Israel retaliate iraq
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Israel will retaliate if Iraq strikes
By Alan Philps in Jerusalem
Israel has told the United States that it will retaliate if attacked by Iraqi missiles during the promised American assault to remove Saddam Hussein.
The decision means that Israel is likely to be a participant in the campaign, in contrast to the 1991 Gulf war, when it was restrained by Washington.
Officials said the prime minister, Ariel Sharon, had told to President Bush that there was no question of Israel staying on the sidelines as it did in the past.
The Americans are understood to be sympathetic to Israel's desire to demonstrate its deterrent capability, although they 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.
He said: "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 and two people 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 US was fighting alongside an international coalition including Egypt, Syria and other Arab states, and the alliance would have fallen apart instantly if Israel were seen to be actively participating.
The Israeli air force was not granted access to codes that would enable it to be recognised as members 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 in expectation of chemical attack.
Logically the coming conflict should be even more frightening for Israelis, as Saddam is not being given the chance to survive so he might as well use every weapon in his arsenal.
But Israelis are strangely calm. There is a feeling that the country escaped lightly 11 years ago, and has had a decade to improve its defences.
A new Israeli-American anti-missile system, Arrow-2, is being deployed. It will replace the US Patriot missile system, which served as a psychological boost, but ultimately proved ineffective in destroying incoming missiles before they reached Israel.
The government is preparing smallpox vaccine to inoculate the whole country, in case of biological attack.
But the most basic reason for calm is that most Israelis are already saturated with worry about the Palestinian uprising, and the economic slump that has stemmed from it, and have no energy to fear a conflict that is not yet on their doorstep.