By Avigdor Haselkorn, Los Angeles Times
October 10, 1997
In the aftermath of the Gulf War, the spread of mass destruction weapons and long-range missiles in the Middle East has accelerated. The buildup of chemical and biological weapons arsenals by rogue regimes is readily observed and is directly traceable to Operation Desert Storm. This is the real, undeniable Gulf War syndrome.

How can we explain such adverse results from a war fought under the banner of the "new world order" and aimed to disarm the nuclear, chemical and biological capabilities of a dangerous dictator?

Recent information indicates that the Middle East came remarkably close to the brink of disaster in 1991. In the early morning hours of Feb. 25, a strangely armed Iraqi missile landed in southern Israel. It was an Hijarah, an Iraqi variant of the Soviet Scud B, topped with a concrete and metal warhead. Israeli military intelligence suspected that it might have been a primitive biological warhead.

The incident left U.S. decision makers, especially Gen. Colin Powell, in a quandary. Although there was no agreement among intelligence analysts as to the meaning of the "stone age" Scud, the possibility that it was a warning shot on Saddam Hussein's part could not be dismissed. President Bush knew that if an unconventional warhead fell inside an Israeli city, the retaliation would be swift, possibly even with nuclear weapons.

If the missile carried a biological warfare payload of, for example, anthrax agent, it could have caused heavy casualties. It was unclear whether the Iraqis had the warhead technology to spray the spores in the air as an invisible aerosol, which could be inhaled. But, U.S. defense intelligence warned, "effective dissemination of the agent was not even necessary if a [biological weapon] warhead were to be used as a terror weapon against civilian populations."

The president knew that even if he allowed the Israelis to intervene in western Iraq to neutralize the Scud threat, there was no guarantee that they would be completely successful. Moreover, the missile appeared to have been fired from deep inside Iraq, which would have greatly expanded the search area.

Under these circumstances, Bush had little choice but to abruptly order the "suspension" of hostilities, in effect submitting to Iraqi strategic blackmail.

Bush can blame his military planners for this sorry outcome of the war. Not only was there an almost catastrophic intelligence failure in the Gulf, for example with regard to locating Iraq's chemical/biological weapons cache, but the missiles kept coming despite claims by coalition pilots of total kills that amounted to 300% of the entire Iraqi inventory. After the second salvo into Israel, the CIA warned, "We cannot rule out that Iraq will escalate to strategic [i.e., countercity, including civilian targets] chemical attacks--perhaps during its next strike."

Saddam Hussein did not resort to his mass destruction option because those were last-resort weapons. However, intelligence in both Israel and the U.S. estimated long before the war had started that when the chips were down, Saddam would use those weapons without hesitation.

When the ground war started on Feb. 23 and Iraq's defenses crumbled, the door to Baghdad was wide open. Jerusalem and Washington both expected that Saddam would take drastic action. Israel's defense minister Moshe Arens on Feb. 27 phoned Richard Cheney, his American counterpart, to warn that Saddam could resort to chemical warfare against Israel "exactly now." Accordingly, Arens said, "Israel must take action to neutralize this threat." This assessment and Israel's preparations to enter the war undoubtedly played a major role in Bush's decision later that day to end the fighting.

In hindsight, the intelligence conception of Saddam's last-resort strategy, the prevalence of which was unaffected by the controversy over the Hijarah, seems to have been vindicated. Before Desert Storm, Saddam armed 191 weapons, including 25 warheads, with anthrax agent, botulinum toxin and aflatoxin. Rolf Ekeus, then chairman of the U.N. Special Commission for the disarmament of Iraq, said: "Their use, which seemed to have been possible at any time, would have killed millions of people." Unless the war ended when it did, unless Bush heeded Powell's warning against fighting past the "rational calculation," the Middle East would have likely plunged into a full scale mass destruction exchange between Iraq and Israel.

But stopping the war entailed a steep price. The conflict left Saddam on his throne, and it also convinced Iran, Syria, Libya and North Korea that mass destruction weapons and long-range missiles are the new praetorian guard. Increasingly, low-tech/low-cost chemical and biological arms are seen as instrumental for exercising political blackmail and shielding terrorist activity. Little wonder that a "Club MAD" (for mass destruction) has emerged with rogue countries helping each other develop the most deadly capabilities and the means to deliver them. They aim not only to hold Israeli, Saudi and South Korean cities hostage, but in due course Japanese and European as well. - - -

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