Nervously Eyeing Saddam
The Israelis say they are ready, while keeping an eye on the east.
ow that there has been a six-week lull in
suicide terror bombings in Israel —
caused by the Israel Defense Forces' near
total takeover of the West Bank
and the resultant disarray in Palestinian
resistance — the Israeli public is free to
turn its anxieties to Iraq.
The country's distribution centers for gas
mask kits; which previously had few takers, began
getting long waiting lines last weekend.
"Ever since [President Gerorge W.] Bush started
making his threats, I've been very worried," said Etti
Cohen, 35, waiting with some 40 other Tel Aviv res-
idents to update her kit at the city's distribution cen-
ter outside the Reading power station. The kits con-
tain gas masks and atropine injections for nerve gas.
Cohen, however, doesn't think they'll be of much
use if Israel comes under chemical or biological
attack — a prospect which she, like Israelis in gener-
al, sees as all too realistic. "This is just to keep the
public from panicking," she said.
In the 1991 Gulf War, Israel was hit by -39 Iraqi
Scud missiles, all of which carried "only" conven-
tional warheads. . Many fell on Tel Aviv, neighboring
Ramat Gan and the northern coastal city of Haifa;
others went awry.
The most lethal artifact of the war was the plug in
Israelis' gas masks — several people suffocated
because they forgot to . remove the plug before don-
ning their mask. No more than two Israelis died as a
direct result of the Scuds.
Considerable property damage was sustained, but
lives were probably saved because the buildings had
relatively low occupancy rates — masses of residents
of the Tel Aviv metropolitan area relocated for the
six-week duration of the war, many to Jerusalem,
which was rightly felt to be off-limits to Saddam
because of the possibility that Scuds could hit the
city's Moslem holy places or Palestinian neighbor-
Many Israelis, however, sat in their gas masks
inside their "sealed rooms" at home — their win-
dows and doors sealed with masking tape and plastic
sheeting to keep out the gas attacks that never came.
These protective rooms proved of no use whatsoever
against the Scuds.
Neither did the 'U.S.-made Patriot mis-
sile batteries set-up around Israel to shoot
down the Iraqi missiles. The Patriots
either missed their targets or failed to disintegrate
them upon impact, leaving the Scuds to fall on
Israel in large pieces.
Israelis are better protected today. Gas masks now
cannot be put on unless the plug is removed. The
masking tape and plastic sheeting are a hollow joke
from the past; hundreds of thousands of homes built
since the Gulf War include "security rooms" with
windows and reinforced doors sealed with rubber.
People with older homes will be directed to bomb
The atropine injections have been fortified. Some
15,000 emergency workers are being inoculated
against smallpox. The Israeli Health Ministry says
that if the U.S. attacks Iraq, all 6.6 million Israelis
will be inoculated against the disease in a week.
Batteries of improved Patriots and the untried but
highly-touted Arrow anti-missile system have been
set up around the country. The "Green Pine" radar
system has been installed, while American and Israeli
satellite systems are looking down on Iraq, which
promises to give Israelis considerably longer than the
30-second notice they had in 1991 to get ready for
an incoming missile.
Gen. Moshe Yahalon, Israeli military chief of staff,
told Army Radio, "We are prepared so that nothing
will reach this area at all. We are well-prepared in
terms of defense and also in terms of an offensive
response if there will be a need." -
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139 MONTH LEASE
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The working assumption in Israel is that while
Saddam has chemical and biological weapons,
although no nuclear capability, he has very limited
ability left to launch them on a missile that could
get through Israel's defenses and reach its target.
But in the event that Saddam does get "lucky"
with one or two last-gasp, non-conventional shots,
the Sharon government has made it very plain that
it will not repeat its behavior of the Gulf War, when
it acceded to a U.S. request to refrain from retaliat-
ing against Iraq, thereby keeping the allied coalition,
which included Arab states, intact. In the hawkish
atmosphere that's taken over Israel in the last two
years of fighting the Palestinians, the restraint shown
during the Gulf War is widely seen as having eroded
Israel's deterrent power, something the current polit-
ical and military leadership is determined to restore.
Although Israel is likely to be Saddam's prime tar-
get in the event of an American assault, Israeli pub-
lic opinion is all for war. A recent poll in Yediot
Aharanot, the country's largest newspaper, found
Israel's Jewish majority favoring an American attack
on Iraq by more than a 2 1 margin. Even Foreign
Minister Shimon Peres, formerly the elder statesman
of the Israeli peace camp, said in Washington that a
failure to strike at Saddam would be comparable to
Europe's failure to beat back Hitler before World
Israelis indulge in considerable bravado in the face
of danger. The warrior ethic is bred into them.
Ramat Gan Mayor Zvi Bar is timidly suggesting that
in the event of a non-conventional attack, residents
of the population-rich center of the country be relo-
cated south to the Negev desert until the fighting
Etti Cohen, whose apartment had its windows
and shutters blasted out by the Scuds in 1991, said
she didn't try to flee then, but would in the event of
Gulf War II. The danger of chemical or biological
attack "is much greater now," she said, "and now I
have two young daughters." ❑
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