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Monday, June 21, 2004

"The Size of Your Humiliation" 

"Plan B," the new Seymour Hersh article mentioned below, is now online at the New Yorker:
Ehud Barak, the former Israeli Prime Minister, who supported the Bush Administration’s invasion of Iraq, took it upon himself at this point [late last fall] to privately warn Vice-President Dick Cheney that America had lost in Iraq; according to an American close to Barak, he said that Israel “had learned that there’s no way to win an occupation.” The only issue, Barak told Cheney, “was choosing the size of your humiliation.” Cheney did not respond to Barak’s assessment. (Cheney’s office declined to comment.)

In a series of interviews in Europe, the Middle East, and the United States, officials told me that by the end of last year Israel had concluded that the Bush Administration would not be able to bring stability or democracy to Iraq, and that Israel needed other options. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government decided, I was told, to minimize the damage that the war was causing to Israel’s strategic position by expanding its long-standing relationship with Iraq’s Kurds and establishing a significant presence on the ground in the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan. Several officials depicted Sharon’s decision, which involves a heavy financial commitment, as a potentially reckless move that could create even more chaos and violence as the insurgency in Iraq continues to grow.

Israeli intelligence and military operatives are now quietly at work in Kurdistan, providing training for Kurdish commando units and, most important in Israel’s view, running covert operations inside Kurdish areas of Iran and Syria. Israel feels particularly threatened by Iran, whose position in the region has been strengthened by the war. The Israeli operatives include members of the Mossad, Israel’s clandestine foreign-intelligence service, who work undercover in Kurdistan as businessmen and, in some cases, do not carry Israeli passports . . . .

The Israeli decision to seek a bigger foothold in Kurdistan—characterized by the former Israeli intelligence officer as “Plan B”—has also raised tensions between Israel and Turkey. It has provoked bitter statements from Turkish politicians and, in a major regional shift, a new alliance among Iran, Syria, and Turkey, all of which have significant Kurdish minorities. In early June, Intel Brief, a privately circulated intelligence newsletter produced by Vincent Cannistraro, a retired C.I.A. counterterrorism chief, and Philip Giraldi, who served as the C.I.A.’s deputy chief of base in Istanbul in the late nineteen-eighties, said:
Turkish sources confidentially report that the Turks are increasingly concerned by the expanding Israeli presence in Kurdistan and alleged encouragement of Kurdish ambitions to create an independent state. . . . The Turks note that the large Israeli intelligence operations in Northern Iraq incorporate anti-Syrian and anti-Iranian activity, including support to Iranian and Syrian Kurds who are in opposition to their respective governments.


At the moment, the former American senior intelligence official said, the Israelis’ tie to Kurdistan “would be of greater value than their growing alliance with Turkey. ‘We love Turkey but got to keep the pressure on Iran.’” The former Israeli intelligence officer said, “The Kurds were the last surviving group close to the United States with any say in Iraq. The only question was how to square it with Turkey.”

There may be no way to square it with Turkey. Over breakfast in Ankara, a senior Turkish official explained, “Before the war, Israel was active in Kurdistan, and now it is active again. This is very dangerous for us, and for them, too. We do not want to see Iraq divided, and we will not ignore it.” Then, citing a popular Turkish proverb—“We will burn a blanket to kill a flea”—he said, “We have told the Kurds, ‘We are not afraid of you, but you should be afraid of us.’” (A Turkish diplomat I spoke to later was more direct: “We tell our Israeli and Kurdish friends that Turkey’s good will lies in keeping Iraq together. We will not support alternative solutions.”)

“If you end up with a divided Iraq, it will bring more blood, tears, and pain to the Middle East, and you will be blamed,” the senior Turkish official said. “From Mexico to Russia, everybody will claim that the United States had a secret agenda in Iraq: you came there to break up Iraq. If Iraq is divided, America cannot explain this to the world.” The official compared the situation to the breakup of Yugoslavia, but added, “In the Balkans, you did not have oil.” He said, “The lesson of Yugoslavia is that when you give one country independence everybody will want it.” If that happens, he said, “Kirkuk will be the Sarajevo of Iraq. If something happens there, it will be impossible to contain the crisis.”

The Saban Center’s Flynt Leverett said of the transfer of sovereignty, “If it doesn’t work, there is no fallback—nothing.” The former senior American intelligence official told me, similarly, that “the neocons still think they can pull the rabbit out of the hat” in Iraq. “What’s the plan? They say, ‘We don’t need it. Democracy is strong enough. We’ll work it out.’”

Middle East diplomats and former C.I.A. operatives who now consult in Baghdad have told me that many wealthy Iraqi businessmen and their families have deserted Baghdad in recent weeks in anticipation of continued, and perhaps heightened, suicide attacks and terror bombings after June 30th. “We’ll see Christians, Shiites, and Sunnis getting out,” Michel Samaha, the Lebanese Minister of Information, reported. “What the resistance is doing is targeting the poor people who run the bureaucracy—those who can’t afford to pay for private guards. A month ago, friends of mine who are important landowners in Iraq came to Baghdad to do business. The cost of one day’s security was about twelve thousand dollars.”

Whitley Bruner, a retired intelligence officer who was a senior member of the C.I.A.’s task force on Iraq a decade ago, said that the new interim government in Iraq is urgently seeking ways to provide affordable security for second-tier officials—the men and women who make the government work. In early June, two such officials—Kamal Jarrah, an Education Ministry official, and Bassam Salih Kubba, who was serving as deputy foreign minister—were assassinated by unidentified gunmen outside their homes. Neither had hired private guards. Bruner, who returned from Baghdad earlier this month, said that he was now working to help organize Iraqi companies that could provide high-quality security that Iraqis could afford. “It’s going to be a hot summer,” Bruner said. “A lot of people have decided to get to Lebanon, Jordan, or the Gulf and wait this one out.”

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