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Israel's embassies, consulates on 'full alert'

From Kelly Wallace and Avivit Dalgoshen

Israelis with gas mask kits wait Wednesday at the airport in Tel Aviv, as many people rushed to book flights abroad in anticipation of a U.S.-led war with Iraq.

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TEL AVIV, Israel (CNN) -- Israeli embassies, consulates and Jewish community centers around the globe have been placed on the highest state of alert after the United States began its war with Iraq early Thursday morning, a senior Israeli official told CNN.

Israeli Foreign Minister Sylvan Shalom will conduct a video conference with Israeli ambassadors in the United States, Britain, France and Germany to urge them to be on "full alert" for security around Israeli embassies and Jewish community centers, the official said.

There has been no official change in alert status within Israel, an Israeli military spokesman said.

But the Israel Defense Forces opened radio frequencies to broadcast emergency messages if it becomes necessary.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell called Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon 90 minutes before the start of the U.S. strikes on Iraq, said a senior Israeli official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Israel expected to get some advanced notice of the start of the American military operation. A senior Israeli official said Tuesday the expectation was that Israel would learn "only hours before."

There were no plans to close schools in Israel, according to Education Minister Limor Livnat, who spoke on Israeli television.

Livnat reminded teachers they are required to attend and said teachers and students should bring their gas mask kits to school.

On Wednesday, hours before the start of the U.S.-led campaign, the Israeli military instructed citizens to begin carrying their gas masks with them at all times starting Thursday.

"This war is not our war," said Livnat. "As a mother, not just as a minister, send your kids to school. It's the right thing to do."

Livnat repeated comments from Sharon that there was a "1 percent" chance that Israel was in danger of being hit by Iraq.

As of 8:30 a.m. (1:30 a.m. ET), the Israeli government had not formally commented on the U.S. operation.

The United States has taken unprecedented steps to keep Israel out of a conflict, including allowing Israel to have access to classified Pentagon information during the military attack.

A senior White House official said the administration was optimistic Iraq would not pull Israel into the war. Such an event could dramatically complicate the politics of the conflict across the Middle East. (Full story)

Israeli officials have also said the first 48 hours of a full military attack would be most critical when it comes to Israel's security.

They believe that is the time it would take U.S. forces to gain control of western Iraq, where Saddam Hussein's missiles are believed to be within range of Israel.

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