TRANSCRIPT OF 21.6.04 BRIEFING WITH PROF. RAPHAEL ISRAELI ON:

"THE WAR IN IRAQ AND
ITS CONSEQUENCES FOR THE MIDDLE EAST"

(Communicated by the GPO - Israel Government Press Office)

Hebrew University (Institute of African and Asian Studies, Dept. of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, <http://tinyurl.com/34ejf>) Professor Raphael Israeli, on Monday, 21.6.04, at Beit Agron in Jerusalem, held a briefing for foreign correspondents on the war in Iraq and its consequences for the Middle East.

Following is a transcript of his remarks:

The situation warrants a seminar of a couple of days to talk about the major aspects of the war in Iraq. So what I can do here within the framework of this short presentation of the main points, is to tell you something about the four or five major chapters of the book (<http://tinyurl.com/2cr59>), so that you know what it is all about and I'll leave the pinpointing of any particular subjects you are interested in for the Q&A stage because if I concentrate on one of these four or five topics it will take too long and I may miss the main thing that may be of particular interest to you. So please bear with me while I present the main topics, what I consider to be the main topics, and then we will open it to discussion.

The major thrust of the book is first to centre on the very complicated historical but also demographic and ethnic situation in the three major areas of Iraq that you all know. First there is a major chapter on the Shiites, when I say chapter, there are forty or fifty pages each. The Shiites - who are the Shiites? What are the factions among them? What are they fighting about? What are their aspirations and so on? And they happen to coincide also chronologically with the first thrust of the American's during the war. They started in the south, that is to say the Shiites.

The third chapter deals with the north, the Kurds, again, who are the Kurds? What are the problems between them? How they participated in the war and unlike all the others in Iraq who were either neutral or inimical to the Americans from the beginning, the Kurds took an active part but then they have a good reason for that.

Thirdly, is Baghdad, the capital which is also in the middle, plus what is called the Sunnite triangle, that is the third major element of the population in Iraq, is the Sunnis, what the course teaches you there in terms of political elite in Iraq, how they dominated Iraq in the last 70, 80 years and so on, since the beginning of the Iraqi modern state.

Now after those three, there are two other major chapters, one, which is topical, and the other, which I would say is more analytical. The topical chapter is called the hidden agendas, because it is not only the military campaign, which is interesting, I deal with it in the book as a general survey. The steps of the fighting and so on, I don't concentrate on that because there have been a lot of military reports on different aspects of the war, that's not the interesting thing. So in the hidden agendas I concentrate on three things: one - the oil problem, how the oil was part of the American strategy when they planned for the war. Secondly, I discuss weapons of mass destruction, which is a big issue. To this day you can hear debates about whether there were weapons of mass destruction and so on, what they called the smoking gun and with all the attending problems and I'm ready to expand on that if you like. And the third issue in that chapter is the question of the linkage to terrorism. Because as you know when America declared war, they started to plan for war, they started, or they took it as being part of the world combat against terrorism, and again you have all sorts problems including that American commission to find out about America' s implication as a result of September 11th and so on, there is a public debate not only in America over the war and I can expand on that.

The other chapter which is more conceptual if you like, or the aftermath of the war is also divided into two parts. One which is most important for me, I gave the title ruling from horseback. Here I'm using a metaphor taken from Chinese history, which is my other academic field. You know that in the 12th century China was occupied by the Mongols. The Mongols were a very good Yuan dynasty. Now the Yuan dynasty ruled China for about 70/75 years in the 12th century and the Mongols were very good horse riders and the Chinese were not great fighters. They concentrated more on culture and so forth. So it was very easy for the grandson of Genghis Khan whose name you know, Kublai, to occupy China very swiftly because they were horse riders and the Chinese were pretty much helpless. But after the conquest was achieved, a Chinese Confucian sage told them, you can conquer China from horseback but you cannot rule it from horseback and indeed he was right because after several decades they were ejected back to Mongolia and China went back and established another one of those great dynasty's, the Ming dynasty, the one before the last. And of course I use that metaphor because telling the Americans they can conquer Iraq from tank back in their case, they cannot rule it from tank back. That's what they tried to do and you know that it's ending in failure. That's a chapter that explains why American rule in Iraq cannot really succeed.

The second part of this conceptual issue, as I said, at the end of each war, for a book of this sort, you ask yourself the obvious question; who gained and who lost. You have a war and what did you achieve there? There are so many people who died but that's obviously not the purpose of the war, that's only the result. And you know wars have never determined who's right, wars determine who's left. If we look at that equation today then you can see for yourself who is left from the war. You can speculate a little bit on the role of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Turkey, the big neighbours of Iraq, and what remains of them and their position in the Middle East. Then of course you can sum that up and say, well, did American win anything from the war, so far? So these are in a nutshell the big issues that I wanted to tackle in this book, successfully or unsuccessfully, the readers may judge. But I'm here to answer any questions you may have within that framework. That's what I addressed. There are of course many collateral situations in Iraq - like the tribal situation, the conflicts between those three ethnic groups I pointed out before. There are many conflicts within each ethnic group among the Kurds the Shiites and so on. The Shiite's situation alone I could spend a whole morning on the factions within them.

Q. What are the inferences of this war for major Arab countries especially after the West encourages them to move towards democratic regimes.

This is a very key issue and I respond to it in two parts. First of all, what is the influence on Arab countries in general, and in one word, negative, because all of them and this is the main reason, all of them are on record as stating, apart from Kuwait which served as the base for the American attack especially after Turkey reneged on its position and instead of letting them opening a second front on northern Iraq and the Americans had to go back via the Suez Canal around Arabia and land in Kuwait as some kind of reinforcement instead of opening at the same time a northern front. Another front was opened with the collaboration of the Kurds, but not the way the Americans had planned it and therefore it slowed down the whole progress of the war and I think that's another issue. So I think the Syrians first of all regard themselves, and rightly so as besieged by the Americans because before the Americans were in the area there was no other power that could intervene against the Syrians. And the Americans in order to assemble their forces needed six months, like the picture we saw in the previous gulf war, where it took the Americans six months in order to assemble the forces who opened the attack on Iraq. And secondly the Syrians have in their back so many American/three or four American divisions concentrated right there and ready to act. This is very uncomfortable and therefore the Syrians feel they are directly threatened.

Turkey threatened its relations with Americans because once the new Islamic government reneged in practice although not in declarations on its alliance with America the way it was with the government 10 years ago during the previous gulf war, so there is some tension there. Not only that they reneged on their alliance with America but they are scared stiff that the Kurds in northern Iraq might declare autonomy, independence and so on, something that may reflect immediately on the Kurdish population of Turkey which constitutes about 20% of the population, some 15 out of 70 million. And that's a big problem.

Saudi Arabia, knew always that it was a centre of American interests not because of democracy or anything of that sort but because of the oil and it was a base for American forces. From the previous gulf war the Americans had kept in Saudi Arabia although they evacuated the mass of the troops they kept some of air force bases that during the war they were not supposed even to announce that any airplane could take off from Saudi Arabia in order to bombard Iraq or anything of that sort. So in other words, all the Arab countries unlike the previous gulf war did want to be seen as collaborators of the United States in an attack against a sister Arab state. That's what I said in general it was negative. And when you read the newspapers of all the Arab countries from that period of time you see that there is not only negative attitude towards America, full of hatred etc but there is also a real scare by all Arab leaders that they might not be able to control their crowds because at the same time that people like Mubarak halfheartedly understand America but in fact he condemned the American intervention in Iraq, you find the crowds in campuses in the streets of Cairo are most certainly against America and if it turns out of hand then the regimes themselves find in a very bad shape. This is in a nutshell.

The question of Iraq, everyone new that when the war started that Iran was, and will play a very crucial role in the post war era. And principally because of the fact that the southern part of Iraq and Baghdad included are inhabited mainly by Shiites. Shiites constitute approximately 60% of the population of Iraq, 14 or 15 million out of a population of 24 million, and of course Shiites used to have and continue to have very close links with the Shiite state of Iran, many of the leaders of Iraq who were banned or ran away from the Saddam regime and spent years, some of them 20 years, some of them more in the holy cities of Qom and other cities in Iran and they were cultivated by the Iranians for many years. And so the Americans were rightly afraid of the backlash, what would happen if that Shiite majority of Iraq was still under the influence of the Iranians. Something that might drive postwar Iraq into the hands of the Iranians, that is to say to establish another kind of theocratic Shiite state that by definition cannot be to the benefit of America. And the fact that America placed itself strategically in the heart of that world surrounded by all those countries that I have just mentioned is a great problem for them. It's a very great problem, it's not for nothing that Bush, even as he tried to say, yes we are advancing the dates of transfer of power, it used to be the end of the year now it's June 30th, in about 8 days from now. Even with that he says that they will stay there militarily. Now of course they want to reduce their profile, in order not to be occupiers, they will concentrate their military barracks outside the big cities so as to lower their profile, but they will remain there, because if they withdraw, all the achievements of the war from their point of view of course, will collapse. At this point, they want to at least maintain that. So exactly because of that determination for now, which may change due to election year and so on, all those countries that surround Iraq are very worried. They see all the rhetoric about transfer of power, and free elections and so forth. They see that America is staying there. The three or four military divisions who fought the war in Iraq are still there, even if somewhat behind the scenes they are continuing to rule Iraq from the tank. So that's one major question.

You asked about democracy, and how far this helped democratize Iraq. I think we should forget about this democracy business. The US rhetoric and Bush is talking about democracy, but my friends, to look for democracy in those countries is like sending a blind man into a dark room to look for a black cat, which is not there. So look and look, there will not be democracy because there is no tradition of democracy. So although it's good rhetoric to talk about democracy I don't think that anyone is taking it seriously, and even the countries, which had promised that after the war they would begin reforms as part of the fight against terrorism, I don't think that they take it seriously because it threatens the regimes in place. And the regimes in place, please remember what happened after the previous gulf war in 1991. Before the war all the people of the gulf promised that after the war, after they are liberated or rescued by America, they would all reform and democratize. And after the war they forgot about it. The sheiks of the gulf area continued to support each other rather than reform, and they know that only by supporting each other's autocratic regimes can they survive. In that regard you can say that the sheiks of the gulf continued to dance sheik to sheik realizing that was the only way to survive.

Q. You have described various levels of discomfort in the region, so what can these countries (Syria, Saudi Arabia) do?

A. They do two things, one active and one passive. The active one, countries like Syria, do lend their support to groups that destabilize Iraq because they want to make sure that America gains nothing from the war, that it leaves Iraq strategically defeated. And many are talking about it even in America today, so that's the active thing and we have all kinds of groups either supportive of Saddam Hussein and his regime, or al Qaeda who have other reasons for collaborating. You have al-Sadr and all of them, plus the Saddam Hussein regime remnants lead apparently by Izat Ibrahim the vice president who was not caught, he was one of the nine on the deck of cards who was not caught, and he apparently is leading the resistance and so on and so forth. That's the active part. The passive part is a waiting game, they are sitting on the sidelines and waiting for America to be torn to pieces and defeated, either domestically by the internal debate or outwardly by what they call the resistance groups. And they see so far a year later, that if you give Americans enough rope they will hang themselves, in their reactions to terrorist attacks. This revival of the Shiites for example who were taken for granted as passive players who will sit on the sidelines and they did in the beginning, realizing, and they are very happy about the fact that America released them from Saddam Hussein. They were crushed for so many years, and they had no chance so at least that obstacle is gone. From now on they are saying, thank you very much, you saved us, now go, we are the majority and we want to rule the country. So that is the issue and if they wait long enough they see America defeating itself.

Q. Someone has said that they should divide Iraq into three parts to have control of it. What's your opinion?

That is my conclusion in the book. Of course I mention it. To my mind the religious aspect can be overcome, but the ethnic aspect can't be overcome, that's the real division. In other words what I'm suggesting, instead of dividing the country into three constituent parts, I think it will be no solution if the country is not divided into the ethnic parts. In other words you can have an Arab country, both Shiites and Sunnites are Arabs, and on that basis they can be in the same country but the Shiites will be of course the majority for a change and the rule will be in their hands for a change. And the Sunnites, who are Arabs, can share the same country because they are Arabs, will be in the minority again for a change. While the Kurds will not agree to be in an Arab state because they were, they have been, and we know that for more than 100 years, right after WWI when they were promised many times, a Kurdish state, instead Kurdistan was divided between the five countries and they never got their independence. And they ask the question, we are 35 million, while the Palestinians are 7 or 8 million, why can the Palestinians have autonomy, they are going to have a state, a second state perhaps and we are still lingering behind. No one takes care of us or cares about us. And therefore they are saying, now is the occasion, if we don't do it now when we are allied with America, we helped, we are the only Iraqis that helped America actively during the war, to open another front, after the Turks reneged. Why shouldn't we do it? And I think that if you do these two separate parts, both of which have a very solid economic base for their growth, because the north, the Kurds want to expand north to Kirkuk, because in Kirkuk there are oilfields and in the south, as we now the Rumaila and the Basla oilfields can give a very strong economic base for the Shiite majority state. There is the Arab and Kurds and I think that kind of division is practical. Perhaps it needs to be enforced, as long as the Americans are there and they can enforce it but not any other division to my mind.

Q. First, can you explain why the American's turned against Ahmed Chalabi and second, can you elaborate or expand upon the report that Israelis are actively involved now in Kurdistan or Iraqi Kurdistan?

I think the Kurds rightly from their point of view are playing the role of the dentist, that's what it is. There was a boxing match in America between a white and black boxer. During the first round the black boxer had the upper hand, and he was encouraged by someone in the audience who said, beat him, break his head, break his teeth. In the second round it was the white boxer who was better but the same person from the audience who encouraged him and said break his head break his teeth. Some other viewer in the audience was puzzled said make up your mind, you are for the black for the white, he said I'm for neither, I'm a dentist!

So I think the Kurds understood very well who may be able to support them and they can do contradictory things supporting this and that one the same time and I think that in that regard they are doing perhaps some under the table deal with the Israelis. No one can hide the fact that the Israelis have been their supporters for many years. There were Israelis, including former chief of staff Raphael Eitan who was there personally and helped them organize military, to plan forays against the Iraqis. There were even some arms shipments back in the 70s and 80s when Saddam Hussein was in charge and of course Israel was interested in destabilizing him. So we are back to the same game, because if you hand over the rule as the Americans are going to do in 8 days, at least formally, the rule to the Iraqis, the Iraqis will be facing the exact same problem with the Kurds. What do we do with them, the Kurds what autonomy, or cessation if possible. The Iraqis say no way, we have to keep you to keep the force and then you have all the elements of new insurgency and again the battle will start. The only difference is that while Saddam Hussein could fight against that, including with gas and you remember in 1998 when 8,000 Kurds were eliminated, this time under a so called democratic government, they will not dare to do that, and certainly not if the Americans are there. So the news of the battle will be softer but the battle will continue under a difference force.

The question of Dr. Chalabi is mainly a question of the in fighting between the pentagon and the state department, and when the state department did whatever it did, so the pentagon of course responded because it had other candidates and I think Chalabi who is controversial, I mean, he's not either a saint or a devil. So if you want to support him for this or that reason then you say he's saint. I think that because of the infighting, I don't think there is anything crucial to say for or against him beyond the fact that he's fell victim to that infighting.

It is said that he gave information to the Iranians. We know that he was something in the service of the Iranians, because he is a Shiite. Perhaps he calculated, that's my understanding that when Iraq regains its sovereignty, and starts ruling itself, it might start to edge towards the Iranian model of regime and he said that it's good to have a good, close relationship with the Iranians. That's speculation, no one really knows, well I don't know, but maybe the CIA knows more. This is what has been published so far.

Q. Thirty years ago, where you're standing there were a group of German human rights people who came and learned that the people who are building up the WMD capacity of Iraq was the German government through 82 firms. That story has completely disappeared, and I'd like to know if there's any firm that continues to supply the WMDs, the German involvement.

Obviously Germany and France, the two countries in Europe who helped Saddam more than anyone else, the Germans with the weapons of mass destructions, the French more specifically with the nuclear program, Chirac personally was involved in that, are also the countries that opposed the intervention of America in the war, and therefore rather than letting America make this revelation and I think the revelations were being made ultimately, because the documents were already there, and in order not to worsen the situation between America and its so called European allies they are not releasing the documents. It would be a terrible embarrassment, both for the Germans and the French. So these things are kept to the side for the time being, but when the rift comes and it will come, when America has to withdraw, and you'll see a lot of recriminations on both sides.

What I'm saying is that they found a lot of documentation attesting to the aid given by Germany and France and others to the Iraqis. The weapons of mass destruction that were there, there is no doubt that they were there, they were either hidden, or they were shipped to other countries. We have lots of bits and pieces about Syria, about Sudan and even as far away as Malaysia, there were some ships a few months before the war started. But the main point here is that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, and the fact that we cannot find, does not mean that they were not there. This is the issue. They were very much able to hide whatever they had in terms of evidence and all those people who say the war was done for nothing and all these statements of weapons of mass destruction had no leg to stand on, I think that's false, because there is a smoking gun, and in a court of law there is enough circumstantial evidence to convict anybody. You find a corpse, the corpse was there, and you find bits and pieces, but you cannot find the gun itself so what, if you have a corpse and you can't find the gun that means there was no murder. The murder occurred; we just can't find the gun so continue to look for it. The gun was shipped outside, or hidden in the desert. You see, two or three months after the end of the war, of the official war, the war continues to this day, they found hidden in the sands of the desert a MIG 29, it's a pretty big imprint, much bigger than any missile, it was buried under the ground and in the desert, so if you can bury a MIG 29, you can bury many other things in the desert and there is no way to find it. Radioactive things can be found by satellite, but chemical and biological stuff that is buried cannot be detected from the air or by satellite. And then go and look for it, it's a country almost as large as France or California, so go and look for it. I suppose the most indicting stuff was shipped out, and that enough remains, if you read the relevant chapter, there are at least 10 or 12 different indications of the presence of weapons of mass destruction in various forms. So they are not just for nothing, if you put everything together they will lead you to some conclusions.

Q. Iraq was one of the two remaining countries to still be in active state of war with Israel. Iraq and Saudi Arabia never signed anything with Israel. After June 30th can Israel expect renewed hostilities from Iraq in one way or another?

No, look, renewed hostilities, the last time they participated was the Yom Kippur war. They are so busy with their internal problems and licking their wounds in the aftermath of the war. I don't think they will occupy themselves with a renewed rift with Israel, especially while the Americans are there. And they cannot predict when the American's will leave. In my mind, they are not going to leave anytime soon otherwise, anything they gained from the war will collapse. I don't think they will leave before the November elections. If they leave before it will be an admission on his part that his policy has failed and I think this cannot help him in the elections, quite the contrary.

Q. Immediately after the assassination of Sheik Yassin there was a recrudescence of terrorist actions in Iraq, is there a link between the two?

Not necessarily. It's like here, when Sheik Yassin or someone is assassinated they say now we will launch a very large raid against Israel in retribution for that. And without the elimination of Sheik Yassin they did not launch such activities? So you use it as some kind of trigger or teaser in order to justify so to speak what you do. So they think that the Shiites the care necessarily about Sheik Yassin. In the time of Saddam Hussein they paid $25,000 to each family who sent someone to be blown up. And that served Saddam not because he was a pious Moslem but because he wanted to play his role in the inter Arab arena. And here, they said oh yes, because of that, because they want support, also among the rest of the Arabs, especially the Palestinians, and anyway they can hurt American interests, be it in Palestine, or other places, but we know Palestinians who are committed to act against America wherever it is, because they blame America for the situation and so on and so forth. And so the use of that rhetoric I don't think is the result between any link between action here or action there. This is part of the dynamics of the insurrection in Iraq, and I think it will take place with or without Israel in the picture.

Q. Does VP Cheney know something that other people don't know when he said that there is no doubt in his mind that there was cooperation between Saddam and Osama bin laden, and secondly, what rating would you give the US for its past year in Iraq, in its high marks and low marks?

For the first question, I don't know if Cheney knows what others don't know. He certainly knows many things that I don't know. He has CIA reports at his disposal which I don't have and what I think happened is that, I have no doubt whatsoever, that there was a link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein or at least Saddam's regime. And one thing which is clear on the ground that nobody can deny, and this is only one of many, that Ansar Islam, you know on the Kurdish border, Kurdistan with Iran, there was a little enclave of Ansar Islam which is literally the supporters of Islam. And that group was composed only of a few hundred fighters, several villages in that enclave, of course they placed themselves on the border with Iran where they could run away in case of trouble and Iran consented to accept in case they ran away. And they did, when the war started, one of the first major operations launched by Kurds with American air support, was to disturb that enclave and in that enclave they found a lot of documents including all kinds of experiments that they did with chemical and biological weapons on animals, dogs and other things. And also documents about plans that they had against America and other places. And it was also known that the Ansar Islam took their instructions and some for their money from al Qaeda, that is established. That enclave could not exist in Iraqi territory without at least the consent if not the actual participation of the Iraqi regime at the head of which was Saddam Hussein and as you know, it was a highly central regime and therefore nothing could take place in Iraq without that consent. There was another base just south of Iraq where they found a jumbo jet, only the caucus of it, where people were trained and there were hundreds of depositions by people who were caught related to al Qaeda who were trained to hijack the plain and there is even an assumption which I cannot confirm that even Muhammad Abdur and some of the September 11th group were trained on that same caucus south of Baghdad. So there are many other implications, which I'm not going to burden you with, but in my mind point to the verity of what Cheney said.

The military action was brilliant, fast, and swift, with minimum casualties and they achieved their goals much faster than the Americans themselves had envisaged. But thinking about the post war planning, the chapter I called ruling from a horseback, there I think there was abysmal failure. Because I think they did not understand the Iraqis, they made all mistakes possible, and I think it's a crisis of expectations. Because people get disappointed when they are told we will achieve one, two, three, and then we don't achieve anything. You can say we will go there, we have limited goals, we will do our best to achieve it and then people don't expect anything. And then you become an [unintelligible] almost when you say things that don't stand on their feet, when you claim this one two three and nothing happens, for example, this interim government or interim constitution or free elections, what free elections? What are you, you are not in the Midwest you are in the Middle East, which is a different world. So in that regards I think they put up so many false expectations due to ill understanding of the foundations of Middle Eastern societies, the complication of so many ethnic groups who live in contradiction themselves. Some of the Shiites will be on the American side, which Shiites, there is Al Sistani, who is neutral, then there is Muqtata Sadr, there are two ayatollah's one Chowi who came from Lebanon and was assassinated and one of the Sadrs, the big family of the ayatollah's, another one who was assassinated and he was supported by Iran, and now Iran goes to Muqtata Sadr's young man who is an insurgence from the point of view of the Americans, but from the point of view of the Iranians, is a good political tool although in terms of learning he cannot be an ayatollah, he is not an ayatollah. He's not a religious leader, he doesn't have the charisma of Sistani. So all those things the Americans did not understand. They thought that everything can be sorted out, by this brilliant diplomat called Bremer. Now Paul Bremer came and tried to impose his understanding of it that he tried to rule from horseback and this is exactly the root of the failure.

Q. Could you elaborate a little bit about the latest developments of Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia, maybe it was triggered by the Afghanistan and the Iraqi war?

I don't believe so. Look, Al-Qaeda when it was constituted back in the 90s had two stated goals. One to get rid of the domestic regimes which are subservient to America, they say in order to Islamize the Moslem world, to return it to Sharia law you must first of all get rid of the regimes that are blocking that purpose because they are serving the purposes of America. The Saudi regime is one of them, and therefore there is nothing new here. There is a certain sequence, after the war they were ejected from Afghanistan, although they are still there, lets say they lost the first battle in Afghanistan, but their leaders were not killed, we know that bin laden is still there somewhere on the border in the mountains. America and the Pakistan leader announced a million times that they were just about to catch them, but they haven't and the people are still there. Therefore, the Saudi's decided that now it is time that now it is time to blow up the domestic front, meaning Jordan, Egypt, and in Saudi Arabia and they have tremendous success. To my mind, we can have no doubt that some elements of the royal house didn't want to be regarded as complete enemies of the fundamentalist Muslims who are trying to take over and therefore there is suspicion that these so called terrorists are aided by elements of the royal family like Nayef who is the minister of the interior, very powerful, in charge of the security forces and so on and so forth. There are all kinds of strange things that happen like last week this group of 8 or 10 people, that we call terrorists, they call terrorists took control of an entire government compound for more than 24 hours. During those 24 hours, they went to a restaurant to eat, and they slept and they went to play and all that, and all the Saudi armies are helpless, and so no one understand how that works exactly. And then they ran away, there was no siege, and there was patience, and then you seize them, they escaped according to Saudi accounts, through six rings of defense.

Q. Is that like reports claiming that the explosion in Damascus one month ago was staged by the President?

Well no it's a different thing, because there, they blew up, if not al-Qaeda, very strong cells of the Muslim brotherhood. Since they were wiped out in Hama in 1982, or 40,000 of them, it has been a dormant thing, it was not eliminated. They are waiting for the opportunity. To my mind, that was the... young Bashar, he's inexperienced, they are still around, and they will take every opportunity and Bashar of course does not have any interest to announce to the world that his regime is threatened, oh no, this was some individuals who did this on their own volition and initiative, so I don't believe that's the case.

Q. Can you remark a little on the Kurdish situation in northern Syria?

Well what happened is that about a month ago there was a soccer game in the city of Qameshli in northern Syria which is populated by not only but also by Kurds and after the game a row broke out, which can happen between fans of different teams, it happens in Europe to, but then it grew into some kind of inter ethnic controversy where some six people were killed. So of course people realized the sensitivity, the Syrians turned to the world and said that Syria is a country of peace and have no problems with the Kurds. The problems with the Kurds are addressed, but there is no doubt that part of the success of the Kurds in northern Iraq, were that they established their own enclaves and those enclaves have existed for the past 12 or 13 years since the end of previous gulf war and they were protected by the fact that they were in the no flight zone, and there were no Iraqi air forces that could bother them. Under that protection of the American and British air force from the Turkish airbase, they could protect the freedom and independence of the Kurds. The Kurds indeed in spite of the fact that they have their own problems, because they have two separate enclaves, they have practically established free autonomous or almost independent states. They have their own parliament, and the regime itself and a prosperity that is untold in that part of the world. This is from all the accounts we have from Kurdistan. And Kurds in other places, not only Syria, but turkey, Iran, are saying, if things are so promising across the border, then maybe we can have some of that here too. The result is little eruptions in turkey, in Iran and also in Syria. This might be an indication that the Kurdish question is on the agenda again, not only in Iraq but in the entire surrounding Kurdistan.

Q. Do you think that the United States is presenting the issue or their case properly? Have you been consulted, are you going to meet with people in the United States? How will the developments in Iraq impact events in Israel?

With a self incriminating name like mine, who will consult with me. Seriously, many people know that I've written the book, but no officials have approached me. They don't need my advice, as you know Bremer knows everything and does everything.

About the impact on Israel, there are wide-ranging impacts, because Israel is one of the only countries that gained something from the war. The most immediate strategic threat on Israel was removed. They say never say never, I don't know for how many years, not only because of the Shiites, but because a year ago we had a briefing here about the gulf war, where we said that due to the geostrategic situation, and it doesn't really matter who rules Iraq, but because of the geostrategic situation will have to be more aggressive and so on. Any regime that emerges now as a result of the war will be more cautious and more passive and turning inwards to resolve the internal controversies. But I think at some point in a decade or two decades, especially in the obscurity of the Iranian nuclear program, Iraq will say that they need to build their capacities in order to deter their neighbours etc. you will have plenty of justification to revive the military buildup.