JERUSALEM (Jan. 27)
Israel is believed to be pressing the United States to allow the Israel Defense Force to take over the task of trying to knock out the remaining Scud missile launchers in western Iraq.
But until it receives a positive response from the United States, the Israeli government apparently will continue with its policy of exercising military restraint.
That appeared to be the consensus reached at Sunday’s weekly Cabinet meeting, which was reported to have made no new decisions on an Israeli military response.
Nevertheless, the ongoing Scud attacks on Tel Aviv and Haifa and the growing trepidation about the possibility Iraq will use chemical or biological weapons against Israel have put tremendous pressure on the government to take action.
Fears that Saddam Hussein might resort to such lethal weapons were heightened over the weekend by renewed threats on Baghdad radio, as well as the Iraqi oil spill in the Persian Gulf, which seemed to confirm Hussein’s ruthlessness and his determination to implement his various threats.
While Israeli officials continue to be pleased at the pounding allied bombers are giving Iraqi military installations, they have been at pains to continue finding positive things to say about the ongoing coalition effort to smash the Scud missile launchers in western Iraq, which are the staging grounds for the attacks on Israel.
One leading military commentator, Ron Ben-Yishai, writing in the mass-circulation daily Yediot Achronot, even urged the Americans to consider dropping a nuclear device on western Iraq to prevent further Iraqi attacks.
‘WE COULD MAKE A CONTRIBUTION’
Defense Minister Moshe Arens said Sunday that while the United States is “working very hard” to knock out the Scud launchers, success so far has been “less than complete.”
“We think that we could make a contribution to neutralizing that threat,” he said in an appearance on the ABC-TV program “This Week With David Brinkley.”
But he stressed that the Israeli air force would not undertake such action before reaching an understanding with the United States.
If the Israeli air force did become involved in bombing missile launch sites in western Iraq, it would allow the United States and its coalition allies to concentrate on the other aspects of the war to force Iraq out of Kuwait.
Arens said that in the first 11 days of the Persian Gulf war, Iraq had fired 27 missiles at Israel, of which six had hit the Jewish state. He said Israel believed there were 20 to 30 missile launchers still operating in Iraq, with potentially hundreds of missiles at their disposal.
“The government’s position is that we would like to put an end to the missile threat,” the defense minister said. He added that this was a separate issue from whether Israel would retaliate for the attacks that already have taken place.
Both Arens and Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, who was interviewed on NBC-TV’s “Meet the Press,” said that although the Scud missiles that had been fired on Israel and Saudi Arabia contained conventional weapons, there was still a threat that Iraq could fire missiles with chemical warheads.
Asked what would happen if Iraq used its air force to try to attack Israel with chemical weapons, Arens replied that was a threat Israel could handle more easily than the missiles.
The Likud minister contended that the current situation Israel faces proves Israel was correct in rejecting proposals that it trade land for peace.
U.S. PRESSURE AFTER WAR ‘UNLIKELY’
“Just imagine for a moment that we had followed that advice and that we had left the West Bank and would now find Saddam Hussein with his army and air force and maybe his missiles in the West Bank,” Arens said.
In that context, Arens said he did not expect Washington to press Israel, once Iraq is defeated, to take steps for a settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict that Israel now rejects.
“I think it is not likely that after the crisis is over that pressure will be put on Israel to do things that are against our best interest,” he said.
“I do believe that this Gulf crisis has revealed to all the very dangerous environment under which Israel has to live in the Middle East and the risks we have to take facing hostile Arab neighbors that have very large armies. I think that lesson will not be forgotten so soon.”
(JTA correspondent David Friedman in Washington contributed to this report.)