Friday, January 05, 2007

We were safer with Saddam, his victims say

Days after Saddam's execution, Orly Halpern, writing in the Forward, finds that even some of those who suffered directly from Saddam’s brutality admit that in retrospect, Israel was better off with him than without.

"Baghdad-born Avraham Eini was a teenager when his father was arrested and tortured by Saddam’s security agents in the 1970s. “He later died of his wounds,” said 54-year-old Eini, who had escaped with his family and settled in Ramat Gan. Two decades later, in 1991, Iraqi Scud missiles fell 200 yards from his house.

Eini said he felt a sense of “revenge and relief” when Saddam was executed last week. Yet, he said, “Israel would be safer today if Saddam stayed in power.”

Saddam and his Ba’athist revolutionary colleagues came to power in 1968, a year after the crushing defeat of Arab armies by Israel in the Six-Day War. Vice president and strongman of the regime, Saddam had an attitude that was decidedly anti-Israel, following Ba’athist ideology and postwar Arab sentiment. One of his first notorious moves was to hang 17 alleged spies, nine of them Jewish.

Throughout the 1970s Saddam’s anti-Israel rhetoric continued, along with his hounding of Iraqi Jews and his support for the Arab Liberation Front, a militant Palestinian group that shelled Israel from southern Lebanon. He took full control as president in 1979, escalating his rhetoric and brutality. Shortly afterward, Iraq was invaded by neighboring Iran, touching off a bloody, eight-year war that inflicted huge hardship on Iraqis and Iranians alike. Saddam further tightened his regime and launched a furious arms race.

"In 1981, alarmed at Iraq’s nuclear weapons project, Israel sent warplanes to destroy the nuclear plant at Osirak, fueling the dictator’s hostility.

"A few years into the Iran-Iraq war, however, Saddam moderated his anti-Israel stance. Some observers believe he merely hoped to curry favor with Washington. Others say that even so, it might have led to a thaw. Jews in Iraq were now protected by a special unit and had a phone number to call if harassed. “Nobody could touch us,” said Emad Levy, who lived in Iraq at the time."

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