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The Democrats have taken over Capitol Hill, and have a mandate to withdraw American forces from Iraq ASAP. It is likely that in the medium to long term, this move would have great impact on Israel

The elections held in the US last week revolved around a number of issues, but there is no doubt that chief among them was the war in Iraq. For three and a half years, the US army has been mired in Iraq. As may be recalled, the original objective of the war was to find and destroy non-conventional weapons developed by Iraq. But as time went on, it seemed these weapons were removed from Iraq, at some period before the war.

For this reason, and for many others, which we will explore in a different article, the war in Iraq has resulted in a major decline in the popularity of President George W. Bush and the Republicans. The Democrats, who criticize the war in Iraq and call for withdrawal, have won a majority of seats in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

In light of this, there is a possibility that the geo-strategic situation in the region will change. The Democrats speak of totally withdrawing American forces from Iraq, but have not yet presented a plan as to how they propose to do so. Scenarios range from immediate withdrawal over a short period, to a protracted, calculated move which will take a number of years to withdraw the 200,000 coalition soldiers from Iraq.

Regardless of the question of when the last Western soldier will leave Iraqi soil, Israel must prepare for the day and understand the implications for her.

The Glue Holding Iraq Together

Iraq is composed of three major ethnic groups, located in three different regions of the country. The Kurds, in the north, were the most oppressed ethnic group in the old Iraq. When weapons of mass destruction were not found in Iraq, President Bush and his supporters stated that the reason for staying in Iraq was to grant liberty to the Iraqi people. Of all the Iraqis, the Kurds are the main beneficiary of this liberty. The Kurdish people are concentrated in an area called Kurdistan, which covers an area from eastern Turkey, western Iran and northern Iraq. The Kurdish people have no independent state, though we can assume they would want one.

The Sunni Arabs are the ruling ethnic group. They are concentrated in the center of the country, including the capital of Baghdad. Saddam Hussein, the former and soon to be executed leader, is Sunni. With the fall of Saddam’s reign, the Sunnis were the major force behind the continuing terror within the country, both against coalition forces and Iraqi citizens. The Shiite ethnic group resides in the south of Iraq, including the important port city of Basra. Naturally, the Shiites have strong ties with Iran.

These three ethnicities which comprise the Iraqi mosaic are held together only by the glue of the Western Coalition Forces.

What happens when this glue comes unstuck? Each group would approach foreign forces in order to survive. Therefore, those who stand to lose the most are the Kurds, as they have no support from a major power outside of Iraq. Once the Kurds are no longer relevant, the struggle will be between the Sunni and the Shiites, but it might not be the case. The strongest power supporting the Sunnis is neighboring Saudi Arabia. But Saudi Arabia, which seeks to normalize relations with the US as much as possible, would not easily support the Iraqi Sunnis after they launched such a massive campaign of terror during the war and after it. The Shiites, for their part, are obviously supported by Iran.

Islamic Circles

The Israeli intelligence community uses hierarchical terminology when describing the Arab countries around Israel. Thus, for example, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon are first circle countries. Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Libya are second circle countries. Iran is part of the third circle.

The first important consequence of the coalition withdrawal from Iraq would be the creation of an Islamic territorial contiguity, only separated from Israel by the weak Kingdom of Jordan. Increased Iranian influence, and its control, even if not physical, of events in Iraq might also affect the equilibrium of the Jordanian monarchy. At the same time, as we so painfully learnt in the Second Lebanon War, Iran is sending its tendrils into Lebanon, and has an alliance with Syria.

A non-independent Iraq, with American forces holding it, is a formidable obstacle to Iranian attempts to transport weapons to the forces fighting Israel. If this obstacle is removed, it would be much easier to transport weapons both to the West Bank and to South Lebanon.

Consolidated Campaign

Today, Iran is the unchallenged leader of the Arab war against Israel. Its power is only halted by the Iraqi wedge. Aside from the threat of weapons and knowledge being transferred to terror organizations, a US withdrawal from Iraq might cause a further consolidation of the alliance between Syria and Iran, as well as facilitate Iranian attempts to influence the Iraqi army.

This scenario compels Israel to ready itself for a situation we have not encountered for a long time – an all out war against a regular army. Since the Yom Kippur War, Israel has been waging its wars against semi-military guerilla organizations.

Some military experts believe that in light of the political and strategic changes following the fall of the Soviet bloc, the era of wars between armies has ended. However, recent years have seen changes in Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, that might disprove this theory, and the West might be heading for renewed confrontation with the regular armies of its adversaries.

In this respect, we should understand the historical context of the two types of war – all out war and “sub-conventional” guerilla warfare. Israel’s wars have proven to the Arab world, that in conventional warfare, as developed by the West for generations, the Arab nations do not have a chance. Therefore, the Arabs adopted a new model of warfare to promote their strategic position – terror, guerilla warfare, use of civilians as warriors, and shielding themselves behind civilians. The Islamic contempt for human life has only abetted the further enhancement of this process.

However, as the years went by, the Islamic revolution in Iran brought about the evolution of a regular army that has reached a technological level that no other Arab army has ever attained. The fall of the Soviet bloc and unemployment among Soviet military experts has led them to develop new weapons – with support from the Iranian army.

In recent years, the IDF has adapted itself to fighting the Palestinians. Low intensity combat doctrines were developed and implemented, mainly during and following the intifada. If Iraq were to fall and rise again, with Iranian support, the IDF would have to dust off the combat doctrines for all-out war, and train troops and commanders for proficiency in both types of warfare.

Jonathan D. Halevi, of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, revealed in an article he wrote, that the IDF has already begun to implement some of these lessons, amongst them reequipping itself with Merkava tanks, developing a strategic counter to rockets (likely the Nautilus system), expanding reserves training and cancelling the plan for an abbreviated regular service.

The Extreme Scenario: A Collapse of the Moderate Regimes

Israeli peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, are not necessarily peace agreements with the Egyptian and Jordanian peoples. The agreements were signed with the leaders of the countries, because they served their interest of maintaining the stability of their minority regimes.

The gradual erosion of the peace agreement with Egypt is the result of a slow decline in Israel’s contribution to the stability of the regime. Egypt is now supported by the US, and therefore allows itself not to enforce some of the passages in the agreement. While the Egyptian leadership maintains a neutral stance towards Israel, the Egyptian people hate Israel and do not bother hiding it. It would suffice to mention the fact that the bestselling books in Egypt, are actually nothing more than Nazi propaganda of World War II vintage, and that surveys paint a rather grim picture of the Egyptian attitude towards Israel. There is no assurance that, should radical Islam grow stronger with Iran’s increasing influence, the moderate factors in Egypt, who are no friends of Israel either, would stick to their current strategy or remain in power.

The situation in Jordan is even worse. The Hashemite Kingdom is in fact a minority rule, when the majority in the country is actually Palestinian. Already, Jordan is a ticking time bomb, whose stability must be taken into consideration. With the withdrawal of the US forces from Iraq, forces of the Revolutionary Guard would replace them in the southern Shiite border of Iraq, at the border with Jordan. The Palestinian time bomb in Jordan would start to tick faster.

The impact on the moderate regimes in the first circle threatens, in the most extreme scenario, to return Israel to the situation which prevailed upon its establishment: a nation surrounded by enemies bent on its annihilation.

It is likely that the American leadership is aware of most of the scenarios described here. We can hope that the fact that the President of the United States remains a Republican, will moderate the measure taking shape, and that the American withdrawal will be undertaken in an intelligent fashion, allowing for continued regional stability.

Author Bio

Omedia

Ziv Maor is the security and foreign affairs, and Israel-UN
relations commentator for omedia.org, The leading site in security and terrorism issues, focusing on the Middle East and matters concerning Israel. He is also a former editor of IDF Infantry and Paratroops Gazette.

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