Netanyahu and Iraq


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the argument this past weekend that America’s military withdrawal from Iraq was premature and opened the door to the Islamist militants who are now sowing chaos there.

The lesson he draws from this is that Israel needs to maintain a military presence in the West Bank for “a very long time.”

Netanyahu has a long history of advocating U.S. intervention in Iraq.

On Sept. 12, 2002, Netanyahu spoke for two hours to the U.S. House of Representatives Oversight Committee in favor of U.S. military action in Iraq. He did not hedge. In his opening remarks, having just referred to Israel’s 1981 attack on Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor, he said:

Today the United States must destroy the same regime because a nuclear-armed Saddam will place our entire world at risk.

At the time, Netanyahu represented only himself (although in November of the same year he would join the government as foreign minister). And his recommendations apparently directly contradicted the advice Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was giving President George W. Bush. Sharon reportedly told Bush that if he was to invade Iraq, he should get in and leave post haste lest he mire the United States in the region.

Netanyahu recommended a long-term commitment. Asked by Rep. Connie Morella (R-Md.) whether an extended U.S. presence could contain sectarian fallout from regime change, he said:

If the U.S. goes in merely throws out Saddam and walks away I think it will miss an important opportunity and this is the great opportunity that would be afforded to the Middle East, to the prospects of peace and development, the Iraqi people themselves and others. That is if the United States after the ouster of Saddam seeks to advance a democratized Iraq, couples those political goals with an economic package to rebuild the infrastructure of Iraq, to advance it.

Netanyahu often notes his predictions that have borne out; he did so at the 2002 hearing, suggesting that his past writings on terrorism were vindicated by the Sept. 11 2001 terrorist attacks. And he did so again on Sunday in a speech in Hebrew at the Institute for National Security Studies (an English simultaneous translation is here). His topic was the devolution of the Arab Spring.

I must tell you that from the start of the Arab Spring I was among those who were skeptical, to put it mildly, regarding the victory of liberalism. I was called all kinds of names — that I have an archaic worldview, that I don’t perceive the new Middle East coming alive before our eyes, etc.

He goes on to say that Western abandonment of military investments in the Middle East reaps chaos, and this underscores his broader argument for a long-term Israeli West Bank military presence:

Time after time, it’s been proven that after Western forces leave, it’s impossible to rely on local forces trained by the West to stop Islamists. That was the case with the Lebanese army against Hezbollah after Israel left Lebanon, that’s what happened in the Gaza Strip after the Palestinian Authority was routed by Hamas after we left, and this is what’s happening now in Iraq after the withdrawal of American forces.

Interestingly,  Netanyahu’s address highlights his differences with the Obama administration on both Iraq and the West Bank. President Obama has made no apologies for pulling out of Iraq. For Obama, the costs of staying in Iraq outweighed the risks of withdrawal — while Netanyahu seems to suggest the reverse is true. Similarly, Obama emphasizes the danger to Israel’s future in holding onto the West Bank, while Netanyahu emphasizes the danger of not maintaining a military presence there.

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