JERUSALEM (Feb. 19)
President Bush’s initial negative response to a Soviet plan to end the Persian Gulf war has generated waves of relief in Israel.
But it also has raised fears of the shortterm consequences should a desperate Iraq, facing an imminent allied ground offensive, conclude it has nothing to lose and launch a chemical attack on Israel.
The U.S. president, about to meet with congressional leaders in Washington on Tuesday, told reporters that the secret plan proposed to Iraq by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev fell far short of U.S. requirements to end the conflict and that he was “not going to give.”
Those remarks, while not a total rejection, satisfied Israelis that Bush shares their conviction that Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to emerge from the war with his regime in place and his military machine intact. That stance is good for Israel in the long term.
But a more immediate cause for concern is the considered judgment of the Israel Defense Force that Iraq may still have the ability to mount chemical or biological warheads on its Scud missiles, despite the aerial pounding it has taken for more than a month.
Moreover, the belief here is that when the ground offensive begins, Saddam Hussein will unleash whatever non-conventional weapons he has, not only against U.S.-led coalition forces but at civilian targets in Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Neither Washington nor Moscow has disclosed the nature of Gorbachev’s peace plan, which does not satisfy Bush.
SOVIETS DEPLORE IRAQI ATTACKS
The German news magazine Bild published what a Soviet spokesman indicated was a fair approximation.
According to Bild, the main points are that Iraq should withdraw from Kuwait without conditions; the Soviet Union would guarantee Iraq’s state structure and borders; the Soviet Union would oppose any sanctions against Iraq or personal punishment of Hussein; and all further issues, including the Palestinian problem, would be discussed in due course.
An interesting sidelight was an interview broadcast Tuesday with Robert Markurian, an aide to Soviet Middle East troubleshooter Yevgeny Primakov.
Markurian, one of the officials present at Gorbachev’s meeting Monday with Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, said the Soviet side made clear its “negative attitude” toward launching missiles at Israel and warned Iraq that the war could not end until that stopped.
Furthermore, the Soviets stressed that one condition for ending the war had to be “ensuring Israel’s security,” Markurian added.
He said Primakov spoke in a similar vein at his meeting with Saddam Hussein in Baghdad last week, which Markurian also attended.