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The Iraq Crisis: Catalyst for a National Emergency Government

16 February 2003

By Yisrael Ne’eman

Whether the US and Britain carry out their planned attack on Iraq is certainly a major issue in Israel.  The vast majority of Israelis would like to see the Iraqi dictator gone and his weapons of mass destruction liquidated.  Saddam Hussein used his chemical weapons not only against the Iranians during his war with Tehran in the 1980’s but simultaneously operated them against Kurdish civilian targets.

Israelis are overly aware he could use non-conventional warheads against them.  The possibility of such scuds penetrating the Arrow and improved Patriot missile systems are slim, yet Israelis are worried nonetheless.  The actual threat to Israel at the moment is much reduced from where it was in 1991 and is a small fraction of the expected potential Saddam would acquire should he be allowed a free hand to plan his assault on the Jewish state.

Yet sealed rooms and gas masks are a distraction.  The true threats are posed by the Hizbollah with over ten thousand katuysha rockets (and the rumor some may have non-conventional contents) and the expected increase of Palestinian violence, with suicide bombers leading the way.  Should toppling Saddam take longer than expected both Hizbollah and the Palestinians could be encouraged to play their hands.  One can expect a sharp and painful Israeli response which may very well include Damascus, the great Hizbollah patron.

On the other hand the crisis may very well force the establishment of a national emergency government, later to become a national unity government.  Shinui can be expected to join the Likud and Labor (even under Amram Mitzna) would not be able to turn down the national responsibilities.  There is talk of such a government taking office within a week.  An open issue at the moment is whether the ultra – orthodox and right wings factions would join such a NEG and for how long they will remain once the crisis passes.

The average Israeli stridently opposes the Shas and United Torah Judaism demands for yeshiva, housing and Religious Affairs Ministry budgets while seeking exemptions from military service.   Israelis are no more enthusiastic over the National Unity – Yisrael Beitainu demands for more settlements and the expansion of existing developments, especially since the US is considering an aid package and loan guarantees totaling $12 billion which may be contingent on a settlement freeze. 

Sharon can be expected to get his NEG, the question to be asked is what the NUG will look like after the smoke clears and the emergency becomes history.