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Israel Warns of Retaliation if Attacked by Iraq - 2003-03-16


Israel says it will retaliate if Iraqi President Saddam Hussein launches an attack against the Jewish state during any U.S.-led military strike against Iraq.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said Israel will respond militarily, if his country is attacked by Iraq.

Mr. Mofaz said Israel is already preparing for such a scenario, and he did not rule out the possibility that the Jewish state might be the first to attack on the basis of intelligence warnings.

He told reporters that Israel is definitely considering what he called offensive action against Iraq.

His statement went further than previous remarks by Israeli government ministers, who have said only that the Jewish state retains the right to defend itself. Mr. Mofaz is the first minister to warn that Israel might launch a pre-emptive strike against Iraq.

It was unclear, however, under exactly what circumstances Israel would be prepared to go on the offensive.

In 1991, Iraq fired 39 Scud missiles at Israeli cities, causing heavy damage, but few casualties.

At the time, the United States convinced Israel not to respond, fearing this would tear apart an Arab-backed coalition against Iraq.

However, this time, Israel is saying openly it could not expect to remain idle in the event of Iraqi military strikes.

Israeli citizens have been issued gas masks and told to have at least one sealed room in their homes, in case of a chemical or biological attack.

The head of the Israeli Defense Forces, General Moshe Ya'alon, said last week that pictures relayed by an Israeli spy satellite had not picked up any sign of Scud missiles in western Iraq.

Military analysts assess this to be the only area in the country from which Scuds can reach Israel, making the possibility of an Iraqi strike against the Jewish state appear low.