TEL AVIV (Jan. 23)
Israelis, still reeling from a devastating missile attack in the Tel Aviv area Tuesday night, were sent back to their poison gas-proof “safe rooms” Wednesday, as Iraq fired another SCUD in Israel’s direction.
But this time when the all-clear sounded, Israelis had cause to rejoice: The SCUD had been shot down over northern Israel by a Patriot missile, operated by a joint U.S.-Israeli team.
The successful interception reversed the bitter disappointment some Israelis felt after the American-supplied Patriots, deployed in the Tel Aviv area since Saturday, failed to destroy the incoming missile Tuesday night.
That attack, which occurred in the township of Ramat Gan, just east of Tel Aviv, left 96 people injured and three dead, according to revised figures provided Wednesday by the Israel Defense Force.
One fatality was attributed to a direct hit next to a three-story residential building. The other two died of heart failure during the attack.
Only 11 of the injured remained in hospitals Wednesday afternoon. Others, treated mainly for broken limbs, cuts and bruises, were sent home.
One building was destroyed on impact. Twenty sustained varying degrees of damage. Some are reparable, but others will have to be torn down.
Hundreds of rescue workers, including personnel specially trained to find people buried under debris, toiled through the night Tuesday removing rubble, aided by “sniffer dogs,” in their search for trapped persons.
CIVIL DEFENSE ORDERS QUESTIONED
Wednesday’s missile strike occurred shortly after 10 p.m., when air raid sirens sounded throughout Israel. Sirens also sounded in Saudi Arabia, where a SCUD missile was shot down by a Patriot battery.
Residents in northern Israel saw two speeding lights in the sky approaching each other at great speed and then meeting with an explosion, as the Patriot struck the SCUD.
There were no casualties and only a few windows broken. Police and defense officials were seen searching the area, which was not immediately identified, for fragments of the missiles as they fell to the ground.
Both that SCUD and the one fired toward Saudi Arabia on Wednesday were fitted with conventional, high-explosive warheads, like all the other Iraqi missiles that have been fired since the U.S.-led bombardment of Iraq began last week.
None of the missiles has been armed with chemical warheads, and Israelis are beginning to express doubt now that Saddam Hussein has that capability.
Complaints are mounting from the public that the civil defense authorities are making a mistake by ordering civilians to stay at home in rooms protected against poison gas instead of in fortified underground bomb shelters.
Although the civilian casualties might have been reduced or avoided if people had taken to bomb shelters as soon as the air raid alert was sounded Tuesday night, the IDF has not revised its instructions.
Brig. Gen. Nachman Shai, the IDF spokesman, said the possibility of a poison gas attack had not been ruled out. A gas attack would have more devastating consequences in terms of civilian casualties than conventional warheads, he said.
As long as there is no clear confirmation that Saddam Hussein’s missiles cannot carry chemical warheads, the present instructions will not be changed, Shai said.
AMERICANS OVERWHELMED BY HOSPITALITY
But the mass-circulation Yediot Achronot reported Wednesday that even military sources are questioning the validity of those instructions. The newspaper quoted “a very senior officer” as saying the public should be sent to bomb shelters in an air raid alert.
“It is time that someone in the defense establishment admits a mistake and stops endangering the population,” the officer was quoted as saying.
The IDF is conducting an investigation into why the Patriot missiles failed to destroy the incoming missile Tuesday night. Unlike in Wednesday’s operation, the Patriots reportedly were operated solely by Israeli personnel.
Defense Minister Moshe Arens told a Cable News Network interviewer that the Patriot missile fired at the incoming SCUD on Tuesday night may not have registered a “miss” but a “near miss.”
According to Arens, the SCUD’s propulsion mechanism was knocked out, sending the warhead plunging to the ground.
The success of the Patriot strike Wednesday was reassuring to Israelis, many of whom had viewed the arrival of the anti-missile batteries as their only salvation against the Iraqi SCUDs.
The American soldiers, men and women, operating the Patriot batteries are being overwhelmed with Israeli hospitality. They have been showered with cakes and other homemade treats, and have received countless invitations from Israeli families wanting to entertain them at home.