JERUSALEM (Feb. 27)
American troops advancing into Iraq and Kuwait have discovered chemical-tipped Katyusha rockets, abandoned on the battlefield by retreating Iraqi troops, the Israel Defense Force chief of staff has disclosed.
The discovery of stockpiles of Katyusha rockets with chemical warheads means Israel cannot yet relax its guard against an unconventional weapons attack, Gen. Dan Shomron warned Wednesday night on Israeli television.
Shomron did not say in which country the weapons were found.
But he asserted that as far as he knew, the Baghdad government had ordered its field commanders to use the weapons if under attack. He could not explain why the commanders had so far failed to do so.
The chief of staff insisted that Israel maintain its high level of alert against chemical attack, even at this late stage of the Persian Gulf war.
Unlike Scud missiles, which have a range of several hundred miles, the Soviet-made Katyushas are a tactical short-range weapon small enough to be easily portable.
The Iraqis have launched 39 Scud missiles at Israel since Jan. 18, all with conventional high-explosive warheads. Nevertheless, Israelis were instructed to put on gas masks and take shelter in gas-proof, sealed rooms every time an air raid alert sounded.
The commander in chief of U.S. forces in the Gulf, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, said Wednesday that U.S. pilots had “a very successful day” Tuesday destroying Scud missile-launchers in western Iraq used to attack Israel.
THREAT DESTROYED FOR ‘YEARS TO COME’
But the Israeli daily Ma’ariv said Wednesday there is concern in Israel that the war might end before the missile problem is solved, in which case Israel may need to consider acting.
Shomron said, however, that the Scuds were a marginal element of the potential threat Israel faces from an “eastern front.”
The main threat has been the massive numbers of Iraqi tanks, artillery pieces and armored personnel carriers, the Israel Defense Force chief said, noting that these were being smashed by the U.S.-led coalition forces.
Shomron said that from Israel’s standpoint, the key strategic outcome of the war is that the Iraqi threat has been substantially reduced “for many years to come.”
Ma’ariv reported that almost all of Iraq’s nuclear, biological and chemical infrastructure has been destroyed.
According to the newspaper, advancing allied forces discovered in the last few days their success in arresting Iraq’s ability to produce unconventional weapons was greater than expected.
Shomron said in reply to questions that the quick collapse of the Iraqi army was attributable, above all, to the weeks of aerial bombardment.
Any army could lose its will to fight under those circumstances, when faced with inexorable defeat, he said.
Asked if the IDF had not overestimated the Iraqi army’s strength, Shomron said, “Just weeks ago, people were demanding an inquiry commission on why we underestimated the Iraqi strength.
“Apparently, we’ll need two commissions working in parallel,” the chief of staff quipped, acknowledging that his answer was cynical.