JERUSALEM (Jan. 18)
Warnings throughout the day Thursday that the massive bombardment of Iraqi military installations by U.S.-led forces had not yet eliminated the threat of an Iraqi attack proved all-too-accurate early Friday morning, when seven to 10 SCUD missiles hit sites within Israel.
No one was killed in the attack by the missiles, which contained conventional warheads, not nerve gas as originally feared.
But seven people were lightly injured in the assault, the first missile attack on Israel in the history of the state. The wounded were treated at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, a city believed to have sustained at least two missile strikes.
The missiles also struck the Haifa area and at least one unpopulated rural locale.
Initial reports were sketchy because of the inability of witnesses to see out sealed windows or leave their airtight, poison gas-proof quarters.
As of dawn Friday, some three hours after the initial strike, Israelis were still being instructed to remain in their sealed-off rooms for fear of further attacks.
The assault confirmed fears that had been voiced that Iraqi mobile missile launchers remained intact, undamaged by the successful barrage of U.S.-led air attacks early Thursday, which appeared to have wiped out fixed missiles positioned in western Iraq that had been deemed most threatening to the Jewish state.
SHAMIR CONVENES THE CABINET
The big question that remained here by early Friday morning was whether Israel would retaliate and how. Shortly after the attack, senior Israeli officials and diplomats abroad were quoted as stating that Israel reserves the right to protect itself in whatever way it deems fit.
Israel Radio reported that Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir had summoned the Cabinet Friday morning to decide whether Israel would retaliate.
The missile attacks occurred between 2 and 2:30 a.m. local time. Residents of Haifa and Tel Aviv reported hearing several huge explosions shortly after air raid sirens were heard. The booms “sounded very frightening,” according to one person who spoke on Israel Radio.
The predawn ordeal shattered the euphoria that many Israelis had felt Thursday at the resounding success of the initial phase of the American and allied assault on Iraqi military installations.
Israeli politicians and military commanders, past and present, had been effusive with their praise Thursday for the execution of “Operation Desert Storm.” One former IDF chief of staff called it a major turning point in military history.
Prime Minister Shamir sent a message to President Bush, expressing his gratification and congratulations.
“Our hearts are with you and with your pilots,” the prime minister wrote.
In Tel Aviv, many ordinary Israelis were so elated by reports of the near-total destruction of the Iraqi air force that they ignored the advice of civil defense authorities to stay indoors and strolled out into the afternoon sunshine.
Many people waited patiently at bus stops, clutching gas masks in one hand and shopping bags in the other.
Hours later, the streets were empty.
(Contributing to this report were JTA correspondents Cathrine Gerson and Hugh Orgel in Tel Aviv, and David Landau in Jerusalem.)