WASHINGTON (Jul. 22)
Israeli officials are keeping mum on the apparent killing of Saddam Hussein’s two sons, but developments in postwar Iraq could have clear repercussions for Israel and the Middle East.
Uday and Qusay Hussein, who reportedly were killed Tuesday in a gun battle with U.S. troops in Iraq, had little direct involvement with policy toward Israel, but their survival in postwar Iraq was seen as a destabilizing remnant of a regime that had attacked Israel and undermined U.S. interests in the region.
“Strengthening the U.S. position in the region is the biggest boost for Israel, and any measure that does that is positive,” said Lenny Ben-David, a former Israeli diplomat in Washington.
Their deaths will make the regime change look more final in the eyes of many Iraqis. It also is likely to embolden the Bush administration, which has endured several weeks of bad publicity stemming from erroneous intelligence information that formed part of President Bush’s argument for war.
That public relations problem, coupled with the ongoing killing of American servicemen in Iraq, led some to wonder whether the United States would pull out its forces before Iraq had stabilized, which could have negative repercussions for Israel.
The news of the pair’s death was met with silence from Israel and restrained enthusiasm in the American Jewish community. While careful not to praise the killings, Jewish leaders said the sons’ demise could expedite positive change in Iraq.
“We do believe that the removal of Saddam’s regime is a positive development and opens the way for progress with Iraq,” said Martin Raffel, associate executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “If this development helps in building democracy to Iraq, it will be positive.”
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said that “psychologically, it’s very important news.”
“The most important will be when they get Saddam,” he said. “As long as he’s out there, there will be many who are still afraid.”
An Israeli government spokesman said the government had no comment. Israel succeeded in staying out of the Iraq war, and has kept silent on developments in the months that have followed.
“The United States does not need Israel’s support on this; if anything it could be the opposite,” Ben-David said. “There’s no reason to give the enemies of the United States propaganda by letting Israel support them on this.”
Each of Hussein’s sons played a distinctive role in the regime. Qusay, the younger one, held vast security responsibilities. Uday ran several publications and contributed heavily to pro-regime and anti-Israel propaganda.
Nimrod Raphaeli, a senior analyst with the Middle East Media Research Institute, said Uday’s publications were not anti-Semitic, but portrayed Zionism and American “colonialism” as evil.
“The paper reflected the official position of the regime, which was simply anti-Zionism,” Raphaeli said.
In the first year of the current Palestinian intifada, Uday suggested in his newspaper, Babil, that weapons be sent to the Palestinians.
“We have to find a way, whether legal or not, for light arms and mortars to reach those who need them in the occupied territories,” Uday said on Aug. 6, 2001, according to Agence France Presse.
Uday was considered to be out of favor with Saddam, who appeared to be grooming Qusay as his successor. Uday was banished to Switzerland in 1988, and his newspaper was shut down for six weeks in 2002.
Qusay was seen to be closely aligned with his father’s thinking. Although he was not believed to have played any role in the 1991 Persian Gulf War when Iraq rained Scud missiles on Israel, Qusay became a trusted confidante to Saddam in recent years.