Israel Steps Up Preparations for Possible Attacks from Iraq

Israel is accelerating civil defense preparations for possible Iraqi retaliation to a U.S. strike on Iraq.

Amid assessments that a U.S. military strike might be launched in February, the Israeli military and other relevant authorities have been instructed to complete their preparations by the middle of January.

As part of the preparations, the army is planning to distribute instruction booklets to Israelis in the coming weeks, Israel Radio reported Sunday.

Preparedness exercises are also being held by security forces, rescue personnel and schools.

Some 1,000 American troops with Patriot missiles were due in Israel this week to take part in a joint exercise with the army. The U.S. forces were to remain in the country in the event of a war with Iraq, the report said.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said U.S. officials do not want Israel to be part of any attack on Iraq.

Mofaz, who met with administration officials in Washington last week, said the White House has promised to assist Israel if it is attacked by Iraq in response to an American-led attack on Baghdad. He also said Israel is better prepared to thwart an Iraqi attack than it was during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Speaking at Sunday’s weekly Cabinet meeting, Mofaz said he came away from his talks in Washington with the impression that the United States is determined to pursue its campaign against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

At a Pentagon briefing last week, U.S. intelligence officials were quoted as saying that in a U.S.-led war, Saddam might use chemical and biological weapons against Israel and Kuwait.

Israeli academic and military experts disagree over Saddam’s ability to carry out a nonconventional attack against Israel.

But they agree there is a chance he might try.

While observers have noted that the likelihood of a non-conventional Iraqi missile attack is significantly lower since the 1991 Gulf War, there are nonetheless concerns that Iraq may send airplanes loaded with biological or chemical weapons on suicide missions to Israel.

The concerns come nearly 11 years after the start of Operation Desert Storm, when Iraq fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel.

Despite fears at the time that the Iraqis were using chemical or biological warfare, all the missiles had conventional warheads.

As part of current preparations for a possible nonconventional attack, some 6,000 Israelis are expected to be vaccinated against smallpox soon.

A program to inoculate 15,000 Israeli heath care, emergency and security personnel has already been implemented.

Meanwhile, Israeli military and emergency officials have been conducting exercises to test preparedness. The Education Ministry has plans to hold drills in schools and instruct students how to put on gas masks.

Despite the continuing preparations, officials have not reported a large surge in the number of Israelis seeking to update their gas mask kits. Army officials had anticipated a large increase in response to recent U.S. preparations for a military strike.

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