Iraq-Israel relations could 'be the best'
Baghdad-born Iraq maven David Sasson on
Israel's mistakes in pre-Saddam Iraq and the opportunities
that beckon now
By: Isabel Kershner
David Sasson has always believed in peace between
Israel, Iraq and the rest of the Arab world. Now,
asserts this retired, Iraqi-born Israeli businessman,
who has maintained contacts over the years with
influential Arabs and particularly Iraqi exiles,
including leading mem-bers of the Iraqi opposition,
it is up to Israel to open itself up to the possibility
of peace and not to repeat past wrongs. "We've
made a lot of mistakes, " Sasson states to
The Report in the wake of the collapse of Saddam
Hussein's regime. "No Israeli politicians understood
anything about the Arabs. They could never read
the map of the Middle East. "
For an Israeli, Sasson probably has more experience
of the Middle East than most. Born in Baghdad in
1931, he studied not at the Jewish school, but at
a government school with his Arab Muslim neighbors.
"I spent my best time there", he reminisces.
But in 1950, along with tens of thousands of other
Iraqi Jews, he fled to Israel, in his case via Iran.
He studied at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, was
"taken" into the army, then worked for
many years in the travel business.
After the 1973 war, however, he wanted to leave
the country. "I said the Israelis know how
to make war, not peace, " he recalls today.
Sas-son headed for the shah's Iran, where he be-came
a partner in an Arabic-speaking business until he
was forced to escape again, this time from the Khomeini
revolution of 1979. Next stop was Cairo, where he
lived for three years and established a trading
business, shipping various goods between Israel
and the port of Alexandria. After the war in Lebanon
in 1982, though, "everything stopped. I felt
very bad as an Israeli Jew Living in Cairo while
Israel was bombing Beirut. "
At that point Sasson says he got "tired of
the Middle East." Together with an Egyptian
colonel from Nasser's rev-olution, he formed a commodities
investment company in London. Now retired, he splits
his time between London and an apartment in Tel
In 1997, he founded the Iraqi-Israeli Friendship
Committee in Tel Aviv, in solidarity with the Iraqi
people, along with other prominent Iraqi-born Israelis
such as Tel Aviv University Prof. Sasson Somekh
and author Sami Michael. And now he says he is the
only Israeli and Jew involved in the recently formed
Development Fund for the Re-building of Iraq, a
London-based forum of Iraqi-born businesspeople
dedicated to helping the free Iraq get back on its
An Iraqi version of a macher, Sasson counts among
his best friends an old Baghdad school buddy who
rose to become vice-president of OPEC and an exceedingly
wealthy Iraqi exile whose family owned all the land
on which Saddam 's palaces were built. He says he
now plans on bringing them to Israel to address
a meeting of former Iraqis living in the Jewish
The Jerusalem Report: You speak about Israel having
made mistakes, and its politicians not having read
the Middle East-ern map correctly. Are you convinced
Iraq and the Arab world wanted peace with Israel?
David Sasson: I can tell you one thing: Following
the 1958 revolution in Iraq, the new ruler, Qassem,
was against Nasser and Arab nationalism, and wanted
to make peace with Israel. The Is-raelis said he
was mad and foolish, because he went with the Soviets
against the British ... Then there was a coup against
him and the Ba'athists came, [ending with] Saddam.
How did your Iraqi Muslim friends in exile
react to the solidarity committee you established
They sent me faxes you couldn't imagine. One said
that the Iraqi Jews have more rights in Iraq than
anyone else in the world. In the days of the caliph
Harun al-Rashid, Baghdad was over 70 percent Jewish!
My good friend is the editor of Al-Mu'tamar (the
Iraqi opposition paper published in London). Now
he's gone to Kuwait to establish Somer, a new paper
for Baghdad, and he asked me to find Iraqi Jewish
writers from Israel, Can you imagine that?
What is the nature of your activity in
the Iraq Development Fund project?
It is not for raising mon-ey, only for making connec-tions
between big firms from all over the world and the
people in Iraq. There will be another meeting in
June, to which I will invite Israelis to speak,
and I will bring some big Iraqi businesspeo-ple
from London to Israel.
Have they expressed a willingness to come?
Yes. They said they are ready to come to a meeting
in Israel and speak. This is my life. I'd like my
people to live in peace. I'm an Israeli. In all
the pages of Al-Mu'tamar, you won't find anything
about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They don't
like the Palestinians because they went with Saddam
How do you see things developing politically
The Americans must quickly establish a new Iraqi
government with a Prime Minister for a period of
six months to a year, until elections can be held.
I hope they won't stay beyond that time.
Do you foresee relations with Israel at
They will be the best. Better than Israel's relations
with Egypt or anyone else. I know the opposition
leaders. They like us.
Are you in contact with Israeli politicians
No. If they want, they know all about me. Why should
I contact them?
Will you go back to Baghdad?
I want to visit. I don't know about going to live
there. I'd like to go back to see my school. I could
go if I wanted, even with my Israeli passport. I
have the contacts.
When do you think other Israelis will be
able to go to Iraq?
Speak to me in another six months.
From: The Jerusalem Report May 5,