JERUSALEM (Feb. 21)
Ariel Sharon, dissenting angrily from the government’s policy of restraint, has publicly called for Israel to strike at Scud missile launchers in western Iraq, with or without U.S. cooperation.
Israel’s failure to respond to the continuing missile threat injures its credibility and will weaken rather than strengthen its position in future diplomatic talks, Sharon declared Wednesday, in his first television interview on the subject since the Scud attacks began last month.
The former defense minister, Yom Kippur War hero and outspoken hawk has frequently criticized policies of the Likud government, which he now serves as minister of construction and housing.
For the United States, he argued, the Scud launchers aimed at Israel from western Iraq are only a tiny, almost irrelevant factor in its war on Iraq.
But for Israel, they pose major questions of credibility and defensive strategy, with repercussions for the future, he said.
The United States should act to eliminate the threat, Sharon declared. Failing that, the United States and Israel should “share the day between them,” each country hitting the missile sites at specified times.
And failing that, Israel should act alone, Sharon said. He said he did not believe Syria would become involved if Israel acted. Nor was Jordanian involvement inevitable, and in any event, it could be contained.
Israeli involvement no longer poses a genuine danger to the U.S.-led coalition, he added.
Sharon said that Israel’s intelligence services had warned of likely missile strikes by Iraq before the Gulf war started.
The question of what the intelligence agencies did or did not know about Iraq’s missile strength before the war has suddenly flared into controversy.
Doubts previously articulated only in private surfaced after Defense Minister Moshe Arens’ remark Tuesday to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the performance of the intelligence services would be subject to review after the war was leaked to the media.
Yossi Sarid of the opposition Citizens Rights Movement, a veteran member of the Knesset panel, said the intelligence agencies had known virtually nothing about Iraq’s missile capabilities. He said a review should concentrate on why “good people gave bad assessments.”