- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 13, 2002

JERUSALEM Israel has told the United States that it will retaliate if attacked by Iraqi missiles during an anticipated American assault to depose Saddam Hussein. The decision means that Israel is likely to be a participant in the campaign, in contrast to the 1991 Persian Gulf war, when it was restrained by pressure from Washington.
Officials said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has told President Bush that there was no question of Israel staying on the sidelines, as it had done earlier.
Americans are believed to be sympathetic to Israel's desire to demonstrate its deterrent capability, although some are pressing for any response to be "symbolic" if there are no casualties. But there is little likelihood of the Israelis showing such restraint.
"Israel paid a price in terms of its deterrent posture by not responding in the past to Iraqi attacks," said Dore Gold, an adviser to the prime minister. "In a region where ballistic missiles are proliferating, there is a limit to how far our country can voluntarily erode the credibility of its deterrence."
During the Gulf war, 40 Iraqi Scud missiles landed on Israel but did little damage. Two persons died of shock. Despite threats from Saddam to "burn half of Israel," he did not use biological or chemical weapons and had no serviceable nuclear warheads.
In that conflict, the United States fought alongside an international coalition that included Egypt, Syria and other Arab states. The alliance would have fallen apart instantly if Israel were seen actively participating.
The Israeli air force was not granted access to codes that would enable it to be recognized as a member of the alliance. This time, however, there is no coalition to be blown apart.
The 1991 experience left a deep scar on many Israelis as they huddled together in their gas masks, fearing a chemical attack.
The conflict now would be even more frightening for the Israelis, as Saddam is not being given the chance to survive, which might spur him to use every weapon in his arsenal.
But Israelis are calm. There is a feeling that the country escaped lightly 11 years ago and has had a decade to improve its defenses. The government is preparing smallpox vaccine to inoculate the whole nation, in case of a biological attack.
But the calm is most likely because Israelis, by and large, are already saturated with worry about the Palestinian uprising and the economic slump stemming from it.
They have no energy to fear a conflict not yet on their doorstep.

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