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Peres Downplays Report Israel Will Retaliate If Iraq Attacks - 2002-09-22

Israel's foreign minister says the current situation regarding Iraq is different than in 1991, when the Israelis showed restraint in the face of scud missile attacks. He spoke amidst reports Israel has secretly informed the White House it will retaliate if Iraq attacks Israeli soil.

Israel held its fire when it came under Iraqi attack during the Gulf War. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres says Israel understood the need to keep an international coalition intact that included Arab nations.

He says the current situation is different, and this time the United States could act alone. Mr. Peres told CNN's Late Edition that Israel will be a "loyal, reliable and disciplined soldier."

"We understand exactly our place," he said. "And also we insist on our rights. But there won't be two wars."

He downplayed a New York Times report that said Israel has informed the Bush administration it is prepared to retaliate if attacked by Iraq. When asked about the reports, he said the United States and Israel are, as he put it, closely coordinated in peace, defense and making the future more secure.

"I don't feel there is the slightest need to confirm it again. That is the situation," he said. "We are an ally. The United States can rely upon us, can trust us. We are not going to push and we are not going to separate."

The possibility of Israeli retaliation this time could make it much more difficult for the Bush administration to maintain cooperation from Arab states that Washington may need as a base for U.S. forces in the region. There are also concerns of a wider Mideast conflict.

U.S. Congressman Henry Hyde, the chairman of the House International Relations Committee, appeared on Late Edition shortly before the Israeli Foreign Minister. He said the United States will take steps to protect Israel from Iraqi attack in the event of war.

"I think the Israelis ought to stay out of it because of the political consequences in the region if they get in," he said.

Senator Joseph Biden, who was also interviewed on CNN, agreed. The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was asked if it is realistic to expect the Israeli government to show that kind of restraint. His answer was simple: "probably not."

"It is very difficult for a nation under siege like Israel to refrain from responding," he said. "You can imagine what the case would be here in the United States if we were being attacked and an ally said: 'Don't worry, we'll take care of it for you, don't respond.'"

Mr. Biden said Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein would probably try to turn any U.S. attack on his country into an Israeli-Arab war. He says that fact makes U.N. support for strong action against Iraq and its weapons of mass destruction even more important.