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Jewish World Review July 11, 2002 / 2 Menachem-Av, 5762

David Silverberg

David Silverberg
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'Go ahead, make my day'


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | The United States passed the July 4th holiday with a sigh of relief. There were no terrorist incidents, and holiday celebrations, though dampened by security measures, went off without a hitch.

There was the shooting at the Los Angeles El Al Airlines ticket counter. Every day that goes by brings more evidence that the shooter, Egyptian immigrant Hisham Mohammed Hadayet, had links to al Qaeda, or was an al Qaeda sleeper agent. It's possible that Hadayet wanted to do more damage but al Qaeda was unable to get him the materiél necessary to conduct a significant terror attack - which is good news in a grim sort of way.

Overall, Americans seem to be sitting back and letting down their guard. The multi-hued terrorism warning system seems to be stuck on yellow. There's a temptation to become complacent. That, of course, would be a mistake: America's war on terror is entering a new and dangerous phase.

Since the beginning of June the indications of approaching hostilities between Washington and Baghdad have grown stronger.

On June 1, President Bush told the graduating class at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point that the United States would become proactive in fighting terror - rather than just respond to attacks. This is a sweeping statement that applies to all the aspects of the war, but it's particularly ominous with regard to Iraq, where the threat is greatest.

CIA operatives have been operating in Iraqi Kurdistan for a long time but now there are unconfirmed reports that U.S. Special Forces are active there as well and the tempo of operations is picking up - as is the Iraqi response.

Last week another step toward war took place: Iraq rejected United Nations proposals to reinsert nuclear weapons inspectors. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan personally led the delegation that negotiated with Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri. But even he had to admit defeat, saying "I would have preferred more. I cannot force a decision."

While the Iraqis confidently predicted that they'd pick up the talks again in Vienna in a few months, that appears unlikely.

American action to date has been restrained by two factors: the reluctance of Mideast governments, including friendly ones, to even covertly support a U.S.-led operation, and the lack of a clear casus belli from Iraq.

Meanwhile debate has raged within the administration over the nature and timing of a U.S. war, but not, apparently about its inevitability. It's significant that Gen. Wayne Downing, America's anti-terrorism czar and an apostle of special operations, resigned June 27 and that on July 5 The New York Times ran a front page article revealing U.S. plans for a massive, three-pronged invasion of Iraq.

Clearly, the advocates of an Afghanistan-like attack on Saddam Hussein were the losers to the conventional warriors who favor overwhelming superiority.

Meanwhile, as if to raise the stakes, last week Iraq announced that it had made an unspecified scientific breakthrough in weapons development.

So what's going on here?

Given the urgency of administration planning and discussion it appears that Iraq was on the verge of some kind of technological advance, whether building a nuclear bomb or perfecting a bioweapon. The United States wanted to head this off, both to prevent Iraq from having it and to prevent its transfer to terrorists, who could possibly insert it into the United States by stealth.

While al Qaeda and radical Islamic elements distracted the world and the United States by focusing attention on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the United States was frozen by a debate over whether or how to attack Iraq.

Having resolved that debate, much to someone's dismay (hence the leak to The New York Times), Iraq may have indeed made a scientific breakthrough. This was either the breakthrough the United States was trying to prevent or it's merely a bluff by Saddam to scare off an American attack.

It reminds one of the moment in the movie "Dirty Harry," when the detective played by Clint Eastwood has a bad guy in his sights and may or may not have a single bullet left. "… Seeing as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and will probably blow your head clean off, you have to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky?" growls Eastwood.

The United States has a gun to Saddam's head. Saddam may or may not have a gun to Bush's head. We're about to find out who will make whose day - and who's feeling lucky.

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JWR contributor David Silverberg is managing editor of The Hill. Comment by clicking here.

06/20/02: InfoTech: Lieberman leaps into high-tech
06/13/02: Pentagon Perspective: Getting ready for the big changes
05/23/02: Welcome to the Wonderful World of Intelligence
05/16/02: Crusaders and cannons vs. rockets
04/26/02: The future of civilization --- and those activists who seek to undermine it

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© 2002, David Silverberg