New Jersey Jewish News
October 26, 2006
By Paul Aronsohn

Americans have increasingly come to realize that the Iraq war has not benefited U.S. national security. In fact, a recent consensus report by 16 U.S. intelligence agencies points to a sobering truth: The Iraq war has undermined our real war against international terrorism.

But for some, the question remains: Has the Iraq war been good for Israel? In a word, my answer is a resounding no.

To be sure, Saddam Hussein has long been a dangerous thorn in our collective side. Saddam is a dangerous person, who — given the opportunity — is capable of doing dangerous things. Witness the gassing of Kurdish families in the 1980s. Witness his invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

But in Saddam’s wake, a host of newer and still more perilous threats has materialized, thus making Israel’s overall strategic situation significantly worse. Simply stated, the Iraq war has hurt Israel’s security more than it has helped it.

To best understand why, one need only look over the border into Iran — a country that, in my mind, poses the single greatest threat to Israeli security. From its nuclear weapons program to its material support for Hizbullah to its increasing strength within Iraq, the Iranian government — and its fire-breathing leader — pose an immediate and dangerous threat to our friends in Israel. And it is Iran that has benefited most from the Iraq war.

First, after President Bush identified the so-called Axis of Evil a few years ago, he made the mistake of focusing on the wrong country — Iraq, the only one of the three countries that did not pose a very real threat to U.S. national security interests. He then devoted a disproportionate amount of our nation’s resources (military assets, intelligence gathering capacity, money, etc.) to the task of removing Saddam from power — an undeniably worthwhile goal, but one that was pursued at a price: Our attention to Saddam allowed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to go about his business — of developing a nuclear weapons capability and funding and equipping terrorists — unnoticed and unchecked.

Second, within Iraq, the sectarian violence and security vacuum has allowed radical Shi’ite clerics, intimately connected with the Iranian regime, to become the de facto rulers. This dangerous outcome should not have been a surprise. We all knew that Shi’ites have long represented the largest percentage of the Iraqi population, that Iraqi political divisions fall largely along sectarian lines, and that democracy would likely lead to a Shi’ite-led government.

As a result, Iran’s position — and that of its virulently anti-Israel leader — have been greatly strengthened throughout the region. This is bad for the United States and bad for Israel.

Lastly, the Iraq war has made America politically weaker and therefore less effective in its defense of Israel. A weaker America gets shut down even quicker when it stands up for Israel in the United Nations. A weaker America makes it harder to fight the media wars in the Arab world and counter the anti-Semitic views so endemic there. A weaker America makes it more difficult to persuade our European allies — whose commitment to the Jewish state is questionable at best — to support Israel. A weaker America undermines our effort to promote freedom, tolerance, and democracy throughout the world. And when the world is less safe for democracy, it is, by definition, less safe for Israel.

In sum, the Iraq war has increased Iran’s power. It has distracted world attention from Iran’s nuclear and terrorist activities. It has allowed Iran to extend its reach into Iraq. And it has undercut America’s leadership.

For Israel, our closest ally, this mix is toxic.