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Israel Will Retaliate Instantly if Iraq Attacks First, Shamir Vows

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir warned Iraq on Monday that it could expect instant reprisal if it followed through on Saddam Hussein’s latest threat to attack the Jewish state.

Briefing the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and speaking later to reporters, Shamir maintained Iraq was deliberately trying to drag Israel into war, to break up the Arab alliance with the Western powers in the Persian Gulf crisis.

The prime minister was responding to a threat made Sunday by the Iraqi president, who said, in a statement read on Baghdad Radio, that he would attack Israel and the Middle East oil fields if Iraq was choked economically by the U.N.-mandated trade embargo.

The threat was described as Hussein’s toughest stance since he invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2.

Shamir made clear that Israel is taking the threat seriously. He said that if there were an Iraqi attack on Israel that caused casualties, there would be a response from the West. But he did not specify what that response would be.

The premier said Israel’s defenses were designed to deter an Iraqi strike. But if, “God forbid, he does implement his threat, then Israel is ready to strike back in reprisal,” Shamir said.

When asked to comment on a Time magazine report that Hussein was moving Iraqi missiles closer to the Jordanian border, Shamir would merely say that Israel is closely following developments in the region and would draw the “proper conclusions.”

‘HOLDING A GUN TO ISRAEL’S HEAD’

In New York, Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy said Monday that Hussein’s latest statement signaled a “deterioration” in the Iraqi leader’s approach toward Israel.

Whereas previous threats had been conditioned on an Israeli attack against Iraq, the latest one, he said, was in reaction to U.N. and international actions.

Levy, who is in New York for the opening of the U.N. General Assembly, told his West German counterpart, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, that “the free world” needed to make it clear that if Hussein tried to carry out his threats, he would be hit.

“Saddam Hussein is holding a gun to Israel’s head and demanding he be freed from the judgment of the international community,” Levy told Genscher, according to an Israeli spokesman.

According to Israeli officials, Genscher expressed his grave concern about Hussein’s threat and also complimented Israel’s handling of the Gulf crisis.

Genscher also reportedly responded favorably to a request by Levy not to link the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Persian Gulf crisis.

(JTA correspondent Allison Kaplan at the United Nations contributed to this report.)

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