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January 21, 2003

This is of course obvious. But why not mention that Saddam pays some 25,000 dollars to the families of suicide bombers and that will stop. And that America would occupy Iraq and thus not need to plead for air strips in "friendly" Arab countries? 'Israel will benefit from Saddam's removal'

JERUSALEM Jan. 20. As military tensions between the U.S. and Iraq rise, most Israelis are convinced that their country will be safer if a war to unseat the regime of the Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein, is waged. "The consequences of a war in Iraq will be mixed but the outcome will be more positive than negative", says Shia Feldman, head of the Jaffee Centre for Strategic Studies at the Tel Aviv University.

According to Prof. Feldman, a successful operation to bring about "regime change" in Baghdad will enhance Israel's security. He pointed out that with Mr. Hussein out of political contention, Israel would find that a regime that has had a track record of attacking it would be out of the way.

During the first Gulf war, Iraq had launched several Scud missiles against Israel. Israel would also naturally benefit from the removal of mass destruction weapons from Iraq.

A successful military operation against Iraq will also deter countries such as Iran that have been hostile to Israel after the 1979 Islamic revolution. A decisive blow to Mr. Hussein's regime is likely to discourage Iran from supporting the Hezbollah group that has been operating against Israel from Lebanon. Echoing a similar view, Gerald Steinberg who teaches at Israel's Bar Ilan University said that sanctions against the Iraqi regime were failing to work and the pressure to lift these restrictions was also gathering momentum.

That would have meant the possibility of the rehabilitation of Mr. Hussein. Many Israeli academics are of the view that Israel cannot leave Iraq alone because of the country's special attributes. It is a potential economic and military powerhouse on account of its vast oil resources, besides having a deep influence over the Arab society and culture historically.

Most Israeli scholars and diplomats acknowledge that tackling the post conflict situation in Iraq would be tricky, and the U.S. could face serious difficulties in positioning a stable regime after Mr. Hussein was unseated.

This according to Asher Susser, Head of the Moshe Dayan Centre in Tel Aviv, could have negative security implications for Israel as well.

"The image of U.S. power prior to a war in Iraq is at its zenith. But that may not be the case if things go wrong in Iraq."

He pointed out that Israel as a key partner of the U.S. could suffer, in case the U.S. image of deterrence was dented on account of the possible difficulties it might encounter in managing the post-Saddam situation.

Prof. Feldman, on his part, disagreed on the difficulties in reconstructing Iraq.

He said the European powers, Japan and other Security Council members, were expected to join the reconstruction effort in Iraq and lighten Washington's burden during this phase.

Frequent troop rotations by the U.S. forces that might have to be positioned as part of a transitional authority in Baghdad could also discourage "war wariness" affecting these forces.

U.S. troops, it was felt, might have to play a crucial role in preventing clashes between the Shia and Sunni communities in Iraq after, Mr. Hussein had been marginalised.

While the Shias formed the largest community in Iraq, Sunnis dominated Mr. Hussein's regime.

The U.S. forces would also have to exercise control over the oil cities of Kirkuk and Mosul that are eyed by the ethnic Kurds and Turkey.