A new book, The Saddam Tapes: The Inner Workings of a Tyrant's Regime 1978-2001, based on transcripts of conversations between Iraq's Saddam Hussein and his inner circle, provides a disconcerting look at the "rationality" of another regime with nuclear ambitions. Culled from thousands of hours of tape recordings captured by American forces, augmented by analysis from the Institute for Defense Analyses, the book addresses several issues relevant to Iran, including Saddam's views of the United States, Israel, and weapons of mass destruction, as well as Iran-Iraq relations and first Gulf War. The book also allows us a view of the Saddam regime's grasp of reality—and, by extension, that of Iran's theocrats.
In some ways Saddam, secularist and Arab nationalist, contrasted profoundly with Iran's current theocratic leaders; but there are ominous similarities. For Saddam as for the mullahs, Israel was the "one who raped our land," the "despised entity," the entity "rejected by humanity and by the nation." Zionists, Israelis, and Jews were undifferentiated. Saddam thought the Protocols of the Elders of Zion were to be carefully studied as an invaluable historical record of the global Jewish Zionist conspiracy. He believed Israel was behind the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Zionists were responsible for reviving Pharaonic civilization in Egypt and Phoenician civilization in Lebanon in order to "break up the fabric of Arab nations." For Saddam, anti-Semitism was not simply an expedient or cover but a central organizing principle of life and thought.
His other motivating forces were regional rivalry and ideological politics. Saddam's grasping for leadership of the Arab world and the Palestinian cause brought him into constant conflict with his brother kings. He repeatedly expressed his hatred of Egypt's Mubarak and the Saudis' King Fahd, his compete distrust of Qaddafi, and his loathing of Arafat. Gangland-style assassination plots were proposed. The slaughter of Gulf Arabs was described as a "blessing." The killing of Iranians—Saddam was convinced that Israel would give Iran biological weapons for use against Iraq—was a "sacred duty."