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Israel, US to Hold Joint Military Exercises

Israel and the United States are to hold joint military exercises this week as the Israeli government ponders additional steps to protect its population against a possible attack by Iraq.

U.S. troops are expected to arrive in Israel over the coming days for the joint operations, which are to include steps to integrate U.S. and Israeli anti-missile systems designed to protect Israel from a possible Iraqi attack.

A U.S. led attack against Iraq is widely viewed as increasingly likely and fears are rising here in Israel that if war breaks out, Iraq will lash out with missile attacks against Israel. The worst case scenario is that such missiles would contain biological or chemical warheads. During the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq launched dozens of Scud missiles against Israel but none contained chemical or biological weapons.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told the Cabinet on Sunday that Israel is better prepared then ever, should Baghdad launch an attack. Still, Israel is pondering additional steps to protect the population.

The government is to decide shortly whether to launch a massive campaign to inoculate the general population against smallpox. The Health Ministry says it has enough vaccines to immunize the entire population of 6.6 million, and can do so within a few days. Israel is also stockpiling large amounts of antibiotics and other medical supplies, and Israelis are being urged to get gas masks at distribution centers around the country.

Israeli media are full of the country's plans to prepare for a possible Iraqi attack, including upcoming public awareness and educational campaigns. But in spite of such detailed plans, there are clear indications that the Israeli public is nervous.

The Ha'aretz newspaper reported in its Monday edition that travel agencies are receiving an increasing number of inquiries about travel abroad. The newspaper reports that some Israelis have already purchased tickets for mid-January with plans to stay abroad for several months if necessary.