TEL AVIV (Jan. 14)
The Israel Defense Force, reportedly acting on intelligence estimates that war in the Persian Gulf is now inevitable, is on the highest level of preparedness short of combat.
Israel’s possible participation or involvement in a war with Iraq remains uncertain. Israel is not part of the U.S.-led coalition committed to force Iraq from Kuwait.
But the Jewish state has come under repeated threats from Saddam Hussein, echoed only last week by Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, that it will be the first target of Iraqi missiles if Baghdad is attacked by American forces and their allies.
The IDF says it is ready for any eventuality. The air force was put on maximum alert in preparation for the expiration of the U.N. deadline for an Iraqi pullout from Kuwait, which is at 7 a.m. Israel time Wednesday.
New, sophisticated weapons that arrived in Israel recently have been integrated into the armed forces.
There seems little likelihood at the present juncture that Israel will be involved in a land war employing infantry, artillery and armor, unless Iraqi ground forces decide to plunge across Jordan, which separates the Israeli and Iraqi borders by 300 miles.
Military sources reported the Jordanian army is making no attempt to conceal what seem to be defensive measures near the Jordan River border with Israel.
The Allenby Bridge, the main crossing between Jordan and Israel, was reported jammed with Palestinians returning to the West Bank and Gaza Strip after being evacuated from Iraq and Kuwait.
Many were quoted as saying Israel and the administered territories seemed safer than Jordan under the present circumstances.
PRAYERS FOR PEACE AND MERCY
While Israel has agreed not to launch a preemptive attack on Iraq, there is no certainty the Iraqis will not strike pre-emptively at Israel.
Hospitals and clinics have completed preparations to handle civilian casualties and other emergencies.
A full-dress drill was conducted Monday at Ichilov Hospital, one of Tel Aviv’s largest medical facilities. It involved the reception and treatment of poison gas victims, including decontamination and polaroid photography of the victims to facilitate identification by relatives.
The Health Ministry assured the public Monday that emergency stocks of medicine are on hand. People were urged not to overstock on pharmaceuticals.
Schools have prepared their air raid shelters and sealed off about a third of their classrooms against gas attacks.
The schools will remain open until a general emergency is declared, at which time people will be required to carry their gas masks at all times.
Air raid shelters which remain locked to prevent misuse in normal times have been opened.
Israeli radio and television have prepared to pre-empt regular broadcasts to relay a constant flow of instructions and information to the public in case of emergency.
In Jerusalem, an estimated 20,000 Orthodox Jews, convinced that prayer can avert evil, massed at the Western Wall on Monday reciting psalms and slichot prayers of repentance to prevent war.
The special prayer session was organized by the Chief Rabbinate and the Agudat Yisrael party’s Council of Sages.
The Ashkenazic chief rabbi of Israel, Avraham Shapira, was present with Yitzhak Kolitz and Yisrael Lau, the chief rabbis of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, respectively.
They were joined by the Hasidic rebbe of Belz, Yissachar Dov Rokeach, and Moshe Yehoshua Hager, the Hasidic rebbe of Vishnitz, who is chairman of the Chief Rabbinate Council.
Many of the worshippers were fasting. Tears flowed copiously as the cantor recited psalms traditionally said during times of tribulation.
They ended with the Avinu Malkeinu prayer and blasts from dozens of shofars.
PALESTINIANS URGED TO ATTACK
The only strictly Orthodox faction to remain aloof was Degel HaTorah. Its newspaper, Yated Ne’eman, urged tighter ritual observance. It claimed that only if Jews stopped watching television, listening to radio and reading secular newspapers could they invoke divine mercy on Israel.
Meanwhile, Lubavitcher Hasidim handed out leaflets proclaiming Israel to be the safest place in the world, particularly for Jews.
The Lubavitcher rebbe, head of the worldwide Chabad movement, told a group of prominent American Jews who had been considering canceling a scheduled visit to Israel that “the Holy Land is the safest place on Earth.”
The rebbe, Menachem Schneerson, who lives in Brooklyn, urged them not only to continue with their plans but to publicize their trip.
Also present at the Western Wall were activists of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane’s anti-Arab Kach movement, who handed out flyers demanding that Israel immediately attack Iraq.
Israeli Arab leaders petitioned the leaders of Israel, the United States and Iraq on Monday to make every effort to avoid war. The petition was signed by most of the Israeli Arab political organizations.
They also demanded an international conference to discuss the Palestinian issue but did not link it to Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait.
In the administered territories Monday, leaflets were circulated urging Palestinians to attack Israeli targets in the event a war breaks out in the Gulf.
Security sources were especially concerned that the Palestine Liberation Organization and the fundamentalist Islamic Jihad would launch terrorist attacks in Israel proper.
There was panic Monday in Acre, a mixed Jewish-Arab city on Haifa Bay, when a faulty air raid siren began to wail. Many residents donned gas masks and were rushing to shelters before police convinced them it was a false alarm.