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Bush:  Israel Will Respond to Unprovoked Attack by Iraq - 2002-10-16

President Bush says he thinks Israel will respond if it comes under an unprovoked attack from Iraq. He spoke following talks at the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon talks that focused on peace and security matters.

As the meeting came to an end, President Bush was asked what he thinks Israel would do in the face of an unprovoked Iraqi attack. "If Iraq attacks Israel tomorrow, I would assume the Prime Minister would respond," he said. "He's got a desire to defend himself."

But what about retaliation during a time of war?

There are concerns that should the United States use force to disarm Iraq, the Iraqis would respond by attacking Israel. The Iraqi goal would be to bring the Israelis into the war, and boost Arab solidarity with Baghdad.

There have been reports the United States has offered assurances to Israel to convince the Sharon government to show restraint, much as the Israelis did during the 1991 Gulf War. But as their closed-door talks came to an end, the President offered no clues, quickly changing the subject in public to the threat posed by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. "He is certainly a dangerous man," said President Bush. "And he has got to understand that the international community will not tolerate an unprovoked attack on Israel or anybody else for that matter."

The president also warned Hezbollah guerillas against attacking Israel. He announced the Sharon government is turning over Palestinian tax revenues to the Palestinian people with monitoring to make sure the money does not flow into terrorist hands. And he stressed the need for progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. To that end, he said he was sending Assistant Secretary of State William Burns back to the region for discussions.

Prime Minister Sharon made few comments to reporters at the end of the meeting. He declined to answer questions, and made only a brief statement that focused on the positive. "We believe the day will come and I hope it will be soon that we will be able to start peace negotiations. I believe that Jews and Arabs will be able to live together," he said.

Prime Minister Sharon made no mention of American criticism of his government's actions in recent months in the West Bank and Gaza. This was his seventh visit to the White House since taking office in March, 2001.