Netanyahu Wanted Major Regional War in the Middle East (James Bamford)
As the ten brown leather chairs around the table filled, place cards identified each of the players. On the one side of Bush, who occupied the seat at the head of the table, was Vice President Dick Cheney, and on the other side sat Secretary of State Colin Powell. Opposite the President at the other end, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice acted as stage manager. ” Condi will run these meetings,” said Bush. ” I’ll be seeing all of you regularly, but I want you to debate things out here and then Condi will report to me.”
Then Bush addressed the sole items on the agenda for his first high-level national security meeting. [Jan30.2001] The topics were…Israel and Iraq. From the very first moment, the Bush foreign policy would focus on three key objectives : Get rid of Saddam Hussein, end American involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and rearrange the dominoes in the Middle East. A key to the policy shift would be the concept of “preemption.”
The blueprint from the new Bush policy had actually been drawn up five years earlier by three of his top national security advisors. Soon to be appointed to senior administration positions, they were Richard Perle, Douglas Feith and David Wurmser. …the plan was originally intended not for Bush but for another world leader, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
At the time, the three officials were out of government and working for conservative pro-Israeli think tanks. …In a very unusual move, the former— and future—senior American officials were acting as a sort of American privy council to the new Israeli prime minister.
A key part of the plan was to get the United States to pull out of peace negotiations and simply let Israel take care of the Palestinians as it saw fit. “Israel,” said the report, “can manage it’s own affairs. Such self-reliance will grant Israel greater freedom of action and remove a significant lever of pressure used against it in the past.”
But the centerpiece of their recommendations was the removal of Saddam Hussein as the first step in remaking the Middle East into a region friendly, instead of hostile, to Israel. [The] plan [was entitled] ” A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.”
“…Whoever inherits Iraq,” they wrote, “dominates the entire Levant strategically.” Then they suggested that Syria would be the next country to be invaded.
This would be done, they recommended to Netanyahu, “by reestablishing the principle of preemption” and by “rolling back” it’s Arab neighbors. From then on, the principle would be to strike first and expand, a dangerous and provocative change in philosophy. They recommended launching a major unprovoked regional war in the Middle East, attacking Lebanon and Syria and ousting Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. Then, to gain the support of the American government and public, a phony pretext would be used as the reason for the original invasion.
The recommendation of Feith, Perle and Wurmser was for Israel to once again invade Lebanon with air strikes. But this time, to counter potentially hostile reactions from the American government and public, they suggested using a pretext. They would claim that the purpose of the invasion was to halt ” Syria’s drug money and counterfeiting infrastructure” located there. They were subjects in which Israel had virtually no interest, but they were ones, they said, “with which America can sympathize.”
Another way to win American support for preemptive war against Syria, they suggested, was by “drawing attention to its weapons of mass destruction program.” The claim would be that Israel’s war was really all about protecting Americans from drugs, counterfeit bills and WMD—nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.
It was rather extraordinary for a trio of former, and potentially future, high-ranking American government officials to become advisors to a foreign government. More unsettling still was the fact that they were recommending acts of war in which Americans could be killed, and also ways to masquerade the true purpose of the attacks from the American public.
The Perle task force even supplied Netanyahu with some text for a television address, using the suggested pretext to justify the war. Years later, it would closely resemble speeches to justify their own Middle East war; Iraq would simply replace Syria and the United States would replace Israel…
The task force then suggested that Israel open a second front in it’s expanding war, with a “focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq–an important Israeli strategic objective in it’s own right–as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions.”
Wisely, Netanyahu rejected the task force’s plan. But now, with the election of a receptive George W. Bush, they dusted off their preemptive war strategy and began getting ready to put it to use.
The new Bush policy was an aggressive agenda for any president, but especially for someone who had previously shown little experience in international affairs. “We’re going to correct the imbalances of the previous administration on the Mideast conflict…We’re going to tilt it back toward Israel…Anybody here ever met [Ariel] Sharon?” [said Bush] Only Colin Powell raised his hand.
Bush was going to reverse the Clinton policy, which was heavily weighted toward bringing the bloody conflict between Israel and the Palestinians to a peaceful conclusion. There would be no more U.S. interference; he would let Sharon resolve the dispute however he saw fit, with little or no regard for the situation of the Palestinians. The policy was exactly as recommended by the Perle task force’s “Clean Break” report.
“I’m not going to go by past reputations when it comes to Sharon,” Bush told his newly gathered national security team. “I’m going to take him at face value. We’ll work a relationship based on how things go.” Then he had mentioned a trip he had taken with the Republican Jewish Coalition to Israel. “We flew over the Palestinian camps. Looked real bad down there,” he said with a frown. Then he said it was time to end America’s efforts in the region. ” I don’t see much we can do over there at this point,” he said.
Colin Powell, Secretary Of State for only a few days, was taken by surprise. The idea that such a complex problem, in which America had long been heavily involved, could simply be brushed away with the sweep of a hand made little sense. Fearing Israeli led aggression, he quickly objected.
“He stressed that a pullback by the United States would unleash Sharon and the Israeli army,” recalled Paul O’Neill, who had been sworn in as Secretary of the Treasury by Bush only hours before and was seated at the table. Powell told Bush,” The consequences of that could be dire, especially for the Palestinians.” But Bush just shrugged. “Sometimes a show of strength by one side can really clarify things,” he said. ” Powell seemed startled,” said O’Neill.
A Pretext For War : 9/11, Iraq and the Abuse of America’s Intelligence Agencies
New York : Doubleday, 2004. Pgs 261-266