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War Threat Unified Israeli Parties, Though Shamir Still Hoped for Peace

The threat of being dragged unwillingly into a Persian Gulf war by Iraq created a rare interlude of unity among Israel’s disputatious political factions on the right and left.

Ideological differences were forgotten as mainstream parties across the political spectrum rallied behind the government’s policy, which was to keep out of war if at all possible but to defend Israel unreservedly if attacked.

The Knesset on Wednesday witnessed the spectacle of tough left-wing critics of the Likud government — Yossi Sarid of the Citizens Rights Movement and Mapam’s Yair Tsaban — passionately upholding the government’s rejection of France’s last-minute peace efforts, which offered Saddam Hussein the linkage he demanded between Kuwait and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Former Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, speaking for the opposition Labor Party, counseled caution but agreed Israel must hit back if attacked.

The country’s two largest parties seemed therefore to agree on how to respond in the event of an Iraqi attack.

Speaking for the government, Police Minister Ronni Milo praised his political rivals for their demonstration of patriotic unity. He also praised the United States and Britain for opposing the linkage initiative.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir was closeted with political and military aides throughout the day. But he found time to be interviewed on Israel Radio’s Arabic service.

Shamir sought to allay public anxiety Wednesday. He said he hoped and believed there could still be a peaceful solution.

Speaking hours before the U.S. military operation began, he conceded that “not every political solution might be to our liking,” but noted that “in principle, our preference is always for a peaceful solution.”

Calming public fears was also the purpose of President Chaim Herzog’s speech Tuesday on Israel Radio.

The president has frequently gone on the air in times of national stress. While he did not deny the possibility of an Iraqi missile attack on Israel, he said it was far from a certainty.

Herzog drew on his own considerable military experience and on the consensus among senior Israel Defense Force commanders to say Iraq lacked the ability to seriously hurt Israel.

“I completely share the opinion of the chief of staff that the chances of our being directly involved militarily in the crisis are limited and certainly do not exceed defending ourselves from a few missiles which are limited in their accuracy, in their range and in their ability to cause damage,” Herzog said.

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