Skip to comments.Israel Prepares Civil Defences In Case Of US War On Iraq
Posted on 08/16/2002 5:56:50 AM PDT by robowombat
London Financial Times August 16, 2002
Israel Prepares Civil Defences In Case Of US War On Iraq
By Harvey Morris
JERUSALEM -- As officials in Israel contemplate the prospect that a US attack on Iraq would prompt retaliatory missile strikes on Israel, the defence ministry has said anti-radiation pills will be distributed as part of civil defence preparations.
The government is also considering vaccinating the population against smallpox, a disease eradicated worldwide in 1979 but which, it is feared, could be spread by a missile or terrorist attack.
Israel's current focus on war preparations is linked to the likelihood that Iraq, as in the 1991 Gulf War, would target Israel if it were attacked by the US. Analysts believe that, unlike in 1991, Israel would almost certainly strike back.
One assessment presented to the US Senate foreign relations committee predicts that, in the event of an Iraqi biological assault, Israel might retaliate using its undeclared nuclear weapons.
In 1991, the government of Yitzhak Shamir was persuaded to sit out the war on the grounds that Israeli participation would prompt Arab states to pull out of then-President George Bush's carefully crafted coalition. At that time, only one civilian was killed in the raids but several hundred were wounded.
Support for Mr Shamir's restraint, however, was not universal. Among the dissenters was Ariel Sharon, the present prime minister, who claimed Israel was abandoning responsibility for defending its own citizens.
The government expects to receive prior warning from Washington of any planned assault against Iraq. In the meantime, officials are concentrating on beefing up Israel's civil defence and anti-missile capabilities.
Anti-radiation tablets are to be distributed to people living close to Israel's nuclear reactors at southern Dimona and central Nahal Sorek and near the ports of Tel Aviv and Haifa, where nuclear-powered vessels occasionally dock.
The tablets would offer protection against fall-out from nuclear facilities damaged in a missile attack. They will be included in gas- mask kits that are available to all Israeli residents.
The debate over the smallpox vaccination programme, meanwhile, has prompted the resignation of Professor Aryeh Eldad, who headed the health ministry's expert team on biological warfare. He quit in protest at the government's failure to follow his recommendation for a speedy programme of mass inoculations.
For the time being, the government is expected to limit vaccinations to members of the emergency services. There is no evidence that Iraq has the capability to deliver a missile-borne biological warhead, but experts fear the smallpox virus could be brought covertly into the country.
Anthony Cordesman of Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, in an assessment presented to the Senate foreign relations committee last month, said that Israel would feel obliged to support a US assault on Iraq.
"Israel has also concluded that the credibility of its deterrent would be undermined if it rode out another series of such attacks, as it did during the Gulf War."
Professor Cordesman said that, in the worst case, Israel could face "a cumulative existential threat to key urban areas, like Tel Aviv and Haifa".
"Under these conditions," he said, "it might openly declare its nuclear deterrent and threaten nuclear retaliation against Iraqi cities and military forces."
If Iraq then succeeded in delivering lethal biological agents against an Israeli city, "Israel would probably massively retaliate with nuclear ground bursts against every Iraqi city not already occupied by US-led coalition forces".