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Israel Inoculates Emergency Workers
Wed Sep 18, 1:26 PM ET
By LAURIE COPANS, Associated Press Writer
JERUSALEM (AP) - A hospital has begun inoculating emergency workers against smallpox in preparation for a possible attack by Iraq, officials said Wednesday, amid reports that sales of air filters, tranquilizers and bottled water are up across Israel.
Israel's deputy defense minister, Weizman Shiri, said Israel is well prepared for an Iraqi attack with chemical or biological weapons.
"I say with my hand on my heart, not just to calm everyone, that the state of Israel is ready," Shiri said. "It would be easier for them to carry out a biological attack on even the United States than Israel."
The government decided last month to inoculate 15,000 emergency workers against smallpox. On Tuesday, Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv began the inoculations, at a rate of 30 people per day, hospital officials said. Other hospitals will also begin inoculations.
During the Gulf War ( news - web sites) in 1991, Iraq fired 39 Scud missiles against Israel, causing damage but few casualties. Israeli experts say they do not know if Iraq possesses chemical or biological weapons, but the possibility cannot be ruled out.
Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said Wednesday he supported an American attack on Iraq, but Israel wanted to keep a low profile in the dispute.
"We greatly respect the decisions of the (U.S.) administration and identify with the intention to hit one of the key Mideast elements of the 'axis of evil,'" Ben-Eliezer said, using President Bush ( news - web sites)'s term for Iraq, North Korea ( news - web sites) and Iran.
"But we are not directly part of the coming conflict, if it comes, and we have no intention of being part of it unless it is forced upon us by an Iraqi attack," Ben-Eliezer added.
Israeli officials have said Israel reserves the right to respond to an Iraqi attack.
The Israeli government this week ordered increased gas mask production to prevent a shortage as the expiration date on 600,000 old masks draws closer, and Israelis continue to flood mask distribution centers.
Shiri said the Home Front Command distributed 24,000 new masks on Tuesday alone, proof that there is no shortage at the moment.
In the event of a real threat of a biological attack, it will take authorities four days to vaccinate the entire population against smallpox, Shiri said. Israel has 2.5 times as many smallpox vaccine doses as there are citizens, he said.
The Shavrav company that builds air filtration devices has reported a 300 percent jump in sales, the Yediot Ahronot newspaper reported. Bottled water companies say sales are up by 25 percent.
In addition, Israelis have been purchasing more tranquilizers in recent days, said Aharon Reiss, chairman of the Pharmacists Union.