JERUSALEM (Jan. 31)
The flow of high-technology defense equipment from Germany began Thursday night, buoying the spirits of Israelis as they endured another Scud missile attack from Iraq.
More than 300 tons of equipment was to be air-lifted to Israel overnight, a German spokesman said. The materiel includes a sophisticated system that instantly detects and warns against a nuclear, biological or chemical attack.
In addition, Israel will be getting Patriot anti-missile batteries from Germany to supplement the U.S. Patriots deployed here earlier, and Hawk surface-to-air missiles.
The shipment is the first part of a defense package from Germany which local media reports say will approach $700 million. It is said to include German help in financing two new submarines for Israel’s navy, which the Defense Ministry ordered from a Kiel shipyard some years ago but was forced to cancel last year for budgetary reasons.
The defense package will be remitted to Israel as a grant, not a loan, which itself is a precedent.
The gift comes on top of $165 million in humanitarian aid Chancellor Helmut Kohl pledged last week to the Jewish state, which has sustained casualties and extensive damage from the missile attacks despite its non-combatant status in the Persian Gulf war.
There has been no formal defense supply pipeline from Germany to Israel until now, though an informal military supply relationship is said to have existed periodically over the years.
The situation changed following the visit to Jerusalem by German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher last week. His visit followed sharp criticism from Israel, Britain, the United States and other countries over revelations that German companies contributed significantly to Iraq’s ability to produce nonconventional weapons, in violation of Germany’s export regulations.
The Bonn government, in an official statement Tuesday, cited Germany’s special responsibility toward Israel’s defense. The opposition Social Democratic Party pledged its full support.
An Israeli delegation is presently in Germany discussing details of the defense package.
Meanwhile, the debate continues in Israel over whether the public should remain at home in gas-proof rooms during a missile alert or seek protection in bomb shelters.
Despite the impressive allied successes in destroying Iraqi Scud launchers, Israel believes it is still under active missile threat.
Although all of the Scuds fired at Israel to date have carried conventional high-explosive warheads, many here believe that as Saddam Hussein’s conventional strength is battered by allied air power, the danger that he will resort to chemical weapons has, if anything, increased.
For that reason, the government and the military still prefer gas-sealed rooms to underground bomb shelters. Many non-government experts, however, say the shelters are safest, at least until after the initial blast.
Meanwhile, Israeli defense officials, contrary to their previous skepticism, expressed full confidence Thursday in the latest U.S. claims of success against the Scud launchers.
Defense Ministry aide Danny Naveh confirmed to reporters that the Iraqi capacity to launch Scuds had been seriously diminished. The U.S. field commander, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, has claimed the elimination of 30 fixed and 33 mobile Scud launchers.
Nevertheless, Naveh and other officials warned against complacency. They insisted that Iraq retains the capability to lob missiles at Israel, though perhaps not in the same numbers as the early salvos.