Israelis, Palestinians Calm As U.S. and Allies Attack Iraq

Israelis and Palestinians alike reacted calmly this week to news of the allied air strike on southern Iraq.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres may have summed up the feeling of many Israelis when he told reporters in Paris on Wednesday that the Iraqis “got what they deserved.”

Israeli military sources said the raid by the United States and its allies “does not relate to us directly.”

Over and over again, official sources stressed that currently “this is not our war” and there was little chance that the conflict would escalate to include Israel.

U.S. and allied aircraft attacked surface-to-air missiles and other targets in southern Iraq on Wednesday in response to repeated violations of the cease-fire agreement that ended the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The raid, which reports said lasted about three hours, came after Iraq defied the Western warnings and sent workers into Kuwait to seize military gear left behind at the end of the war and to demolish warehouses remaining there.

In Washington, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said the allied attack would serve to impress upon Iraq that the West meant business when it warned Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to withdraw anti-aircraft missiles menacing allied aircraft patrolling a “no-fly zone” over southern Iraq.

Fitzwater said more attacks were possible.

In Israel, the calm contrasted starkly with painful memories of the toll taken by the last confrontation between Washington and Baghdad two years ago. During that conflict, Scud missiles were fired at Israel and Israelis donned gas masks in sealed rooms, under threat of chemical attack.

MISSILE ATTACK UNLIKELY

Sources said the likelihood Iraq would repeat its missile attacks on Israel was small, partly because its capability had been diminished by the Persian Gulf War and partly because Iraq had no interest in involving Israel at this time.

Sources in Jerusalem said Israeli policy-makers were in close touch with Washington over developments.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who also holds the defense portfolio, spent Wednesday evening in Tel Aviv as usual. And the Israel Defense Force chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Ehud Barak, was in the United States, where he was expected to have a scheduled meeting Thursday with Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Israelis, generally, showed little anxiety over reports of the raid.

Gas mask distribution stations handled their normal daily load of 300 gas mask replacements, as part of an ongoing national program to update equipment supplied during the Gulf War.

The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange showed some nervousness, with stocks going down 2 percent. But economists said the change was mostly due to speculators making good on profits.

On the other hand, the Palestinian street showed nothing of the euphoria which characterized it during the Gulf crisis.

The Palestinians’ apparent indifference was an indication of the lesson they had learned in losing the good will and aid of Arab states like Saudi Arabia by their support of Iraq’s Hussein.

It also reflected their preoccupation with the peace process and with the issue of the more than 400 Moslem fundamentalists expelled by Israel to Lebanon last month.

An indication of their change of heart came in a statement made this week by a top leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

On a visit to Saudi Arabia, Mahmoud Abbas, also called Abu Mazen, expressed public remorse over the open support given Hussein by the Palestinians.

“The results of the Gulf crisis have proved the Palestinians should have known not to stray into error and not to let the enemy take advantage of it,” he said.

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