Lessons for Israel from captured Iraqi nuclear documents
While Israel is naturally focused on the implications of Iran completing its drive toward nuclear weapons, there is another case of one of its bitterest enemies, who tried to accomplish the same goal once before: Saddam Hussein of Iraq. As a result of the 2003 Iraq War, the U.S. Army captured thousands of hours of recordings of highly-classified meetings of the Iraqi leadership on the subject of how they viewed the purpose of nuclear weapons in the future, as well as how they envisioned their use in the context of a war against Israel.
The U.S. Army made the Iraqi tapes and documents available for analysts, who have begun to publish books and academic articles on their content. Last year, two analysts, Hal Brands and David Palkki, published a study they prepared on the Iraqi records for the U.S. National Defense University (NDU). What they found was that Saddam Hussein had personally spoken about the importance of nuclear weapons as a key component of Iraqi strategy from 1978 until the Israeli strike on the Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981.
Saddam’s earlier obsession with nuclear weapons appears to have stopped for at least seven or eight years after the attack, according to the documents, until the late the 1980s when he began to speak about the subject again. For Brands and Palkki, the time Israel gained is a vindication of Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s decision to strike Iraq.
So how did Saddam Hussein view the utility of nuclear weapons in a future conflict with Israel? The two NDU authors, Brands and Palkki, point out that contrary to the theories of many experts on international relations in the U.S., who claim that states seek to acquire nuclear weapons for defensive purposes alone in order to enhance deterrence against their neighbors, the Iraqi documents indicate that Saddam Hussein’s regime clearly had offensive goals in mind.