Dilemma On Iraq
Israel, U.S. coordinate plans on Iraq, but rift looms on possible retaliation.
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
attack with nonconventional weapons, Israel's govern-
ment will feel duty-bound to retaliate — both to sat-
isfy domestic public opinion and, more importantly,
to maintain Israel's deterrent capacity in the region.
Mofaz, therefore, refused to say what the
Americans wanted to hear, and would not commit
that Israel would avoid getting involved in the war
under any circumstances. On the contrary, Mofaz
made it clear that Israel reserves the right to retaliate
if it suffers heavy civilian casualties or if it is
attacked with nonconventional weapons.
However, Mofaz did promise that in return for
American consideration of Israel's interests, Israel
would coordinate any retaliatory strike with
we can do," an Israeli defense official said.
The United States, however, would prefer a far
more measured response, one that the United
States carries out and controls, because it hopes to
rebuild Iraq and Iraqi institutions as quickly as
possible in the post-Saddam era.
ever have Israel and the United States had
such close coordination on Iraq. As the
anticipated American attack on Baghdad
draws nearer, the U.S. military even has
been showing Israeli officials its detailed plans for
preventing Iraqi missile attacks on Israel.
How serious is the threat of a nonconventional
But the reason for the American operational
Iraqi attack? Besides the possible delivery of biolog-
largesse is clear: The United States does not want
ical or chemical agents via Scud missiles, Israeli and
Israel to play any military role in the war against
U.S. intelligence officials believe Iraq will attempt
Iraq. Despite the close coordination, Israel has not
to send "suicide pilots" with cargoes of biological
promised to stay out of the fighting. Moreover, there
or chemical weapons.
are sharp differences between the two sides
Israeli officials recall that in the 1991 •
on how to respond if Israel is attacked with
Gulf War, Iraq planned a fighter-bomber
biological attack, first sending three con-
During Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz's
ventionally armed MiG fighters to see if
mid-December visit to Washington,
they could penetrate Israeli airspace. If
American officials went out of their way to
successful, the plan was to follow up with
convince the Israeli delegation that the
more sorties, including one by a Sukhoi
United States would do all it could to
bomber loaded with biological agents.
defend Israel, and that there would be no
The plan never materialized because the
need for Israel to get involved in the war.
first MiGs were shot down soon after
The officials said American forces would
take-off. Since the Gulf War, Israeli air
take decisive action to prevent Iraqi missile
defenses have become even tighter, and
launchers from being moved into western
defense officials say the relatively slow-fly-
Iraq — from where Israel would be in their
ing Iraqi "suicide planes" would be easier
range — and to take them out if they are.
to intercept than Scud missiles.
The officials promised that America
As for missile attacks, the officials rate
would show Israel its plans for neutralizing
these as less likely than suicide plane sor-
the Iraqi missile launchers, and allow Israel
ties, because the number of missiles Iraq
to comment and offer suggestions.
and its capacity to launch them have
Moreover, the United States said it would
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon inspects Israeli army chemical war are
been severely curtailed since the 1991 Gulf
send 1,000 American soldiers to Israel with protection kits during a visit to the army's Home Front Command.
War, officials say.
Patriot missiles, to back up Israel's Arrow
Still, Israel is not taking chances, and
anti-missile defense system.
Washington. That might be why American military plans are being considered to inoculate the entire
If, despite these offensive and defensive measures,
planners were smiling after the meeting.
population against smallpox.
an Iraqi missile were to get through and hit Israel,
The bottom line is this: Should an Iraqi missile
In operational terms, the Mofaz commitment
America — not Israel — would retaliate, the offi-
plane get through, and should the Americans
urge restraint, Israel will face an acute dilemma —
with the Americans in advance, and will not attack
unless given flying times, routes and friend-foe air
because in addition to its operational leverage, the
United States has considerable political and eco-
codes. That would seem to make an Israeli strike
dependent on American approval: If the United
The problem is that Israel and the United States
Israeli officials say their U.S. counterparts have
States disapproves of the response, it could with-
have a number of fundamentally different strategic
hold the operational information, making an attack not made any attempt to condition the $4 billion
interests in the context of the conflict with Iraq.
Israel has requested in military aid, to help defray
America does not want direct Israeli involvement
the costs of its deployment against the Iraqi threat,
Israeli defense officials acknowledge that this
in the war to further complicate U.S. ties with the
could present a problem, but say they are confident on Israel's agreement to take a blow quietly.
Arab world. But Israel has domestic and regional
Clearly, however, if Israel were to retaliate against
the United States will understand Israel's needs and
considerations that make it very difficult to refrain
American wishes, it could find itself forfeiting this
will make it possible for Israel to retaliate if neces-
from retaliation if the country is hit by Iraqi mis-
aid and being punished by the Americans on the
sary. Then again, Washington would want to have
siles, as it did in the 1991 Persian Gulf War under
Palestinian issue after the war.
a say on the scope of the Israeli response.
fierce American pressure.
If it sits out the war, Israel might just be reward-
Israeli officials believe Israel's failure to respond in
ed — though whether that would make up for
great force, to deter other countries in the region
1991 seriously undermined Israel's deterrent posture
from following the Iraqi example. That could mean physical damage to the Israeli home front, and the
and encouraged other groups, such as Hezbollah in
intangible damage to Israel's deterrent capacity,
widespread destruction in Iraq. "We would want
Lebanon, to attack Israel.
everyone to know it was us, and to realize just what remains to be seen. El
If Israeli casualty figures are high or if the Iraqis