black history is full of crimes of murder and corruption?

Did you know that the criminal Jews frequently revile and curse our Lord?

Did you know that the Jews made several attempts to murder our beloved Prophet, but that Allah the Omnipotent saved him from their plot?

Did you know that the corruption and deviance widespread in the world today are the result of activity and planning by the Jews, who are interested in leading people astray, away from the path of Allah?

Did you know that the Jews who occupy our land and our holy places in beloved Palestine are planning to occupy the rest of the Muslim countries and to establish a Greater Israel, from the Euphrates to the Nile, and that they are interested in excavating in the tomb f our beloved Prophet?

Did you know that today the Jews are inciting the entire world against Islam and the Muslims, on the pretext of the war against terror?

And so it goes.

How, then, shall we understand President Obama’s unswerving position on Palestinian statehood? How, too, shall we understand other current advocates of the so-called “peace process?”

Some supporters of the Road Map and its attendant disengagements and realignments, preferring to simply disregard the widely prevailing Arab/Islamic image of Israel as a pathology, base their flawed position on a problematic acceptance of the Palestinian claim to the remaining “territories” (Judea/Samaria). Leaving aside the very questionable nature of the underlying demographic argument (e.g., the commonly stated and unsupported assertion that current Palestinians are descended directly from the ancient Canaanites), these supporters conveniently ignore the continuous Jewish presence in these lands. They also ignore that more than one million Palestinians are now full citizens of Israel. This is a juridical condition that is hardly mirrored in the Arab world, where 900,000 Jews were slaughtered or expelled from area states after 1948, and which presently denies Jews any remotely parallel rights of nationality. Yet, it is the Palestinians – not the Israelis – who cling relentlessly to the idea of Jihad or holy war.

The unchanging struggle to evict the Jews from “all of Palestine” (that is, from Israel proper, as well as from Judea/Samaria/Gaza), is driven by this idea. According to Islamic orthodoxy, the Prophet is said to have predicted a final war to annihilate the Jews. Mohammed, it is reported, had stated: “The hour [i.e., salvation] will not come until you fight against the Jews; and the stone would say, `O Muslim! There is a Jew behind me: come and kill him.'”

Israel’s Peace Process supporters, in advancing Palestinian legal claims, forget, inter alia, that the PLO had openly urged Saddam Hussein to launch annihilatory attacks upon Israel during the 1991 Gulf War. Yassir Arafat had enthusiastically embraced Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, sending units of the Palestinian Liberation Army (PLA) to actively assist with the inter-Arab killing, rape and torture of Kuwaitis. Following the Iraqi aggression in early August 1991, Arafat and the PLO had plainly and vigorously supported Baghdad.

At the Cairo Summit of August 10, 1990, Arafat deflected attention from the invasion toward the crises in Afghanistan and Kashmir. Abdul Abbas sent his own paramilitary forces into the occupied state to help “police” the sheikhdom. So, too, did the PFLP’s George Habash and the DFLP’s Nayef Hawatmeh. At the time, Mohammed Milhem, a senior aide to Arafat, publicly threatened Fatah-led terrorism “everywhere” in support of Iraq. Today, U.S. President Barack Obama uses American tax dollars to “train” Fatah “security forces.” Doesn’t anyone remember U.S. aid to the Afghan “freedom fighters” then called Mujahedeen?

Arab/Islamic critics of Israel often speak of sinister Jewish migrations to “Palestine” after World War I, neglecting to mention that (1) there has been a substantial and continuous Jewish presence in the land for over three thousand years; and (2) there has been a steady Jewish majority in Jerusalem. Nor do they bother to recall that after World War II, when the General Assembly proposed to partition Palestine, this offer followed an earlier (1922) illegal partition by the British which gave almost 80% of the land promised to the Jews by the Balfour Declaration to create the Arab state of Trans Jordan. From the standpoint of authoritative international law at the time of the 1947 partition vote in the United Nations, the Jews had already been unlawfully deprived of four-fifths of their lawful entitlement.

How did protracted warfare first arise between Israel and the Arabs? Not even militant Arab leaders or anti-Zionist historians could conceivably accept the view that the 1948-49 conflict was a war of Jewish origin. On February 16, 1948, the U.N. Palestine Commission reported to the Security Council: “Powerful Arab interests, both inside and outside Palestine, are defying the resolution of the General Assembly and are engaged in a deliberate effort to alter by force the settlement envisaged therein.” Ironically, the Arabs themselves were entirely honest in accepting responsibility for starting the war. Jamal Husseini informed the Security Council on April 16, 1948: “The representatives of the Jewish Agency told us yesterday they were not the attackers, that the Arabs had begun the fighting. We did not deny this. We told the whole world that we were going to fight.”

As for the British commander of Jordan’s Arab Legion, John Bagot Glubb, he remarked candidly: “Early in January, the first detachments of the Arab Liberation Army began to infiltrate into Palestine from Syria. Some came through Jordan and even through Amman…. They were in reality to strike the first blow in the ruin of the Arabs of Palestine.”

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) lectures and publishes widely on Israeli and US foreign and military policies. He is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.

Iranian Nuclearization, ‘Human Shields’ And Israeli Preemption: The View From International Law

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2006

Soon, Israel will have little choice but to preemptively destroy Iran’s developing capacity for nuclear weapons and nuclear war. Confronted by a declared enemy state that remains openly genocidal as it forges ahead with illegal nuclearization, Israel will face many tactical difficulties.

More precisely, in operationalizing anticipatory self-defense – which is international law’s formal expression for such a protective first strike – Israel will have to contend with Iran’s deliberate placement of nuclear materials, personnel and infrastructures in the midst of its civilian populations.

In essence, Iran – now led by a president who repeatedly calls upon the entire Islamic world to “wipe Israel off the map” – plans to dissuade Israel by deploying “human shields.” Apart from its obvious indecency, such practice is always a clear violation of humanitarian international law. Under the authoritative law of war, Iran’s placement of nuclear assets amidst noncombatant men, women and children represents a textbook example of “perfidy.”

Deception can be an acceptable virtue in warfare (and Iran considers itself at war with Israel), but there is a meaningful legal distinction between deception and perfidy. The Hague Regulations in the law of war allow deception but disallow perfidy. The prohibition of perfidy is reaffirmed in a law-making protocol of 1977. It is widely understood that these rules are also binding on the basis of customary international law. The Fourth Geneva Convention states plainly, that it is perfidy to shield military targets from attack by moving them into densely populated areas or by purposely moving civilians near military targets. Indeed, it is generally agreed by legal scholars that such treachery – precisely what President Bush warned about on February 10, 2003 in the case of Iraq – represents an especially serious violation of the law of war. This type of violation is known technically as a “grave breach” of the Geneva Conventions.

For Iraq, from which the current Iranian regime has drawn some of its lessons on perfidy, the insidious practice of human shields had been an ongoing strategy. Long before Operation Iraqi Freedom, Saddam Hussein had engaged in this illegal behavior before and during the 1991 Gulf War, both in his abuse of U.S. civilians around Iraqi military targets and in his abuse of Iraqi civilians around Baghdad’s military command centers. On one occasion, when coalition forces attacked a civilian defense shelter in Baghdad that was also being used as a military command center, Washington had correctly explained the action by citing Iraqi perfidy.

In terms of international law, Israel and the world should take particular note of the following: The legal effect of perfidy is always exculpatory for the attacker, at least from the standpoint of Jus In Bello, or “justice in war” (it has no effect at all on Jus Ad Bellum or the “justice of war”). In essence, it creates an exemption for the attacker from the normally operative humanitarian rules concerning permissible targets. It follows that any Iranian-created link between protected persons (civilians) and nuclear operations, would place all responsibility for subsequent civilian harms upon Iran. Any harms that might be inflicted by an attacker upon Iran’s human shields, would certainly be tragic and regrettable, but the legal responsibility for such harms would lie squarely with the genocidal Iranian leader and his government. Indeed, even specific criminal charges (carrying precise penal sanctions) could be assigned to Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

International law is not a suicide pact. When a state such as Iran engages in perfidious violations of the law of war, other countries seeking to prevent Iranian nuclear aggression, are still entitled to longstanding rights of self-defense. This entitlement extends to both the customary right of anticipatory self-defense – the right to use military force preemptively when the danger posed is “imminent” – and the codified right of retaliation following an armed attack. Should Iran resort to human shields to deter an Israeli preemption, as now seems certain, such perfidy would not limit any country’s right of self-defense against Iran. It would mean only that full legal responsibility for any consequent Iranian casualties would lie entirely with Iran.

In the coming months, Iranian president Ahmadinejad could decide to place thousands of additional civilians directly around nuclear facilities and/or within clandestine storage areas and pertinent command structures. Should it allow itself to be deterred by this newest resort to human shields, Israel would effectively permit Iran to make preparations for a war that could ultimately kill millions. Such “humanitarianism” by Israel (and perhaps by its American ally as well), however well-intentioned, would turn out to be misplaced. Jerusalem should continue to be guided in such matters by international law, by a time-honored set of rules, that correctly calls the emplacement of human shields “perfidy,” and that is designed to assist self-defense.

International law prohibitions notwithstanding, Iran has now been allowed by the United Nations and the world community to develop into an intolerable global menace. In such a dangerous situation, the legal right of self-defense against this menace is substantial. This right should not,under any circumstances, be inhibited by the Iranian president’s willful acts of perfidy.

Barring a near-miraculous political settlement with Iran, an Israeli preemption is altogether indispensable and would be consistent with governing international law. When it is undertaken, such an heroic act of anticipatory self-defense, which really ought to have been undertaken by the United States, will deserve our full support.

Copyright, The Jewish Press. All rights reserved.

LOUIS RENE BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is the author of many books and articles dealing with international law.

Grading TV’s War Coverage

Wednesday, May 28th, 2003

Due to pressing post-holiday obligations, the Monitor yields this week to the Media Research Center’s Brent Baker and Rich Noyes, who prepared the following summary of MRC’s assessment of war coverage by American television:

“While it only lasted about three weeks, the second Gulf War was an unqualified success. Jubilant Iraqis danced in the streets as U.S. military forces rolled into the center of Baghdad, while the dictator Saddam Hussein and his evil cohorts were, as General Tommy Franks put it on April 11, either dead or “running like hell.”

“But what about TV’s coverage of the war? A new MRC Special Report finds while the media covered many aspects of the war well – reports from embedded journalists were refreshingly factual and mostly devoid of commentary – TV’s war news exhibited problems detected during previous conflicts: too little skepticism of enemy propaganda, too much mindless negativism about America’s military prospects, and a reluctance on the part of most networks to challenge the premises of anti-war activists or to expose their radical agenda:

“Networks: By refusing to copy the reflexive skepticism of most of the media elite, those who watched the Fox News Channel weren’t misled by the unwarranted second-guessing and negativism that tainted other networks’ war news. The main blemish on FNC’s war record occurred on March 30 when Geraldo Rivera, traveling with the 101st Airborne Division, boastfully disclosed the unit’s mission.

“In contrast, ABC received a near-failing grade for knee-jerk negativism that played up Iraqi claims of civilian suffering, hyped American military difficulties and indulged anti-war protesters with free air time. ABC’s Chris Cuomo even promoted anti-war protesters as “prescient indicators of the national mood,” even as polls showed most Americans supported the war. (Details on all networks at www.mrc.org)

“Anchors: All of the network anchors received high grades except for the highly tendentious Peter Jennings, who played up any defeatist angle he could find. Five days before Baghdad fell, Pentagon reporter John McWethy warned, “This could be, Peter, a long war.” Jennings felt vindication: “As many people had anticipated.”

“Embedded Reporters: These reporters excelled when they acted as the viewers’ eyes and ears in Iraq. NBC’s David Bloom, in his innovative Bloommobile, was the star of the group, offering hours of riveting live coverage of the Third Infantry’s historic drive toward Baghdad, while CNN’s Walter Rodgers narrated hour upon hour of armored troop movements, often under enemy fire, without straying from his “just the facts” style.

“On the other hand, ABC’s Ted Koppel spent his time pontificating as if he – not the vast military force that surrounded him – were the real star. “Forget the easy victories of the last twenty years; this war is more like the ones we knew before,” he lectured on the March 24 Nightline. “Telling you if and when things are going badly for U.S. troops, enabling you to bear witness to the high cost of war, is the hard part of our job,” he asserted. “We’ll do our very best to give you the truth in the hope and the belief that you can handle it.”

“Baghdad Reporters: Until the Iraqi dictatorship ran away April 9, Baghdad-based reporters were controlled by the Ministry of Information. Given the impediments to accurate reporting, networks should have used such reporters sparingly. Instead, ABC gave a great deal of time to the uncorroborated stories of civilian suffering which freelancer Richard Engel reported, including an April 2 claim that the U.S. had bombed a “maternity hospital.”

“National Geographic Explorer’s Peter Arnett, who was heavily used by MSNBC and NBC before he was fired, was the most outrageously biased Baghdad reporter. On March 26 on NBC’s Today, Arnett twice reported Iraqi claims that the U.S. had used “cluster bombs” to kill dozens at a Baghdad marketplace, a claim later rebutted by NBC’s Pentagon reporter Jim Miklaszewski. That was days before his infamous appearance on Iraqi TV, but spouting enemy propaganda on NBC’s airwaves was not a firing offense.”

Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com  

There Is Linkage

Friday, May 2nd, 2003

As it turns out, there really is linkage between what is going on in Iraq and the Intifada. Not the kind of linkage Yasir Arafat, Tony Blair and the European Union are suggesting – that the
necessary next step after “regime change” in Iraq is setting an arbitrary timeline for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Rather, the dispatch of Palestinian suicide bombers by Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Fatah to Iraq to confront American and British troops, the widespread demonstrations across the West Bank and in Gaza, and leadership declarations of support for Saddam Hussein’s regime document what we have been saying for months: Muslim terrorists share, money, personnel,
intelligence and training facilities and are part of one interconnected enterprise.

Consider what that crowd is saying. Islamic Jihad’s “Jerusalem Brigade” the other day claimed responsibility for the recent suicide bombing in Netanya, calling it “a gift” to the Iraqi people.

Islamic Jihad also distributed leaflets which “congratulated the suicide pioneers who have arrived in Baghdad to fight in the ranks of Arab fighters and to perform their holy duty. We
emphasize the connection between the unity of goals for Palestine and Baghdad to stand up to the American-Zionist war meant to harm the entire Arab nation and Islam.”

Ramadan Shelah, secretary general of Islamic Jihad, said the Netanya attack, is the response to the call for performing holy duties. The jihad is a commandment and now a new gate of jihad has been opened for the entire Islamic nation and, within that framework, the resistance forces in Palestine will work. If the sons of Islamic Jihad and its supporters succeed, they
will reach the battlefield in Baghdad to participate in this war.

Plainly, the Palestinians claim the inalienable right to kill Israelis in order to destroy the Jewish state and end the “occupation.” They now also claim the same right in order to drive the infidel United States and England from Iraqi soil, regardless of the reason for their being there.

We hope that President Bush keeps this firmly in mind when he hears from some of his advisers and allies that this Palestinian mindset will miraculously change in the short term
simply because they have gone through the motions of appointing a prime minister.

Two Minutes Over Baghdad: The Day Israel Saved The World

Wednesday, January 30th, 2002

Originally posted September 18, 2002

Shortly after 5:30 p.m. on June 7, 1981, Israel saved the world from the threat of nuclear blackmail. In less than two minutes’ time, Israeli jets laid waste an atomic reactor on the outskirts of Baghdad, and so deprived a brutish dictator the potential for mass destruction.

The world was outraged.

Voices that had been silent for years, while Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein courted the feckless nations of the West in his quest for nuclear bombs, were suddenly raised in a chorus of indignation.

“We don’t think [Israel’s] action serves the cause of peace in the area,” sniffed French Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson, whose country had supplied Hussein the ill-fated reactor.

“Provocative, ill-timed and internationally illegal,” sobbed U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield.

“Armed attack in such circumstances cannot be justified; it represents a grave breach of international law,” scolded the usually sensible British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher,.

“Israel’s sneak attack…was an act of inexcusable and short-sighted aggression,” snarled a New York Times editorial written by editorial page editor Max Frankel.

“[The attack] did severe damage to the hope in which Israel’s true security must lie: the hope of realistic relations with all its neighbors,” sermonized New York Times paleoliberal columnist Anthony Lewis.

“[Israel has] vastly compounded the difficulties of procuring a peaceful settlement of the confrontations in the Middle East,” sniped Time magazine.

Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, it should be noted, expressed complete sympathy and solidarity with Iraq, and in fact helped push through a United Nations resolution condemning Israel for the attack on their good neighbor.

Innocent souls unschooled in the machinations of diplomatic flimflam were no doubt mystified by all the uproar.

After all, isn’t the act of separating a ruthless tyrant from a state-of-the-art nuclear arsenal a good thing?

Wasn’t Saddam Hussein, at the very time of the Israeli attack, a year into his bloody invasion of Iran?

And hadn’t Hussein worked long and hard to earn the nickname ‘Butcher of Baghdad’?

Certainly there was more than a touch of disingenuousness in the response to the destruction of the reactor – several countries had ties of their own to the Iraqi nuclear program, while some world leaders expressed approval of the Israeli action privately even as they denounced it publicly.

But how to explain the outcry from nations that had no stake in the success of Hussein’s nuclear development; nations that for the most part were located well beyond the bounds of Middle East double-talk?

And how to account for the negative reaction on the part of individuals and organizations usually given to shrill warnings about the dangers of nuclear proliferation?

The answer, it should be fairly obvious, lay with the source of the attack on the Iraqi reactor: Israel. More specifically still, the Israel of Menachem Begin.

From Underdog To Colossus

For years after its establishment, Israel enjoyed the support of the Western world’s opinion-making elites. The democracies, stuck in what appeared to be a no-win cold war with the Soviet Union, admired Israel’s fighting spirit, while socialist governments in non-Communist Europe felt a kinship with Israel’s ruling Labor party.

This widespread affinity for Israel crested with the 1967 Six-Day War. The media in the U.S. and Europe virtually celebrated Israel’s lightning victory, huge demonstrations on behalf of Israel were held in just about every Western capital and major city, and public figures from mayors to movie stars rushed to leap aboard the pro-Israel bandwagon.

But as Israel would find in the years to come, popular opinion is indeed as fickle a phenomenon as the cynics say it is. Israelis would also learn, rather quickly, that the media giveth and the media taketh away.

The portrayal of Israel in newsprint and on television, so positive in the years leading up to the Six-Day War, became increasingly negative thereafter. To many journalists, Israel was no longer an underdog deserving of support, but rather a military Colossus refusing to make peace with the weaker states in its neighborhood.

America’s prestige media (The New York Times, Washington Post, Time, Newsweek and the three television networks) had, by the late 1960’s, joined other elements of the nation’s liberal establishment in appropriating a good deal of the language and attitudes of the countercultural New Left.

As they grew increasingly opposed to America’s role in Vietnam, liberals were fast losing faith in all the old certainties. Any nation or movement claiming victimization at the hands of the U.S. or the West (and Israel was considered very much a part of the West) was almost guaranteed to win a place in liberal hearts.

It was hardly surprising, then, that by the mid-1970’s the media’s stock descriptions of Israel were ‘militaristic’ and ‘intransigent.’ The ‘plight of the Palestinians’ (another stock phrase of the era) was in; Israel was definitely out. Even the frequent terrorist operations mounted by the PLO and its offshoots did little to win back media support for Israel; the atrocities almost invariably were blamed on Israel’s so-called callous handling of the ‘Palestinian problem.’

Despite the media’s antagonism, however, polls continued to show that most Americans refused to be swayed and still favored Israel, by sizable margins, over its Arab enemies.

And, of course, Israel retained the near-unanimous support of American Jews and the various influential Jewish organizations.

Then came Begin.

By 1977 Israel had been under the governance of the Labor party for 29 years, going back to the founding of the state in 1948. But a series of scandals involving key Labor officials, coupled with a general sense that the country was adrift and rudderless, caused many Israelis to forgo traditional political attachments and turn to the opposition Likud bloc for answers.

Even with all that as backdrop, however, the election that May of Menachem Begin as prime minister set off shockwaves, both within Israel and around the world.

The quintessential outsider in Israeli politics since his days as head of the underground Irgun in the 1940’s, Begin was a man reviled by the Labor-friendly Israeli media. And it wasn?t just Begin’s right-wing ideology that had made him a pariah in Israel’s proper circles; his formal dress and courtly demeanor set him apart from the brash and decidedly informal image cultivated by Israeli leaders of his generation.

Most of all, though, it was Begin’s rhetoric – his unabashed references to Jewish history and his unembarrassed affirmations of Jewish destiny – that not only discomfited his political opponents in Israel, but downright frightened Hadassah ladies at lunch in the U.S.

The reaction of the American and European media to Begin’s ascension was one of initial disbelief followed by unremitting hostility.

Not even the 1979 peace treaty signed by Israel and Egypt bought better press for Begin, who throughout the negotiations was derided as the ‘intransigent’ (that word again) stumbling block in the way of Anwar Sadat’s noble quest for peace.

Iraq Looks For Nukes

While the media were preoccupied with the threat to peace posed by Menachem Begin, one of Israel’s most militant antagonists was determinedly going about the business of building a nuclear bomb factory. For Saddam Hussein, procurement of an arsenal that could mean the destruction of Israel was a goal of the highest priority.

Iraq had never been reticent in displaying its animosity toward the Jewish state. When the Arab League organized an ‘Inter-Arab Command’ in the months before Israel’s birth, an Iraqi general was placed in charge, and at the conclusion of the first Arab-Israeli war, Iraq refused to sign an armistice – in stark contrast to the Arab front-line states of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

More recently, nine Jews were hanged in Baghdad in 1969 on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel.

Iraq’s interest in nuclear technology dated back to 1959, when the Soviet Union, looking to expand its influence in the region, agreed to provide Baghdad with a reactor, enriched uranium and a team of scientists and engineers. After several delays – the Iraqis accused the Russians of dragging their feet – the reactor finally went operational in 1968.

Though the Soviets upgraded the reactor’s output (from two to five megawatts) three years later, to their credit they steadfastly refused to supply the Iraqis with any material that could have been used in the manufacture of nuclear bombs.

Iraq in the early 1970’s had come under the de facto control of Saddam Hussein, though officially Hussein was second in command to General Ahmed Hassan-al-Bakr. Described by those who knew him as ‘power hungry to the point of insanity,’ Hussein destroyed his political enemies, in the process raising the practice of torture to an art form. His stated goal was to take up the mantle of the late Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser as undisputed leader of the Arab world.

Possession of nuclear weapons was central to Hussein’s ambitions. But since the Soviets had unequivocally rejected the Iraqis’ requests on that score, the search was on for a country that might be more willing to deal. Fortunately for Hussein, his rap sheet of bloodshed and crazed megalomania meant nothing to the French, who loved to make new friends, particularly ones swimming in oil.

France Loves Saddam

Ironically, France had been Israel’s primary arms suppliers in the 1950’s and 60’s, but on the eve of the Six-Day War the French president, Charles de Gaulle, warned Israel against launching a preemptive strike. When Israel chose to ignore his advice, an insulted de Gaulle cut off all arms shipments.

Relations between Israel and France would grow even more strained under de Gaulle’s successors, Georges Pompidou and Valery Giscard d?Estang.

The mid-1970’s were notable for a flurry of diplomatic activity among French and Iraqi officials. In 1974 France’s foreign minister, Michel Jobert, went to Baghdad and pledged any assistance Iraq might need to build up its technological infrastructure.

“I am happy,” Jobert said in a toast to his Iraqi hosts, “?that your great country will now have the means to restore its past glory.”

Not to be outdone by Jobert’s groveling, the French prime minister, Jaques Chirac, paid a call on Saddam Hussein the following year and proclaimed the Iraqi dictator a ‘great statesman whose qualities will lead his people toward progress and national prosperity.’

It wasn’t long after Chirac’s visit that France agreed to build an Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq – strictly for ‘research’ purposes, both sides claimed.

‘Research’ was the last thing on Hussein’s agenda, and the Iraqi leader let it be known that he was in the market for a ‘hot cell’ – a piece of equipment that would enable Iraq to develop weapons-grade plutonium. The government of Italy proved eager to sell Iraq its badly-needed hot cell, and at that stage only the blind or the French could fail to see what Hussein had in mind.

All the while Israel had been keeping a wary eye on Iraq’s nuclear ambitions. When Begin took office in 1977, he stepped up behind-the-scenes efforts to prevent Iraq from becoming a nuclear threat. The U.S. was Begin’s best hope, but the administration of President Jimmy Carter, for all its talk of wishing to halt the spread of nuclear weapons, was less than energetic in pursuing the matter.

As Israel’s diplomatic efforts foundered, pressure of a different sort was brought to bear on the Iraqis. In April 1979, just days before the French were scheduled to ship the nearly completed reactor to Iraq, saboteurs infiltrated a warehouse near the port of Toulon and attempted to blow up the reactor’s core. Damage, however, was relatively minimal.

Fourteen months later, the head of Iraq’s nuclear program was killed in his Paris hotel room.

Israeli agents were believed to be responsible for both incidents.

Sabotage and assassination notwithstanding, work continued as planned on the Osirak reactor. By the autumn of 1980, Menachem Begin had concluded that Israel would have to take direct military action. As his military strategists set to work on a plan to take out the reactor, Begin kept up the diplomatic entreaties, all to no avail. The French insisted that Iraq’s intentions were of a purely peaceful nature.

Time To Act

In early 1981, the only question remaining for Begin was when to launch the attack on the reactor. Several times the operation was postponed when members of Begin’s cabinet voiced their concerns over how the U.S. would react to the attack.

For his part, Begin expected a sharp reaction from Washington, perhaps even a U.S. vote to condemn Israel in the U.N. But, he thought, it would all be so much window-dressing. Ronald Reagan was the American president, not Jimmy Carter, and Begin regarded Reagan and his secretary of state, Alexander Haig, as warm friends of Israel.

It was now the spring of 1981, and as he braced himself for the final decision to strike at Iraq, Begin faced yet another obstacle. He had informed Labor party leader Shimon Peres of the plan to bomb the reactor, and Peres, predictably, was vigorously opposed to the idea. So Begin knew the operation would bring strong reaction not only from the outside world, but from within Israel as well.

Clouding the situation even further, Israelis would be heading to the polls in just a few weeks. Begin, up for reelection, was locked in an extremely tight race with Peres and feared he would be accused of staging the raid as an election ploy. But he had an even greater fear – one that convinced him of the need to act before the election and a possible Peres victory.

“He really believed that Peres would never have the guts to order the raid,” said a Begin aide. “And Begin couldn?t bear the thought of Israel living in terror of an Iraqi bomb.”

There would be no more postponements. In the early afternoon hours of Sunday, June 7 – the eve of the festival of Shavuot – Israeli pilots went through one last rehearsal.

A little after 4 p.m., the planes took off from an airbase in southern Israel. The flying armada consisted of eight F-16 fighter jets, each carrying two 2,000-pound bombs; six F-14’s forming a protective escort; and several F-15’s with oversize tanks to provide mid-air refueling.

Begin summoned his cabinet to his home in Jerusalem. “Welcome, my friends,” he greeted the assembled group. “At this very moment our planes are approaching Baghdad.”

About an hour and a half later, Begin received the message he’d been anxiously awaiting. The operation was a total success and the planes were on their way home.

“Baruch Hashem (Praise G-d),” Begin exclaimed. “What wonderful boys we have.”

Begin?s boys had flown undetected through hundreds of miles of Arab air space and dropped 16 tons of TNT, crushing the reactor?s dome and flattening the main building.

“The precision of the bombing,” marveled a French technician who viewed the wreckage, “was stupefying.”

Tell Anybody You Meet

In Israel, news of the raid set off an atmosphere of euphoria not felt since the 1976 Entebbe rescue. As expected, the Labor opposition was highly critical of the operation and its timing, but the criticism was quickly toned down once Peres and his colleagues realized how out of sync they seemed with the mood in the street.

The U.S. reacted much the way Begin thought it would. The Reagan administration voted to condemn Israel in the U.N., and a few F-16’s scheduled for shipment to Israel were held back a few weeks. At the same time, President Reagan called Begin to assure him of his continued support.

“Technically,” Reagan would write years later, “Israel had violated an agreement not to use U.S.-made weapons for offensive purposes, and some cabinet members wanted me to lean hard on Israel because it had broken this pledge….but I sympathized with Begin’s motivations and privately believed we should give him the benefit of the doubt.”

Begin survived the international firestorm of criticism and went on to win reelection. His defense of the raid was blunt and emotional.

“The Iraqis were preparing atomic bombs to drop on the children of Israel,” he told a gathering of foreign correspondents in Jerusalem several days after the attack.

“Haven’t you heard of one-and-a-half million little Jewish children who were thrown into the gas chambers? Another Holocaust would have happened in the history of the Jewish people.

“Never again, never again. Tell your friends, tell anybody you meet, we shall defend our people with all the means at our disposal.”

Many of Begin’s critics in Israel would admit to having second thoughts in the weeks and months following the raid.

“Up to this point in time, the fact is that I was not right,” conceded Labor’s Mordechai Gur.

“It was a triumph, no diplomatic harm was caused and Israeli deterrence was reinforced,” said Abba Eban

Moshe Dayan may have put it best: “Not one Arab would shed a tear were Israel to vanish off the face of the map….To me, the raid was a positive action. Iraq was producing nuclear weapons against Israel, and we were obliged to defend ourselves.”

One Man’s Courage

It took the rest of the world a little more time to come to grips with Saddam Hussein, but few illusions remained by the time Iraq invaded Kuwait in the summer of 1990.

In 1981 the Soviet Union had characterized the attack on Saddam’s reactor as ‘an act of gangsterism'; nine years later the Soviet chief of staff called Israel’s action understandable.

In the fall of 1990, as an American-led coalition of nations prepared for war with Iraq, then-U.S. defense secretary Dick Cheney publicly thanked the Israelis for their action.

Sadly, any recounting of the destruction of the Iraqi reactor cannot end on an altogether happy note. Menachem Begin left office in 1983 a broken man, grieving over the death of his wife and haunted by the high number of casualties suffered by Israel in its 1982 invasion of Lebanon. He lived the last years of his life as a recluse, suffering a range of bodily ailments and rarely venturing out in public.

And yet, the story of the destruction of the Iraqi nuclear reactor is, more than anything else, the story of Begin’s moral and political courage.

It is the story of a man who, as prime minister, disappointed many of his most fervent supporters by never quite living up to their expectations; a man who, in the estimation of many Israelis, would say all the right things before backing down to the likes of a Jimmy Carter or an Anwar Sadat.

But history shall forever show that when the choice came down to saving Jewish lives or avoiding worldwide condemnation, Menachem Begin rained fire from the skies of Baghdad – without apology.

Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/news-magazine/two-minutes-over-baghdad-the-day-israel-saved-the-world/2002/01/30/

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