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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Israel urged US to attack Iran - not Iraq?

Former State Department official Larry Wilkerson claims that Israel urged the Bush administration to attack Iran and not Iraq four years ago:
Israeli officials warned the George W Bush administration that an invasion of Iraq would be destabilizing to the region and urged the United States instead to target Iran as the primary enemy, according to former Bush administration official Lawrence Wilkerson.

...

Wilkerson describes the Israeli message to the Bush administration in early 2002 as being, "If you are going to destabilize the balance of power, do it against the main enemy."

The warning against an invasion of Iraq was "pervasive" in Israeli communications with the US administration, Wilkerson recalled. It was conveyed to the administration by a wide range of Israeli sources, including political figures, intelligence, and private citizens.

Wilkerson noted that the main point of their communications was not that the US should immediately attack Iran, but that "it should not be distracted by Iraq and Saddam Hussein" from a focus on the threat from Iran.

The Israeli advice against using military force against Iraq was apparently triggered by reports reaching Israeli officials in December 2001 that the Bush administration was beginning serious planning for an attack on Iraq. Journalist Bob Woodward revealed in Plan of Attack that on December 1, 2001, secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld had ordered the Central Command chief, General Tommy Franks, to come up with the first formal briefing on a new war plan for Iraq on December 4. That started a period of intense discussions of war planning between Rumsfeld and Franks.

Soon after Israeli officials got wind of that planning, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon asked for a meeting with Bush primarily to discuss US intentions to invade Iraq. In the weeks preceding Sharon's meeting with Bush on February 7, 2002, a procession of Israeli officials conveyed the message to the US administration that Iran represented a greater threat, according to a Washington Post report on the eve of the meeting.

Israeli defense minister Fouad Ben-Eliezer, who was visiting Washington with Sharon, revealed the essence of the strategic differences between Jerusalem and Washington over military force. He was quoted by the Post as saying, "Today, everybody is busy with Iraq. Iraq is a problem ... But you should understand, if you ask me, today Iran is more dangerous than Iraq."

Sharon, who was incapacitated by a stroke last year, never revealed publicly what he said to Bush in the February 7 meeting. But Yossi Alpher, a former adviser to prime minister Ehud Barak, wrote in an article in The Forward last January that Sharon advised Bush not to occupy Iraq, according to a knowledgeable source. Alpher wrote that Sharon also assured Bush that Israel would not "push one way or another" regarding his plan to take down Saddam.

Alpher noted that Washington did not want public support by Israel and in fact requested that Israel refrain from openly supporting the invasion in order to avoid an automatic negative reaction from Iraq's Arab neighbors.

After that meeting, the Sharon government generally remained silent on the issue of an invasion of Iraq. A notable exception, however, was a statement on August 16, 2002, by Ranaan Gissin, an aide to Sharon. Ranaan declared, "Any postponement of an attack on Iraq at this stage will serve no purpose. It will only give [Saddam] more of an opportunity to accelerate his program of weapons of mass destruction."
You might want to read the whole thing.

I don't buy this story. Alpher is close to Barak, not to Sharon. If Uri Dan had written that, I might believe it. But Alpher would not have had access to Sharon and I don't believe in anonymous sources like that in Israel (everyone here talks). If Israel had given advice like that to Bush, we would have heard that here already.

I believe the Israeli government wanted Saddam out as much as it wants Ahmadinejad out. Saddam had WMD's and threatened Israel with them regularly. The article totally discounts the possibility that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, but I have seen and blogged evidence that Saddam stashed weapons in Syria before the US attacked him.

I think this article was written in the hope of making the Bush administration look foolish. I don't buy it.

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