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For Israelis, Iraq strikes conjure up unpleasant memories

JERUSALEM, Feb. 20 (JTA) — Israelis could be forgiven if they experienced some deja vu this week.

A decade after the Persian Gulf War, when Iraq hit the Jewish state with Scuds, Israeli security officials said they were monitoring Iraq following last Friday’s U.S. and British air strikes outside Baghdad, in which two civilians were reportedly killed.

The attacks ordered by President Bush were not the only actions this week reminiscent of the tensions of 10 years ago.

The United States and Israel held military exercises for five days in southern Israel, where they tested Patriot anti-missile missiles. Such missiles were used during the Gulf War against Iraqi Scuds fired at Israel.

Sources in Israel’s Defense Ministry said the exercise was scheduled months ago, and had nothing to do with last Friday’s air strikes on Iraq.

Iraq has blamed Israel for the strikes, and there were street demonstrations in Baghdad in which Iraqis called on President Saddam Hussein to retaliate against Tel Aviv. The calls were echoed in the Palestinian Authority-run areas.

Saddam has gone to great lengths in recent months to establish himself as the champion of the Palestinian uprising against Israel, moving armed forces to the border with Syria and threatening to lead a war of annihilation against Israel. Despite Iraq’s own dire economic situation, Saddam even is sending money to subsidize Palestinian families whose sons are killed fighting Israel.

Several divisions of Iraqi volunteers also are ready to fight for the Palestinian cause, according to The New York Times.

Not surprisingly, some Israelis lined up Monday for new gas masks.

During the 1991 war, residents of the Jewish state, wearing masks to protect themselves against possible biological and chemical weapons attacks, huddled in shelters as Iraq rained missiles on Israel in retaliation for U.S.- led attacks. At American urging, Israel did not respond to the attacks.

Meanwhile, the Israel Defense Force’s chief of staff warned this week against getting into a war of words with Iraq that could heighten tensions after the air raids.

“We must be very restrained. We don’t have any desire to reach an escalation or a war or deterioration,” Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz said Tuesday after briefing a Knesset committee.

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