Israel and Iran – Remember 1991 Iraq | Charles Duelfer

Israel and Iran – Remember 1991 Iraq

In January 1991 I happened to be running the task force in the State Department Operations Center set up for Desert Storm.  President George H. W. Bush had gone to enormous effort to assemble a coalition of over 30 countries to either convince Saddam to evacuate Kuwait or force him to leave.  It was painstaking diplomacy, military planning and coordination on a global scale.  A coalition of military forces is extremely complicated to manage.  Force assignments for sectors on the ground, air, and sea must be allocated.  Communication protocols and plans must be made.  Different radios, map grids, air battle sectors, target identification and allocations must be agreed?  

Integrated air operations require battlespace management and common data bases so friendly forces are identified as friendly and enemy, not.   This was a huge complex undertaking…and I haven’t even mentioned the complexity of logistics.  Distributing fuel, spare parts, munitions, etc. to multiple forces can’t be taken for granted.  It worked.

But, at the very start of the military campaign to expel Iraq from Kuwait, we received a jolting critic message from the Pentagon.  Scuds were detected on launch and initial target prediction was Israel. We had no idea if Iraq was using WMD warheads (they really did have CW and BW warheads in 1991).

What would Israel do?  They were not part of the coalition for obvious reasons—Arab states would have balked completely.   From Saddam’s perspective, hitting Israel would draw them into the mix and force splits in the coalition opposing him.  

We were aware of the potential Israeli nuclear capability (so was Saddam) and if Iraq did use chemical or biological agent, it was not inconceivable Israel would respond with overwhelming force—nuclear.  Israel was unpredictable and worried about Israel, not the rest of the planet.

Of course, this went to the President swiftly and conversations with then Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir ensued.  Israel said they must respond—it was a matter of their survival.  

They could not depend on anyone else to defeat their enemies.

President Bush sent the formicable Deputy Secretary of State Larry Eagleburger and a team to Tel Aviv to walk Israel back from the precipice. Of course, the argument was made that Iraq would be defeated by the 500,000 troops, multiple carrier battle groups 1300 plus combat aircraft, etc. painstakingly assembled by the coalition.  If Israel attacked Iraq, it would break the coalition.  Israel could never muster the force that the coalition presented against Saddam.   Prime Minister Samir didn’t seem to care.

So begin a difficult negotiation with Israel which demanded more Patriot air defense, more direct intelligence on missile launches, AWACS aircraft patrols, etc. etc.

These were the carrots.  There was also one very considerable stick.  The coalition would not share deconfliction data.  This meant Israel aircraft could not enter the coalition air operation zone without risk of either being attacked or being unable to identify friend or foe.  This was real leverage.  It was painful for all concerned.  

As it turned out Saddam used only conventional or even just cement warheads—not WMD.  US provided Patriot missiles had very mixed results…many warheads did impact in Israel.  Moreover, citizens took chemical weapons precautions which created great fear.  Still, Israel held back, the coalition dealt with Saddam and Israel reaped the benefits.  Iraq was never a real threat to Israel again. Israel’s external threat was greatly diminished for many years. 

With respect to Iran’s attack on Israel, much is similar and much different.  Yet, again we face the condition where Israel may act in its own interests irrespective or the rest of the region (or planet).  This past weekend, a remarkable coalition, assembled on short notice, worked with Israel to defend against Iran.  Coordination of military operations among various parties for air defense is an incredible achievement.  Israel stands to lose the benefits of integrated defense with partner nations depending on its next steps.  If Israel determines that only it can assure its own defense, a huge opportunity will be lost and the consequences for Israel and the rest of us may be huge. Like the US, Israel cannot fully defend itself without allies. Hyenas stalk and kill the isolated.  

The opportunity before Israel is great in terms of building its own coalition, potentially even broadening the possibilities for a post Hamas management of Gaza.  Possibly, something good could come out of this…if Israel can see its way to forward.

This entry was posted in Allies, Chemical Weapons, Gaza, Gaza,Hamas, Israel, Iran, Iraq, Israel, nuclear weapons. Bookmark the permalink.

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