Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had uttered the threat before, but this time it seemed more immediate—and more ominous. “If we have to take the first blow,” Hussein said in a Spanish television interview broadcast last Wednesday, “then Tel Aviv will receive the next attack, whether or not Israel takes part.” Drawing the Israelis into a shooting war would clearly weaken the ties between Washington and its Arab allies in the Persian Gulf. And that prospect plainly worried the Americans as the United Nations’ Jan. 15 deadline for Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait drew nearer. It was “a very realistic threat,” said a Pentagon intelligence spokesman. For his part, Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Arens said that there was “no need for panic.” But he added, “If we are hit, we shall strike back.” Hussein’s renewed threat against Israel was one of a number of signs last week that war was increasingly likely early in the new year. Another indicator was the Pentagon’s disclosure
that it would soon begin vaccinating U.S. troops against such deadly diseases as anthrax, typhoid and cholera, which, according to a recent CIA report, are part of Iraq’s “sizable stockpile” of biological weapons. As well, President George Bush tried to downplay public warnings by U.S. generals that they were not ready to launch an offensive by Jan. 15. In fact, Bush told reporters last Thursday, he was “very comfortable” with the combat readiness of U.S. forces in the Gulf.
The Americans sent a 17-ship carrier fleet to the Gulf last week, and the 16,000 marines and sailors they are transporting will bring the U.S. troop total in the region to more than 300,000. Meanwhile, public opinion in Canada, which has sent 1,700 servicemen and women, three warships and 18 jet fighters to the Gulf, appeared to have turned against involvement in war. In a Gallup poll released last week, 55 per cent of respondents said that they were opposed to joining any U.S.-led offensive, and
only 36 per cent expressed support.
In the United States, the debate over the combat readiness of U.S. forces added to public misgivings. In a taped Christmas Day message to the troops, Bush pledged, “I will do my level best to bring you home without a single shot fired.” But he added that if war did come, “the sacrifices you make will never be forgotten.” On a lighter note, comedian Bob Hope, 87, following a personal tradition that he began during the Second World War, visited front-line U.S. troops on Christmas Day. But because of Saudi Arabian religious sensitivity, the Pentagon barred his usual entourage of leggy show girls and even censored Hope’s script.
At sea, there was a tense incident at the approaches to the Gulf when U.S., British and Australian sailors boarded a ship carrying contraband food to Iraq. Some of the 40 Arab women peace activists who were passengers on the 11,300-ton Ibn Khaldoon tried to seize the boarding party’s weapons. A scuffle followed, and U.S. sailors used nonlethal stun grenades to restore order. There were no casualties, said a Pentagon spokesman.
On the diplomatic front, Washington and Baghdad apparently made no progress towards finding a mutually acceptable date for talks to end the crisis. Hussein continued to insist on Jan. 12 as the first date on which he would receive U.S. Secretary of State James Baker. And Baker continued to insist on Jan. 3, saying that the 12th was too close to the UN deadline. In Baghdad, 20 Iraqi ambassadors who had been summoned home for consultations began returning to their posts with Hussein’s message that he wanted a “serious and constructive dialogue” with Washington. But the Iraqi strongman repeated his determination to stay in Kuwait.
Meanwhile, Hussein’s latest warning of a missile strike against the Israelis led to counterwarnings from Jerusalem. Said Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir: “Whoever will dare to attack us will be attacked seven times more.”
But he added that “we know how to act with restraint.”
Meanwhile, Defence Minister Arens played down the effectiveness of Hussein’s missile and chemical warfare capability. “There is no prospect of a rain of Iraqi missiles falling on Israel,” he said. Baghdad’s long-range weapons were “cumbersome to operate,” said Arens, adding: “Only a few, if any, would reach Israel.” But
Clearly, if Hussein should attack Israel, and especially if he uses chemical weapons, he would court a catastrophic response. Apart from its formidable air force, Israel is
known to have an arsenal of sophisticated missiles capable of hitting Iraqi targets.
some independent analysts challenged that assurance. Daniel Leshem, of Tel Aviv University’s Jaffee Centre for Strategic Studies, estimated that in a worst-case scenario, Iraq could hit an Israeli target city with up to 30 missiles, each carrying 330 lb. of nerve or mustard gas. Reuven Pedatzur, defence analyst for the daily Ha’aretz, estimated a worst-case total of 18 missile hits. Retired brigadier-general Aharon
Levran, a former deputy chief of military intelligence, pointed out that the warheads of missiles able to reach Israeli targets from Iraq would be relatively small. But he conceded that if one did hit a population centre, it could cause “hundreds of casualties.” Most analysts, however, agreed that Israel would probably have ample warning of attack, because preparations for launching the Iraqis’ al-Hussein missiles would take several hours and could be detected by electronic intelligence, satellite sur| veillance or even aerial § reconnaissance.
It was in that atmosphere of heightened tension that Gallup published its Canadian poll (based on interviews conducted from Dec. 5 to 8)
showing the 55-per-cent opposition to Canadian involvement in a Gulf war. Despite their distance from the scene of potential conflict, Canadians, like much of the rest of the world, were clearly growing jittery as the prospect of a shooting war drew closer.
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