U.S. Attack on Iraq is Welcomed, Seen As Little Threat to Israel

Israeli officials here said they did not think the U.S. missile attack on Baghdad over the weekend would escalate into a broader conflict that would involve Israel in hostilities.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said he received a personal telephone call from President Clinton on Saturday informing him in advance about the attack, and he discussed the situation with his ministers at Sunday’s weekly Cabinet meeting.

Israelis were eager for information about the attack, remembering how Iraq had fired Scud missiles at Israeli cities during the Persian Gulf War.

But the general perception here was that Iraq would not respond in that way again.

Clinton described the American attack, which took place early Sunday, Baghdad time, as a reaction to a foiled Iraqi plot to assassinate former U.S. President George Bush when he visited Kuwait in April.

Clinton said there was “compelling evidence” that the plot was directed by the Iraqi intelligence service.

The president claimed the attack, in which American warships fired 23 cruise missiles at Iraq’s intelligence headquarters in downtown Baghdad, was a success.

The missiles destroyed part of the complex, but also killed several civilians when three missiles strayed and hit nearby residential areas.

“It is clear that it was a success,” Clinton said. He did, though, express regret about the civilian casualties.

Vice President Al Gore said the U.S. attack sent Iraq the message that “this kind of activity that Iraq initiated is simply unacceptable.”

OPPOSITION FROM ARAB STATES

Some Israeli observers also saw the attack as a warning to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein not to take armed action against the Kurds.

Recent reports from Iraq spoke of large ground forces massing in the north, apparently in preparation for an invasion of the Kurdish region, which is under U.N. protection.

Clinton received support for the attack from his Western allies, such as Britain, Italy and Germany, and also from Russia.

Israeli Economic Development Minister Shimon Shetreet told reporters here Sunday that Iraq had “broken the rules” by targeting an individual leader such as Bush.

In New York, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations issued a statement Sunday backing the bombing as “an important response to terrorism.”

“The bombing of Iraqi intelligence head-quarters in Baghdad is a warning from America that international terrorism will be countered by forceful means and that the American people will neither abide nor accept attacks against ordinary citizens or their leaders,” the umbrella group of 50 national Jewish organizations said.

By contrast, Arab countries, including Egypt, for the most part condemned the U.S. attack and accused Washington of applying a double standard in the Middle East.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Amre Moussa said he hoped “U.S. policy positions will be as firm toward the crimes the Serbs of Bosnia-Herzegovina are committing in violation of legitimacy and all international charters.”

Only Kuwait, alone among the Arab states, publicly supported the American action. Kuwait said the attack was the “natural result” of Iraq’s resorting to terrorism.

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