Published in The Jerusalem Post on February 22, 1998
Black humor: The Gulf War jokes from 1991 are coming back, a sure sign that trouble is around the corner. What do you say when a scud missile hits? * Yiscudal veyiscudash *…. And why is real estate in H2 and H3 selling like hotcakes? Cause it’s only five minutes from Kfar Saba. And did you hear about the 18,000-hole golf course in Baghdad?
Hasbara follies: It’s hard to imagine the government handling the public affairs of the Iraq crisis any worse. Prevarication isn’t believable. “There’s nothing at all, really nothing, to worry about, but here, have a gas mask” – what the heck are we supposed to understand from that?! On the same day last week, usually on the same page, the papers had Yitzhak Mordechai telling us there was no need to buy plastic and masking tape, while a senior home front command official said: smart shoppers stock-up early. The public isn’t that dumb. If there’s a concern, Mr. Mordechai, say so, and we’ll cope.
Wrong signals: All the preparations for a missile war – canned goods, batteries, flashlights and sealed rooms — send Saddam and other Arab adversaries the wrong signal. It suggests that what should be unthinkable — an attack on Israeli civilian population centers — has become imaginable, perhaps unavoidable, even inevitable, dare I say acceptable, in Mideast warfare. Netanyahu: show some leadership by collecting back all the gas masks, and try deterrence: “If you so much as lob a spitball in our general direction, we’ll fry your hometown”. Make the Arabs (think of Assad, Gaddafi and Khameini here in addition to Saddam) afraid of * us *.
Lowered expectations: Washington’s announced goal for an air war is modest: to ‘diminish’ Saddam’s production of dangerous germs and gases. But might such a limited policing operation merely embolden the Iraqi dictator? The question is — can Clinton finish the job and take-out Saddam? And if not, does this enormously expensive and dangerous halfway war make sense? Then again, any alternative lets Saddam off the hook, which is worse. Right?
The day after: Suppose the US gets Saddam, and Iraq comes apart. Refugees flow across borders in the Persian Gulf, Iran comes to life, as do the Kurds, and instability reigns supreme. This scenario is what really frightens the Gulf sheiks and imams, not the specter of chemically-tipped missiles. Can’t say I’m surprised the Saudis are sitting this one out.
German gas: It’s simply incredible to me that citizens of the State of Israel, fifty years after the Holocaust, are preparing to hide-out for a second time in sealed rooms — because of gas weapons provided in part to Iraq by companies in…..Germany. (The Russians and others helped generously too). Remember how the German foreign minister scurried over here after the 1991 scud attacks, overwrought with contrition, offering us submarines as ‘compensation’? Now the Germans are selling us tens of thousands of gas masks. Gee thanks.
French glory: Moments of crisis help sort out the good guys from the bad. Take the French for example. Political prostitutes, as always, they’ll gladly run front tackle in Saddam’s defense, so long as there’s an opportunity to grandstand on the world stage, and to win the fat oil contracts from Iraq when sanctions are lifted.
Russian return: Well, it’s settled. The bad old days when the Soviet Union muckraked in Mideast politics, serving as spoiler to any American initiative – are back. Russia doesn’t have the power of the USSR, thank heaven, but can be troublesome enough. Expect to see them back in Arab-Israeli peace diplomacy too.
Palestinian rooftops: Shimon Peres wants us to believe that Palestinian demonstrations in support of Saddam are all Bibi’s fault, a sign of understandable frustration with the stalemated peace process. I don’t buy into that argument, nor will most of the Israeli public, I suspect. Palestinian glee at the possibility of Tel Aviv sucking in biological death germs is not something we’re going to forget that easily. These are the guys expecting Israeli largesse in future West Bank withdrawals? You got to be kidding.
Media mania: Three days of bombing and Washington will have an American version of Kafar Kana on its hands, gory pictures of civilian casualties and all, courtesy of CNN. The press barons in Israel have told Saddam exactly what anti-biotics Israel is mass-purchasing, so that he can add the drug to his chemical-weapon mix and neutralize the anti-biotic effect. And Israeli television’s sensational nightly focus on the line-ups for gas masks and nylon hasn’t exactly been helpful in maintaining calm. Thanks press boys.
Bottom line: Col. (res.) Dr. Danny Shoham, a Ministry of Defense chemist and a researcher at Bar-Ilan University’s respected Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, is the security establishment’s top expert on chemical and biological weapons in the Arab world. If anyone knows, he does. I asked him whether he’s concerned about the situation, whether he had bothered to stand in line for a gas mask, or had purchased plastic sheeting. His answer: yes to all three.