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U.S. to Israel: Keep mum on Iraq

Residents of a Tel Aviv suburb wait out an Iraqi scud attack in their sealed room wearing gas masks during the Gulf War. (GPO)

Residents of a Tel Aviv suburb wait out an Iraqi scud attack in their sealed room wearing gas masks during the Gulf War. (GPO)

JERUSALEM, Oct. 6 (JTA) — Reacting to U.S. pressure, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon this week asked his Cabinet ministers to stop making public comments about a possible U.S. strike on Iraq. Speaking at the weekly Cabinet meeting, Sharon said such comments impeded U.S. planning and that Washington has requested several times that the comments be toned down. In the run-up to a possible U.S. action against Iraq, such remarks don’t help the United States and don’t help Israel, said Sharon, who is slated to meet with President Bush in Washington on Oct. 16. He is expected to be briefed by U.S. officials regarding Iraq at that time. Sharon’s remarks to the Cabinet follow recent statements by high-level Israeli officials about the possibility of an American military action against Baghdad and about Israel’s readiness, both defensively and offensively, for a possible Iraqi counterstrike on Israel. Among those making such comments was Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, who told Labor Party ministers last week that he believes the United States will attack Iraq in late November. Senior Israeli officials who held talks in Washington last week were also asked by the Bush administration to keep a lower profile regarding a possible U.S. strike on Iraq. While pressing Israel to put a lid on public comments about Iraq, U.S. officials have reportedly promised close coordination with Israel regarding any future action. The Israeli daily Yediot Achronot reported Sunday that Israel would receive 72-hours advance notice of an American attack. The paper also said a hotline would operate between the White House and the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem and that the United States would airlift military equipment to Israel. In another development, the head of Israeli military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Aharon Ze’evi, said in a television interview over the weekend that Iraq is not currently believed to have missiles pointed at Israel. While Ze’evi said Iraq might attempt to deliver chemical or biological weapons by airplane, the distance involved and Israel’s defensive capabilities made such an operation’s chances of success slight. When the United States launched Operation Desert Storm against Iraq in 1991, Iraq fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel. Despite fears at the time that the Iraqis would use chemical or biological warfare, all the missiles had conventional warheads. On Sunday, a Knesset committee approved more funds to purchase additional gas masks for Israelis. The approval came as Israeli legislators said there were serious flaws in the nation’s readiness for a possible Iraqi attack, including a lack of equipment for rescue teams. □

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