Main Threat to Israel from Iraq is Said to Have Been Eliminated

The massive U.S. aerial bombardment of Iraqi military installations in Iraq and Kuwait appears to have removed the immediate threat of an Iraqi attack on Israeli territory.

President Bush confirmed Wednesday night that an early goal of “Operation Desert Storm,” which began shortly after midnight Iraqi time, had been to destroy the country’s missile installations and to eliminate its chemical and nuclear weapons capabilities.

“We are determined to knock out Saddam Hussein’s nuclear bomb potential. We will also destroy his chemical weapons facilities,” the president said in a televised address from the White House Oval Office.

At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney said Wednesday night that Iraq had been unprepared for the American attack. While he seemed optimistic about the success of the U.S. operation, he could not say yet whether all targets had been destroyed.

But there were reports that Iraq offered little or no air resistance.

Cheney said that one of the major targets had been Iraq’s SCUD missiles in western Iraq, which directly threatened Israel.

Reports on NBC and other television networks said that the U.S. planes had destroyed SCUD launch sites, which apparently had not been armed yet. NBC learned of this from a ham radio operator in Israel who monitored military radio intelligence reports.

The reports said that destruction of the missile sites had been promised by Bush to both Israel and Saudi Arabia.

If these reports are true, then there is little chance that Israel will be attacked, as Saddam Hussein threatened to do.

ISRAELIS ORDERED TO STAY HOME

In Israel, where fear that the SCUD missiles would be used to launch chemical weapon attacks against the Jewish state, residents were urged in the early hours of Thursday morning to keep their gas mask kits with them at all times.

“Due to combat that started in the Persian Gulf and as a precautionary measure,” residents of Israel are “asked to remain in their homes and open their protective kits,” the army said in a message broadcast on Israel Radio around 2:30 a.m. local time.

Both Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Defense Minister Moshe Arens were monitoring the situation from their homes, according to news reports from Israel. Israel Radio reported that Shamir had been informed in advance of the American operation by French and American sources.

Health Minister Ehud Olmert, interviewed on NBC, said that Israelis were “inspired” by Bush’s remarks. He said the initial reports were encouraging and “we are all relieved,” but that the danger is not over yet for Israel.

“Israel is very appreciative of the courage and vigor of the American servicemen,” he said.

But he added that while this is a “one-time experience” for the international force against Iraq, “for us, it is a way of life.”

In New York, Shoshana Cardin, newly elected chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said the American Jewish community is “grateful that Israel is not involved in this” and “supportive” of President Bush’s actions.

“We feel he took the right step,” she said, adding that the president’s remarks on the need to destroy Iraqi chemical and nuclear weapons capabilities were “very much on target.”

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the conference, said, “We pray for the success of the president and our armed forces, and for their safe return. As regrettable as the use of force is, sometimes it is necessary to achieve peace.”

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