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As Iraq Flexes Its Military Muscles, Israeli Officials Downplay Any Threat

Israeli military and political leaders are downplaying any threat to Israel following Iraq’s troop movements near the Kuwaiti border over the weekend.

Confronted with what looked like a repetition of Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, Israeli intelligence officials said they were monitoring the situation, but did not believe Hussein would repeat the Scud attacks on Israel that he carried out during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Lt. Gen. Ehud Barak, chief of staff of the Israel Defense Force, briefed the Cabinet on Sunday about the latest Iraqi moves, but said Israel did not need to take special protective measures to ward off an Iraqi attack.

Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin also said he thought there was no direct danger to Israel.

But, he cautioned, “in view of what happened in 1990, we cannot be too complacent, and must keep a keen eye on what is happening in Iraq.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, visiting Israel for his latest round of Middle East shuttle diplomacy, told reporters the United States would provide “prudent” help for Israel if the Iraqi situation required it.

During the 1991 Gulf War, the United States sent anti-Scud Patriot missile batteries to Israel, which was the target of repeated Iraqi Scud missile attacks.

Israelis at the time donned gas masks and hunkered down in sealed rooms, fearing that Hussein would make good on threats to use chemical weapons against the Jewish state.

But the Scud missiles were instead equipped with conventional warheads that killed two Israelis and caused extensive property damage.

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