Saddam’s Fate Carries Messages

When the news broke that Saddam Hussein was captured, there
was an uproar of joy here. Like many Israelis, I was glued to the TV screen,
watching L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator for Iraq,
announcing proudly: “Ladies and gentlemen, we got him!”

What a great moment for the free world.

A minute later, however, I couldn’t believe my eyes. A U.S.
military physician showed up on the screen, checking someone who looked like a
homeless man, probing his wild beard and hair (looking for lice?) and examining
his open mouth like a dentist (or was it a search for traces of the missing
unconventional weapons?).

This scene was repeated endlessly on television, surely to
become one of the famous pictures of this decade. What a mistake. America’s
position and conduct in Iraq are delicate enough, even without such

“Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth,” said Solomon the
Wise, “and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbles” (Proverbs, 24,17). He
knew why: “Lest the Lord see it, and it displeases Him, and He turns away His
wrath from him.”

The way the captured Saddam was exposed would outrage not
only Islamic fanatics, those self-anointed ambassadors of Allah’s wrath, but
also simple Iraqis, who would resent the blow to what’s left of their national

So many times in Israel, after a suicide attack, we found
out that the terrorist or one of his close relatives had been humiliated in
this way or another. Not that the terrorists need excuses, but why rub salt
into wounds?

Having said that, the fact that Saddam was finally captured
is much more important than the way it was done. This dramatic event carries
some significant messages for the Middle East players.

For the Israelis, there should be a sense of confidence in
their powerful U.S. allies. In the long campaign against state terror and
aggressive tyrants of the Middle East, Israel is not alone.

Yet, it is better not to overlook the subtle message
involved. American determination is universal; it is as tough when it comes to
chasing enemies as it is when pursuing peace.

Anyone who thinks that in an election year, U.S.
administrations can be fooled is only fooling himself. If the recent moderate
noises made by top Israeli politicians are not genuine, and are nothing but a
smoke screen, then that is a big mistake.

Yasser Arafat should also pay close attention. He should
play the video clip of Saddam’s capture over and over again and mind the U.S.
soldier standing next to a wooden box, which Saddam kept in his pit and which
contained $750,000. Neither this sum nor the billions this “kleptocrat” stole
from his people saved him at the end.

Last but not least is Bashar Assad of Syria. With Saddam
gone, he is the last Ba’ath Party dictator in our neighborhood. Surely he has
reasons to be nervous. Gone are the good old days of his father, when the
United States was so far away, busy with other things.

Suddenly, with mighty U.S. troops at his border, it has
become dangerous for Assad to harbor terrorist groups in Damascus and, together
with Iran, play his Hezbollah proxy against Israel. No wonder that, out of the
blue, he recently said he wanted to resume talks with Israel. No doubt he is
feeling the heat.

If I were Assad, I would try a fake beard — just in case. Â

Uri Dromi is the director of international outreach at the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem.