Iraq under Saddam Hussein did not pose a threat
to the United States but it did to Israel, which is one reason why Washington
invaded the Arab country, according to a speech made by a member of a top-level
White House intelligence group.
IPS uncovered the remarks by Philip Zelikow, who is now the executive director
of the body set up to investigate the terrorist attacks on the United States
in September 2001 the 9/11 commission in which he suggests a prime
motive for the invasion just over one year ago was to eliminate a threat to
Israel, a staunch U.S. ally in the Middle East.
Zelikow's casting of the attack on Iraq as one launched to protect Israel appears
at odds with the public position of President George W. Bush and his administration,
which has never overtly drawn the link between its war on the regime of former
president Hussein and its concern for Israel's security.
The administration has instead insisted it launched the war to liberate the
Iraqi people, destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and to protect
the United States.
Zelikow made his statements about "the unstated threat" during his
tenure on a highly knowledgeable and well-connected body known as the President's
Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB), which reports directly to the president.
He served on the board between 2001 and 2003.
"Why would Iraq attack America or use nuclear weapons against us? I'll
tell you what I think the real threat (is) and actually has been since 1990
it's the threat against Israel," Zelikow told a crowd at the University
of Virginia on Sep. 10, 2002, speaking on a panel of foreign policy experts
assessing the impact of 9/11 and the future of the war on the al-Qaeda terrorist
"And this is the threat that dare not speak its name, because the Europeans
don't care deeply about that threat, I will tell you frankly. And the American
government doesn't want to lean too hard on it rhetorically, because it is not
a popular sell," said Zelikow.
The statements are the first to surface from a source closely linked to the
Bush administration acknowledging that the war, which has so far cost the lives
of nearly 600 U.S. troops and thousands of Iraqis, was motivated by Washington's
desire to defend the Jewish state.
The administration, which is surrounded by staunch pro-Israel, neo-conservative
hawks, is currently fighting an extensive campaign to ward off accusations that
it derailed the "war on terrorism" it launched after 9/11 by taking
a detour to Iraq, which appears to have posed no direct threat to the United
Israel is Washington's biggest ally in the Middle East, receiving annual direct
aid of three to four billion dollars.
Even though members of the 16-person PFIAB come from outside government, they
enjoy the confidence of the president and have access to all information related
to foreign intelligence that they need to play their vital advisory role.
Known in intelligence circles as "Piffy-ab", the board is supposed
to evaluate the nation's intelligence agencies and probe any mistakes they make.
The unpaid appointees on the board require a security clearance known as "code
word" that is higher than top secret.
The national security adviser to former President George H.W. Bush (1989-93)
Brent Scowcroft, currently chairs the board in its work overseeing a number
of intelligence bodies, including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the
various military intelligence groups and the Pentagon's National Reconnaissance
Neither Scowcroft nor Zelikow returned numerous phone calls and email messages
from IPS for this story.
Zelikow has long-established ties to the Bush administration.
Before his appointment to PFIAB in October 2001, he was part of the current
president's transition team in January 2001.
In that capacity, Zelikow drafted a memo for National Security Adviser Condoleezza
Rice on reorganizing and restructuring the National Security Council (NSC) and
prioritizing its work.
Richard A. Clarke, who was counter-terrorism coordinator for Bush's predecessor
President Bill Clinton (1993-2001) also worked for Bush senior, and has recently
accused the current administration of not heeding his terrorism warnings, said
Zelikow was among those he briefed about the urgent threat from al-Qaeda in
Rice herself had served in the NSC during the first Bush administration, and
subsequently teamed up with Zelikow on a 1995 book about the unification of
Zelikow had ties with another senior Bush administration official Robert
Zoellick, the current trade representative. The two wrote three books together,
including one in 1998 on the United States and the "Muslim Middle East".
Aside from his position at the 9/11 commission, Zelikow is now also director
of the Miller Center of Public Affairs and White Burkett Miller Professor of
History at the University of Virginia.
His close ties to the administration prompted accusations of a conflict of
interest in 2002 from families of victims of the 9/11 attacks, who protested
his appointment to the investigative body.
In his university speech, Zelikow, who strongly backed attacking the Iraqi
dictator, also explained the threat to Israel by arguing that Baghdad was preparing
in 1990-91 to spend huge amounts of "scarce hard currency" to harness
"communications against electromagnetic pulse", a side-effect of a
nuclear explosion that could sever radio, electronic and electrical communications.
That was "a perfectly absurd expenditure unless you were going to ride
out a nuclear exchange they (Iraqi officials) were not preparing to ride
out a nuclear exchange with us. Those were preparations to ride out a nuclear
exchange with the Israelis", according to Zelikow.
He also suggested that the danger of biological weapons falling into the hands
of the anti-Israeli Islamic Resistance Movement, known by its Arabic acronym
Hamas, would threaten Israel rather than the United States, and that those weapons
could have been developed to the point where they could deter Washington from
"Play out those scenarios," he told his audience, "and I will
tell you, people have thought about that, but they are just not talking very
much about it".
"Don't look at the links between Iraq and al-Qaeda, but then ask yourself
the question, 'gee, is Iraq tied to Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad
and the people who are carrying out suicide bombings in Israel'? Easy question
to answer; the evidence is abundant."
To date, the possibility of the United States attacking Iraq to protect Israel
has been only timidly raised by some intellectuals and writers, with few public
acknowledgements from sources close to the administration.
Analysts who reviewed Zelikow's statements said they are concrete evidence
of one factor in the rationale for going to war, which has been hushed up.
"Those of us speaking about it sort of routinely referred to the protection
of Israel as a component," said Phyllis Bennis of the Washington-based
Institute of Policy Studies. "But this is a very good piece of evidence
Others say the administration should be blamed for not making known to the
public its true intentions and real motives for invading Iraq.
"They (the administration) made a decision to invade Iraq, and then started
to search for a policy to justify it. It was a decision in search of a policy
and because of the odd way they went about it, people are trying to read something
into it," said Nathan Brown, professor of political science at George Washington
University and an expert on the Middle East.
But he downplayed the Israel link. "In terms of securing Israel, it doesn't
make sense to me because the Israelis are probably more concerned about Iran
than they were about Iraq in terms of the long-term strategic threat,"
Still, Brown says Zelikow's words carried weight.
"Certainly his position would allow him to speak with a little bit more
expertise about the thinking of the Bush administration, but it doesn't strike
me that he is any more authoritative than Wolfowitz, or Rice or Powell or anybody
else. All of them were sort of fishing about for justification for a decision
that has already been made," Brown said.
(Inter Press Service)