- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 20, 2001

With a rash of vitriolic anti-Israeli rhetoric and cash payments of $10,000 to the family of every Palestinian killed by Israeli forces, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is enjoying his greatest surge of popularity in the West Bank and Gaza since the Gulf war.
Large crowds have marched in the territories for three days, waving photographs of Mr. Hussein to protest U.S. and British air strikes outside Baghdad and sending a chill through Israeli officials who recall the Iraqi Scud missiles that rained on Israel in 1991.
"Saddam, we wait for your rockets to hit Tel Aviv," members of one crowd chanted Sunday as marchers fired automatic rifles in the air.
Saddam has adroitly linked his cause to that of the Palestinians by blaming "Zionists" for the air strikes and portraying himself as a fellow victim of Israel and the West. He has mobilized 6,600 volunteers and on Saturday ordered the training of 300,000 more to create an "army for the liberation of Jerusalem."
While few Israeli officials think Saddam will reveal he has been defying U.N. resolutions by firing new Scuds at Israel, they are not taking chances.
"We have to take Saddam seriously because until now he has attempted to carry out everything he has threatened," said Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh.
"One must clearly see him as a potential danger," he told Israeli radio on Sunday. "His stance on our conflict with the Palestinians is an extreme stance and more than that it could have influence in the near term."
The United States and Israel started five days of joint military exercises using Patriot anti-missile defenses yesterday in Israel's Negev desert, possibly aimed at calming Israeli fears of an Iraqi revenge attack on Israel.
U.S. officials said the exercises were planned long before Friday's bombing of five Iraqi radar sites near Baghdad, aimed at stopping the increased firings on U.S. and British planes monitoring no-fly zones over Iraq.
Saddam has long appealed to the Arab masses as a champion who stood up to the West in the Gulf war, even though Arab states Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia joined the U.S.-led coalition against him.
His offer of $10,000 to each of the approximately 350 Palestinians killed by Israel since Sept. 29 has also endeared him to the Palestinians.
Rakad Salem, secretary-general of the Arab Liberation Front, a Palestinian faction backed by Iraq, told the London Daily Telegraph that he has given out $4 million to the families of the "martyrs" in the new intifada $10,000 for each death and from $500 to $1,000 for each person wounded.
An Israeli army spokesman said by telephone from Jerusalem that the $10,000 Iraqi payments were also reported Sunday in the Arabic-language Palestinian press.
Asked whether the payments might be encouraging Palestinians to risk death by fighting Israelis, the spokesman said: "They have autonomy. They can get humanitarian funds if they want."
Saddam, whose own people are dying for lack of basic medicines, has also tried to ship more than 1,000 tons of food and medicine to the territories in a convoy of trucks through Jordan. Iraq complained to the United Nations yesterday that the shipment was being blocked by Israeli authorities.
Iraq has also asked the United Nations for permission to donate $930 million to the Palestinians out of the so-called oil-for-food program, which allows Iraq to sell some oil to purchase basic commodities for its people.
Palestinian officials were quick to show their appreciation after Friday's air strikes in Iraq.
"I convey our brotherly support and our stand at the side of the Iraqi people," said Ahmed Korei, Palestinian Legislative Council speaker, in a letter to his Iraqi counterpart, Saadoun Hamadi.
The outpouring of Palestinian support, most recently by some 1,500 people marching near Hebron in the West Bank yesterday, is the most dramatic since Palestinians turned out during the Gulf war to cheer the Israel-bound passage of Scud missiles overhead.
Saddam's threat of an army to capture Jerusalem is not taken too seriously since any such army would have to march across Jordan or Syria to reach Israel.
But Iraq has twice moved elements of up to five divisions near the borders with Syria and Jordan since September. It has also offered to help Syria if the fighting between Syrian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas and Israel were to draw Syria into a war with the Jewish state.
Syria, long estranged from Iraq, has been drawing closer to Baghdad in recent months and is widely reported to have reopened a major pipeline allowing Iraq to sell oil in defiance of the U.N. sanctions.
That will be a concern for Secretary of State Colin Powell, who leaves Friday for a swing through Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait.
According to the U.N. Special Commission, which monitored Iraqi weapons programs after the Gulf war, Iraq still has from six to 24 Al-Hussein ballistic missiles, the enhanced version of the Scuds that were fired against Israel during the war.
Iraq is also capable of producing chemical and biological warheads for its missiles, Ha'aretz newspaper reported yesterday.
Abraham Rabinovich in Jerusalem contributed to this report, which is based in part on wire service reports.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide