TEL AVIV (Jun. 22)
Israeli and American officials reacted sharply to a charge by the Israeli air force’s former commanding officer that the United States did not try to prevent Iraqi Scud missile attacks on Israel during last year’s Persian Gulf War.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir denounced the accusation by reserve Maj. Gen. Avihu Bin-Nun, who commanded the air force during the war. It was unwarranted and he should not have made it, Shamir said Sunday.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel William Harrop said, “I can’t understand how someone who was as closely involved with the events as he was could say such things.”
In Washington, the Pentagon issued an angry rebuttal.
And in Israel, Defense Ministry spokesman Danny Naveh dissociated the ministry from Bin-Nun’s remarks.
“We have no doubt that the Americans made pretty much every effort to destroy the Scuds,” he said.
The Defense Ministry issued a lengthy statement expressing appreciation for U.S. efforts to destroy the Scud missile launchers.
Bin-Nun made his allegation in an address to a forum of systems analysts in Tel Aviv last Thursday. “It’s not that the U.S. military failed to stop Iraqi Scud launchings against Israel; they never tried.
“I know that this is a very harsh accusation, but I stand firmly behind it,” the general said.
‘UNFAIR AND UNSUBSTANTIATED’
He was quoted as telling reporters after his speech, which was delivered on the occasion of Air Force Day, that “the key question is: Did the Americans try to stop the Scud launchings against Israel and Saudi Arabia? It’s not that they didn’t succeed. They didn’t try.”
Later, Bin-Nun stressed that his remarks were made at a closed meeting and complained that he was misquoted by the press.
He was quoted as saying that only a very small proportion of U.S. air sorties during the Gulf War were aimed at destroying Scud missile launchers. He said the United States failed to use attack helicopters for that purpose.
He also charged that the few attacks made by U.S. aircraft on the Scud launching sites had the purpose of deterring the Israeli air force from doing the job itself.
A ranking Israel Defense Force officer called Bin-Nun’s remarks “unfair and unsubstantiated” and said they “mislead the public.”
The senior officer said the United States “assisted in lifting a dangerous threat against Israel and is still working with the United Nations to eliminate Iraq’s remaining unconventional power.”
A Pentagon spokesman said U.S. Air Force attacks on Scud launching sites were far more numerous than credited by Bin-Nun and were a part of the overall air war against the forces of Saddam Hussein.
The Pentagon acknowledged that helicopters were not employed fully in those raids because of the distances involved and lack of refueling bases enroute.
The Israeli Defense Ministry issued a statement Sunday saying that “during the Gulf War there existed a direct and frequent link between the Israel Defense Ministry and the Pentagon, particularly between U.S. Defense Secretary Richard Cheney and Defense Minister Moshe Arens.
“Israel appreciates the efforts invested by the United States during the course of the Gulf War, to destroy the Scud launchers in western Iraq and to prevent the danger of a missile strike against Israel. U.S. activity against Iraq demonstrates the shared strategic interests between Israel and the United States,” the statement said.
A total of 39 Scud missiles struck Israel during the war, causing extensive property damage but no serious casualties.