WASHINGTON, Feb. 25 (JTA) — As Jews and as Americans, the last few years have been among the most difficult we have faced since World War II. First, the illusion of the Oslo peace process was shattered by a relentless Palestinian homicidal bombing campaign whose primary targets are Israeli women and children. Then, Arab terrorists shattered the tranquility of our homeland by killing 3,000 of our fellow citizens on Sept. 11. As Jews and as Americans, our complacency has ended. We have learned a difficult lesson: Those who ignore terrorists or bloody tyrants do so at their own peril. And bombings and hijacked aircrafts turned into guided missiles pale in comparison to those who combine a thirst for violence with weapons of mass destruction. Even in the bloodthirsty Middle East, Saddam Hussein stands alone for his obsession with weapons of mass destruction. In the Iran-Iraq War, which he started in 1981, Saddam attacked Iranian forces with mustard and nerve gas. In 1988, he turned to genocide on his own people, killing at least 5,000 civilians in Halabja with chemical weapons. The cadavers of Kurdish women gassed by Saddam were found huddled over their own children in a futile attempt to protect them from death. By the end of the eight-year war with Iran, Saddam had amassed a stockpile of chemical weapons, including VX, sarin, mustard and nerve gas — and the capacity to manufacture these weapons. After Saddam’s reckless gamble to control Kuwait’s oil fields was ended by an American-led coalition in the 1991 Gulf War, the U.N. Security Council gave Saddam two weeks to disarm and destroy his weapons of mass destruction. Saddam refused to reveal his chemical weapons stockpile. He repeatedly denied having biological weapons, even though his stockpile of these included enough anthrax and botulinium toxin to kill millions of people, as well as missiles to deliver these weapons. These weapons were assembled or stored under a rigid U.N. inspection regime in the mid-1990s; they only came to light after Saddam’s son-in-law defected in 1995 and provided critical details. The vast majority of these biological and chemical weapons, documented by the United Nations, have never been accounted for. And Saddam Hussein, who kicked U.N. inspectors out of Iraq in 1998, has had four years to camouflage his weapons systems, including building mobile biological weapons facilities, to prevent detection. Containment of Saddam Hussein has simply failed. Saddam has wantonly ignored 17 different U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding that he disarm. It is time to take pre-emptive action. Those who wish to leave Saddam in power and prolong the inspection regime offer appeasement, forgetting how he is the master at evading inspection. If left in power, Saddam will acquire his ultimate goal: a nuclear bomb, which, along with control over 10 percent of the world’s petroleum reserves, would give him the ability to subject his enemies to the spectacle of nuclear blackmail. Regime change in Iraq, following our destruction of the Taliban regime, would send a clear signal to the Arab world, which understands force: Jihad as a modus operandi cannot succeed against those who are willing to defend themselves. Without the specter of biological, chemical and eventually nuclear weapons from Iraq, America’s homeland security would be significantly strengthened. And so would Israel’s. Saddam Hussein, after all, launched Scud missiles against Israel in 1991 and, more recently, has been paying $25,000 bounties to the families of Hamas homicide bombers. Though we Americans undertake this regime change for our self-interest, those who benefit the most are those who have suffered the most from Saddam’s rule: his own people. In overthrowing this dictator, we can, as President Bush has so clearly articulated, allow the Iraqi people to share in the freedom we take as our birthright. This is the goal of Iraq’s impressive democratic opposition, which has pledged to build a Western-style, pluralistic regime. From the ashes of Saddam’s dictatorship would arise a pro-American regime, a model of openness and prosperity for the Arab world. Regime change would embolden pro-Western forces throughout the Middle East to act against the forces of darkness, including Iran’s educated middle class who are increasingly embittered by the rule of the mullahs — a theocracy that has funded an array of international terror, including attacks upon Israel from Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad. The discrediting of Islamic radicalism, as both Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon have noted, might pave the way for a just solution to the Palestinian problem. The world owes a debt of gratitude to Israel for its 1981 raid on Saddam Hussein’s Osirak nuclear reactor. This pre-emptive raid, led in part by the late Columbia astronaut Ilan Ramon, stopped Iraq’s nuclear program. It is up to America and the civilized world to finish Ramon’s task — and to then liberate Iraq and build a lasting peace that will enhance our national security and prospects for peace in the Middle East. The civilized world — Americans in general, and American Jews in particular — should be grateful that the Bush administration has embarked on this bold and just path.Kenneth R. Weinstein is vice president and director of the Hudson Institute’s Washington office.