Jewish World Review Nov. 13, 2002 / 8 Kislev, 5763

David Warren

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A game of chess | A lot is now happening; I doubt we will have to wait to the last United Nations deadline, Feb. 11th, 2003, for the cold confrontation in Iraq to explode into hot warfare. But that may be an underestimation, both of Saddam Hussein's ability to stretch things out (with a little more French and Russian diplomatic assistance), and of George W. Bush's much-vaunted patience. For Mr. Bush now appears determined, not only to remove Saddam from the plot with the nominal support of the rest of the planet, but to be in a position to do so.

And when the blow comes, my bet is that the French will be scurrying to get in on the action. For as David Frum put it, on his new blog, "We complain that the French are faithless friends: the Iraqis are about to discover the same thing."

With the unanimous Security Council resolution of Friday, Saddam found himself finally in checkmate. (He had already lost queen, rooks, horses.) By the deadline Friday of this week, he may move his king to either of two adjoining spaces. In one direction, by rejecting the resolution, he calls down immediate U.S. air strikes. In the other direction, by accepting it and playing for time, the U.N. weapons inspection force comes in with robust American backing, and under intense American pressure, and does essentially what the airplanes would do -- in the course of which the Iraqi people notice that their emperor has lost his clothes, and Saddam's regime falls apart (there is evidence it is already cracking).

Put another way, he is down to the final choice: go quietly, or go out in a blaze of glory. Should he choose the latter option, he may find that he can no longer do what he might wish. He may try to drop something nasty on Israel, and find that he cannot. He may find that he can't even get a kick in at Kuwait.

For the U.S. has not spent the last year neglecting to surround him with the means to respond immediately to suspicious movements. Nor can Saddam plausibly avoid signalling a punch, from what I understand, because the Americans are watching for just such a shot, from every conceivable angle.

His only real option is to go offshore, and get foreign allies -- Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, other terror cells -- to try something elsewhere, where no one is expecting it. The strikes, if they come, will be at a great distance -- in the U.S. or Europe or India or South-east Asia or elsewhere in the Middle East; desperate and essentially hopeless attempts to distract from the main show; to get the world to say, "You see, Mr. Bush, Iraq is not the problem!"

The decision of the Iraqi "parliament" yesterday, to advise Saddam to reject the Security Council resolution, is absolutely meaningless. Saddam will almost certainly accept the U.N. resolution at the last possible moment on Friday, and is using the theatrical parliamentary display to pose as the "far-sighted man of peace". The "debate" was designed for Western and Al Jazeera television feeds, and of course they'll swallow anything.

Note well: the resolution provides U.S. and allies with more than diplomatic cover. It confers a tactical, battlefield advantage. It puts Saddam in the position, the moment he accepts it, of having to play along. He can't know from day to day whether any of the tricks he must try to survive have actually worked, until it is too late. He doesn't know for sure what the U.S. may know, about his resources. The U.S. is in effect riding on the French "amendments", which helped make the conditions for attack utterly murky. The same leave Saddam in utter confusion, as he tries to play for time. Even if he had some clever, undetected option for a first strike (with nerve gas, or whatever), he loses it this Friday.

So from Friday we look elsewhere for Saddam's "last shot".

Much of northern Israel is currently in lockdown against reports of a major suicide bombing in the works, or possibly a series of them. Recent terror strikes on Kibbutz Metzer and elsewhere have been conducted by Yasser Arafat's Fatah, not by Hamas (which is presently reeling from the effect of Israeli assassinations of key personnel). The Fatah targets are all within the Green Line, the attempt is being made to sneak behind IDF forward deployments. Mr. Arafat does Saddam's bidding, in trying to re-ignite the Palestinian "Intifada" as a distraction to the pressure on Iraq. (But Hamas itself ultimately reports to the Iraqi dictator, they are two arms with a common head.) For when Saddam goes down, Mr. Arafat is done for; it is his own last shot, too.

The Arab League has declared support for the U.N. Security Council resolution. They now fully recognize the inevitability of the U.S.-led regime change in Baghdad, and they are in damage-limitation mode. The anti-American demonstrations that they might unleash on another day, by way of enhancing their negotiating position with the U.S. State Department, will not be tried today. Saddam's only hope of "turning over the chessboard with Israel" is to get something started through Fatah or Hamas.

The Israelis think they are on top of it, but you never know. They and the Americans are reasonably confident that even if Saddam tries to hit Israel with a hidden Scud or a drone or a suicide pilot, they'll be able to intercept it.

And the Americans seem to have put enough fear into Syria's Bashir Assad, to guarantee that anything tried by Hezbollah, from Lebanese or Syrian territory, won't be with his blessing. By signing on to the unanimous U.N. resolution on Friday, the Assad regime was effectively sticking its hands up. The message was, "Here's my vote, now get him, not me." Hezbollah itself reports mostly to the ayatollahs of Iran; but they need Syrian cover to continue to operate near Israel's borders.

And Iran itself is meanwhile continuing to melt down. The student demonstrations to which I first referred some months ago had continued sporadically; but over the weekend the ayatollah regime did a very stupid thing. Their Islamist kangaroo court sentenced the well-known and popular "moderate reformer", Hashem Aghajari, to death. This inspired the students to go for broke, and an insurrection that began on one of the Tehran University campuses Saturday afternoon, quickly spread to other campuses around the city, and then to Isfahan, Shiraz, Tabriz, and probably beyond. The scale is such that the demonstrations have come even to the attention of the New York Times.

As I write (late Tuesday afternoon) the students are singing the Shah's old anthem, "Ey Iran", and fighting pitched battles with the ayatollahs' thugs amid bonfires and burning rubber. (G-d be with them.) It is hard to tell at this distance whether the insurrection is deepening, or the thugs are getting their own back. If the former, you will soon be able to read about it elsewhere in the news pages.

Whichever, the chances the U.S. strike on Baghdad will earn a "two'fer", as we say in Canada, steadily increases: the ayatollah regime collapsing alongside the Saddam regime, when just the Saddam regime gets hit.

While this would create much foreground confusion, it would also provide much background satisfaction, for it would mean that Hamas, Hezbollah and the Palestinian Authority had just lost their primary, rogue-state sponsors. It would send Syria scurrying to join Team Bush. It would leave Saudi Arabia exposed as the chief sponsor of the remaining Al Qaeda networks, and the orphaned Hamas, Fatah, and Hezbollah turning desperately towards radical Saudi sheikhs for succour (and probably not finding much). The Saudi use of vast oil wealth to finance the international Wahabi missionary effort -- which sets up fanatic imams in the grand new mosques that follow the Muslim diaspora around the world -- would then stand even more clearly exposed to the light of day.

To put this more plainly: from Baghdad, it could easily be, onward to Riyadh.

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JWR contributor David Warren is a Columnist for the Ottawa Citizen. Comment by clicking here.

10/30/02: Material breach
10/21/02: Armed & dangerous
09/11/02: The enemy within
08/21/02: Bush v. world
08/06/02: Has Sharon gone 'wobbly'?
07/24/02: Evil Sharon
06/19/02: The end is nigh
06/17/02: Those darn American imperialists!

© 2002, Ottawa Citizen