JERUSALEM (Aug. 30)
While Israeli experts think the chances of an imminent attack by Iraq are minimal, they nevertheless continue to be concerned about the country’s considerable military strength.
According to figures quoted here, the Iraqi army still boasts 28 divisions, 2,000 tanks and 400 fighter planes, despite the battering it suffered by Western forces last year during the Persian Gulf War.
And it is believed that Iraq still possesses about 200 Scud missiles and an unspecified number of missile launchers. However, only some of the 200 missile are of the Al-Hussein type, the only ones with a range capable of reaching Israel.
Experts here also point out that only part of the Iraqi nuclear weapons development program has been uncovered and destroyed, leaving questions about hidden materiel not unearthed or destroyed by U.N. investigators.
Israeli experts addressed the issue after the United States and its European allies put in place a “no-fly zone” in southern Iraq, demanding that Saddam Hussein cease all aircraft flights there.
The allies’ aim is to prevent Iraqi air attacks on the rebellious Shi’ite population in that country’s southern region.
Knowledgeable Israeli sources underscore that it is unlikely Saddam Hussein would attack Israel in retaliation for the allies’ moves, noting that he has not made any such threats, as he did preceding the Gulf War.
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said last week that there is a “very low” probability that Iraq would retaliate against new allied moves by attacking Israel.
Israel’s former air force commander, reserve Maj. Gen. Avihu Bin-Nun; told army radio last week that the military significance of the allies’ ultimatum to Saddam Hussein is quite limited.
He believes Hussein will refrain from engaging in a confrontation with the allies and suggested the Iraqi leader would not even resort to using his anti-air guns against the allies.
“The ups and downs in the tension in Iraq will continue as long as Saddam Hussein is in power, but it will have little to do with us,” said Bin-Nun.
He said Hussein currently has no interest in involving Israel in the crisis.
But it was underscored that should Hussein change his mind and attack, Israel would not hesitate this time to react accordingly, and it would not have any technical problem reaching “any place in Iraq,” said Bin-Nun.