- The Washington Times - Monday, September 16, 2002

JERUSALEM Israeli security officials are stepping up their preparations for any retaliatory attack by Saddam Hussein in the belief that the United States has accelerated its planning for a military assault on Iraq.
Plans are being drawn to set up municipal "war rooms," with army representatives present, to coordinate aid to civilians after an attack. Measures could include evacuations, the distribution of medicines, oversight of water and electricity supplies, and the provision of emergency communications systems.
A senior official of the army's Home Front Command said yesterday that preparations were proceeding well, although not all the war rooms were safeguarded against nonconventional attacks.
"I would be happy if they would all have protected war rooms," he said, "but people can still function with a gas mask on."
Until recently, planning had been based on the assumption that the United States would not attack Iraq before mid-November, and most likely sometime next year.
However, news reports say planners have stepped up their work in response to public statements by U.S. officials, including President Bush's speech last week to the United Nations, and reports of the movements of U.S. troops and equipment to the Persian Gulf.
Senior defense officials have been supportive of a proposal by the mayor of Ramat Gan that residents of his Tel Aviv suburb be evacuated to the south if an Iraqi missile threat becomes imminent.
"People do what has to be done, and they know that staying in a place that is under attack is not a good thing," said a senior official of the Home Front Command.
The director-general of the Defense Ministry, Amos Yaron, said the proposal by Mayor Zvi Bar had "many advantages."
In the 1991 Gulf war, Tel Aviv Mayor Shlomo Lahat criticized residents who left the city as "deserters."
Many fled to the resort city of Eilat in the far south, out of range of Iraqi missiles, and to Jerusalem, which was believed to be exempt from Iraqi attack because of the risk of hitting Muslim holy places.
Mr. Yaron said he was not recommending evacuation but that it was a natural phenomenon in the circumstances and was not to be criticized.
Haifa Mayor Amram Mitzna had warned last week that any evacuation attempt could lead to panic.
"You cannot just evacuate 2 million people, and you must not," he said. "The Iraqi threat has to be dealt with by using deterrence and other means to protect civilians."
Col. Gil Shenhar, head of planning for the Home Front Command, said Israel was ready for an attack but that about 600,000 gas masks might have to be imported to make up for the gap created since 1991 by a growing population and the presence of foreign workers.
The gas masks are distributed free to all residents.
Israel has deployed U.S.-made Patriot and Israeli-made Arrow missile defense systems in anticipation of an Iraqi Scud attack once the United States attacks Iraq.
Debate continues about the effectiveness of Patriots used during the Gulf war, in which 39 conventionally armed Scuds struck Israel, but the defensive devices have been upgraded since then. The Arrow has never been fired in a war situation.
Most of those Iraqi missiles in 1991 were aimed at Tel Aviv, with others fired at Haifa and at the Dimona nuclear reactor in the south.

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