|Emad Mekay, Inter Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar 29 (IPS) - 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
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 Bush (news
- web sites) 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 organisation.
"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 States.
Israel is Washington's biggest ally in the Middle East, receiving annual
direct aid of $3-to-4 billion.
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
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
Neither Scowcroft nor Zelikow returned phone calls or 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 reorganising and restructuring
the National Security Council (NSC) and prioritising 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 December
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 Germany.
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 Centre 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 attacking Hamas.
"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
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
"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 of that."
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
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," he said.
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.