TEL AVIV (Jan. 21)
An Israel Defense Force spokesman warned Israelis on Monday that they still face the threat of SCUD missile attacks by Iraq, including the possibility they will be armed with chemical warheads.
Brig. Gen. Nachman Shai’s remark at a news briefing that “most of the missile launchers” were still “alive” appeared to contradict earlier statements by American and other sources that all but about four Iraqis missile batteries have been destroyed.
“Maybe those figures related to other sectors,” Shai said, but would not reveal the source of his own information.
He said the live SCUD sites were located in western Iraq, close to the Jordanian border and nearest to Israel.
In Washington, Lt. Gen. Thomas Kelly, chief of operations for the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged that not all of the SCUD missile launchers had been destroyed.
“A great deal of damage has been done to the fixed sites,” he said, but it is possible that some mobile launchers still exist.
“We don’t know exactly how many missiles” Iraq had before the war, nor how many it has now, Kelly said.
In Jerusalem, the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee was told that one-third of American and allied air power was being used now to eliminate the SCUD threat.
The IDF spokesman said Israel had to take into consideration that Iraq has a strong motivation to attack it. Apart from trying to drag Israel into the war in an attempt to detach the Arab states from the U.S.-led coalition, the attacks on Israel could be designed to boost the morale of Iraqi forces, Shai said.
“We believe that the Iraqi capability to launch missiles against Israel is still a threat, and this dictates all our operations,” the IDF spokesman stressed. The threat from Iraq includes aircraft as well as missiles, he said.
AN ATTEMPT TO RESTORE NORMALCY
Nevertheless, every effort is being made to restore as much normalcy as possible to large sections of the country, Shai said.
The gloomy assessment by the IDF spokesman deflated public confidence, which had soared with the arrival of fully manned Patriot anti-missile missiles over the weekend.
The IDF was at pains to impress upon the public that despite their success Sunday night against SCUD missiles in Riyadh and Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, the Patriots could not provide Israel with hermetically sealed protection.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, touring damaged areas of Tel Aviv, said he wanted to get the country’s economy back to normal as quickly as possible.
Asked about reports that the U.S. aircraft carrier Forrestal was being sent to the Eastern Mediterranean “to help protect Israel,” IDF spokesman Shai said Israel had neither requested nor been informed of such a ship movement.