invaded 'to protect Israel' - US
official By Emad Mekay
WASHINGTON - 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 intelligence group.
Inter Press Service uncovered the remarks by
Philip Zelikow, who is now the executive director of the
body set up to investigate the terrorist attacks on the
US 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
US 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 US President
George W Bush and his administration, which has never
overtly drawn the link between its war on the regime of
Saddam 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.
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 September 10, 2002, speaking on a panel of
foreign policy experts assessing the impact of September
11 and the future of the war on al-Qaeda.
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 US troops and thousands of Iraqis,
was motivated by Washington's desire to defend the
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 September 11 by taking a
detour to Iraq, which appears to have posed no direct
threat to the US.
Israel is Washington's biggest
ally in the Middle East, receiving annual direct aid of
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 make. The unpaid appointees
on the board require a security clearance known as "code
word" that is higher than top secret.
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, the
various military intelligence groups and the Pentagon's
National Reconnaissance Office.
Scowcroft nor Zelikow returned numerous phone calls and
e-mail messages from IPS for this story.
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
reorganizing and restructuring the National Security
Council (NSC) and prioritizing its work.
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. Clarke said that Zelikow was among those he
briefed about the urgent threat from al-Qaeda in
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 on the 9/11 commission,
Zelikow is now also director of the Miller Center 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
September attacks, who protested his appointment to the
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 US, 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 about it".
"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."
the possibility of the US 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 that 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 that 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 Middle East.
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 that
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 [Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul]
Wolfowitz, or Rice or [Secretary of State Colin] Powell
or anybody else. All of them were sort of fishing about
for justification for a decision that has already been
made," Brown said.