JERUSALEM (Aug. 12)
Apprehensions raised by the prospects of an Iraqi gas attack on Israel diminished Sunday, when the Cabinet was informed that Baghdad’s military capabilities do not yet include fitting chemical warheads to its short-and medium-range missiles.
The missiles are the only delivery system to which Israel is vulnerable.
While the Iraqis showed no qualms about using poison gas in their eight-year war with Iran or against their own Kurdish minority, the gas was contained in artillery shells or dropped in bombs by the Iraqi air force.
Israel is well out of range of Iraqi artillery, and the Israeli air force is more than a match for Iraq’s, Defense Minister Moshe Arens told foreign journalists Sunday in Tel Aviv.
Arens spoke after briefing the Cabinet on the Iraqi threat. He was joined by the Israel Defense Force chief of staff, Gen. Dan Shomron, and the chief of military intelligence, Gen. Amnon Shahak.
They outlined various scenarios that might evolve in the current Persian Gulf crisis but stressed there was no evidence that Israel faces immediate hostilities.
At any rate, the Cabinet issued a brief statement assuring the public that the IDF is alert to any and all threats.
But Ha’aretz’s respected military analyst, Ze’ev Schiff, was not entirely convinced. He pointed out Sunday that the technology required to mount chemical warheads on missiles is not especially complex.
The Cabinet was reported to have taken note of reports that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has been known to act on the basis of inaccurate information and analyses from his advisers.
NEGATIVE IMPACT ON TOURISM
While the civil defense authorities plan to distribute gas masks and anti-chemical-warfare kits to the entire population, including the Arab community, they are in no rush to do so, partly because Hussein could interpret that to mean Israel planned to attack Iraq.
The distribution will take place by the end of the year, first in the densely populated Tel Aviv area and then in the Galilee town of Safed.
The authorities have asked manufacturers and dealers meanwhile not to sell masks to the public now, to avoid hording and profiteering.
The gas masks retail for $150 to $300, including kits that contain a disposable syringe with atropine, a poison gas antidote.
The gas scare seems to have had a depressing effect on tourism to Israel, at least in the short term.
The Jerusalem Hotel Association reported a sharp increase of cancellations Sunday, mainly by tourists booked for the weeks immediately ahead.
But the hoteliers believe it is too early to discern a trend. They say time alone will tell whether the Persian Gulf crisis and Iraqi missile threats against Israel will have serious consequences for tourism.