The escalation between Iran and Israel mirrors the Iraqi crisis of 1991

IIt is surprising that the comments on the massive attack carried out on April 13 by Iran against Israel did not take into account the precedent of the Iraqi strikes against the Jewish state in January 1991. The fear was nevertheless serious of a regional conflagration, five months after the invasion of Kuwait by the regime of Saddam Hussein. In addition, the risk that Iraqi missiles would be equipped with chemical warheads had contributed to dramatizing the crisis. Benyamin Netanyahu, then deputy foreign minister, caused a sensation by donning a gas mask in the middle of an interview with the American channel CNN, while the warning sirens sounded. “ I can’t tell you when, I can’t tell you where, and I can’t tell you how, but we will guarantee Israel’s security “, he insisted, comments that he would probably not disavow three decades later.

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Iraq’s bet on escalation

The regional context was, of course, very different. In August 1990, Saddam Hussein launched his troops to attack Kuwait, which was soon occupied and annexed. Such a war of aggression had sparked widespread international condemnation, including in the Arab world. Saudi Arabia felt directly threatened by Iraqi expansionism, to the point of requesting the deployment of hundreds of thousands of American soldiers on its soil.

This operation, called “Desert Shield”, led to the creation, under the aegis of the United States, of a vast anti-Iraqi coalition. Washington had ensured that Hafez Al-Assad’s Syria and Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt joined this coalition, banking on the deep hostility of these two autocrats towards Saddam Hussein, but also on the will of Damascus and the Cairo to compete with Baghdad on the Middle Eastern chessboard. The Iraqi dictator reacted by posing as champion of the Palestinian cause in the face of Israel’s repression of the Intifada, the “uprising” in Gaza and the West Bank, occupied since 1967.

Saddam Hussein could in fact denounce the “double standards” of an American-inspired mobilization against the occupation of Kuwait, even though the United States had accepted the persistence of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories throughout a generation. But the rantings of Iraqi propaganda poorly concealed Baghdad’s desire to loosen the grip of the coalition led by Washington, by involving Israel in the crisis and thus trapping Syria, Egypt and Arabia.

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