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Context of 'Late August 2002: Israeli Knesset Member: US Overthrow of Iraq Would Change Middle East'

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In 2001, Jamal al-Fadl, a highly reliable al-Qaeda defector (see June 1996-April 1997), will claim that numerous al-Qaeda operatives went to Lebanon and received training from the militant group Hezbollah. Double agent Ali Mohamed sets up a meeting between Osama bin Laden and Hezbollah leader Imad Mugniyah in early 1994 (see Shortly After February 1994). After that meeting, al-Fadl will claim, the following al-Qaeda figures train with Hezbollah:
bullet Saif al-Islam al-Masri, a member of al-Qaeda’s military ruling council.
bullet Abu Talha al-Sudani, an al-Qaeda leader living in Somalia.
bullet Saif al Adel, al-Qaeda’s probable number three leader after the death of Mohammed Atef in 2001.
bullet Two others. One of them runs one of al-Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan.
Al-Fadl will add that some videotapes are brought back and he sees one of them. It teaches how to blow up “big buildings.” [United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 2, 2/6/2001] Ali Mohamed will also claim in court that Hezbollah subsequently provides explosives training for al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad. So will US prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who states, “in the middle of the 1990s, al-Qaeda members received sophisticated explosives training from Hezbollah, despite the deep religious differences between the Sunni members of al-Qaeda and the Shiite members of Hezbollah.” [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004] However, it seems the links between al-Qaeda and Hezbollah decline after this time.

Entity Tags: Jamal al-Fadl, Abu Talha al-Sudani, Ali Mohamed, Osama bin Laden, Imad Mugniyah, Saif al-Adel, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Saif al-Islam al-Masri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Yuval Steinitz, a Likud party member of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, suggests that the imposition of a pro-American regime in Baghdad would ease Israel’s discomfort with Syria, which it views as a threat. Steinitz says, “After Iraq is taken by US troops and we see a new regime installed as in Afghanistan, and Iraqi bases become American bases, it will be very easy to pressure Syria to stop supporting terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, to allow the Lebanese army to dismantle Hezbollah, and maybe to put an end to the Syrian occupation in Lebanon. If this happens we will really see a new Middle East.” [Christian Science Monitor, 8/30/2002]

Entity Tags: Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Yuval Steinitz

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The governments of Israel and the United States are in almost-perfect accord on most issues, according to a Washington Post analysis. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has talked repeatedly of the “special closeness” he has to the Bush administration, and of the “deep understanding” that President Bush and his officials have for Israel’s security and foreign policy needs. He has thanked Bush for providing what he calls “the required leeway in our ongoing war on terrorism” and lauded the Bush administration’s efforts to promote a peaceful settlement between Israel and the Palestinian people. Thomas Neumann, who heads the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), agrees. “This is the best administration for Israel since Harry Truman,” says Neumann, equating Bush with the first American president to recognize the independent state of Israel. A senior official in the first Bush administration says that Sharon used the 9/11 attacks to cement the bond between his government and the Bush administration. One senior administration official says: “Sharon played the president like a violin: ‘I’m fighting your war, terrorism is terrorism,’ and so on. Sharon did a masterful job.”
Accord with Likud - But the US is not just in accord with Israel; it is in accord with Likud, the hardline conservative political party currently in charge of the Israeli government. The Post writes: “For the first time, a US administration and a Likud government in Israel are pursuing nearly identical policies. Earlier US administrations, from Jimmy Carter’s through Bill Clinton’s, held Likud and Sharon at arm’s length, distancing the United States from Likud’s traditionally tough approach to the Palestinians. But today, as Neumann noted, Israel and the United States share a common view on terrorism, peace with the Palestinians, war with Iraq and more. Neumann and others said this change was made possible by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and their aftermath.” Bush supporters, particularly evangelical Christians, are “delight[ed]” with the administration’s overt support of Likud policies.
Abandoning Peace Talks between Israel and Palestinians - The downside, the Post notes, is that diplomacy with Israel’s Arab neighbors has come to a virtual standstill, and the Middle East “peace process” praised by Sharon is considered by many past and current US officials as a failure. Clinton administration National Security Adviser Sandy Berger says: “Every president since at least Nixon has seen the Arab-Israeli conflict as the central strategic issue in the Middle East. But this administration sees Iraq as the central challenge, and… has disengaged from any serious effort to confront the Arab-Israeli problem.” Retired Marine General Anthony Zinni, the administration’s special envoy to the region, calls the peace process “quiescent,” and adds, “I’ve kind of gone dormant.”
'Likudniks Really in Charge Now' - Bush has appointed neoconservative Elliott Abrams, a vociferous critic of any peace agreement between Israel and Palestine, the head of Mideast affairs for the National Security Council, signaling his administration’s near-total alignment with Israel in the process. Abrams’s hardline views are supported by, among others, Vice President Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle, Abrams’s mentor, who in 1996 recommended to Israel’s then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he abandon the Oslo peace accords and refuse to accede to Palestinian demands of “land for peace” (see September 13, 1993). A senior administration official says wryly, “The Likudniks are really in charge now,” using a Yiddish term for supporters of Sharon’s political party. “It’s a strong lineup,” says Neumann. Fellow neoconservative Meyrav Wurmser of the Hudson Institute says of Abrams: “Elliott’s appointment is a signal that the hard-liners in the administration are playing a more central role in shaping policy.… [T]he hard-liners are a very unique group. The hawks in the administration are in fact people who are the biggest advocates of democracy and freedom in the Middle East.” The Post explains that in Abrams’s and Wurmser’s view, promoting democracy in the Middle East is the best way to assure Israel’s security. Like other neoconservatives, they see the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the establishment of a “democratic Palestine” as necessary for peace in the region. Others who disagree with the neoconservatives call them a “cabal.” The Post writes, “Members of the group do not hide their friendships and connections, or their loyalty to strong positions in support of Israel and Likud.” [Washington Post, 2/9/2003]

Entity Tags: Elliott Abrams, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), Benjamin Netanyahu, Ariel Sharon, Anthony Zinni, Thomas Neumann, Sandy Berger, Likud, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, Harry S. Truman, George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Richard Perle, Meyrav Wurmser, National Security Council

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

An Iraqi voter displays her purple finger for a reporter’s camera.An Iraqi voter displays her purple finger for a reporter’s camera. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Elections for Iraq’s 275-member national assembly are held, the first democratic elections in Iraq in 50 years. Fifty-eight percent of Iraqis go to the polls to vote for a new government, the first national elections since Saddam Hussein’s overthrow. Iraqis proudly display their ink-dipped purple fingers as signs that they voted. In Washington, Republicans display their own enpurpled fingers as a sign of solidarity with President Bush and as a symbol of their pride in bringing democracy to Iraq. The Shi’ite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) wins 48.2 percent of the vote, a coalition of two major Kurdish parties garners 25.7 percent, and a bloc led by interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi wins only 13.8 percent. As expected, the Sunni parties capture only a fraction of the vote. [Washington Post, 2/14/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 327-329]
Shi'ite Turnout High, but Election Marred by Violence - Suicide bombers and mortar attacks attempt to disrupt the elections, killing 44 around the country, but voters turn out in large numbers regardless of the danger. Three cloaked women going to polls in Baghdad tell a reporter in unison, “We have no fear.” Another Iraqi tells a reporter: “I am doing this because I love my country and I love the sons of my nation. We are Arabs, we are not scared and we are not cowards.” [Associated Press, 1/31/2005]
Sunni Boycott Undermines Legitimacy of Election Results - The political reality of the vote is less reassuring. Millions of Shi’ites do indeed flock to the polls, but most Sunnis, angered by years of what they consider oppression by US occupying forces, refuse to vote. Brent Scowcroft, the former foreign policy adviser held in such contempt by the administration’s neoconservatives (see October 2004), had warned that the election could well deepen the rift between Sunnis and Shi’a, and indeed could precipitate a civil war. Soon after the elections, Sunni insurgents will shift their targets and begin attacking Shi’ite citizens instead of battling US troops. Another popular, and effective, target will be Iraq’s decaying oil production infrastructure.
UIA Links to Iran and Terrorism Undermine US Ambitions - Another troublesome consequence of the elections is that Bush officials are forced to support a Shi’ite government led by Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a member of the Dawa Party, one of the two Shi’ite factions comprising the United Iraq Alliance. Dawa is so closely aligned with Iran that not only had it supported Iran in the Iraq-Iran War, but it had moved its headquarters to Tehran in 1979. While in the Iranian capital, Dawa had spun off what Middle East expert Juan Cole called “a shadowy set of special ops units generically called ‘Islamic Jihad,’ which operated in places like Kuwait and Lebanon.” Dawa was also an integral part of the process that created the Shi’ite terrorist group Hezbollah. And Dawa was founded by Muhammed Baqir al-Sadr, the uncle of radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army has been accused of attempting to exterminate Sunni populations. In other words, the US is now supporting a government which not only supports terrorism, but itself incorporates a terrorist-affiliated organization in its executive structure. Author Craig Unger will write: “One by one the contradictions behind America’s Middle East policies emerged—and with them, the enormity of its catastrophic blunder. Gradually America’s real agenda was coming to light—not its stated agenda to rid Iraq of WMDs, which had been nonexistent, not regime change, which had already been accomplished, but the neoconservative dream of ‘democratizing’ the region by installing pro-West, pro-Israeli governments led by the likes of Ahmed Chalabi in oil-rich Middle East states. Now that Chalabi had been eliminated as a potential leader amid accusations that he was secretly working for Iran (see April 2004), and the Sunnis had opted out of the elections entirely, the United States, by default, was backing a democratically elected government that maintained close ties to Iran and was linked to Shi’ite leaders whose powerful Shi’ite militias were battling the Sunnis.” Moreover, the Iraqi security forces have little intention of cooperating with the US’s plan to “stand up” as US forces “stand down.” Their loyalties are not to their country or their newly elected government, but to their individual militias. Journalist and author Nir Rosen says the Iraqi soldiers are mainly loyal to al-Sadr and to Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI, the other member of the United Iraq Alliance), “but not to the Iraqi state and not to anyone in the Green Zone.” Unger will write, “Unwittingly, America [is] spending billions of dollars to fuel a Sunni-Shi’ite civil war.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 327-329]

Entity Tags: Juan Cole, Nir Rosen, United Iraqi Alliance, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Iyad Allawi, Brent Scowcroft, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, Ahmed Chalabi, Craig Unger

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

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