TEL AVIV (Dec. 26)
The Israel Defense Force remains on a high state of alert as the Jan. 15 deadline for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait approaches.
Troops were put on a higher state of alert shortly after Saddam Hussein sent his army into neighboring Kuwait on Aug. 2.
For the time being, the alert applies mainly to the air force, anti-aircraft and intelligence units, Defense Minister Moshe Arens explained this week.
A U.N. Security Council resolution ordering Hussein out of Kuwait authorized the use of any means, including force, if he has not complied by Jan. 15.
That does not necessarily mean the international coalition of troops, mainly from the United States, will attack Iraqi forces immediately after that date.
But Israel cannot afford to take chances. Hussein has repeatedly threatened to attack Israel if he is attacked, regardless of whether Israel is involved.
Hussein told the Spanish news media last weekend that Tel Aviv would be the first target of Iraqi missiles if war breaks out in the Persian Gulf.
Israel is especially concerned with Iraq’s chemical warfare capabilities. The distribution of gas masks to the urban population and in many rural areas was completed last month.
Arens said radar and anti-aircraft installations are fully prepared and the air force has changed its training programs to conform to the demands of the current crisis.
Iraq would pay a high price for any attempt to attack Israel, he declared.
The commander of Israel’s air force, Gen. Avihu Bin-Nun, said air operations in the face of the Gulf crisis include preparations to incorporate large numbers of new and sophisticated weapons systems.
LAST ROUND OF IDF APPOINTMENTS
Alert status also remains high along the Lebanese border, where there has been an increase in terrorist activities as armed groups move southward from the Beirut area.
Last Saturday, air force planes attacked suspected terrorist bases north of Zahle in the center of the Syrian-controlled Bekaa Valley. The targets were described by IDF sources as jumping-off points for raids on Israel used by the Popular Struggle Front.
A unit of that group was intercepted by an IDF paratrooper reconnaissance detail north of the southern Lebanon security zone on Nov. 8.
A 22-year-old IDF officer, Lt. Yaron Yogev, was killed in the skirmish, which left five terrorists dead.
The danger from Iraq, meanwhile, has prompted the Defense Ministry to suspend temporarily its reshuffling of the IDF high command.
After announcing a series of appointments in recent weeks, the ministry said no further changes would be made at this juncture because senior officers must concentrate on preparing for any military eventuality rather than on promotions and appointments.
The major promotion announced has been that of Maj. Gen. Ehud Barak to replace Gen. Dan Shomron as chief of staff. Shomron is retiring in April.
Meanwhile, possibly because of the Gulf crisis, Maj. Gen. Amram Mitzna, former commander of the central region, has rescinded his resignation from the IDF and will take over as head of the IDF’s planning branch at General Headquarters.
Maj. Gen. Immanuel Sekel, who had retired, has been called back to active duty as commander of ground forces.
Defense Minister Arens announced that for budgetary reasons, Israel has officially canceled orders for two Dolphin class submarines to have been built by a German shipyard in Kiel.
Last Friday was the deadline for withdrawal of the order without paying a heavy cancellation penalty. But Israel will forfeit the substantial down payment it made on the undersea craft, which were ordered several years ago at the urging of the navy.