There is some question as to whether the current crisis in the Middle East will remain a limited dispute involving only Israelis and Palestinians or whether it will spill over and become a general Arab-Israeli war. During the last few days Iraq's Saddam Hussein has made several statements pointing toward the second possibility, and has moved an Iraqi armored division west toward Jordan.[I]
This is not the first time that Iraq has inserted itself into the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. In 1990 and 1991, Saddam Hussein repeatedly tried to deflect world attention from his invasion of Kuwait by appealing to the Palestinian issue. This diplomatic effort was capped by his firing of 39 Al-Hussein (modified SCUD missiles) into Israel during of the Gulf War. Since late 1997, Saddam Hussein and other top Iraqi officials have steadily sharpened their rhetoric and resurrected the threat of intervening in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.[II]
At the end of October, an Arab League meeting is scheduled to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian fighting. Iraqi officials, including Saddam Hussein, have used the lead-up to this summit to suggest that they will intervene in the current fighting and to warn the other Arabs that they face recriminations from Saddam for cowardice if they fail to act.
On Oct. 2, Foreign Minister Muhammad Sa'id Al-Sahhaf sent the following letter to Arab League Secretary General Dr. Abd Al-Majid:
"We listened to your call for an international investigation into the massacres committed by the Zionist gang against our Arab Mujahid [Jihad warrior] people in occupied Palestine. Although we realize your good intention in this call, we would like to express our objection because it includes an implied recognition of the Zionist entity as a reality. Iraq believes that it is a midget entity, an usurper, and a claw of colonialism, that was made by imperialism to the detriment of the security, territory and the holy shrines of the Arabs and the believers..."
"Iraq calls for rescuing the honor of the Arabs and liberating their holy shrines, which are shackled by the Zionist entity's occupation. To this end, Iraq calls for a holy crowd to liberate... the territory, honor, and the holy shrines.... In turn, Iraq... is fully ready to contribute to this effort, out of its spirit, which the sons of our glorified Arab nation know and which the land of Palestine and nearby battlefields have experienced..."
"Long live Palestine, free from the sea to the [Jordan] river. Cursed be the lowly. May evil befall the Jewish usurpers of our holy Palestinian territory."
The next day, Saddam Hussein raised the specter of an Iraqi intervention and noted that other Arabs have failed the Arab nation because they lack the fortitude to challenge Israel. Saddam Hussein even suggested that they should be overthrown, saying: "Five [million] worthless people are oppressing our people in Palestine, slaughtering our children and humiliating our women.... An end must be put to Zionism. If [the other nations of the Arab League] cannot, then Iraq alone is able to do so. Give us a small adjacent piece of land and let them support us from afar only. They will see how we put an end to Zionism in a short time. We say this and we can do it today and now. We will not wait until the day comes when the blockade is lifted to put an end to them. No, from this day we can put an end to them, and we will want nothing from [other Arabs].... Why this disregard from Arab officials?... It is a shame for anybody to say 'I am the master of my people' if he cannot draw a sword against injustice. That is a shame. He who cannot draw his sword against injustice should not... even be the master of his tribe..."
"We want to talk directly...You should tell Israel...that we are part of the Arab nation and that the Palestinian people are part of us. You should tell them: we cannot abandon our role. You are killing our people. If you do not stop using your weapons against our people, then we will act upon the will of our people and our position will be different."
On October 9, 2000, Iraq announced that it was establishing training bases for Arab volunteers to fight in the coming war with Israel. Later that day, Saddam Hussein gave a speech following an Iraqi Revolutionary Command Council and Ba'ath party conference, in which he said: "The conference made a number of resolutions to support the heroic Intifada and to provide the necessities of the Palestinian jihad warriors, so that they are able to continue their heroic jihad to liberate Palestine from the river to the sea...[additionally] in response to the call of the masses, it was decided to open camps for volunteers for the jihad to liberate Palestine, to complete their military training, and the Ministry of Defense was instructed to give priority to those who entered weapons-training courses."
[II] For example, Saddam Hussein in a speech on July 14, 1997, Iraq's 'national day,' said: "...Arab diplomatic efforts must be devoted to supporting the Intifada.... The so-called self-rule area must be more of a base of revolutionary struggle.... Baghdad, as the symbol of the Arabs and the Iraqis, shouldered what it shouldered for the sake of Palestine. They know also that the Al-Hussein missiles were launched from Baghdad and Iraq - not from any other place - on the Zionist entity to declare, in the name of God and the nation, a position of defiance and Jihad."
Also, Salah Al-Mulkhtar, chief editor of the Iraqi paper Al-Jumhuriyah, on August 13, 1997 wrote: "Israeli security theory has been changed [by the Al-Hussein missiles]. The missiles have, for the first time, transferred the war to the Zionist settlements deep inside occupied Palestine, thereby ending the security theory and instilling the feeling that future wars will witness the shelling of the Zionist settlements and not just Arab cities.... I know that some Arabs say that had Iraq not announced its possession of the binary chemical weapon, war would not have been launched against it and it would not have been destroyed. Let me be candid.... The announcement was a message to all: to the Arabs so that they will know that they can defend themselves, if they chose the path of national honor regardless of the hardships; to the Zionist entity, so it will understand that pushing the nuclear button will also mean pushing the binary chemical button and thus the end of the entity itself; and to the world, so it will understand that the conflict is completely out of control."