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A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America’s Intelligence Agencies

By James Bamford

Doubleday, 420 pages, $26.95.

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This past August, the news broke of an FBI probe into a possible leak to Israel of classified intelligence information via the pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The leak was allegedly initiated by a Pentagon subordinate of Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, one of the oft-mentioned Jewish neoconservatives within and close to the Bush administration who, according to critics, receive their orders directly from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. When coupled with the work of conspiracy theorists, this investigation jeopardizes the American-Israeli relationship and questions the patriotism of American Jews at least as seriously as the prosecution of Jonathan Pollard in the 1980s.

Of these conspiracy theorists, James Bamford is perhaps the most pernicious, because he seems an unlikely candidate for such wild views. A former investigative producer for ABC’s “World News Tonight With Peter Jennings,” Bamford has written cover stories for The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post Magazine and Los Angeles Times Magazine. Nevertheless, he seems to have a fixed agenda to blame the Iraq war on Israel and its allies in Washington, the neocons.

In his newest book, “A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America’s Intelligence Agencies,” Bamford locates the seed of his theory in “A Clean Break,” the private report commissioned by Benjamin Netanyahu after his election as prime minister. The report, drawn up by Feith, Richard Perle and David Wurmser (now Vice President Dick Cheney’s Middle East policy adviser), advocated a radically aggressive Israeli strategy against Iraq, Syria and the Palestinian Authority. Though it was rejected by Netanyahu, Bamford sees “A Clean Break” as having re-emerged — this time as U.S. policy — via this same cast of characters.

His recitation of events could have taken him in another direction: the personal animus of George W. Bush toward Saddam Hussein, following the latter’s plot to murder various members of the Bush family. The author details the assassination attempt against the senior President Bush’s entourage during a high-profile visit to Kuwait in April 1993, but gives it no priority or weight, instead glomming on to the thinnest links between Iraq and the Jewish neocons/Israel. It’s not that pro-Israel neocons didn’t figure in the creation of Iraq policy, but could second- and third level appointees really have manipulated a host of non-Jewish officials of Cabinet rank — Bush, Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld and Rice?

The author has a history of throwing mud at Israel. In his previous book, “Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency,” he devoted a lengthy chapter to attempting to prove that Israel purposefully attacked the US Navy electronic reconnaissance ship, the USS Liberty, during the Six-Day War of June 1967. Why would Israel act so obviously against its national interest to risk alienating the only world power that was still in its corner after France had abruptly ended its alliance with the Jewish state? Bamford has an answer: To prevent the Liberty’s discovery of Israel’s cold-blooded slaughter — he alleges — of about 1,000 Egyptian soldiers and civilians detained at El Arish. Bamford is the only mainstream writer to make such claims, and he does this in opposition to the findings of official inquiries and a scholarly conference regarding the Liberty,

In his new work, Bamford’s unfamiliarity with Israel is evident in his bolstering of contentions with cherry-picked “facts.” One illustration of this ignorance is his naming of Gush Emunim in the aborted 1980s plot to blow-up the mosques on the Temple Mount; he fails to distinguish between a mass movement of thousands and a secretive conspiracy of a few ultra-religious fanatics. He also erroneously describes Operation Grapes of Wrath — the misconceived effort of Shimon Peres to respond to heavy Hezbollah rocket attacks on Israel’s towns along the Lebanese border (unmentioned by Bamford) in the spring of 1996 — as bombarding Beirut as well as southern Lebanon. And he quotes the late anti-Zionist polemicist Israel Shahak, who said that the attack — which involved no ground component — was intended “to establish [Israeli] sovereignty over Lebanon… in a comparable manner to its control over the Gaza Strip.”

Bamford virtually blames Israel for 9/11. He alleges that photographs of the 1996 killing of more than 100 Lebanese civilians in Qana by Israeli artillery “were likely the final shove, pushing [Osama] bin Laden over the edge and leading him to dedicating his life to war against what he would call the Israeli-United States alliance…. [H]e would often use the massacre at Qana as a battle cry, and it would become the match lighting the fuse that would eventually lead to the World Trade Center….” That Qana abruptly ended the 1996 offensive, basically disproving that the killings were intentional, is not remarked upon by Bamford. We would not expect this point from bin Laden, but we should expect more from a seasoned journalist.

Ralph Seliger is editor of Israel Horizons, the publication of Meretz USA.

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