The War in Iraq
The effects on Israel of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the 2003 war in Iraq, launched by a coalition of forces led by the united States to terminate the regime of Saddam Hussein, have been extensive and long lasting. In the run-up to the war there was concern that Saddam Hussein might act as he had in the Persian Gulf War of 1990–91 and seek to split the anti-Iraq coalition and use the conflict as a pretext to attack Israel.
Although the assessment of the chance of an Iraqi missile attack was low, there were extensive preparations in Israel, and elsewhere, for a potential attack that might employ Scud or other missiles with chemical or biological warheads. Shelters and safe rooms were prepared, and protective kits were updated and distributed, while the government tried to reduce public concern and avoid panic.
It was widely reported that, should Israel be a target of Iraq’s missiles during a u.S. assault on Saddam Hussein, Israel would retaliate rather than be restrained, as it had been in 1991, and that Sharon had advised Bush of this policy. There would be little effect on coalition cohesiveness in this war, as Arab states were not prominent coalition members who might threaten to change their position should Israel get involved. During the war, Israel deployed its Arrow missiles and the united States deployed its Patriot air defense system in Israel to protect Israel from Iraqi missile attacks.
There were no attacks on Israel during the initial major hostilities. Once sites in western Iraq that could pose a threat to Israel were controlled by coalition forces and Israeli intelligence believed that the threat to Israel had been removed, Defense Minister Mofaz decided to lower the alert level in Israel; the population was no longer required to carry gas masks or maintain sealed rooms, and reserve soldiers who had been specially called up were released from military service.
It is unclear why hostilities in March and April 2003 had ended without incident in Israel. Some suggested there was no time or will to do so; others argued that Iraq did not possess the capability to attack Israel as it had done in 1991.In the aftermath of the initial hostilities that ousted Saddam Hussein and his regime, Israelis began to debate its effects on Israel’s long-term security and the peace process. Clearly, the most significant result was the termination of the Iraqi regime.
This eliminated a significant and chronic threat to Israel. Iraq had been a participant in the 1948, 1967, and 1973 wars. The threat from Iraq’s arsenal of weapons that might be employed in the future (as the Scud missiles had been in 1991) and its financial and logistical support for anti-Israel terrorist organizations and individuals had been minimized. Iraq no longer posed a serious threat to Israel.
It was unclear, however, if the swift fall of Baghdad and the Saddam Hussein regime would convince other anti-Israel forces and factors in the region (Syria or Hizballah, for example) to modify their positions. Some Israelis saw a window of opportunity in the changes wrought in Iraq that could presage a situation unknown since 1948. Others were cautious, suggesting that dramatic alterations and breakthroughs were not likely. u.S. concerns with Syria began to emerge after the end of the initial hostilities in Iraq.
For Israel, Syria’s weapons of mass destruction and its connections to various terrorist organizations hostile to Israel— such as Hamas, Palestine Islamic Jihad, PFlP, and Hizballah—were the main elements of importance. Growing American-articulated concern and long-standing Israeli perspectives about Syria coincided with elements of the u.S. global war on terrorism and against the countries that support terrorists and provide haven for them.