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Nuke revenge { August 16 2002 }

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August 16, 2002 --
A massive Iraqi strike against Israel with non-conventional weapons could trigger a devastating nuclear response that would end Iraq's existence as a country.

That chilling assessment was presented last week to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by military expert Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, according to report yesterday in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz.

Israeli officials have suggested that they would respond to a conventional Iraqi attack with airstrikes and ground attacks by airborne forces - and not hold back as they did during the 1991 Gulf War.

But they haven't said how they would respond to a chemical or biological attack - which is not out of the question, since Iraq is now believed to be armed with biological weapons capable of causing massive casualties.

Ha'aretz said Cordesman tackled this grim possibility in his report to the Senate panel - painting the following grim scenario:

* If Tel Aviv or another key urban area were threatened with a lethal biological attack, Israel would threaten nuclear retaliation against Iraqi cities and military forces.

* If Iraq ignored the warning and carried out a devastating non-conventional attack, Israel would launch nuclear strikes against Iraqi cities - as long as they had not already been seized by American forces.

Cordesman, contacted by The Post, distanced himself from the remarks attributed to him in Ha'aretz, but refused to elaborate.

Israeli officials, apparently fearing an Iraqi-Israeli clash similar to the one detailed in the report, have asked Washington to neutralize Scud missiles in western Iraq if and when the U.S. military launches an offensive against Saddam Hussein.

Israeli officials have indicated that the circumstances in the potential conflict with Iraq are different than they were in 1991 - when the United States feared its Arab coalition would collapse if Israel intervened.

In the Gaza Strip yesterday, Palestinian demonstrators chanted "Dear Saddam, bomb Tel Aviv" as they burned U.S. and Israeli flags in a refugee camp.

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