Iraq Next Step In War on Terrorism, Israeli Experts Say

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - While the war on terrorism has made substantial progress during the last year, it still has a long way to go - even beyond a U.S. strike on Iraq, experts here are saying.

They said rogue states such as Iraq must be prevented from acquiring weapons of mass destruction to prevent a conflagration that could develop into World War III.

Following the 9/11 terror attacks on the U.S., President Bush pledged that America would fight terrorism around the globe. He declared that the nations of the world would have to make a choice: Either they would be with the U.S. or with the terrorists.

Israeli experts said this week that while progress had been made in that war over the last year, it was only in its beginning stages.

Transportation Minister Ephraim Sneh said he believed that substantial progress had been made over the last year in the war against terrorism.

"There is more awareness, more cooperation," said Sneh, who is a former deputy defense minister and retired brigadier-general in the army.

"The war on terrorism has certainly progressed," said Knesset member Moshe Arens.

"The U.S. succeeded in removing the Taliban [from Afghanistan where Osama bin Laden had made his home]," Arens said.

"Here in Israel we've made great progress. Five weeks with no major terror attacks - we haven't had that in two years," he added.

Israel was quick to identify with America's war on terrorism, which began last October with military strikes in Afghanistan. During the past year, Washington has been more willing to include Palestinian terror groups among those held accountable for terrorist acts.

But counter-terrorism expert Ely Karmon said that while there have been successes in the war against terrorism, the terrorists still maintain some advantages.

"The American campaign against Afghanistan was a surprise to al-Qaeda and the Taliban," Karmon said. They did not expect that the U.S. would launch an "all out war against them," he said.

While the campaign was quick and destroyed the Taliban regime and a part of al-Qaeda's infrastructure, there are still some problems that remain. It is not clear if bin Laden, himself is dead or alive, although he has been forced to stay under cover, he said.

The al Qaeda network is not a "hierarchical organization" but rather a loose network, which makes it difficult to check and identify individuals connected with the group.

Also Islamic radicals are much better at using videos, messages, CDs and websites to promote their own war propaganda and influence the masses. This is one point where they are stronger than the West, he said.

Karmon noted that this is not a quick battle and said he was not sure if Westerners understood the need to continue the war even beyond the likely U.S. military action in Iraq.

"President Bush from the beginning stressed it would be a long war, a long campaign [for] several years," Karmon said.

Iraq is Next

"Iraq is the next stage," he said. "The Iraqi regime is the most urgent problem. [Nevertheless], the continuation of war is not clear to the public."

But Karmon warned that there would be an "enormous" price to pay if the West does not have the courage to deal with the Iraq and other countries now when they are "manageable."

"Not dealing with it, not fighting it does not postpone the danger," he added. "[Being] afraid to deal with it, encourages it... Victory [for them] is a sign to continue the fight."

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said this week that the free world was gradually realizing that there is no such thing as a differentiation between "good terror" and "bad terror" and that it can strike anywhere on the globe.

The international community was also realizing the connection between terrorism and the development of weapons of mass destruction, he said.

"Countries such as Iraq, Iran, Libya and Syria, which support terrorist organizations and use terror to achieve their objectives, are precisely the same countries working tirelessly to acquire weapons of mass destruction," Sharon said at the ceremony marking September 11.

"Iraq is a terrorist state, also Iran and Syria," said Arens, who was Israel's defense minister during the 1991 Gulf war against Iraq. Nevertheless, Arens was cautious not to offer advise on the war against terror. An attack on Iraq is something about which only the U.S. can decide," he said.

But Knesset Member Yuval Shteinitz said that a war against Iraq goes beyond the war on terrorism and is necessary now.

"The real goal of the war against Iraq is not to prevent terrorism. The main goal is to prevent a third world war," said Shteinitz who is chairman of the Knesset subcommittee on defense.

The aim is not just to stop Iraq or other countries from supporting terrorist organizations by giving them money, a place for their headquarters or preaching anti-Western propaganda. It is "first and foremost to prevent them from [acquiring] nuclear weapons and long range ballistic missiles in order to pre-empt a third world war," Shteinitz said.

According to Shteinitz, the current situation with Iraq in the Middle East is parallel to that of pre-World War II Germany when British leader Winston Churchill advised the allies to use "brute force" against Adolph Hitler.

The West is facing the same dilemma, Shteinitz said and if the world will not face the Iraqi leader now it will be forced to face him in a much more difficult situation later. It is better to launch a pre-emptive strike now than to suffer later, he said.

"I hope the West is going to be able to tackle the problem and not be too late. It's now or never. When Iraq will have nuclear devices it will be impossible. We shouldn't wait too long."

A recent intelligence report suggested that Saddam Hussein could have a nuclear weapon within six months if he can obtain the necessary fissionable materials.

On Thursday, President Bush said that if Iraq continued to defy U.N. resolutions and not come clean on the issue of weapons of mass destruction, then "action will be unavoidable."