Metzger arrives for consultations ahead of Iraq war
Will liaise between Israel and U.S.
By Amos Harel and Aluf Benn
[Ha'aretz - 2 Nov]
Admiral James Metzger, assistant to Gen. Richard Meyers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of the U.S. armed services, and one of two officers responsible for coordinating with the Israeli defense establishment in case of an American war on Iraq, met yesterday with outgoing Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer.
A senior Israeli defense source said yesterday that the American assault is inevitable. "They are very determined," he said, adding a colorful metaphor: "The herd of elephants has started running."
Defense establishment sources said the Bush administration is likely to freeze preparations for war until after the Congressional elections next week. But immediately after the elections, the administration is expected to step up pressure on the United Nations Security Council for a military campaign against Saddam Hussein's regime. The sources admitted, however, the campaign could be delayed for some time, especially if Iraq accepts UN weapons inspectors. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said yesterday that a weapons inspectors mission could take months and "the president knows it."
Ultimately, the Israelis are convinced the Americans will strike - and forcefully, sometime from the end of December on. The senior source said the Americans already have positioned enough force to start a campaign "if they want."
Metzger told his hosts that if the U.S. does attack Iraq, he'll be stationed in Israel "and will make sure to pass on your every message and request to Washington." He promised the U.S. would make every effort to ensure Israel is not harmed.
In addition to meeting with Ben-Eliezer, Metzger saw Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon; Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aharon Ze'ev Farkash; head of military planning, Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland; chief of operations, Maj. Gen. Dan Harel; and National Security Council chairman Ephraim Halevy. The meetings were dubbed "getting-acquainted" sessions.
A senior defense source said that "in this coming round, unlike 1991, the U.S. regards Israel as a main arena, and not a `side show.' They understand that harm to Israel could complicate their efforts, so they want to tighten the coordination with us."
Metzger's visit is the first in a series of top-level security dialogues between Israel and the U.S. in the coming weeks. Ya'alon goes to the U.S. next week for the first time as chief of staff, and will meet with top political and military officials as well as tour some American bases. His trip has taken on new importance in light of the coalition crisis in Israel and the changes in the Defense Ministry. His hosts will discuss preparations for the war in Iraq and ways to prevent escalation in the conflict with the Palestinians. Ya'alon will be meeting, among others, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Powell, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
On November 13, another round of "strategic dialogue" is slated between the countries, with Israel's team led by Minister without Portfolio Dan Meridor and Halevy. They'll present the Americans with Israel's view of "the day after" the war in Iraq, and its expected ramifications for the region. Following the dialogue sessions, the "Tides" forum for cooperation, headed by Defense Ministry Director-General Amos Yaron and Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Lincoln Bloomfield will visit the headquarters of the Pacific fleet in Hawaii.