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Bush Speech on Iraq Counseled Israeli Restraint, Experts Say

A leading Israeli strategic expert says President Bush's U.N. address on Iraq contained veiled warnings to Israel to show restraint in its conflict with the Palestinians.

Ze'ev Schiff is Israel's leading military affairs analyst. In an article in the Israeli daily newspaper Ha'aretz, he says that three important conclusions can be drawn from Mr. Bush's speech Thursday to the United Nations.

Mr. Schiff says the first is that Israel must prepare for the possibility of a regional war in the event of an American attack against Iraq.

The second is the possibility that militant groups such as the Hezbollah will take advantage of an outbreak of war to attack Israel, a strategy that Mr. Schiff says the United States must actively discourage.

But the third conclusion, Mr. Schiff argues, is that Israel must also refrain from using an attack against Iraq, to "settle scores with the Palestinians and their leader Yasser Arafat."

He says such a step, even if initiated by Palestinian terror attacks will be viewed in Washington as an obstacle in the way of efforts to isolate Iraq from the rest of the Arab world.

He notes that Mr. Bush made two references to the Palestinians and the conflict with Israel and the president stressed U.S. support for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. This, Mr. Schiff says, amounts to a pledge to the entire Arab world.

Another prominent commentator, Alex Fishman, says the Bush speech is the beginning of a countdown. Mr. Fishman says "by the end of November, Israel must be prepared for the possibility of non-conventional weapons in the Middle East."

He says Israel has made contingency plans for such a scenario.

According to Mr. Fishman, the only question is whether Israel will wait for missile fire from Iraq before it responds, or will it carry out a pre-emptive strike.

During the 1991 Gulf War, Israel did not retaliate when Iraq fired Scud missiles.

But Israel has warned that it will not sit back idly if Baghdad launches another such attack.

At the same time, the Hebrew newspaper Ma'ariv says the United States has asked Israel to keep a low profile about Iraq for fear that senior Israeli officials could sabotage U.S. efforts to obtain international support in what the newspaper calls the coming war.