With the publication of the Chilcot inquiry report, many will be pouring over its 2.5 million words looking for openings to indict Tony Blair. Families who have lost loved ones are hoping that the inquiry will pave the way for the former British prime minister to be prosecuted in some shape or form. It seems likely that Mr Blair will be spending considerable time and energy fending off one lawsuit after another, leaving him less time to advise dictators and serial human rights abusers around the world.
While there is universal delight over Blair’s misery and anticipation over the possibility of an indictment, his role in the run up to the invasion of Iraq could be exaggerated. Although he may well need to use the fortune that he’s amassed over the years in order to defend lawsuits that are surely coming his way, what are the odds on the real masterminds behind the invasion of Iraq being brought to trial?
Despite Tony Blair’s blind support for the US-led invasion and devastating occupation, his role was relatively minor compared to that of the neo-conservatives within the George W Bush administration in Washington and senior Israeli officials for whom the war was an obsession. If we are to prevent another Iraq, John Chilcot’s reassuring words that lessons have been learnt and, in the future, Britain will not be so easily led into a misguided war don’t detract from the fact that the 2003 invasion would have taken place with or without Blair’s commitment of British military and political support.
Invading Iraq and ousting Saddam Hussain was an obsession of Israeli hawks and US neocons even before the attacks on New York and Washington in September 2001. Writing in the Washington Post, Glenn Kessler captured the overriding mood amongst US State Department officials who said, “I do believe certain people have grown theological about this” and “It’s almost a religion — that it will be the end of our society if we don’t take action now.”
Their quest to get rid of one-time ally Saddam was given a boost by the events of 9/11. According to John Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, a group of prominent neo-conservatives and their allies published an open letter to President Bush, telling him that, “Even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the 9/11 attacks, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussain from power in Iraq.”
In their book, The Israeli Lobby, and US Foreign Policy, the two professors argue persuasively that the invasion of Iraq was in large part carried out on behalf of Israel. Although it was contentious to point this fact out before the war began, it became even more controversial when the war became a strategic disaster.
The facts, however, are apparently irrefutable: Israeli officials and influential neocons had a powerful influence on the decision to go to war; they provided much of the false intelligence which both Bush and Blair regularly cite in their defence for the invasion.
Israel was wrapped up in the invasion of Iraq in more ways than one. Commenting in Time prior to the invasion, Joe Klein wrote: “The destruction of Saddam’s Iraq will not only remove an enemy of long-standing [for Israel] but will also change the basic power equation in the region. It will send a message to Syria and Iran about the perils of support for Islamic terrorists. It will send a message to the Palestinians too: Democratise and make peace on Israeli terms, or forget about a state of your own.”
The real threat posed by Saddam was to Israel, not Britain or America. According to Philip Zelikow, a former member of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board in Washington, Iraq under Saddam Hussein did not pose a threat to the United States but it did to Israel, which is one reason why Washington invaded the Arab country. “It’s a threat that dare not speak its name because it’s not a popular sell,” he claimed. Zelikow went on to become the Executive Director of the 9/11 Commission.
Former Senator Ernest Hollings — who claims to be a long-time supporter of Israel — was asked why the US invaded Iraq. “The answer which everyone knows is because we want to secure our friend Israel,” he replied. Mearsheimer and Walt cite numerous high profile US officials, Congressmen and Senators who are convinced “that Israel made a large contribution to the decision to embark on this war.” One official even quoted Ariel Sharon, Israel’s then Prime Minister, who said in a closed conversation that if the Americans could succeed in getting rid of Saddam Hussain, it would solve Israel’s security problems.
Prior to the invasion, some even commented that the lack of public discussion about the role of Israel is the proverbial elephant in the room. “Everybody sees it but no one mentions it.” Writing in the Slate Michael Kinsley adds: “The reason [for the silence] is obvious and admirable: Neither supporters nor opponents of a war against Iraq wish to evoke the classic anti-Semitic image of the king’s Jewish advisers whispering poison into his ear and betraying the country to foreign interests.”
Bush and Blair sold the war to the British and American public but who sold it to them? Blair “sexed-up” a dossier about Iraq and its alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD) but much of the so-called intelligence was sourced from Israel. Working hand in glove with neocons within the Bush administration, the Israelis made sure that the US president pushed ahead with the invasion no matter what. Months before the war, note Mearsheimer and Walt, Benjamin Netanyahu warned American officials of the imminent danger posed by Saddam and his “nuclear weapons”. Prime Minster Sharon’s spokesperson even told US officials, “If Saddam isn’t toppled now, five years from now… we will have to deal with an Iraq that is armed with nuclear weapons, with an Iraq that has a delivery system for WMD.”
One of Chilcot’s key findings was that, “In March 2003 there was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein.” Despite this fact — as well as there being no sensible reason for invading Iraq — Israeli politicians were calling for regime change in Baghdad. During an interview with CNN, Israeli President Shimon Peres claimed that, “Saddam Hussein is as dangerous as Bin Laden.” The former prime minister added: “I think that everybody is a little bit impatient because there is a feeling that Iraq is developing nuclear weapons. They possess chemical weapons. They possess biological weapons. They are building missiles. And simply, you cannot sit and wait for meeting this challenge.”
Israeli officials were beating the drums of war so hard that they became very aware that they must not be seen to be leading America into another war. While Ariel Sharon sent messages to the US seven months prior to the war warning of the dangers of postponing the Iraq operation, Peres added that he did not want to be seen to be urging the Americans to act. He was no doubt conscious of the fact that some US commentators like Patrick Buchanan had not shied away from claiming that the driving force behind the 1991 Gulf War was “the Israeli Defence Ministry and its amen corner in the United States.” Denying any responsibility made good political sense, conclude Mearsheimer and Walt, but there is no question – based on their own public comments — that Israel’s leaders saw Saddam as a threat to the Zionist state and were encouraging the Bush administration to launch a war to remove him from power.
It’s often said that the devil does his best work in disguise. In the disaster of post-invasion and occupation Iraq, it’s vital that that we are able to see through that disguise and point to the main culprits behind so much mayhem in the Middle East. Despite all the talk about the lack of forward planning, faulty intelligence and the misleading of the public by the British and US governments — which are all important issues in their own right — for which Tony Blair must share responsibility, the most important aspect of the Iraq war is still shrouded in mystery: why did we go to war in the first place?
Yes, Tony Blair needs to answer for his actions but, more importantly, so too do the real masterminds behind the carnage; he shouldn’t be alone in the dock. When will the well-known neocons in Washington and their friends in Israel face a Chilcot Inquiry of their own and be held to account in an international court of law for their despicable actions? That is the least that the people of Iraq deserve and the very least that the international community must do.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.