Israel Steps Up Preparations for Gulf War
Washington Post - Sunday, December 22, 2002; 8:14 AM
By Gwen Ackerman
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel has stepped up preparations for a possible U.S. war against Iraq, scheduling joint exercises with U.S. forces and gas mask lessons for schoolchildren, Israeli officials said on Sunday.
Israeli media reported Israel would go on high alert from January 15 in anticipation that hostilities would erupt in the Gulf some time between January 27 and February 26.
The Defense Ministry would not confirm the date, but said Israeli security forces have been preparing for a possible Iraqi attack.
Israel is concerned that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein will respond to any U.S. strike by launching missiles armed with chemical or biological warheads against the Jewish state which has been fighting a Palestinian uprising since September 2000.
Some 1,000 U.S. troops are expected in Israel this week for an exercise involving U.S.-made Patriot missiles, which were largely ineffective in intercepting the 39 Scud missiles that Iraq fired at the Jewish state in the 1991 Gulf War.
The Patriot has since been upgraded and Israel has developed and deployed the Arrow anti-missile system, designed to intercept Scuds at a higher altitude.
Asked about the U.S.-Israeli military exercise, Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said it was being held "in preparation of any possibility of war."
Ronit Tirosh, director general of the Education Ministry, told Israel Radio that teachers had been instructed by soldiers on how to handle a possible missile attack during school hours and undergone training to help anxious children.
"The next stage, which will start in about a week, will be to train the youth and children on how to use gas masks and to instruct them what should be done at each stage," she said.
NETANYAHU SAYS ISRAEL "SADDAM'S TARGET OF CHOICE"
Washington indicated on Saturday that a ground and air war to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was possible in early 2003 and the U.S. military forged ahead with a buildup that could have more than 100,000 troops in the Gulf in weeks.
"It looks like the probability is getting more certain with each passing day," Israeli Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Britain's Sky Television, adding that Israel was "most likely to be Saddam's preferred target of choice."
Israel is scheduled to hold a general election on January 28, but Gissin said it would take "extreme circumstances" for the vote to be postponed.
The Scud missile attacks in 1991 caused one Israeli death and damage in residential areas. Israel did not retaliate for those attacks, citing pressure from Washington to avoid action that could shake a U.S.-led coalition against Iraq.
Israeli leaders have said Israel intended to stay out of any hostilities in the current Gulf crisis but would feel free to retaliate if Iraq used non-conventional weapons against the Jewish state and caused casualties.
The mass circulation daily Yedioth Ahronot published two pages on Sunday explaining how to put on and use gas mask kits and when to use a syringe with an anti-nerve gas antibody.
The kits do not contain a smallpox vaccine, although Israel and the United States fear Baghdad has developed the disease as a weapon.
Israel has already inoculated 15,000 emergency workers with the smallpox vaccine and former military medical chief Arieh Eldad said on Sunday it should immediately start vaccinating the general population. ((Reporting by Gwen Ackerman, gwen.ackerman.reuters.comreuter.net, +972-2-5370502)