Shamir Denies Israel is Urging U.s to Launch an Attack Against Iraq

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir denied Tuesday what he called “ugly” media reports in the United States that Israel is urging Washington to take military action against Iraq.

Shamir spoke hours after the publication here of parts of a warm letter from President Bush praising Israel’s restrained role in the Persian Gulf crisis.

In assailing the media reports, the premier may have been referring to a statement made Sunday on NBC-TV by commentator and former White House aide Patrick Buchanan.

Appearing on the “McLaughlin Group,” a talk show, Buchanan charged that Israel “and its ‘Amen’ corner in the United States are the only ones beating the drums for war” with Iraq.

Shamir told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday that Israel is not offering the United States any advice at all about how to proceed in the crisis, beyond expressing its support for the Bush administration’s policies.

But Shamir would not go as far as to say that Israel would prefer to see a diplomatic resolution of the crisis. “I didn’t say that,” he was reported to have told the committee when pressed on this point.

Defense Minister Moshe Arens said outright this week that a solution that left Saddam Hussein in power and his military might intact would be “a cause of concern for Israel, for the Gulf region and, in my opinion, for the entire world.”

Speaking on educational television, Arens said that one of the important and positive effects of the crisis was that Israel was now no longer alone in its awareness of the dangers posed by the Iraqi president.

Asked if the danger of war has receded, Arens was non-committal, but added: “I think Saddam is in deep trouble. If a few months ago he faced Israel alone, now he faces the whole world, led by the U.S., which is still daily enhancing its strength in the region.”

BUSH SUGGESTS CLOSER COOPERATION

Israel would rejoice if the crisis were resolved without bloodshed, Arens said. But it would be worried if such a resolution left Hussein, his armed might and his technological capacity all untouched.

Arens said his impression is that the Americans believe Hussein can be brought down by the economic blockade, but they are ready to use force if necessary.

Bush’s letter to the premier — his second during the crisis — contained a proposal that the two countries intensify their cooperation and communications in the face of the Gulf crisis. The letter was delivered Monday by Ambassador William Brown.

According to media reports here Tuesday, the American diplomat was instructed to give the Israeli leadership verbal assurances that the U.S. position requiring Iraq to leave Kuwait remains firm, as does Washington’s commitment to Israel’s security.

On this last point, Defense Minister Arens confirmed Tuesday that Israel submitted to Washington some weeks ago a list of urgently needed military hardware. He said nothing would be arriving imminently, but indicated that he expected favorable American consideration of Israel’s requests.

He gave no details, but media speculation here has focused on Patriot ground-to-air missiles, and more warplanes and helicopters.

Meanwhile, a special ministerial committee on civil defense, set up by the premier in the wake of a Cabinet dispute over the need to issue gas masks, held its first meeting here Tuesday.

The committee is empowered to decide when to issue the masks. Members of the panel are Shamir, Arens, Foreign Minister David Levy, Interior Minister Arye Deri, Police Minister Ronni Milo and Agriculture Minister Rafael Eitan.

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