Gulf War (1991)

views updated Jun 11 2018

GULF WAR (1991)


The Iraqi conquest of Kuwait on August 2, 1990, constituted an act of naked military aggression which, although distant from Israel, raised serious concern in Jerusalem. Since the Baghdad Arab Summit in 1978, through the enormous military build-up in the 1980s during the war with Iran, Iraq was seen as the linchpin of the threatening Eastern Front of Arab states dedicated to military confrontation with Israel, as opposed to Egypt's approach of political accommodation. There was a residue of deep acrimony between Iraq and Israel that went back to Israel's War of Independence of 1948 and the fact that Iraq, unlike other belligerent Arab states, had refused to sign an armistice agreement with Israel in 1949. Beyond Iraq's role in subsequent Arab-Israeli wars, Israel's air strike against the Iraqi nuclear reactor outside Baghdad on June 7, 1981, left its own mark on the animosity and conflict between the two countries. In April, just a few months prior to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, Saddam Hussein had broadcast his vicious intention, minimally his blatant threat, "to burn half of Israel with chemical weapons."

Israel and the Gulf Crisis

Although Iraq had chosen in August to occupy a fellow-Arab state, and this for reasons of economic greed along with grandiose hegemonic aspirations in the Arab World as a whole, Israel had cause for caution and suspicion. Exactly a week after the Gulf crisis began, Prime Minister Yitẓḥak Shamir addressed the army's National Defense College on the subject of aggression – that in the 1930s in Europe and that in the Middle East in 1990. He said:

The great difference between those dark days of the 1930s and ours, is that this time the Jewish nation has the ability and means to deter, face, and defend itself from the threat, and if need be, to overthrow and defeat it.

The following day Defense Minister Moshe Arens reiterated the prime minister's confidence and warning. "Saddam Hussein," he remarked, "knows whom he will be dealing with if he starts anything with Israel." Relying specifically on the deterrent capacity of the Israel Defense Forces (idf), its proven military strength and reputation for ingenious and determined strategic reach, the defense minister concluded that Saddam's threats would not materialize.

The Gulf crisis opened up possibilities to serve Israeli national interests in a fortuitous and dramatic fashion. Firstly, it deflected global attention away from the politically damaging Palestinian uprising (Intifada) that had besmirched Israel's standing in the world. Reduced coverage of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza could marginalize the Arab insurrection as a media scoop.

Secondly, the Gulf crisis diverted American attention from its focus on regional peace-making generally and the inauguration of a Palestinian-Israeli dialogue in particular. Secretary of State James Baker had exerted persistent efforts for many months to induce Israel's government to agree to America's formula for a Palestinian delegation that would negotiate with Jerusalem. The specifics of Baker's formula were unacceptable to Prime Minister Shamir and his markedly nationalist, and narrow, coalition government formed in the spring.

Thirdly, and most critically, the crisis evoked an immediate and resolute American response that portended military confrontation against Iraq. That reaction had the acceptable possibility, not necessarily explicit in the diplomatic language of official Jerusalem, that U.S. forces would defeat Israel's enemy to the east.

The United States moved with diplomatic and military alacrity to react to Iraq's occupation of Kuwait. The United Nations Security Council convened on the very day of the invasion to condemn Iraqi aggression and demand an unconditional and immediate withdrawal. Under America's leadership, a coalition of military forces began to be organized to protect the Persian Gulf countries, Saudi Arabia particularly, from further aggressive moves that might emanate from Baghdad. President George H.W. Bush was explicit in identifying America's concerns and motives when he affirmed that Saudi independence "is of vital interest to the United States."

During subsequent months, an American-Arab alliance was fashioned that embodied the capacity and determination to impose the status quo ante in Kuwait and the Gulf. While the anti-Iraq purpose was fully compatible with Israeli interests, Operation Desert Storm reflected new political alignments and developments in the Middle East which could impinge negatively on Israel's future strategic standing and prospects. The crisis in the Gulf was an opportunity for Israel, but it was also a potential crisis as well.

America and Israel's Low Profile

The American-led Allied military coalition revolved specifically around three important Arab states. Egypt, a partner with the United States in the Camp David Accords, was a primary legitimizer for American intervention in the Gulf and against the Arab state of Iraq. In due course Washington not only coordinated its strategic planning with Egypt, but in October also canceled a $7.1 billion Egyptian debt to the United States. Saudi Arabia, stubbornly rejecting repeated American requests during the 1980s for the stationing of its troops or the establishment of bases on Saudi soil, was now not averse to the welcome protection by the U.S.-led coalition. In August the Saudis received $2 billion of American military assistance, including tanks, planes, and missiles. In November, following an initial Saudi request for a $21 billion arms sale, which apparently was supported – perhaps initiated – by the Bush administration, a first $7.5 billion deal was approved. The U.S. Congress expressed its opposition to a third installment in the arms deal, to the tune of $14 billion, that included awacs, f-15s, Apache helicopters, Maverick missiles, and more. Yet that did not necessarily imply that the administration had capitulated to Capitol Hill.

Syria, erstwhile Soviet client and intrepid American foe, was a new Arab addition to the United States political network in the Middle East. Beyond lining up with Washington and against Baghdad, Syrian president Hafiz al-Assad actually flew to meet President Bush in Geneva in December, as the crisis slid closer to war. Syrian self-interest in rivalry with fellow-Ba'athist Iraq conformed effortlessly with America's search for a New Political Order in the region, in the wake of Iraqi aggression and the challenge to Saudi and Gulf integrity.

Israel's response to the crisis was bedeviled by the conflict between its desire to see Iraq stopped and defeated and by the constraint exercised by America to deny the Israeli army participation in this campaign. Israeli passivity would not enhance its regional reputation and strategic deterrence, but it could facilitate or uncomplicate an Allied triumph against Iraq. It was not unreasonable, though perhaps not necessarily correct, that Israeli involvement might upset the U.S.-Arab coalition. The Arab participants – Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Morocco, and others – would conceivably balk at fighting on the same side as Jewish troops against other Arab, viz. Iraqi, troops. Remaining on the military margins in the face of overt Iraqi threats was a painful political dilemma for Israel during the crisis period from August 1990 until January 1991, and then during the war itself from January 16 until the cease-fire on February 27.

Foreign Minister David Levy provided an early indication of his country's policy when he stated on September 6, that "Israel is maintaining a low profile." He would repeat this position throughout the succeeding months. In the heat of war, and just prior to the ground offensive in late February, he again articulated the policy of Israeli non-intervention, so as not to hamper the American-led coalition against Iraq.

Certainly the policy of a low profile became the hallmark of Israel's rhetorical and political quandary for the entire period of crisis and war. While the idf was galvanized into military preparedness, it effectively carried out no offensive operations at all. The threats of painful punishment to Saddam Hussein, as in Shamir's statement of September 19, were left as a reminder of Israeli resolve although restraint actually colored policy-making. This was so even after Iraq's Scud missiles hit Israel beginning on January 17.

At that time, just a day after the attack, Army Chief-of-Staff Dan Shomron was forthright:

First of all, I would like to state that the fact that missiles were fired at our civilian population is a very serious event, and, as all Israeli leaders have repeatedly said in the past, such an event demands a reaction.

Eliyahu Ben-Elissar, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, conveyed a similar determination on January 25 after more Iraqi missiles had struck Israeli population centers. He said: "Our decision to respond was made as soon as the first missile fell on the Israeli population or entered our air space.…" But a growing and pervasive credibility gap clouded the rhetorical flourish reflected in such Israeli declarations. Saddam's threats from 1990 materialized, but Israeli policy statements did not.

Prime Minister Shamir gave voice to the cautionary element that intruded into Israel's traditionally activist military practice. In October he referred to the need not to be dragged into the maelstrom by Iraq and thereby derail the U.S.-Arab coalition. Even after more than 30 Scud missiles had hit Israel, having exacted a significant human and material toll, the prime minister stated laconically in an interview on Israeli television, on February 21, that "[t]here is no [state] interest that calls for automatic reaction always."

Problematics in Israeli-American Relations

The importance and sensitivity at the root of American-Israeli relations were severely tested during the period of crisis and war in the Persian Gulf. At the start, Jerusalem would have been satisfied to see the United States fulfill Israeli interests as Washington pursued its own global and regional goals against Iraq. Later, however, divergences surfaced in the pursuit of American and Israeli interests, and signs of tension seemed to grow over the months.

On August 10, just a few days after the Gulf crisis began, Foreign Minister Levy was questioned concerning U.S.-Israeli coordination. His rhetorical response – "Can anyone think for a second that we would be completely out of the circle of consultations and briefings?" – may have seemed reasonable at the time. After all, the two countries had engaged in an official strategic alliance since 1981 and had cooperated in a variety of military, weapons, and intelligence fields. The United States and Israel were moreover preoccupied on a nearly permanent basis in the search for a mechanism to consolidate and advance regional peace efforts. However, when tension arose, it went beyond the immediate question of Israel's role in the anti-Iraq military coalition. On that issue Israel was initially willing, as noted earlier, to maintain a low profile.

On September 6, it was reported that America had agreed to lease to Israel several Patriot missile batteries to provide air-defense capabilities, in the light of Saddam's blatant threats and Iraq's military capabilities. An agreement to this effect was signed in Washington, Israel represented by David Ivri, the Ministry of Defense director-general. But Patriot missiles were not delivered to Israel during the crisis period, and only arrived following two devastating Scud missile attacks against the region of Tel Aviv, on January 17 and 19.

In October 1990, an incident occurred on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem which strained relations between Israel and the United States. Near the Dome of the Rock and the Aqsa Mosque, Muslim rioters attacked Jewish worshipers praying below at the Western Wall during the Sukkot holiday festival. This precipitated the active intervention of the Israeli security forces who ended up killing 21 Arabs. This incident, alleged by some to be Arab provocation to catalyze an Israeli military response against Iraq, turned into a diplomatic imbroglio at the United Nations. The United States played an active role in supporting the Arab position which demanded censuring Israeli behavior, considered brutal and without due cause. The Security Council called for denouncing Israel and recommended sending an investigative commission to Jerusalem and the territories to examine Israeli policy, while providing security for the local Palestinian inhabitants. The Likud government was irrevocably unwilling to accede to the un position and rejected the charges leveled against Israel regarding the Temple Mount incident itself. Throughout October and until December relations between America and Israel were sullied by this event in Jerusalem and its international repercussions emanating from United Nations headquarters in New York.

In an interview on October 19, Prime Minister Shamir took issue with the Bush administration on the general question of Jerusalem. Not only had the United States agreed that a United Nations delegation intervene in local Israeli affairs, but the very right of Jews to live in East Jerusalem was being challenged by Washington. The background to this lay in the delay of the State Department to grant approval for a $400,000,000 housing loan that Israel had requested for settling Soviet immigrants flooding into the country. The American administration had been pressuring Israel to commit in writing its formal agreement that no Soviet Jews would be settled anywhere across the 1967 "Green Line" borders, including East Jerusalem. The prime minister gave vent to his concern as follows:

We cannot ignore this administration's attitude toward Israel. We are witnessing a process; the attitude toward us in the Temple Mount event is nothing but an illustration of this process. They want to teach us a lesson, to put it [Israel] in its place. I believe they have taken a mistaken approach…

The Israeli government felt virtually betrayed by the United States, for it considered the Temple Mount incident an act of Israeli self-defense against a violent Arab mob. In further violence perpetrated against innocent civilians, three Jews were stabbed to death in the Jerusalem Bakka neighborhood on October 21. There was no global outcry and no United Nations response. The reticence of the Security Council did little to enhance the status of the international organization in Israel's eyes. This point was confirmed when, as the world remained silent, Syria took advantage of the Gulf crisis to impose its will on Lebanon, removing General Aoun from power and killing some 700 people.

In late December, Foreign Minister Levy stated that Washington had shown weakness (perhaps rather than vindictiveness) in supporting the United Nations resolution. The Israeli government was by this time unconvinced that the Gulf military coalition would have collapsed had America adopted a different approach in the Security Council. The call by un Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar for the Security Council to protect the Palestinians in the Israeli-held areas was a transparent ruse, Israel considered, to undermine its authority without any political peace process in operation at all. Behind this development was an attempt by Saddam, Arafat, and others to link the withdrawal of Iraq from Kuwait with that of Israel from the territories. The United States officially and publicly rejected this linkage from the start of the crisis until the end of the war.

Nonetheless, despite the stressful U.S.-Israel relationship, or perhaps because of it, Secretary of State James Baker conveyed a desire, as in November, for political coordination with Jerusalem on the issue of the peace process in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Whether this was a calming measure or one likely to arouse Israel's nervousness could be debated. But Yitẓḥak Shamir told the Likud Knesset faction on January 8, that "Once the Gulf crisis is over, we will have to face political threats." Military threats from the Iraqis and political threats from the Americans would, as suggested in Shamir's own words, provide Israel with more than enough problems once the war – not yet begun – was over.

From Crisis to War

On the domestic front, the crisis period beginning in August exacted a heavy price from the Israeli public. The possibility of war, in which Israel would somehow be involved, was considered likely by a majority of the population. The specific threat of chemical warfare became a weighty concern and, following a mini-national debate and some government hesitancy, the distribution of gas masks to the domestic population was begun in October. Other civil defense measures were undertaken and police readiness was maintained. In all, Israel wanted to be prepared for the possibility of war, but it did not want to convey the impression that its local defensive operations were a prelude to a preemptive tactical strike against Iraq. In the tense situation in the Gulf and beyond, Jerusalem had to act and speak with caution in order that it not inadvertently light the match in the explosive situation that Baghdad had prepared for the inevitable conflagration.

After Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, tourism to Israel fell by over 40 percent. Non-citizens in Israel began to leave the country as did foreign students and visitors. The State Department in Washington ordered United States citizens to leave the Middle East, Israel included. Later in January, Jewish solidarity missions from abroad offered compensation to the somewhat demoralized and economically suffering home front.

In contrast, the most satisfying and durable feature of 1990 was the astounding immigration from the Soviet Union: a monumental figure of 200,000 Jews arrived in Israel, despite Saddam's threats and the atmosphere of uncertainty in Israel that suggested the approach of war. Nonetheless, while an average of 1,000 Soviet immigrants had been arriving daily at the end of 1990, the figure dropped to 500 a day in the critical month of January 1991.

The United Nations had set January 15 as the final date for a complete Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait. If not, then all measures including force would be employed to achieve this objective which international diplomacy, a remarkably tight embargo, and Arab censure could not achieve. The ultimatum date portended the start of war in the Persian Gulf. Israel was comforted by the fact that Iraqi aggression had been universally condemned and that America had stood firm – as in the Baker-Aziz Geneva meeting of January 9 – in rejecting the insidious attempt to link the Kuwaiti and Palestinian issues. In Israel it was felt that Washington had also come to realize more than before that, in essence, the broader Arab aspects of the conflict with Israel were more central than the Palestinian one.

Operation Desert Storm terminated the waiting period when Allied military forces led by the United States began operations on the night between January 16 and 17, with 1,200 air missions into Iraq and Kuwait in the first 36 hours of fighting. On the 17th Saddam carried out his word, and from the areas known as h2 and h3 in western Iraq, eight Scud missiles were fired at Israel and struck civilian centers in the Tel Aviv metropolitan district. A state of alert was declared throughout Israel as the nation began to face the damage and disorder. Apartment buildings were hit, their inhabitants were evacuated, and people were injured. Warning sirens, gas masks, and huddling in sealed rooms designed to provide protection from chemical attack became part of daily life. An evening curfew brought social life, entertainment activities, sports events, and parts of the economy to a virtual standstill.

During the initial three-week period of the war, many Tel Avivians abandoned their city which was Saddam's primary, though not sole, target. From the Mediterranean seashore they chose the safer environs of Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, and Elath. Local patriotism gave way to personal security. Meanwhile, all Israelis were advised to carry their gas mask with them all day long.

The final war tally on the civilian population, from January 17 until the last Scud attack in February, read as follows: 39 missiles hit Israel from Haifa in the North to the area of Beersheba in the South; 1,644 families were evacuated; and 4,095 buildings were damaged. Although only one person was killed due to a direct missile hit, several died resulting from misuse of their gas masks and from heart attacks. Considering the potential for havoc and ruin and death that the Scuds represented, many Israelis felt that the Jewish people had experienced a miracle. Saddam had been considerably less successful than his threats against Israel implied, while America, Britain, even Saudis, were fighting the war that defeated Israel's enemy.

The Israeli Cost-Benefit Ledger

The Gulf War witnessed two innovations in the chronicles of military confrontations that Israel has faced since 1948. At one and the same time, Israel suffered the danger and indignity of its civil population being victims of enemy attack, while unlike previous Arab-Israeli wars, the idf this time remained outside the military fray.

The lack of an operative response by Israel in the face of Iraq's Scud missiles was tied directly to the exertion of American pressure. Jerusalem was brought to the point of acceding to Washington's request not to act, and thus leaving the Allied coalition to pursue the war without political complications. Prime Minister Shamir could not have been more explicit when he stated on January 28, that without consultations with the United States, Israel would not act. On the same occasion he commented that relations with Washington had improved.

It was the visit to Jerusalem by Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger following the initial missile attacks, and his remaining in the country for about a week, that dramatized Washington's grave concern regarding Israeli behavior. His mission was undoubtedly to restrain Jerusalem, assure that U.S. military forces would continue to search and destroy the Scud missile launchers in western Iraq, and offer sufficient aid and assistance to mollify Israel. A report from January 21 divulged that President Bush was calling Prime Minister Shamir regularly (as was British Prime Minister John Major). Secretary Baker declared his appreciation on February 6 for Israel's restraint.

Yet the cost of Israel's restraint, in contrast to the praise earned, was cause for worry according to Israel's ambassador to Washington, Zalman Shoval. In a news report from February 11, Shoval suggested that the United States would not provide Israel with aid in the wake of the Gulf War on the pretext that Israel "is not part of it."

Three particularly irksome problems strained Israeli-U.S. relations during the war period. Intelligence information on the area of h3 in Iraq was apparently not generously supplied by the Americans to the Israelis. Warning time on incoming Scuds was initially very brief, though later extended to about five minutes due to a United States agreement to improve the transfer of needed data. Moreover, throughout the weeks of war, the Pentagon refused to provide Israel with the Friend-Or-Foe Code required to facilitate an Israeli aerial attack against Iraqi missile launchers. No air corridor was opened for the Israeli air force and no time slot was set aside by the Allied forces to allow Israel the opportunity to send its forces into action. The memory of the U.S. Liberty navy surveillance ship that was mistakenly attacked by Israel on June 7, 1967, during the Six-Day War, could not have been far from people's thoughts in January 1991. Certainly Israel would not want another accident to occur, and held its fire.

While suffering from Iraqi attacks and yet choosing to accommodate American wishes, or succumb to its enormous leverage, Israel became the beneficiary of global sympathy and support. The aggression and bellicosity of Saddam contrasted blatantly with Israel's peaceful and defensive demeanor. Patriot missile batteries arrived from Holland and German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, during a visit to Israel on January 24, promised extensive assistance that would include Patriot missiles, German-financed Dolphin submarines, and other military equipment. Meanwhile, the European Economic Community announced on January 25, that it was revoking sanctions that had been imposed on Israel for its policies in the territories and would renew scientific cooperation between Israel and the Common Market countries. On January 28 a French Socialist Party delegation visited Israel to express its solidarity. However, the fact that French weapons and German chemicals had been sold to Iraq in the 1980s lent an air of coolness, perhaps hypocrisy, to the European gestures.

By the time the war ended in Israel, bombed-out streets in Tel Aviv and destroyed housing blocks in Ramat Gan became the visual symbols that this war, unlike most Arab wars against Israel, was conducted on Israel's own home front. Overall, from the start of the crisis to the termination of hostilities, Israel had suffered a $4 billion loss, in damages, tourism, sinking production, etc. The Patriot missile, originally designed basically as an anti-aircraft weapon, performed with only partial effectiveness against Iraq's Scuds. More often than not, the Patriot hit the Scud's engine and destroyed it, but the warhead continued on its trajectory on the path toward Israeli civilian targets. In this war unlike earlier ones, the skies over Israel were not clean of enemy activity, though on the ground Iraq was 340 kilometers from Israel's border.

Postwar Assessment

From Israel's perspective, the political balance-sheet by the end of the war in late February was mixed. A total American victory on the battlefield would serve Israel's immediate security concerns, yet provide Washington with the self-esteem and international acclaim to then pursue its version of peace-making in the Middle East. Israel did not necessarily see eyeto-eye with America on the modalities of conflict-resolution, as when Jerusalem had for example questioned Baker's Five Point Plan of November 1989.

Another paradox inherent in Israel's strategic calculations related to Iraq's condition at the conclusion of the war. It would seem obvious that Jerusalem wanted Iraq totally defeated and militarily devastated, lacking any major conventional and certainly nonconventional lethal capabilities. Prime Minister Shamir added on February 26, that Israel is interested "in having this person, Saddam Hussein, disappear from the international arena." Nonetheless, a less than fully flattened Iraq, and one that expressed no regret or remorse for its illegalities and aggressions, would deny it the benefits of international assistance for national rehabilitation. A defeated Iraq – yes, but an absolutely destroyed Iraq was not necessarily the optimal solution for Israel.

During the course of the crisis and until the war's end, Jordan and the plo were among the most dedicated and enthusiastic supporters of Saddam Hussein. The streets of Amman rocked with pro-Iraqi sentiments and mass vituperation against America and Israel. Yasser Arafat already early in August had gone on a political pilgrimage to Baghdad to embrace Saddam and line up the plo behind his anti-Kuwait and pan-Arab ventures. In Judea and Samaria, and elsewhere, the Palestinians hailed Saddam as their savior and rejoiced on the roofs of their houses when Scud missiles tore apart buildings and terrified Jewish civilians in Tel Aviv.

But the war served to discredit Jordan's political reputation and to delegitimize the plo's peace image. Support for Iraq was seen as advocacy of aggression and conquest by the sword. The United States would no doubt later be challenged to resurrect the role of these two Arab elements in the comprehensive approach to regional peace. In fact, it might be concluded that Washington's own decision to accord recognition of the plo in December 1988, and then to open an official dialogue with it, was a discredited policy.

The implication of these developments for Israel under its Likud-led government was an affirmation of the policy of territorial retention of Judea and Samaria. The status quo based on Israeli control and Jewish settlement would presumably continue, a side gain from Arab misjudgments and Israeli good fortune. Although Israelis might endlessly debate the relationship between territories and missiles in the military sphere, the persistence of Israeli rule was the dominant theme in the political sphere.

Israelis would also debate whether the non-activation of the idf irreparably harmed the army's deterrent capability, thereby contributing adversely to Israel's pre-eminent strategic standing in the Middle East. It was reasonable to conclude that while that question was subject to varied interpretation, the formidable loss to Arab esteem and dreams of glory and victory was a definite and glaring result of the crisis and Gulf War. Whether the Israelis had won was unclear, but the Arab nation had certainly lost. Another Arab myth, the Saddam myth like the earlier Nasser one, burst like a bubble in the fantasizing Orient.

The Gulf War represented an occasion when the United States would again attempt to mold a New Order in the Middle East. Its Arab partners would be Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and others. Its dynamic would be military success against Iraq and its purpose generating momentum for peace in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Secretary of State Baker declared before the United States House Foreign Affairs Committee on February 2, that it was important "to resume the search for a just peace and real reconciliation for Israel, the Arab states, and the Palestinians." In the same spirit, signs were visible or audible that some Arab spokesmen now considered that the time for peace with Israel had arrived. Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to Washington, made unusually conciliatory statements about Israel during the crisis and war months.

It might seem that the Arab-Israeli framework had now been exposed as one of various alternative political frameworks or alignments in the Mideast. Certain unexpected developments had transpired in the region. Arabs had fought Arabs, Saudis against Iraqis, and this after one Arab country, Iraq, had brazenly gone ahead and swallowed up another Arab country, Kuwait. Then, Arabs had surprisingly agreed to cooperate openly with the United States and pursue their interest in conjunction with Islamically vilified America, traditionally portrayed in satanic colors in the religiously seething Muslim world. However, an American-Arab alliance formed in the sands of the Gulf and fought to victory.

In the aftermath of all this, it was perhaps possible to imagine the unimaginable: Arab-Israeli peace. Israel would be open to future political opportunities, aware as always of the dangers and risks, yet hopeful that a new realism and spirit of accommodation would come to the Middle East.

[Mordechai Nisan]

For the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the U.S. and its coalition partners, see *Arab World. For its part, Israel was content to sit on the sidelines. Gas masks were replenished among the civilian population and in what proved to be a very costly miscalculation the Israeli public was instructed to unseal the masks in anticipation of possible Iraqi action, thus shortening their shelf life. Otherwise Israel was not directly affected.

Gulf War of 1991

views updated Jun 11 2018

Gulf War of 1991


The invasion of Kuwait by neighboring Iraq on August 2, 1990, triggered the first major international crisis of the postCold War era. The United States had uneasily supported Iraq during its eight-year war against Iran (19801988), a conflict known in the region as the First Gulf War, but Iraqi president Saddam Hussein misinterpreted certain diplomatic signals about whether the Unites States would acquiesce over this latest military action. Kuwait had also sided with Iraq against Iran, but Kuwait and Iraq had fallen out over war debts, border disputes, and competing oil prices. When Iraq invaded in 1990, Kuwaiti defenses were quickly overrun and its government fled into exile. Because Iraq now threatened the Saudi Arabian oilfields, the United States spent the next six months assembling an international coalition of thirty-four nations, including regional Arab and Muslim states. The United States also secured ten United Nations resolutions to isolate Iraq and prepare for all necessary means to expel Iraq from Kuwait by force if it did not withdraw voluntarily. On the night of January 16 to 17, 1991, the U.S.-led coalition of the willing launched massive air strikes against Iraqs command-and-control infrastructure and its antiaircraft defenses. This conflict began under the title Operation Desert Storm.

For the next five weeks, coalition aircraft and missiles degraded the occupying Iraqi armys capacity to resist a land-war offensive. Iraq tried to expand the conflict and split the Arab members from the coalition by firing Scud missiles at Israel. The Iraqi air force fled to Iran after the loss of thirty-eight of its planes, giving the coalition air superiority for the rest of the war. Iraq released crude oil into Persian Gulf waters and even, briefly, occupied the Saudi coastal town of Khafji. Coalition strategic bombing missions were largely confined to Iraqi military forces and targets, while a new generation of smart missiles hit their military targets with unprecedented accuracy. Some collateral damage did occur, when some missiles missed their intended targets, causing unintentional damage and casualties and also causing intense media debate in the new age of real-time reporting around the clock by the Cable News Network (CNN). The two most controversial incidents were the bombings of an alleged baby-milk plant and the Al Firdos installation in Baghdad. The coalition insisted the baby-milk plant was really a chemical weapons facility and the Al Firdos installation was a command and control facility rather than a civilian bomb shelter as the Iraqis maintained. Around 400 civilians were killed on the occasion of the latter. The presence of journalists from coalition countries in the enemy capital while Iraq was under fire was unprecedented and made the propaganda war more complex.

The ground war began on February 24 and lasted barely a week, with Iraqi commanders agreeing to a cessation of hostilities at Safwan air base in southern Iraq on March 3. Although Saddam Hussein had promised the mother of all battles, the Gulf War was one of the most one-sided conflicts in military history. An unknown number of Iraqi soldiers and civilians died (estimates vary from 25,000 to 200, 000) and almost 70,000 Iraqi soldiers surrendered to the coalition, which suffered fewer than 350 dead, the majority of them Americans. Television images of bombed-out Iraqi convoys fleeing Kuwait may have had an impact on the decision to end the war.

In the long term, the war had disastrous consequences: It marked the arrival of Western military forces into the Muslim holy land of Mecca, which prompted the Saudi-born terrorist Osama bin Laden to turn against the United States, which had sponsored him during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

SEE ALSO Bush, George H. W.; Diplomacy; Hussein, Saddam; Multilateralism; United Nations


Atkinson, Rick. 1993. Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Freedman, Lawrence, and Efraim Karsh. 1993. The Gulf Conflict, 19901991: Diplomacy and War in the New World Order. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Philip M. Taylor

Gulf War

views updated Jun 08 2018

Gulf War

In the early nineties, the Gulf War marked a new dawn for American hegemony. Former adversaries of American militarism—the Communists, the Arabs, and the American left—were held in check, as the United States armed forces were able to quickly expel an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. With her Soviet, Chinese, and Arab rivals needing American economic support, the United States obtained the consent of many governments for a war in the Persian Gulf. New techniques in public relations extended this consent to a vast majority of American citizens, making it the most popular war since World War II.

On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded the kingdom of Kuwait. President Saddam Hussein of Iraq contended that the attack was justified because Kuwait's royals were plundering a commonly held oil field. Within hours, the large army of Iraq overwhelmed puny defenses and occupied Kuwait. The next day, a majority of Arab states called on Hussein to withdraw. On August 6, the United Nations Security Council imposed a total trade embargo against Iraq. By August 31, Operation Desert Shield had deployed over 60,000 United States troops in Saudi Arabia. In September, the Soviet Union gave support to armed intervention, and on November 29 the United Nations Security Council voted, for the first time since 1950, to use force.

In the Gulf, the new might or New World Order of the United States was unveiled. The unprecedented consent of Communist and Arab states showed how completely the United States dominated politics. With little opposition, Americans acted to preserve the lifeblood of Western economies: the steady flow of cheap oil. On January 17, 1991 military operation Desert Storm, an attack plan to free Kuwait, was unleashed. The United States Air Force flew 1,300 sorties, while the Navy fired hundreds of cruise missiles; almost immediately air supremacy was established and heavy casualties were inflicted on the ground. On February 24, ground forces began their attack. Within 100 hours they were deep inside of Iraq. Six weeks after it had begun, the Gulf War was essentially won.

Satellite transmissions for the first time televised war instantly. With televisions now in nearly every home in America, the war was broadcast widely and played to high Nielson ratings. American newsmedia, now global corporations vying for market share, sought to outdo one another in a heated competition for the large viewing audience. Live updates, exclusive Pentagon interviews, and dazzling graphics captured the public's attention. Detailed discussions of American military technology helped to explain America's superior machinery of war. As daily reports of United States victories came home, President George Bush's approval rating soared to a presidential record 90 percent. Bush pronounced, "We've licked the Vietnam syndrome!"

At home, some critics accused journalists of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bias in reporting, but pro-war propaganda mostly avoided the tradition of racializing the enemy. Nor, as in times past, was the invaded country a featured victim. Kuwait's brutal monarchy did not invite a great deal of sympathy. In a highly publicized testimony before the United States Congress, however, a young Kuwaiti aristocrat sobbed as she testified that Iraqi troops had torn babies from hospital incubators and skewered them on their bayonets. The testimony, which was later exposed as a fabrication, helped arouse both public and political sentiment against the purported barbarism of Iraqis.

Most pro-war propaganda targeted Saddam Hussein, whose name became synonymous with evil. From President Bush to the editorials of major newspapers, "Saddam" was the entire focal point for American bombs. Saddam was said to have stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, a budding nuclear weapons program, and designs on conquering Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Perhaps the most startling Gulf War legacy left to American popular culture was the transformed nature of mass-mediated information. Unlike the Vietnam War, journalists were denied access to the front and could report only on the Pentagon's tightly controlled press releases. Moreover, a great deal of the information and military photography provided to journalists was falsified to augment the image of American military and technological prowess. Reports of Patriot missiles intercepting enemy SCUD missiles later proved to be completely untrue. Dramatic footage of a smart or guided missile entering the shaft of an Iraqi building was discovered to be a hoax. Scenes of death from friendly fire, Iraqi civilian casualties and other carnage were censored by the Pentagon. As it turned out, the much lauded surgical strike, the clean precision of American smart bombs, was actually the neat appendectomy of objective journalism. In the made-for-television coverage of the war, only the most optimistic scenes reached the viewing audience.

Critical opinions of the war had limited space in the newsmedia. The accusation that the United States fought only to restore the flow of cheap oil from Kuwait's dictatorship went unheard. On the home front, massive antiwar rallies in San Francisco and Washington D.C. and at universities and elsewhere received little coverage in the news, and were often balanced with scenes of small gatherings of people displaying yellow ribbons. Yellow ribbons, the symbol of support for the war, adorned schools, shopfronts, citizens, and were included in corporate advertising. Many members of the newsmedia used a graphic of the yellow ribbon in their broadcasts of the war. New advances in the crafting of political spin, military public relations, and television computer graphics collaborated to make a collage of smooth triumph. The soundbite, the live satellite broadcast, and other recent innovations were utilized in the journalistic arena as never before. A picture of national solidarity blanketed the nation. Not since the World War II had such journalistic unity or common opinion been realized.

Despite overwhelming public approval for the war, President Bush and General Colin Powell feared that a prolonged war would generate dissent. Declaring Kuwait liberated and Saddam's might curtailed, Bush terminated the war and declared victory. In the war's aftermath, Bush's popularity fell with an economic recession and with the continued bellicose posturing of Saddam Hussein. Hussein held power through widespread famine and disease resulting from a continuous embargo of Iraq, and remained the single most demonized figure on the political landscape of the 1990s.

—Dylan Clark

Further Reading:

Bates, Greg, editor. Mobilizing Democracy: Changing the U.S. Role in the Middle East. Monroe, Maine, Common Courage, 1991.

Graubard, Stephen R. Mr. Bush's War: Adventures in the Politics of Illusion. New York, Hill and Wang, 1992.

Leslie, Paul, editor. The Gulf War as Popular Entertainment: An Analysis of the Military-Industrial Media Complex. Lewiston, New York, E. Mellon Press, 1997.

Yant, Martin. Desert Mirage: The True Story of the Gulf War. New York, Prometheus, 1991.

Gulf War (1991)

views updated May 29 2018

GULF WAR (1991)

The military expulsion of Iraq from Kuwait after the August 1990 invasion.

The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on 2 August 1990 evoked a quick response from the United States. Within hours, two U.S. Navy carrier groups were steaming towards the Persian Gulf. Military planners began reviewing U.S. Central Command plans for operations in the Persian Gulf, while other officials consulted with Saudi Arabia about defense of that nation. Thus began a two-phase operation to counter the Iraqi moves. The first phase was Operation Desert Shield, designed to shield Gulf states. The second was Operation Desert Storm, the United Nationssanctioned action to drive Iraq from Kuwait.

Military actions for Desert Shield proceeded rapidly. By 7 August, elements of the Eighty-second Airborne Division and U.S. Air Force fighter planes were en route to the Gulf. Britain, France, Egypt, and Syria launched parallel actions, while other nations sent small forces to the area.

Original plans envisioned a force of 200,000 to defend Saudi Arabia. Within less than ninety days the U.S. had 184,000 troops in the Gulf, backed by thousands of armored vehicles, helicopters, heavy artillery, and aircraft, as well as a substantial naval force. The scope of the effort was demonstrated by the fact that it took a year to reach such numbers in the Vietnam War.

Although sufficient for the defense of Saudi Arabia, U.S. and allied forces were not sufficient to expel Iraq from Kuwait, which soon became the objective of the United Nations. The U.S. response was to order additional forces to the Gulf. In effect, the U.S. commitment was doubled in just over two months. The result was a U.S. force of over 500,000 in the theater, plus substantial allied forces, by the time Desert Shield gave way to Desert Storm. The U.S. commitment was two Army corps, two Marine divisions, six Navy carrier groups, two battleships (the last time World War II Iowa Class battleships were deployed), and over a thousand airplanes. Included were substantial numbers of National Guard and Reserve personnel.

The transition from Desert Shield to Desert Storm began with a spectacular air offensive on 17 January 1991, viewed worldwide on television. Air operations continued until 24 February, when a massive ground offensive succeeded in driving Iraqi forces out of Kuwait in one hundred hours. The temporary cease-fire on 28 February led to Iraqi acceptance of UN resolutions on April 7.

At the time, Iraq had one of the world's largest military forcesover one million, half of whom were in Kuwaitplus 4,300 tanks. Iraq, however, did not have much of a navy. Its air arm was 660 aircraft. Allied strength was 800,000, 1,800 combat aircraft, and 3,000-plus tanks, in addition to a formidable naval force. Moreover, Iraq had to defend the entire nation. The allies could focus on evicting Iraq from Kuwait.

The five-week air offensive destroyed the Iraqi ability to use its air forces, neutralized air defense and command and control capabilities, struck at transportation systems, and attacked war production facilities, especially those suspected of being related to weapons of mass destruction. The allies attacked Scud missile sites and effectively isolated Iraqi forces in Kuwait. The air offensive weakened Iraqi ground forces for a successful ground offensive.

The plan for the ground attack envisioned fixing Iraqi attention on an amphibious attack on the coast of Kuwait coupled with a direct assault across the Saudi-Kuwait border. The real attack, however, would be from the west, across the Saudi-Iraqi border. That attack would aim toward the Euphrates River to cut off the Iraqi forces in Kuwait.

The hundred-hour ground campaign was a total success. Iraqi forces retreated in disarray from Kuwait. The allies also gained control of 30,000 square miles of Iraq. Allied losses were about 240 killed and 775 wounded. Original estimates of Iraqi losses were as high as 100,000, but later estimates varied from 10,000 to 50,000. They were probably closer to the lower end. The media images of Iraqi soldiers surrendering to helicopters in the air and to reporters suggests the totality of the defeat.

It was the subject of considerable concern that Iraq might use chemical weapons, as it had in the war with Iran. The allies also feared that Iraq might have biological weapons as well. Neither fear was realized.

See also gulf crisis (19901991); iraniraq war (19801988); iraq; kuwait.


Finlan, Alistair. The Gulf War 1991. New York: Routledge, 2003.

Freedman, Lawrence, and Karsh, Efraim. The Gulf Conflict, 19901991: Diplomacy and War in the New World Order. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993.

Friedman, Norman. Desert Victory: The U.S. Army in the Gulf War. Annapolis, MD: 1991.

Grossman, Mark. Encyclopedia of the Persian Gulf War. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 1995.

Scales, Robert H. Certain Victory: The U.S. Army in the Gulf War. Washington, DC: Office of the Chief of Staff, U.S. Army, 1993.

Schubert, Frank N., and Kraus, Theresa L., eds. The Whirlwind War: The United States Army in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Washington, DC: Center of Military History, U.S. Army, 1995.

Watson, Bruce W., ed. Military Lessons of the Gulf War. Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1991.

daniel e. spector

Gulf War

views updated May 18 2018


On August 2, 1990 Iraq invaded and conquered the neighboring state of Kuwait. President george h. w. bush announced U.S. policy regarding the invasion and marshaled diplomatic efforts focused in the united nations (UN) to oppose it. The UN Security Council quickly condemned the invasion, demanded that Iraq withdraw, and imposed mandatory economic and diplomatic sanctions to coerce Iraqi compliance with UN demands. Over the next four months the United States created and led a coalition of allied forces to counter the Iraqi aggression. In November 1990 the United States deployed over 500,000 troops, including naval and air forces, to Saudi Arabia and the adjacent region. On November 29, 1990 the UN Security Council issued an ultimatum to Iraq to withdraw, which Iraq did not heed. The U.S.-led coalition forces counterattacked starting on January 17, 1991 with air strikes. Ground operations began February 24, and within four days the Iraqi forces had been expelled from Kuwait.

The President formulated U.S. policy and conducted diplomacy, including voting in the UN Security Council, pursuant to his constitutional foreign affairs powers. He imposed economic sanctions against Iraq pursuant to delegated legislative powers under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the UN Participation Act. The President deployed U.S. armed forces to the Gulf region on the basis of his foreign relations and commander-in-chief powers. Existing legislation authorized, and appropriated funds for, those forces. The President complied with the consultation and reporting requirements of the war powers acts.

Congress had adjourned after the invasion of Kuwait and after the initial deployment of U.S. forces. When Congress reconvened each house passed a resolution supporting the President's policy, and Congress provided supplemental funds for the armed forces. It also passed the Iraq Sanctions Act of 1990 approving economic sanctions. However, the major troop deployment was made after the mid-term election in November. At that time Congress had adjourned "sine die" and its leaders seemed reluctant to reconvene the session to consider the decision of whether to continue to rely on economic sanctions to pressure Iraq to withdraw or to vote for war. Under pressure from public opinion, the press, and opponents of military action, however, the congressional leadership reconvened Congress and, after a thorough debate, Congress authorized U.S. participation in the war that was soon to follow. The President had steadfastly maintained that he had the requisite legal authority to use military force to expel Iraq from Kuwait on the basis of executive power. Nevertheless, after some discussion, Bush wrote the congressional leaders a letter requesting a joint resolution. As a result the claim of presidential war powers was not tested. In the end the President had ample legislative support for all the actions taken up to and including the war itself.

Congressional action in the Gulf War situation, coupled with its authorization of U.S. participation in the vietnam war, goes far toward diluting the importance of the korean war precedent for supporting a presidential war power to initiate major military actions without specific congressional authorization.

Phillip R. Trimble


Glennon, Michael J. 1991 The Gulf War and the Constitution. Foreign Affairs 70:84–101.

Henkin, Louis;G lennon, Michael J.; and Rodgers, William D., eds. 1990 Foreign Affairs and the U.S. Constitution. Ardsley-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Transnational Publishers.

Gulf War

views updated Jun 08 2018

Gulf War, 1990–1. On 2 August 1990 Iraq invaded the tiny neighbouring state of Kuwait, giving the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein control of about 15 per cent of the world's oil, with a threat to a further 25 per cent. The almost defunct Soviet Union (which collapsed in December 1991) did not block a strong American response, which employed the United Nations Security Council to denounce Iraq's action and won Saudi Arabian agreement to receive large American forces. In response, on 8 August, Iraq announced the incorporation of Kuwait into Iraq, an act of direct conquest unprecedented among United Nations members.

President George Bush portrayed American military action as the start of a ‘New World Order’ following the end of the Cold War. Bush assembled a coalition of twenty-nine countries against Iraq, although with its immense armed forces and technological superiority the USA dominated the coalition in all respects. Britain's policy was to support the USA completely, to demonstrate both her reliability as an ally and her importance as a second-ranking power. By stripping her armed forces Britain contributed small but significant naval, air, and ground units to the war, all closely subordinated to American command.

The coalition forces took several months to assemble in Saudi Arabia. Iraqi strategy was to prevent a coalition forming by playing on pan-Arab sentiment, in particular over past American support for Israel. On 29 November the United Nations Security Council set a deadline of 15 January 1991 for Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait, authorizing the use of force (‘all necessary means’) to support this.

Early on 17 January 1991, the coalition began with a massive air bombing attack against Iraq, which responded by attacking Israel (which was not a coalition member and had taken no military action) with long-range missiles. Critically for coalition solidarity, Israel refused to retaliate. The coalition launched its ground offensive to clear Kuwait on 24 February. This revealed that the Americans had greatly overestimated the Iraqi army, which virtually disintegrated, offering only token resistance. On 28 February, having achieved the objective of liberating Kuwait, Bush called a unilateral cease-fire, and a permanent cease-fire came into effect on 11 April.

With the liberation of Kuwait dissident groups within Iraq, notably the Kurds of the north, rose in rebellion. Over the next year Saddam gradually reasserted his rule, and survived in power. Ironically, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who had first committed Britain to the coalition, was forced from office in November 1990, and Bush failed to gain re-election in 1992. Although the Gulf War secured oil supplies for the West, effectively destroyed Saddam's ambitions for Iraq as a regional power, and upheld the rule of law through the United Nations, it failed to deliver the promised ‘New World Order’.

Stephen Badsey

Gulf War

views updated May 21 2018

Gulf War (January 16, 1991–February 28, 1991) Military action by a US-led coalition of 32 states to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait (August 2, 1990) and claimed it as an Iraqi province. On August 7, 1990, Operation Desert Shield began a mass deployment of coalition forces to protect Saudi oil reserves. Economic sanctions failed to secure a withdrawal, and the UN Security Council set a deadline of January 15, 1991, for the peaceful removal of Iraqi forces. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein ignored the ultimatum, and General Norman Schwarzkopf launched Operation Desert Storm. Within a week, extensive coalition air attacks secured control of the skies and weakened Iraq's military command. Iraqi ground forces were defenceless against the coalition's technologically advanced weaponry. Iraq launched Scud missile attacks on Saudi Arabia and Israel, in the hope of weakening Arab support for the coalition. On February 24, the war began on the ground. Iraqi troops burned Kuwaiti oil wells as they fled. Kuwait was liberated two days later, and a cease-fire declared on February 28. Saddam Hussein remained in power in Iraq. The Gulf War claimed the lives of 234 Allied troops and between 85,000 and 150,000 Iraqi soldiers. Some 33,000 Kuwaitis were killed or captured.

Gulf War of 1991

views updated Jun 11 2018


GULF WAR OF 1991. SeePersian Gulf War .

Gulf War

views updated May 17 2018

Gulf War. See Persian Gulf War (1991).

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