Israel Ex-commandos Training Kurds in North Iraq: Report
CAIRO, December 1, 2005 (IslamOnline.net) - Dozens of former Israeli
commandos have been training Kurdish security forces in northern Iraq,
supplying them with equipment worth millions of dollars, Yedioth
Aharonot newspaper reported Thursday, December 1.Over the past 18
months, these ex-commandos, who were sent to Iraq by several Israeli
corporations, have been training special security units as part of a
program organized by the Kurdish authorities, said Israel's
Operating from a secret desert stronghold dubbed Code Z, the
ex-Israeli soldiers, all with elite-unit experience, have been
training the Kurds in weapons, self-defense and anti-terror techniques.
The newspaper showed photographs of men it said were Israelis, their
faces concealed, training Kurds in the use of weapons at an unknown
location and preparing vehicles at an airport.
The New Yorker veteran investigative reporter Seymour Hersh said
Israeli intelligence and military operatives
were quietly at
work in northern Iraq, providing training for Kurdish commando units
and running covert operations inside Kurdish areas of Iran and Syria.
According to the Israeli daily, Motorola Israel and Magalcom
Communications and Computers won contracts with the Kurdish government
to the tune of hundreds of millions of US dollars.
As part of the program, the firms have supplied the Kurds with tones
of Israeli-manufactured equipment, including dozens of motorcycles and
all-terrain vehicles, sniffer dogs, devices for upgrading Kalashnikov
rifles, flack jackets, uniforms and helmets.They have also been
involved in the secret construction of a major airport near the
northern town of Arbil, known as "Hawler International". The Israelis
entered Iraq through its northern border with Turkey posing as
construction engineers and agricultural experts, the paper said.
Yedioth Aharonot added that a company owned by Israeli entrepreneur
Shlomi Michaels is in full business partnership with the Kurdish
government, providing strategic consultation on economic and security
The company was initially established by former Mossad chief Danny
Yatom and Michaels, yet Yatom sold his shares upon his election to the
Knesset. A shroud of secrecy has been imposed on the project for fear
the Israelis could be targeted by Iraqi resistance groups.
The Kurds, who make up 15-20 percent of Iraq's population and live
mostly along the borders with Iran and Turkey, have enjoyed broad
autonomy since the 1991 Gulf War.
Despite assurances from both sides, Turkey has repeatedly raised
concerned about the reported presence of Israeli operatives in
northern Iraq and their cooperation with the country's Kurdish community.
Kurds plan to invade South
Dec 28, 2005
KIRKUK, Iraq Kurdish leaders have inserted more than 10,000 of their
militia members into Iraqi army divisions in northern Iraq to lay the
groundwork to swarm south, seize the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and
possibly half of Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, and secure the
borders of an independent Kurdistan.
Five days of interviews with Kurdish leaders and troops in the region
suggest that U.S. plans to bring unity to Iraq before withdrawing
American troops by training and equipping a national army aren't
gaining traction. Instead, some troops that are formally under U.S.
and Iraqi national command are preparing to protect territory and
ethnic and religious interests in the event of Iraq's fragmentation,
which many of them think is inevitable.
The soldiers said that while they wore Iraqi army uniforms they still
considered themselves members of the Peshmerga the Kurdish militia
and were awaiting orders from Kurdish leaders to break ranks. Many
said they wouldn't hesitate to kill their Iraqi army comrades,
especially Arabs, if a fight for an independent Kurdistan erupted.
"It doesn't matter if we have to fight the Arabs in our own
battalion," said Gabriel Mohammed, a Kurdish soldier in the Iraqi army
who was escorting a Knight Ridder reporter through Kirkuk. "Kirkuk
will be ours."
The Kurds have readied their troops not only because they've long
yearned to establish an independent state but also because their
leaders expect Iraq to disintegrate, senior leaders in the Peshmerga
literally, "those who face death" told Knight Ridder. The Kurds are
mostly secular Sunni Muslims, and are ethnically distinct from Arabs.
Their strategy mirrors that of Shiite Muslim parties in southern Iraq,
which have stocked Iraqi army and police units with members of their
own militias and have maintained a separate militia presence
throughout Iraq's central and southern provinces. The militias now are
illegal under Iraqi law but operate openly in many areas. Peshmerga
leaders said in interviews that they expected the Shiites to create a
semi-autonomous and then independent state in the south as they would
do in the north.
The Bush administration and Iraq's neighbors oppose the nation's
fragmentation, fearing that it could lead to regional collapse. To
keep Iraq together, U.S. plans to withdraw significant numbers of
American troops in 2006 will depend on turning U.S.-trained Kurdish
and Shiite militiamen into a national army.
The interviews with Kurdish troops, however, suggested that as the
American military transfers more bases and areas of control to Iraqi
units, it may be handing the nation to militias that are bent more on
advancing ethnic and religious interests than on defeating the
insurgency and preserving national unity.
A U.S. military officer in Baghdad with knowledge of Iraqi army
operations said he was frustrated to hear of the Iraqi soldiers'
comments but that he had seen no reports suggesting that they would
acted improperly in the field.
"There's talk and there's acts, and their actions are that they follow
the orders of the Iraqi chain of command and they secure their sectors
well," said the officer, who refused to be identified because he's not
authorized to speak on the subject
American military officials have said they're trying to get a broader
mix of sects in the Iraqi units.
However, Col. Talib Naji, a Kurd serving in the Iraqi army on the edge
of Kirkuk, said he would resist any attempts to dilute the Kurdish
presence in his brigade.
"The Ministry of Defense recently sent me 150 Arab soldiers from the
south," Naji said. "After two weeks of service, we sent them away. We
did not accept them. We will not let them carry through with their
plans to bring more Arab soldiers here."
One key to the Kurds' plan for independence is securing control of
Kirkuk, the seat of a province that holds some of Iraq's largest oil
fields. Should the Kurds push for independence, Kirkuk and its oil
would be a key economic engine.
The city's Kurdish population was driven out by former Sunni Arab
dictator Saddam Hussein, whose "Arabization" program paid thousands of
Arab families to move there and replace recently deported or murdered
"Kirkuk is Kurdistan; it does not belong to the Arabs," Hamid Afandi,
the minister of Peshmerga for the Kurdistan Democratic Party, one of
the two major Kurdish groups, said in an interview at his office in
the Kurdish city of Irbil. "If we can resolve this by talking, fine,
but if not, then we will resolve it by fighting."
In addition to putting former Peshmerga in the Iraqi army, the Kurds
have deployed small Peshmerga units in buildings and compounds
throughout northern Iraq, according to militia leaders. While it's
hard to calculate the number of these active Peshmerga fighters,
interviews with militia members suggest that it's well in excess of
Afandi said his group had sent at least 10,000 Peshmerga to the Iraqi
army in northern Iraq, a figure substantiated in interviews with
officers in two Iraqi army divisions in the region.
"All of them belong to the central government, but inside they are
Kurds ... all Peshmerga are under the orders of our leadership,"
Jafar Mustafir, a close adviser to Iraq's Kurdish interim president,
Jalal Talabani, and the deputy head of Peshmerga for the Patriotic
Union of Kurdistan, a longtime rival of the Kurdistan Democratic
Party, echoed that.
"We will do our best diplomatically, and if that fails we will use
force" to secure borders for an independent Kurdistan, Mustafir said.
"The government in Baghdad will be too weak to use force against the
will of the Kurdish people."
Mustafir said his party had sent at least 4,000 Peshmerga of its own
into the Iraqi army in the area.
The Kurds have positioned their men in Iraqi army units on the western
flank of Kirkuk, in the area that includes Irbil and the volatile city
of Mosul, and on the eastern flank in the area that includes the
Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah.
The Iraqi army's 2nd Division, which oversees the Irbil-Mosul area,
has some 12,000 soldiers, and at least 90 percent of them are Kurds,
according to the division's executive officer.
Of the 3,000 Iraqi soldiers in Irbil, some 2,500 were together in a
Peshmerga unit previously based in the city. An entire brigade in
Mosul, about 3,000 soldiers, is composed of three battalions that were
transferred almost intact from former Peshmerga units, with many of
the same soldiers and officers in the same positions. Mosul's
population is split between Kurds and Arabs, and any move by Peshmerga
units to take it almost certainly would lead to an eruption of Arab
"The Parliament must solve the issue of Kurdistan. If not, we know how
to deal with this: We will send Kurdish forces to enforce Kurdistan's
boundaries, and that will have to include the newly liberated areas
such as the Kurdish sections of Mosul," 1st Lt. Herish Namiq said.
"Every single one of us is Peshmerga. Our entire battalion is Peshmerga."
Namiq was riding in an unarmored pickup in an Arab neighborhood in
eastern Mosul where Sunni Arab insurgents frequently shoot at his men.
As he leaned out the window with his AK-47, scanning the streets, he
said, "We will do our duty as Peshmerga."
Firas Ahmed, the assistant to the head of the Kurdistan Democratic
Party office in Mosul, invited a Knight Ridder reporter to inspect the
local Peshmerga brigade, motioning to a compound across the street.
It housed the headquarters of the 4th Brigade of the Iraqi army's 2nd
"We cannot openly say they are Peshmerga," Ahmed said. "We will take
you to see the Peshmerga, but they will be wearing Iraqi army uniforms."
Ahmed's boss, Khasrow Kuran, grinned and chimed in: "We cannot say
The 4th Brigade soldiers who met Ahmed at the front gate saluted him
and said, openly, that they reported to Afandi, the Kurdistan
Democratic Party's Peshmerga commander.
Col. Sabar Saleem, a former Peshmerga who's the head intelligence
officer for the 4th Brigade, said he answered to the Peshmerga
leadership. He also said he had little use for most Sunni Arabs.
"All of the Sunnis are facilitating the terrorists. They have little
influence compared with the Kurds and Shiites, so they allow the
terrorists to operate to create pressure and get political
concessions," Saleem said. "So they should be killed, too ... the
Sunni political leaders in Baghdad are supporting the insurgency, too,
and there will be a day when they are tried for it."
To the east, in the Iraqi army's 4th Division, is a brigade of about
3,000 troops in Sulaimaniyah that's also a near-replica of a former
Because of a U.S. military mandate, the 4th Division battalion serving
in Kirkuk is about 50 percent Kurdish, 40 percent Arab and 10 percent
Turkmen. The battalion on the outskirts of Kirkuk is about 60 percent
Capt. Fakhir Mohammed, a former Peshmerga and the operations officer
for the battalion on Kirkuk's edge, said he wasn't concerned that the
Kurds had only a simple majority in the two Kirkuk battalions: "It's
not a problem, because we have an entire brigade in Sulaimaniyah that
is all Kurd. They would come down here and take the Kurdish side."
Sgt. Ahmed Abdullah agreed.
"There are thousands of us Peshmerga, and it is our duty to protect
the borders of Kurdistan ... we will fight to hold Kirkuk at any
price," Abdullah said. "We will fight that battalion (in Kirkuk) if
they stand in our way."
Kurdish Oil Deal Shocks Iraq's Political Leaders
A Norwegian company begins drilling in the north without approval from
By Borzou Daragahi
Friday, December 02, 2005
BAGHDAD ? A controversial oil exploration deal between Iraq's
autonomy-minded Kurds and a Norwegian company got underway this week
without the approval of the central government here, raising a
potentially explosive issue at a time of heightened ethnic and
The Kurdistan Democratic Party, which controls a portion of the
semiautonomous Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq, last year quietly
signed a deal with Norway's DNO to drill for oil near the border city
of Zakho. Iraqi and company officials describe the agreement as the
first involving new exploration in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in
Drilling began after a ceremony Tuesday, during which Nechirvan
Barzani, prime minister of the Kurdish northern region, vowed "there
is no way Kurdistan would accept that the central government will
control our resources," according to news agency reports.
In Baghdad, political leaders on Wednesday reacted to the deal with
"We need to figure out if this is allowed in the constitution," said
Adnan Ali Kadhimi, an advisor to Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari.
"Nobody has mentioned it. It has not come up among the government
ministers' council. It has not been on their agenda."
The start of drilling, called "spudding" in the oil business, is sure
to be worrisome to Iraq's Sunni Arab minority. They fear a
disintegration of Iraq into separate ethnic and religious cantons if
regions begin to cut energy deals with foreign companies and
governments. Sunnis are concentrated in Iraq's most oil-poor region.
Iraq's neighbors also fear the possibility of Iraqi Kurds using
revenue generated by oil wells to fund an independent state that might
lead the roughly 20 million Kurds living in Turkey, Iran and Syria to
Iraqi legal experts and international oil industry analysts have
questioned the deal. Oil industry trade journals had expressed doubts
that it would come to fruition.
Iraq's draft constitution, approved in an Oct. 15 national referendum,
stipulates that "the federal government with the producing regional
and governorate governments shall together formulate" energy policy.
However, it also makes ambiguous reference to providing compensation
for "damaged regions that were unjustly deprived by the former regime."
Iraq's Kurds have argued that the country's existing oil fields and
infrastructure, such as those in the largely Kurdish cities of Kirkuk
and Khanaqin, should be divvied up by the central government but that
future oil discoveries should be controlled by each oil-producing region.
In his speech Tuesday, Barzani, the nephew of Kurdish politician and
former guerrilla leader Massoud Barzani, eschewed the language of the
law and couched the deal in political terms. He invoked the Kurds'
years of deprivation at the hands of the Sunni Arab-dominated
government of Saddam Hussein.
"The time has come that instead of suffering, the people of Kurdistan
will benefit from the fortunes and resources of their country," he
said during the ceremony in the western portion of Kurdish-controlled
The Kurds, who during the last several years of Hussein's rule
maintained sovereignty in northern Iraq under the protection of U.S.
warplanes, made millions in transit and customs fees as the Baghdad
government smuggled oil to Turkey in violation of United Nations
sanctions. Since the end of the sanctions, the Kurds have sought ways
to make up for that lost income.
The eastern administrative half of the Kurdish region also is rushing
to sign energy deals with foreign companies without Baghdad's
approval. The government of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, based in
the city of Sulaymaniya, has signed an electricity agreement with a
Turkish company and explored a possible oil deal with a foreign
partnership near the city of Chamchamal, the site of several dormant
During months of painstaking constitutional negotiations, Kurds
insisted on the authority to cut energy deals without Baghdad's
approval. Under the draft charter, the task of determining how oil
resources will be allocated is left to the National Assembly that will
be elected Dec. 15.
The language in the constitution regarding the power of regions to pen
such contracts was a major reason that the vast majority of Sunnis
voted against the charter in October.
The announcement of the DNO drilling took many Iraqis by surprise
"This is unprecedented," said Alaa Makki, a leader of the Iraqi
Islamic Party, a Sunni Arab group. "It's like they are an independent
country. This is Iraqi oil and should be shared with all the Iraqi
Makki said Kurds were trying to have it both ways, controlling the
Iraqi presidency and several powerful ministries in the national
government while also trying to lay claim to extra-constitutional
powers in the north. Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, is the Iraqi president.
However, Helge Eide, managing director of Oslo-based DNO, said he
believed Iraq's new constitution gave the Kurdish north jurisdiction
over certain drilling and oil exploration activities.
"That was clearly pointed out by Mr. [Nechirvan] Barzani," said Eide,
who attended the Zakho ceremony.
Oil companies have become used to operating in hostile and unstable
territories. DNO, founded 25 years ago, is considered an upstart in
the oil business, with projects in Yemen, Mozambique and Equatorial
Guinea, the site of a coup attempt last year, as well as northern Europe.
Eide said his company was more than willing to work with the
government in Baghdad, though it had not yet signed a deal with the
capital for oil exploration. In April, the company signed a deal to
provide the Iraqi Oil Ministry with training and technology as "the
first steps" to being invited by Baghdad, as well as the Irbil-based
Kurdish government, for future oil and exploration work.
Iraq, a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting
Countries, holds an estimated 115 billion barrels of proven oil
reserves, mainly in the south, according to Oil & Gas Journal, an
That places Iraq among the top five nations in oil reserves. Iraq
could contain significantly more undiscovered oil where energy
exploration hasn't occurred, an area that stretches across about 90%
of the country, the U.S. Energy Department said.
Iraq exports about 2 million barrels of oil a day, according to the
International Energy Agency in Paris.
Iraqi oil industry in crisis
Iraqi oil exports fell to their lowest level in two years in November
2005. Bad management of the reconstruction effort, widespread
corruption among government figures, and sabotage by insurgents are
the reasons for the decline. Experts say that the US strategy of
military intervention in oil-rich regions can only diminish, rather
than increase, the supply to world markets.
By Heiko Flottau in Cairo for ISN Security Watch (7/12/2005)
Two-and-a-half years after the US invasion of Iraq, the country's oil
industry is still in disarray. An official of the Oil Ministry in
Baghdad told ISN Security Watch, on condition of anonymity: "We do not
know the exact quantity of oil we are exporting, we do not exactly
know the prices we are selling it for, and we do not know where the
oil revenue is going to."
According to Baghdad press reports, export revenues are still not
sufficient to cover the Iraqi state budget. The government is forced
to take loans from international banks to cover its running expenses.
Although the US invested around US$1.3 billion in the rehabilitation
of oil plants damaged by lack of maintenance during 13 years of UN
sanctions, the daily output of approximately 1.3 million barrels
remains far below Iraq's pre-war production level of 2.5 million barrels.
The production goal for December 2004 of 3 million barrels per day,
set by the US and the Iraqi government, cannot be reached in the near
future, according to experts within the Iraqi Oil Ministry who talked
to ISN Security Watch.
The Iraqi government looks set to lose US$8 billion a year in
potential oil revenue, due to the poor current state of the oil industry.
One of the reasons for the decline of the industry is a lack of
progress in the reconstruction effort, due to serious managerial
For instance Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) was
awarded a US$225 million contract, without a tender, to rehabilitate
the Qarmat Ali Water Plant in southern Iraq, according to a report in
the Los Angeles Times.
The plant is used to pump water into the ground in order to build
pressure that brings the oil to the surface.
However, the contract did not include the repair of the pipelines
carrying the water to the oilfields. When the water was pumped into
the ground, the old pipes burst, spilling large amounts of water into
the desert. In addition, farmers often tap the water pipes in order to
irrigate their fields.
US officials apportion some of the blame for the delay in
rehabilitating the oil industry to their own Army Corps of Engineers.
During the first months after the war, the Corps was given
responsibility for the first phase of repairs to oil pumps and pipelines.
Members of the Corps lacked experience in handling the complicated,
outdated technology that was imported by Iraq from the former Soviet
Union. A member of the Corps later told a Congress hearing: "The Corps
of Engineers had absolutely no abilities as far as oil production is
In Kurdistan, KBR signed a US$70 million contract to rehabilitate part
of the pipeline system. According to the Los Angeles Times, KBR was
only able to fulfill half of the contract. A couple of million barrels
that had already been pumped could not be transported, and had to be
re-injected into the ground a practice that engineers regard as
harmful to oilfields.
Analysts identify the constant attacks by insurgents on pipelines as a
further obstacle to the recovery of the oil industry. Between May 2003
and late October 2005, observers counted 282 attacks on Iraq's oil
The first incident was an attack on 1 June 2003 against the
Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline, which carries oil from northern Iraq to
Turkey's Mediterranean coast. According to observers, the most recent
attack was on 24 October 2005 in the same area near Kirkuk.
Although US forces try to protect the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline and
Iraq's offshore loading terminals in the northern Persian Gulf, oil
exports are frequently interrupted.
In April 2004, suicide bombers attacked the Iraqi Khor al-Amaya
offshore loading terminal in the Gulf from a speedboat, killing three
ISN Security Watch spoke to a journalist from Baghdad's Al-Mada
newspaper, who did not wish to be identified, on this topic: "The
Iraqi government pays a lot of money to tribal chiefs, who say they
will protect pipelines. But nobody can completely secure the thousands
of kilometers of pipelines crossing the deserts."
The Brookings Institution warned in June 2004 that the new "oil
terrorism" could become a model for militant Islamists. The report
said that pipelines, which carry more than 40 per cent of the world's
oil production through insecure regions such as the Middle East, could
easily become "attractive terrorist targets."
On 6 December, the al-Qaida leadership issued a call to jihadists in
the region to attack oil installations, "in order to fight Western
companies that are dispossessing Muslims of their oil".
In another study, released in 2003, the Brookings Institution warned
that the sabotage campaign against Iraqi pipelines could harm the US
economy. "Without the Iraqi oil," the report argues, "the US taxpayer
will have to carry a heavier than anticipated burden of the
The report added that oil terrorism is contributing to high-risk
premiums for the transport of oil. Every one-dollar increase per
barrel is costing the US economy approximately US$4 billion a year.
Analysts say that the third reason for the decline in Iraqi oil
production is widespread corruption within the Iraqi Oil Ministry. In
March of this year, the ministry sacked 450 employees for the illegal
sale of oil and oil products.
In the same month, the Oil Ministry's Director General for Drilling
Mohammed al-Abudi said that "administrative corruption" was taking
many forms. "The robberies and thefts are taking place on a daily
basis on all levels [
] committed by low-level government employees
and by high officials in leadership positions of the Iraqi state," he
Instances of fraud include the manipulation of measuring instruments
at the end of pipelines and the provision of inaccurate data on tanker
oil loads. The supervision of tanker loads, which is usually done
through the checking of insurance papers, has ceased in many cases.
Oil industry experts say that corruption has not ended with the
sacking of the 450 ministry employees.
Often, tribal chiefs and criminal gangs tap the pipelines, depriving
the government of significant oil revenue. Trucks carrying gasoline to
gas stations are robbed by gangsters, while gunmen frequently attack
gasoline stations, even in town centers.
The oil acquired in this way is sold on the black market or
transported to neighboring countries like Iran.
Responding to questions from ISN Security Watch, Oil Ministry
officials in Baghdad predicted that reconstruction efforts and the
fight against corruption will not produce significant results in
coming years. Rather, they expect a continuous stagnation, and even a
further downturn in production.
A failing strategy
Oil terrorism and corruption, if allowed to continue, will seriously
harm Iraq's future. The country's economy, damaged by two Gulf wars,
the 2003 invasion and 13 years of UN sanctions, urgently needs a
period of peaceful reconstruction and the exploration of new
oilfields. Only 15 of over 70 known fields have been developed
properly. It usually takes at least five years to bring a new field
The seizure of the Iraqi oil fields and the raising of the country's
oil production were two of the most important motives for the US
invasion of Iraq. When asked, in September 2002, whether the US could
afford a costly military operation like the one planned in Iraq, White
House economic adviser Larry Lindsay told the Wall Street Journal: "We
can afford it."
Lindsay added that, after a regime change in Iraq, three to five
million barrels per day could be added to the world oil supply and
that Iraqi oil would bring in over US$50 billion in coming years.
Lindsay said that Iraq would easily be able to pay for the
Michael T. Klare, a Professor of Peace and World Security at Hampshire
College and author of the book "Blood and Oil", wrote that it is "an
article of faith among America's senior policymakers Democrats and
Republicans alike that military force is an effective tool for
ensuring control over foreign sources of oil."
He predicts that the US will continue to send troops into politically
fragile regions in future due to the dilemma of US dependence on oil
sourced from these areas.
However, Klare concludes that "the growing Iraqi quagmire has
demonstrated that the application of military force can have the very
opposite effect; it can diminish rather than enhance America's
access to foreign oil."
Heiko Flottau is ISN Security Watch's senior correspondent for Egypt.
He wrote for many years for Sueddeutsche Zeitung in Belgrade, Warsaw,
and Cairo. Heiko is the author of "From the Nile to the Hindukush -
The Middle East and the new World Order" (German, 2004).
Bush Says Iraq War Is Good for Israel
By FORWARD STAFF
December 16, 2005
In sharp contrast to the growing consensus of Jerusalem's security and
political establishment, President Bush argued this week that Israel's
safety depends on democratization of the Arab world.
"If you're a supporter of Israel, I would strongly urge you to help
other countries become democracies," President Bush declared Monday,
in a major address defending American policy in Iraq and his wider
vision for the region. "Israel's long-term survival depends upon the
spread of democracy in the Middle East."
Israeli security officials argued the opposite view at this month's
American-Israeli strategic dialogue, warning that regime change and
democratization threatened to destabilize the Middle East. Israel sees
its security tied to regimes such as Egypt and Jordan, and fears that
democratization could turn those countries against Israel.
"I am skeptical when it comes to the supposition that democracy is a
panacea. Not all democracies are good," said General Shlomo Brom,
former chief of the Israeli army's strategic planning division. "What
about a democracy in Egypt let's say which is governed by the
Muslim Brotherhood? Would Egypt then have better relations with Israel
than under Mubarak's regime?"
As the American-Israeli debate quietly heats up, the Bush
administration's approach is creating fault lines within the Jewish
community. On Tuesday, the Republican Jewish Coalition took out a
full-page advertisement attacking the Reform synagogue movement over
its recent call for the United States to develop an exit strategy for
the war in Iraq.
Neither the Republican Jewish Coalition ad nor the Reform statement
mentioned Israel. But some pro-Israel activists and Israeli observers
criticized Bush's comments, saying they could end up fueling claims
that Jerusalem and Jewish groups pushed the United States into an
"American Jews don't want American soldiers to be dying for Israel,"
said Martin Raffel, associate executive director of the Jewish Council
of Public Affairs, a public-policy coordinating umbrella group
consisting of 13 national organizations and 123 local
"Would Israel benefit from democracy in the Middle East? Yes. But so
would Europe, and America and the whole international community,"
Raffel said. "So why would the president select supporters of Israel?
Supporters of Western civilization would want to see democratization
in the Middle East, along with Israel."
Israeli experts voiced similar concerns.
"It could put Israel in a very awkward situation with the American
public, if Israel would be the excuse for losing more American
soldiers every day," said Danny Rothschild, a retired major general
who once served as the Israeli army's top administrator in the West Bank.
In a speech on Wednesday, Bush criticized anti-war opponents who would
suggest that America went to war for Israel. At the same, he and other
Republicans defending his foreign policy by linking it to Israel's
Senator John Warner of Virginia, the Republican chairman of the Senate
Armed Services Committee, recently argued in an interview with MSNBC
that a premature American pullout would "put Israel in a very tenuous
and vulnerable position." And a GOP activist, Bruce Blakeman, told the
Forward that Israel's security has always played a key role in the
president's thinking on Iraq.
"The president realized not only that Saddam Hussein was a danger to
America, but that Saddam Hussein had designs on attacking Israel,"
said Blakeman, whose brother Brad is a former Bush aide. "There was a
concern that an attack on Israel would turn into a regional war, with
Syria and Iran joining in on Iraq's side."
While some Israelis and Jewish communal leaders worried about Bush's
remarks, Blakeman told the Forward that "concern for the well-being of
Israel is not confined to the Jewish community."
"The vast majority of Americans realize that Israel is a strong
democracy in a region where there has been no democracy and an ally
that shares our values," Blakeman said.
But several Israeli experts insisted that any pro-war argument even
a valid one linked to Israel's security could end up undermining
American public support for the American-Israeli relationship. And
while most Israeli experts contacted by the Forward predicted that an
American withdrawal would unleash a wave of terrorism directed at
American allies in the region, several still challenged the premise
that the United States should remain in Iraq.
"I maintain that the U.S. presence there actually causes harm to some
of our interests," said Brom, who is currently a guest scholar at the
federally funded United States Institute of Peace in Washington. "Take
Iran. America's presence in Iraq does not allow an appropriate dealing
with the Iranian problem. It also erodes, over time, the powerful
image of the United States. That's not good for Israel, as an ally of
Still, Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice-chairman of the Conference of
Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said few dispute
that a premature pullout would create instability, threatening several
U.S. allies, including Israel, and several Arab states. "That is not
to say that we went to war because of Israel or we stayed at war
because of Israel," Hoenlein said, "but one of the consequences of
making the wrong step of leaving Iraq prematurely would be Israel....
I don't think that there is any division in the Jewish community
that I know of on that."
A very public dispute did erupt this week between Jewish groups over
Iraq, with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Republican Jewish
Coalition exchanging rhetorical blows. At issue was the Reform union's
resolution last month calling for a strategy to end America's presence
On Tuesday, the Republican group published a full-page ad in The New
York Times, addressing the Union for Reform Judaism and stating:
"Freedom is worth fighting for." The ad was signed by several
prominent Jewish Republican elected officials, former ambassadors,
senior military officers, rabbis and former senior officials with
Jewish groups. The Republican ad argues that it is "misleading and
wrong" for the Reform movement to suggest that "American Jews
oppose the president on Iraq."
By Tuesday evening, the director of the Religious Action Center of
Reform Judaism, Rabbi David Saperstein, had sent a scathing open
letter to the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition,
Matt Brooks. The Reform union's president, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, and its
chairman of the board, Robert Heller, sent a letter to Bush.
"Respectfully but firmly, Mr. President, we want our leaders to tell
us the truth, the whole of it, and we therefore call on your
administration to adopt a policy of transparency," Yoffie and Heller
wrote. "With regard to troop withdrawal, we call not only for a clear
exit strategy but also for specific goals for troop withdrawal to
commence after the completion of parliamentary elections scheduled for
later this week and then to be continued in a way that maintains
stability in Iraq and empowers Iraqi forces to provide for their
With reporting by Ori Nir in Washington, Guy Leshem in Tel Aviv, and
Ami Eden and E.J. Kessler in New York.
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