JERUSALEM (Dec. 6)
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said Thursday he did not expect that Israel would be “left alone against Iraq” after the Persian Gulf crisis ended, but said the country was “prepared for every eventuality.”
He seemed to be toning down Israel’s warning earlier in the week that if the United States did not destroy Iraq’s military power, Israel would go to war to protect itself.
The prime minister spoke to reporters at Ben-Gurion Airport before departing on a visit to Britain and the United States.
He said he “welcomed” Secretary of State James Baker’s assurance, in testimony Wednesday to the Senate, that the United States would respond if Iraq attacked Israel.
Saying he did not think Baker made that statement only to ease Israel’s concerns, Shamir said he was curious to hear directly from President Bush about his policies and intentions in the Persian Gulf. Shamir is scheduled to meet Tuesday with Bush at the White House.
The premier spoke before reports were broadcast overseas that the United States was prepared to support a call for an international peace conference on the Israeli-Arab conflict.
The reports were subsequently denied by the White House. But Israeli observers felt there was “some fire” behind the smoke.
The observers noted that Shamir’s office pointedly published part of his statement to a group of visiting members of the European Parliament in which the prime minister stressed Israel’s implacable opposition to an international conference. He maintained it would be a “hostile tribunal” aimed against the Jewish state.
PRESSING FOR TOUGH RESOLUTION
Meanwhile, observers said, events unfolding at the U.N. Security Council could affect the atmosphere of the Bush-Shamir talks.
The Third World countries are pressing for a tough resolution on the Oct. 8 Temple Mount riots and the condition of Palestinians in the Israeli administered territories.
Israel is not certain the United States will veto such a resolution, given its need to maintain the coalition against Iraq.
Shamir on the eve of his departure dismissed reports of unfriendly personal relations between himself and Bush, whom he last met a year ago.
In an interview published Thursday in Yediot Achronot, Shamir observed that each of them represented his own country and its policies and interests. He said he hoped their upcoming meeting would build a firm basis for future cooperation.
Shamir indicated in his airport news conference that he would be asking for more American aid for immigrant absorption. He said Bush personally has a record of warm interest and concern for Jewish immigration to Israel.
In the Yediot interview, Shamir insisted the time is not ripe to initiate a new peace process with the Palestinians. Yet at the airport, he said he might have “new ideas” on “how to start” and “how to proceed.”
Referring to an apparent escalation of the intifada, Shamir said “violence of any kind will get them nothing and nowhere.”
Defense Minister Moshe Arens, meanwhile, on a visit Thursday to the Ramallah area, where shots fired at a bus the previous night injured three Israeli settlers, vowed that Israel would “respond to fire with fire.”
He said the intifada appeared to be resorting to firearms “out of desperation,” after pointedly avoiding them throughout the three-year struggle.
The defense minister said the IDF would seize the hillock from which the shots were fired and erect a permanent lookout post there to protect the road to Jerusalem.