Israel warned us against Iraq invasion, US official says
Chief of staff of former secretary of state reveals that large number of senior Israeli officials warned Bush administration that invasion of Iraq would be destabilizing to region. 'The Israelis were telling us Iraq is not the enemy - Iran is the enemy,' he says
According to the official, Israel tried to convince the Bush administration that the main problem in the region was Iran, not Iraq.
The man, Lawrence Wilkerson, was a member of the US State Department's policy planning staff and later chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell.
In an interview with the news agency, he said that "the Israelis were telling us Iraq is not the enemy - Iran is the enemy."
According to Wilkerson, different sources in Israel explained to senior US officials that "if you are going to destabilize the balance of power, do it against the main enemy."
Wilkerson noted that the main point of their communications was not that the US should immediately attack Iran, but that "it should not be distracted by Iraq and Saddam Hussein" from a focus on the threat from Iran.
The message was conveyed by a large number of senior Israeli officials to their American counterparts, including political figures and intelligence sources.
According to Wilkerson, the Israeli advice was apparently triggered by reports reaching Israeli officials in December 2001 that the Bush administration was beginning serious planning for an attack on Iraq.
Journalist Bob Woodward revealed in Plan of Attack that on December 1, 2001, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had ordered the Central Command chief, General Tommy Franks, to come up with the first formal briefing on a new war plan for Iraq on December 4.
Soon after Israeli officials got wind of that planning, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon asked for a meeting with Bush primarily to discuss US intentions to invade Iraq.
In the weeks preceding Sharon's meeting with Bush on February 7, 2002, a procession of Israeli officials conveyed the message to the US administration that Iran represented a greater threat, according to a Washington Post report on the eve of the meeting.
This is the first confirmation of the issue on the part of such a senior American official, following many hints heard on the Israeli side. The remarks were made in contrast to attempts by Israel's opposers in the US to blame Jerusalem for the American invasion of Iraq.