NEW YORK (Dec. 10)
Israel will not launch a military strike against Iraq unless it is directly threatened, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said Monday.
“We are not interested in any wars. Our main interest is the immigration” from the Soviet Union, Shamir told members of the American Jewish press at a breakfast meeting here.
The prime minister was responding to a question about Israel’s intentions toward Iraq, should the United States conclude a deal with Saddam Hussein that removes his troops from Kuwait but leaves him in control of his military arsenal.
Asked whether Israel would consider a pre-emptive strike against Iraq in such a scenario, Shamir said, “We will not be the initiators of any military action” against Iraq.
But he added that “if the Iraqis say we will be the target of their attacks, we have to be ready to defend ourselves.”
His stance appeared to be more moderate than one taken early last week by Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy, who was reported to have warned the U.S. ambassador to Tel Aviv, William Brown, that Israel would attack Iraq if the United States failed to do so.
MORE COMMUNICATION WITH U.S.
In Jerusalem, Levy announced Monday that he had begun a dialogue with U.S. officials on the situation in the Middle East after the Persian Gulf crisis is resolved. He said the purpose of this dialogue is “to avoid misunderstandings, God forbid” over the regional situation in the aftermath of the crisis.
Shamir was asked by the Jewish journalists Monday to assess the degree of coordination between the United States and Israel on the Gulf crisis. “There is good communication and many contacts in many sectors,” he replied, “but maybe we need more.”
The prime minister was expected to discuss the Gulf crisis and the Middle East peace process Tuesday with President Bush. The White House is said to be looking for a sign that the Likud leader is truly interested in advancing the peace process.
Asked by the Jewish journalists whether he was still committed to his May 1989 peace plan, Shamir said, “I am fully committed to this initiative. All of us are ready and interested to make this initiative a reality in the Middle East.”
Shamir said the “main obstacle” to the peace process, before it was interrupted by the collapse of Israel’s government and then the Gulf crisis, was the attempt to involve the Palestine Liberation Organization.
But now that the PLO has been “fully identified with the Iraqi dictator,” it should be clear to everyone that “peace is not their goal and not their intention,” he said.
If the PLO is left out of the peace process, “I don’t see any special obstacles,” he said.
The prime minister called on the Palestinians to abandon their intifada, which entered its fourth year Sunday. He called the uprising a “useless sacrifice” of lives and economic well-being.
“We regret all these losses and human suffering, which do not come for anything,” he said.
MORE MONEY FOR ABSORPTION THAN DEFENSE
Shamir said that during his meeting at the White House on Tuesday, he would ask the president for additional U.S. assistance in resettling the thousands of Soviet Jewish immigrants arriving each week in Israel.
“President Bush is very sympathetic and he has a great admiration for this human undertaking,” he said.
The prime minister spoke candidly of the challenges Israel faces in absorbing the Soviet immigrants, who he said are arriving at the rate of at least 1,000 a day.
The most difficult problem, he said, is finding jobs for the new immigrants. Israel will have to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs in the next few years.
Finding housing for the Soviet Jews, he said, “is a question of time and money, and it will be solved — no question about it.”
When pressed on why construction of additional housing had gotten off to such a slow start, Shamir said, “There is progress, there is progress,” though he conceded it may not be sufficient.
Asked where Israel was going to come up with the money to absorb the 1 million immigrants expected to arrive in the next three to five years, Shamir said Israel is “taking the main resources for it from our own budget.”
He pointed out that, for the first time, defense is not the largest item in the government’s new budget– immigrant absorption is.
Shamir called on Jews in the Diaspora to give the maximum possible assistance “in order to absorb this great aliyah.”
“We have to take this opportunity to do everything we can,” he said.
The prime minister also put in a strong pitch for additional Jewish tourism to Israel, which has dropped sharply since the Gulf crisis erupted.
“We are calling on our Jewish friends to come to Israel, to visit Israel and in such a way to show their solidarity, their identification with Israel,” he said.
Shamir applauded the solidarity missions to Israel organized by many Jewish groups in recent weeks. “It gives us the feeling that we are not isolated in this world,” he said.