- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 22, 2001

ASHDOD, Israel Israelis, fearing a U.S. assault on Iraq could trigger Scud missile strikes on their state, flocked to army distribution centers to get new gas masks and other gear for protection from a chemical attack.
The rush for equipment came despite the fact that the government here has made no announcement that Israel could face an assault similar to the one during the 1991 Persian Gulf war, when Iraq fired dozens of missiles.
Some American officials have said Iraq might have aided the terrorists involved in the attacks on the United States, prompting assessments that Iraq will be targeted for American reprisal.
However, a senior military official here said yesterday that Israel believes Baghdad was probably not involved.
At one center in the southern town of Ashdod this week, Israelis, clutching their old cardboard gas mask kits, waited for hours to get new ones.
"We're not panicking but we're not taking any chances either," said Shlomo Balam, who came with his three children.
The center, housed in the clammy basement of a shopping center, was sectioned off into stations where Israelis handed in their old equipment, tried on new masks, and watched an instructional video.
Many at the center skipped the instruction, relying on their experience from 1991, but Mr. Balam said he had been out of the country at the time and would need to watch the video.
At a distribution center in Tel Aviv, the crowd got so large at one point this week that soldiers resorted to handing out numbers and asking people to come back hours later.
A military official briefing a group of foreign reporters in Tel Aviv said Israel had forwarded to Washington several months ago general information about Osama bin Laden's plan to stage a large attack on the United States but the intelligence had not been specific.
Israel's security branches closely monitor Islamic groups, including bin Laden's al Qaeda organization, and regularly share intelligence with the United States under a joint defense agreement.
"We don't know for sure who was behind this attack. It was obviously radical Islam but who was the precise person, we don't know," the Israeli official said. "Iraq is from a different camp. They don't come from the camp of radical Islam."
Several officials in Washington, including former CIA Director James Woolsey, have said Iraq might have sponsored the terrorists involved in the Sept. 11 attacks.
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, one of Washington's most bitter foes in the Arab world, has denied his country was involved, though he did say a day after the attack that the United States got what it deserved.
Asked about the possibility that Iraq could repeat its 1991 Scud missile attacks on Israel in the event the United States attacks Iraq, the Israeli official said:
"I don't see any threat from the Iraqis and I don't want to provoke the Iraqis. We don't have any information that Iraq was involved in this act and we don't see a reason for this to happen."
The military official said Israel's more immediate neighbor, Syria, was harboring a number of militant groups, including Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Hezbollah.

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