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Israel Considers Retaliation, but Shamir Leaning Against It

January 24, 1991
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There was no clear word after Wednesday’s emergency Cabinet meeting about whether Israel had decided to retaliate for the Iraqi missiles hurled at the Tel Aviv area over the last week.

While some officials said there was no question Israel would retaliate eventually, observers here suggested Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir had decided to hold back for the moment.

Basking in unprecedented support in Israel for his handling of the crisis and enjoying high praise from the West, especially Washington, for Israel’s forbearance, the prime minister seemed inclined to give the policy of restraint — and the defensive capabilities of the U.S. Patriot missiles — another chance.

But should Shamir unleash the Israel Defense Force against Iraq, the move could have far reaching consequences for the Persian Gulf war and the newly cozy relationship between Jerusalem and Washington.

As evidence that Israel would defer military action for the moment, observers cited the announcement from Bonn on Wednesday afternoon that German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher would lead a special solidarity delegation to Israel on Thursday. (See story on Page 3.)

They surmised he would not have planned to come had he expected to find himself visiting a nation actively at war.

Shamir met with his top political and military advisers Wednesday after an early morning phone call from President Bush, who again expressed his “outrage” at Tuesday evening’s missile attack and extended his sympathies for the casualties.

The prime minister had another meeting with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger on Wednesday morning, followed by the Cabinet meeting.

Israel Radio said Eagleburger gave Shamir a message from Bush, but no details were released.

WANT TO DELIVER A ‘PAINFUL RESPONSE’

Political sources here gave no indication what the prime minister may have decided with respect to Israel’s military options in the wake of Tuesday night’s SCUD attack on Ramat Gan.

Shamir ordered Wednesday that no minister may speak out on the policy-making process save for himself, Defense Minister Moshe Arens and Foreign Minister David Levy. Officials said the decision was intended to ensure Israel speaks with one voice to its own public and to the world.

Earlier, Health Minister Ehud Olmert said in a radio interview that the Cabinet, like “every Israeli citizen who is healthy and normal, would like to deliver a painful response to Iraq, so that they cry out in pain.”

In more measured language, Deputy Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset that neither Israel’s right to respond, nor the “certainty” that it would do so, was in question. The question was when, where and how, he said.

That position seemed broadly supported in the Knesset and by the public.

Shamir received warm accolades from such staunch political opponents as Dedi Zucker and Shulamit Aloni of the Citizens Rights Movement. Zucker said the past five months had seen flawless crisis-management on the prime minister’s part.

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