Following the US-British air strikes on Iraq's air defense system Friday night, Baghdad threatened to retaliate, intensifying not only its anti-US rhetoric, but also its continued campaign to eliminate the Jewish state.
"The aggression of this nightâ€¦ came to confirm that America was planning and working hand in hand with the Zionist entity," the Iraqi regime said in its first statement Friday night in reaction to the bombings. "We will teach the new American administration and the Zionist entity lessons on Jihad and steadfastness," it added.
Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein chaired a joint meeting of the Revolutionary Command Council and Iraq's regional command of al-Ba'ath Party late Friday. The statement issued after the meeting said the attack was proof the United States and "the Zionist entity," Iraq's term for Israel, are "partners in evil and aggression."
"They thought they would scare Iraq but they are wrong," the statement said. "The more they continue their aggression, the stronger the Iraqi people... will be in facing them. We shall fight them on ground, sky and sea and their aggression will deepen their failure."
Despite this, Israeli Defense officials insisted they were caught unawares by the air strikes and wished they had been given notice. They added that the likelihood of an Iraqi attack on Israel with either conventional or chemical and biological weapons is extremely low. But the defense establishment will continue to closely monitor events in Iraq. US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld updated caretaker Prime Minister Ehud Barak on the issue, and both decided that they would keep each other informed of any developments. Barak has been asked to stay on as defense minister under a new unity government led by prime minister-elect Ariel Sharon.
Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh issued further warning though, saying that Iraq is working hard to restore its non-conventional capabilities to strike at Israel. Sneh said he expected tensions with Iraq to grow in the coming period. "The level of tension will rise, not because of the American bombing, but because of what is happening in the territories," Sneh said. "An escalation of the conflict between us and the Palestinians... or even if the situation remains as it is now, could... ignite a more widespread conflict."
Sneh also warned that Saddam is cultivating a dangerous axis of power. "He is strengthening his ties with Syria and is creating an... Iran-Iraq-Syria triangle and this concerns us," Sneh told ARMY RADIO.
Iraqi rhetoric against Israel and in support of the Palestinians has increased since the outbreak of the current intifada last September. Saddam has twice moved divisions toward the Jordanian border and threatened to use them to attack Israel. Earlier this month, Saddam announced he was forming a volunteer army to liberate Jerusalem. Reports say he has also funneled nearly $1 billion in aid to the intifada over recent months, including an award of $12,000 to the family of each Palestinian "martyr" who has died in the uprising.
In an almost instantaneous show of loyalties, thousands of Palestinians took to the streets for pro-Iraq rallies following the air strikes. Waving Iraqi flags and portraits of Saddam, they shot automatic weapons in the air and shouted, "Saddam, we wait for your rockets to hit Tel Aviv." Indeed, Saddam may be more popular than PLO chief Yasser Arafat among the Palestinian public right now.
The joint nationalist and Islamist leadership of the intifada issued a leaflet calling for Palestinians to take part in further anti-US demonstrations and clashes with Israeli security services on Tuesday and Friday. The leaflet noted Saddam's support for the previous intifada.
Still, the defense ministry issued a statement that said "At this stage, it was decided that no further special steps were called for [in dealing with the Iraqi threat]."
Security sources said that despite all of his rhetoric and threats, Saddam Hussein has no interest in exposing his actual capabilities. IDF intelligence officers believe that Iraq has been able to hide away some chemical and biological weapons and even a few Scud missiles, but he would likely only use them if he felt his own demise was near.
A long-time Washington expert on Iraq, Laurie Mylroie, noted over the weekend that, "All Saddam lacks for a [nuclear] bomb is the fissile material. When Saddam goes down, he's going to take Israel with him. That was revealed over five years ago, when Hussein Kamil defected."
In a final note, US and Israeli forces are conducting a joint test this week of a next-generation Patriot anti-missile system, a move they insist was planned for some time and is unrelated to Friday's air strikes. An American Patriot missile battery was sent from its base in Germany some weeks ago, raising speculation in the press of a connection to Iraqi and Syrian troop movements at the time.
Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.