THE END OF EMPIRE IN THE MIDDLE EAST. Glen Balfour-Paul Cambridge University Press, £30
UNHOLY BABYLON: THE SECRET HISTORY OF SADDAM’S WAR. Adel Darwish and Gregory Alexander
HOLY WAR FOR THE PROMISED LAND. David Dolan Hodder & Stoughton, £4.99
TERROR. Conor Gearty Faber & Faber, £12.99
The establishment of a pax britannica in the Gulf began after the imperial repression of the piratical antics of many of the Arab tribes who lived along the coast.
Glen Balfour-Paul, a former British Ambassador to three Arab states, points out that British policy had the effect of “legitimising, perpetuating and indeed fossilising a fragmented political system that just happened to be there at the time” and isolating these mini-states from “the rationalising pressures of history.”
These and other observations in his book give a context to the Foreign Office’s traditional antipathy to the Zionist experiment and, ironically, to long-established Iraqi claims to Kuwait and other parts of the Gulf.
Yet the golem unleashed last August was of the West’s own making. Adel Darwish and Gregory Alexander document that folly in great detail: 95 per cent of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction were imported. During the war with Iran, Saddam spent an incredible $80 billion, if not more, on arms (Britain spent $69.5 billion during the same period).
Pertinently, the authors ask what happened to the $50 billion’s worth of advanced weapon systems sold to the Saudis in the past few years? Were they totally irrelevant in the face of Saddam’s aggression?
Iraq’s decision to develop chemical weapons was initiated by Saddam Hussein in 1974 in order, say Darwish and Alexander, to counter Israel’s nuclear potential. They claim that Iraq engaged the services of a Palestinian non-profit-making organisation in Beirut — Arab Projects and Developments — sponsored by industrialists close to Yasir Arafat.
Between 1974 and 1977, on APD’s advice, it seems, Saddam recruited 400 Arab scientists from a large number of countries including the UK. They were given a high salary, a car, free housing and “the honour of taking part in an all-Arab programme” aimed against Israel.
In Britain, say the authors, APD employees approached Babcock and Wilcox as well as 10, who warned the Foreign Office, which took no action, a turn of events relayed back to Iraq.
If Darwish and Alexander are superb in supplying important minutiae about the medieval machinations of Saddam’s cruel regime, their occasional references to and understanding of Israel are superficial, inaccurate and prejudiced.
David Dolan takes quite the opposite line — he cannot perceive any really serious problems within Israel.
Dolan is a devout Christian who has spent the past decade in Israel. Yet he presents his views in an unnervingly monolithic form: “we believe this, Israel thinks that.”
The passage on the debacle of the Lebanon war in 1982 says virtually nothing of the great division in Israel at the time and the psychological scars it engendered. Dolan’s sincerity is not in doubt and it may help Israel’s public relations. But it won’t help the public reality of the many problems the country faces.
One such problem is the threat from Palestinian terrorists and its use and abuse for political purposes. Mr Dolan unfortunately tends to rely on official sources.
The attempt on the life of Shlomo Argov by the anti-PLO’ Abu Nidal group was the spark which started the Lebanon war. Why then attack the PLO in Lebanon? Dolan does not ask this question.
Similarly, he repeats the Israeli Government’s claim that Fatah violated the terms of the US-PLO dialogue,’ . quoting the widely distributed example of the terrorist incursion into the Negev in December 1989.
In fact, this was an Islamic Jihad group which had actually broken with Fatah because of Arafat’s apparent recognition of Israel and cessation of cross-border raids.
Conor Gearty is generally much better at distinguishing between the aims and intentions of a wide range of Palestinian groups, both inside and outside the PLO. But it was not, as he suggests, the PLO at Algiers who called for a stop to cross-border raids into Israel, but Arafat himself at a later press conference in Geneva. Palestinian rejectionists such as Habash and Hawatmeh claimed he did not speak for the PLO and continued their attacks from Lebanon.
While Likud monitored Fatah and the rejectionists in order to unhinge the US-PLO dialogue, the White House monitored only Fatah to preserve it.
Jewish Chronicle 19 July 1991