As the campaign against Iraq gets underway, security and military experts around the world are busy attempting to second guess Saddam Hussein and discover his strategy, in particular, what measures he intends to use against the U.S. and its allies. In 1991, Sadam’s strategy was clear: he did all that he could to unravel the fragile coalition of states operating against him. Since the coalition included Arab states, the best way to accomplish this was to attack Israel in hopes that any Israeli retaliation would cause a chain reaction, fragmenting the coalition and possibly sparking a secondary conflict in the Middle East.
Today there is no coalition—at least not a Western-Arab one. And although Israel is always a valid target for violence in the eyes of Arab and Moslem extremists, this time, it is doubtful that Saddam will chose to focus on Israel to the exclusion of his other enemies.
However, should Iraq launch an attack on any of its near neighbors, including Israel, there are three possible venues for doing so: by aircraft, by missiles, or by terrorism. As far as Israel is concerned, the first option—an attack using conventional aircraft—is practically negligible. Both Israel and the United States have considerable air superiority compared to Iraq. This, together with Israel’s strong anti-aircraft defenses, means that the chances of an Iraqi plane reaching Israel are quite slim.
With regard to the use of missiles, there is a concrete risk. Saddam’s regime probably does still have the ability to launch missiles capable of reaching Israel. It is possible that Scud missiles and launchers have been hidden in Western Iraq and could be used in such an attack. At the same time, the moment that Saddam takes such an action, he is signaling to the whole world that he has lied about his not having long-range weapons and hence justifying the American campaign. From the point of view of a cost-benefit analysis, attacking Israel with missiles—certainly doing so with non-conventional weapons—would certainly seem counter-productive from Iraq’s point of view. Unfortunately, Saddam has already shown himself to be something less than a rational decision-maker, and thus, his actions may well prove unpredictable.
Of the three possible venues for offensive action, the use of terrorism against his enemies may be the most attractive for Saddam. For one thing, terrorism has the virtue of complete deniability; he need not take responsibility, nor would it be easy to prove that he is behind any particular attack. Even in the case of a non-conventional attack, it would take some time to prove any connection, and time is what Saddam is playing for. Secondly, by using international terrorism he does not limit himself to a specific location or target type. He can target American interests outside the region just as easily—if not more easily—than he can target the American military on his doorstep.
But why should Saddam choose to do this? How benefit could he possibly derive from attacking American or Western interests by proxy? As mentioned, Saddam cannot hope to break apart any coalition today by provoking terrorism and violence. So aside fighting the American and British troops in Iraq, causing as many casualties as possible in order to buy time, Saddam is likely to push for international pressure on President Bush to cease the campaign. There are two strategies that might support this initiative from Saddam’s point of view. He could launch a campaign of international terrorism that would focus the attention of the international community on his cause and endanger international economy. Or he could stage a massacre in Iraq, and cast the blame on American troops. This tactic might make use of a staged “televised” killing of civilians by actors dressed as Americans. It is even possible that Saddam would kill his own people, call in the international press, and blame the Americans.
Should Saddam choose to use international terrorism to cause chaos, he has several options to choose from. The campaign could take the form of simultaneous or consecutive “small” terror attacks against Western interests, or “mega” terror attacks against the U.S and its allies. Such attack might be carried out directly by Iraqi agents or by supporters of Saddam in cooperation with Islamist terrorist cells worldwide. Saddam can also rely on a proxy organization, such as the Baghdad-based Palestinian Liberation Front (PLF) headed by Mohamed Abu el Abbas, or the Arab Liberation Front (ALF), a group founded by Iraq in the late sixties.
However, it the second, less direct venue that may prove the greater danger. By joining forces with Islamic radical organizations, such as al-Qaida, Iraq could multiply both the number and intensity of any campaign of international terrorism. Such organizations might carry out attacks either in direct cooperation with Iraq or as a show of solidarity, revenge or protest. There is also the possibility that individual extremists might execute attack as a personal initiative. Regardless of its constituent elements, the result of this “solidarity-through-terror” campaign would be to sow anxiety in Western society. Saddam definitely has the motivation to initiate or encourage such a campaign, and, unlike other alternatives, here there is no doubt that he has what few capabilities are necessary to make it happen. Nor should the use of chemical or biological weapons to launch devastating terrorist atrocities be ruled out.