Iraq standoff builds tension in Israel
November 16, 1997
Web posted at: 11:49 p.m. EST (0449 GMT)
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- On the faces of Israelis, the tension has
been building visibly in recent days. Despite Israeli
intelligence assessments that Iraq is not planning to attack
Israel again, there is reportedly a three-fold increase in
the number of people obtaining gas masks.
Six years ago, during the Persian Gulf War, Iraq fired 39
ballistic missiles at Israel. But Defense Minister Yitzhak
Mordechai told CNN that Israel believes Iraq's ability to
strike here again is greatly reduced.
"We think that they have just a few ballistic missiles, and
they have just a few launchers in the area," Mordechai said.
"I don't think it is too dangerous, like it was during the
During the war, Israel, at the request of the United States,
did not retaliate against Iraq. The Americans wanted Israel
to keep out of the conflict in order to keep together its
international coalition, which included Arab states.
On Friday, Deputy Defense Minister Silvan Shalom said that
this time around, Israel would react if attacked.
An Israeli newspaper reported Sunday that U.S. Secretary of
State Madeleine Albright has personally asked Israeli Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to "sit tight" and stay out of
any new conflict.
But the public mood in Israel is much different now. Few
people here think that Israel will again allow itself to be
attacked and not strike back.
Analysts say that if Iraqi President Saddam Hussein brings
his remaining missiles out of hiding, Israel will attack
before they can be launched.
"This time, the Americans will not stop us. They have no
reason to stop us," said Ron Ben Yishai, an Israeli military
analyst. "The coalition hardly exists anyway. So if Israel
will react, there would be no reason for the Americans to
tell us, 'Don't react.'"
Officially, though, Israel seems to be taking its cues from
the United States.
Netanyahu, appearing Sunday on Fox News in the United States,
said the Israelis "fully stand behind the president and the
United States. ... He's the leader of the free and
Some now believe that the greatest potential Iraqi threat is
a lone kamikaze pilot racing to fly over Tel Aviv or Haifa
spraying biological or chemical weapons.
But few here believe Saddam Hussein wants to risk a massive
Israeli counterattack. Israeli analysts believe the Iraqi
leader's goal this time is more political than military. If
true, that would mean that attacking Israel would be
"His main goal now, or his only goal now, is to take the U.N.
off his back," said Ben Yishai. "Attacking Israel will serve
the Americans better than anything else, proving that he is a
danger to his neighbors."
Jerusalem Bureau Chief Walter Rodgers contributed to this