Since the unanimous resolution of the UN Security Council, the world has lived in anguish, anticipating an event that would profoundly affect the course of affairs in the Middle East.
Will a war on Iraq, which Washington and London have advocated from the beginning, finally take place? And if it does, will it be justified? If UN arms inspectors come home with nothing to report, can we trust that Saddam Hussein has truly granted them the freedom to do their jobs? Or is Saddam a liar, concealing chemical, biological or nuclear weapons capable of devastating entire regions?
These are crucial questions, as troubling as they are complex. Impossible to resolve, but also impossible to circumvent.
Saddam almost certainly harbours deadly arsenals. Ideally, the international inspectors would uncover and then destroy the weapons that are putting many other countries in danger, not only Israel. But what if Iraqi hiding places turn out to be too deep, too well concealed? The weapons may be buried in hospital basements and cemeteries, and plants may be operating in presidential palaces. Do the inspectors have adequate tools to discover them?
Few intelligence specialists doubt that Saddam would be ready to use weapons of mass destruction. His mentality, his temperament and his past are well known: Killing a great number of human beings would not concern him. He proved that at the end of the 1980s, when he ordered the slaughter by gas of thousands of his own citizens.
In truth, that was the time for the leaders of civilised nations to raise their voices and condemn Saddam in the name of the world's conscience, plainly and clearly, for crimes against humanity. But for purely political reasons, they did not: At the time, Saddam was the enemy of Iran, which was the enemy of the United States and its allies. So he was handled carefully - while his regime grew ever stronger.
Will Saddam hesitate before using the same murderous tactics he has already proved himself capable of? Will he fear international reaction? It is possible. But it is also possible that he will be shrewd enough to exploit the stand-off between the US and the UN. Then time will be on his side. And when all is said and done, he will be the one to decide when, against whom and where to launch his missiles bearing poison and death.
This is the worst scenario of all. Because numerous lives are at stake. The lives of Israelis, Americans and, of course, Iraqis. Tens of thousands. Therefore one thing is obvious: we must do everything possible to prevent Saddam from using his weapons.
Does this mean war? Not necessarily. Since our intelligence services, which seem to be well informed, know where the plants in question are located (at least, I hope so), I am naïve enough to believe that a kind of James Bond operation would be best.
I imagine American, British and Israeli commandos, the best trained in the world, would one night parachute into Iraq. They would destroy all the missile bases and centres for weapons production and set out again at dawn, if possible, without killing a single Iraqi.
Am I too romantic? Why wouldn't I be? After all, I am also a novelist. Only I must admit that the military professionals to whom I proposed my plan did not find it very realistic. And the fact that I know nothing about war strategies did not strengthen my position.
So where are we going? If all the roads to peaceful resolution are closed and therefore any attempts at negotiation are doomed to failure, and if Saddam sends the inspectors back empty-handed, vanquished and ridiculed, will only war bring the desired solution?
I find war repugnant. All wars. I know war's monstrous aspects: blood and corpses everywhere, hungry refugees, devastated cities, orphans in tears and houses in ruins. I find no beauty in it. But it is with a heavy heart I ask this: what is to be done? Do we have the right not to intervene, when we know what passivity and appeasement will make possible?
Is President Bush's policy of intervention the best response to an imperative need? Yes, it is said, and I am reluctant to say anything else. Bush's goal is to prevent the deadliest biological or nuclear conflict in modern history.
If the US, supported by the UN Security Council, is forced to intervene, it will save victims who are already targeted, already menaced. And it will win. The US owes it to us, and owes it to future generations. As the great French writer André Malraux said, victory belongs to those who make war without loving it.