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Shamir Assures Public That Israel Has Will and Ability to Defend Itself

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Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir assured the Israeli people — and warned their enemies — that Israel possesses “the capacity, the will, the ability and the readiness” to defend itself against a threat from Iraq or any other foe.

He spoke shortly after his office’s director general, Yossi Ben-Aharon, warned that Israel must be prepared for a chemical attack.

Shamir’s remarks were Israel’s first official reaction to the allegations Wednesday by an Iraqi military spokesman that Israel was acting in collusion with the United States, which has sent air, sea and ground forces to defend Saudi Arabia against a possible attack by Iraq.

The Israeli prime minister voiced warm support for the American and international effort to contain Iraq.

“What can stop Saddam Hussein today is only a large and strong force that will put a brake on his wildness and aggression,” Shamir said of the Iraqi president in an address to graduates of the National Defense College.

The Israeli premier acknowledged that Iraq’s moves in the Gulf present Israel with “an aggressive threat to its security and well-being,” but that the Israel Defense Force “is ready to face any threat or development.”

ISRAEL NOT DETERRED

Earlier, at a meeting with the heads of local authorities in his office here, Shamir said that while “Israel is not ignoring these threats, it is not deterred and is certainly not cowed.”

He observed that “the concentration of international forces around Iraq, and the boycott measures by the international community, can achieve the goal.

“This force, coupled with determination on the part of all those who oppose totalitarian dictatorship, can become a ring of steel around Saddam Hussein that will get ever tighter, until it breaks his aggressiveness once and for all,” Shamir said.

An Iraqi spokesman on Wednesday again claimed that Israeli warplanes disguised with U.S. markings were arrayed against Iraq.

Deputy Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Israel was acting through diplomatic channels to assure the world community that the Iraqi charges were a baseless attempt “to shift the focus of attention.”

He said he was sure the other Middle East states understood that.

Israel has deliberately kept a low profile in the latest Middle East crisis, stressing that it would act only if it perceived a direct threat, for example the entry of Iraqi forces into neighboring Jordan.

But there is mounting concern among strategic planners and the public that Hussein, confronted by multinational sanctions and military opposition to his invasion of Kuwait, might act out of desperation.

The fear is that he would seek to embroil Israel as a means of rallying Arab support.

Although Israel possesses a powerful deterrent force, strategists know that deterrence presupposes a modicum of rationality on both sides.

Hussein threatened Israel with chemical weapons long before the current crisis and has the missiles to deliver them.

He may well feel his days are numbered in face of an American military challenge, and with nothing to lose, he could act irrationally.

Israel Radio reported Thursday that Israel has taken “certain steps to ensure that it is not surprised,” but there was no elaboration.

Experts concede that Israel has no fully effective defense against a large-scale missile attack, and that some missiles would get through.

Hitherto, successive defense ministers have sought to head off any such scenario by asserting Israel’s determination to launch massive retaliation against any missile strike.

Their statements have been interpreted in some quarters to hint “non-conventional” — meaning nuclear — retaliation against a chemical attack on civilian centers.

Shamir’s remarks, meanwhile, seemed intended both to alert and to reassure the populace.

“All the citizens of Israel know that their state has its full strength and does not stand empty-handed in this region of the world, full of dangers and tensions,” he said.

“Anyone plotting to attack Israel must know that Israel has the capacity, the will, the ability and the readiness to defend its security with great force and determination. Anyone seeking to harm Israel is likely to draw down upon himself a heavy disaster.”

Shamir stressed, however, that “Israel has no intention to attack any of its neighbors, but it will know how to deal with anyone who attempts to harm it.”

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister David Levy, meeting here with Richard Schifter, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs, praised President Bush’s response to the Iraqi aggression. He said the people of Israel hoped and prayed the United States would be successful in “cutting off the evil arm.”

Levy also made the point that Yasir Arafat, leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, was one of the first Arab leaders to congratulate Hussein on his takeover of Iraq.

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