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>Israel Faxx
>JN Feb. 4, 1998, Vol. 6, No. 21

Israeli Leaders Address Saddam Threat

By Mark Lavie (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israeli officials have reassured their people that the country is well-equipped to deal with a potential chemical or biological weapons attack from Iraq. But many Israelis are still concerned.

The government changed its policy and began explaining the various aspects of the Iraq crisis to its people Tuesday. Up to now, the Israeli leadership has kept a low profile on the matter, following advice by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to keep its rhetoric about Iraq under control to avoid inflaming the situation even more.

But nervous Israelis clamored for official information as thousands lined up at government distribution points to wait hours to exchange their old gas masks for new ones. The gas masks were first distributed before the 1991 Gulf war.

When Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel the government ordered Israelis to put on their gas masks and retreat into rooms sealed off by nylon sheets and plastic tape. None of the Iraqi missiles had chemical or biological warheads, but Israelis are still traumatized by the experience.

At a news conference in Tel Aviv, military officers and health officials explained to the public that there is only a small possibility that Iraq will attack again -- and if it does, Israel is ready.

Lt. Gen. Amnon Shahak, the Israeli army chief of staff, played down the threat, but warned that Iraq is still dangerous. "We think that the Iraqis are still hiding something. Certainly they did not train with the weapons over the past few years, but Iraq is a big country, and they apparently succeeded in hiding a few things."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, seeking to calm a jittery public that has packed gas mask distribution centers, said Tuesday there was scant chance of an Iraqi missile attack on Israel. The government, accused in the media of keeping Israelis in the dark about the level of threat in the crisis with Iraq.

Israel's government is allocating $70 million to buy extra gas masks and antibiotics as answers to chemical and biological weapons strikes. It remains to be seen whether the new policy will succeed to calm the people. Some say the damage is already done. Gen. Yoel Feldsho (Res) was chief of Israeli air force intelligence during the 1991 Gulf war. He says Hussein has done nothing wrong. "It is us," complained the retired general. "We are whipping up an almost psychotic frenzy over absolutely nothing."

Feldsho explained that Hussein has no interest in attacking Israel. The former intelligence chief pointed out that the atmosphere is causing economic damage. He said tourists are beginning to cancel trips to Israel and he does not blame them, when they see pictures of panicked Israelis pounding on the doors of gas-mask distribution centers.

And one more example of how far this has gone -- residents of the Israeli resort of Eilat, at the southern tip of the country, complained that there are no gas mask stations in their city. They have to drive more than 125 miles north to exchange their masks. Considering the type of missiles Iraq might have -- if there are any left -- the residents of Eilat would have to drive about 125 miles north, just to get into range.

Rabin Memorial at City Hall in Jerusalem is Vandalized

By IINS News Service

According to police reports, members of the outlawed right-wing Kach Party took credit for Monday night's desecration of a memorial for Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, located at Safra Square in the Jerusalem City Hall complex. "Rabin murderer" and "Rabin traitor" were painted on the memorial site.

Police report that the "right-wing extremists" claimed credit for the vandalism, stating it was in retaliation for government plans to destroy the gravesite promenade of the late Dr. Baruch Goldstein, who killed 29 Moslem worshipers in the Maarat Hamachpelah (Cave of the Patriarchs) in Hebron in 1994. Members of the "Dor Shalom" ("Generation of Peace") organization came to the site of the defaced monument and lighted memorial candles.

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