Israelis to Receive Gas Masks; Cabinet Unusually Quiet on Iraq

As jittery Israelis learned they will soon be issued gas masks, government ministers emerged uncharacteristically reticent from Sunday’s Cabinet meeting, where Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait was the chief topic discussed.

Israel apparently will take no counteraction unless Iraqi troops intrude into Jordan, which Deputy Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called “a very grave act to which we would respond.”

But Saddam Hussein’s incursion into a neighboring Arab country shook up the Tel Aviv stock exchange, the world’s only exchange open on Sunday.

The price of blue chip securities fell 7.57 percent, and the market’s main index plunged 19.65 points to close at 240.03, the sharpest one-day drop since 1983.

It followed Wall Street prices, which plummeted more than 70 points Friday in reaction to the effect of the Persian Gulf on the price of oil.

One trader said prices fell in Israel “because of the uncertainty regarding further developments in the Gulf region and Israeli military sources’ announcement that the army is going to distribute gas masks to the population.”

The gas masks and anti-chemical warfare kits will be issued first in the densely populated Tel Aviv area and in Safed in the Galilee, Israel Radio reported.

Distribution nationwide is expected to be completed by the end of the year, according to the Israel Defense Force.

The measure was not unexpected, as plans to issue gas masks were made public some time ago, following Hussein’s threat in April to destroy “half of Israel” with chemical weapons.

With Hussein now on the march, Israelis seem justifiably nervous. Iraq not only has chemical weapons but the missiles to deliver them.

Much of what transpired in the Cabinet on Sunday was classified secret. Israel Radio reported several developments, however, attributing its information to experts who briefed the ministers.

NO ATTACK ON SAUDI ARABIA

The consensus appears to be that the Iraqis do not seem to be preparing to attack Saudi Arabia. Most of Kuwait’s advanced military equipment, excluding some planes and naval vessels, have fallen to Iraq.

On Thursday, American Congressman Lawrence Smith (D-Fla.) angrily denounced the past sale to Kuwait of American Stinger missiles, which had long faced opposition in Congress. Smith said it could be assumed that the shoulder-fired missiles are now in the hands of the Iraqis.

Meanwhile, Jordan and the Palestine Liberation Organization have adopted subservient attitudes toward Iraq. Egypt finds itself severely embarrassed by Iraq’s swift conquest of Kuwait.

Iraq said Sunday that its troops were pulling out of Kuwait, but it appeared to be a bluff.

Japan and Britain on Sunday joined the ranks of countries imposing sanctions on Iraq, and the Dutch government froze Kuwaiti assets in the Netherlands, which constitute between 7 percent and 10 percent of all foreign investments in Holland.

Iraqi assets are small and will not be frozen, sources in Amsterdam said.

Holland presently has substantial oil reserves and will not suffer severe shortages, as it did during the Arab oil embargo of 1973.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization took an unprecedented measure Thursday when it condemned “Iraq’s military aggression” against Kuwait and called for an “immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all Iraqi forces from Kuwaiti territory.”

NATO has not previously reacted to armed conflicts outside its geographic sphere.

The statement issued in Brussels Thursday on denounced the incursion as “a clear violation of the Charter of the United Nations.”

(JTA correspondent Yossi Lempkowicz in Brussels contributed to this report.)

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