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October 19, 2002

Israel, U.S. consider joining for operation

A joint effort proposed that would greatly lesson Israel's fears of a missle attack.
WASHINGTON - The Bush administration is considering an Israeli proposal to send U.S. Special Forces into Iraq's western desert to knock out Iraqi missile sites in the event of war, a U.S. official said Friday.

In a joint operation, Israel would furnish the United States with intelligence about the sites and how to disarm them early in the conflict, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Israel's aim is to sharply reduce the risk of an Iraqi missile attack.

Israel presented the proposal during Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's talks this week in Washington with President Bush and senior White House, Pentagon and State Department officials.

He was given assurances the administration would make a maximum effort to neutralize any Iraqi missile threat.

Sharon vowed before his trip to Washington that Israel "will take the proper steps to defend its citizens" if Iraq should injure Israeli civilians.

In the 1991 Persian Gulf war Iraq hit Israel with 39 Scud missiles, but at the behest of the United States, Israel did not retaliate.

On Wednesday, Bush endorsed Israel's right to self-defense. Still, the prospect of Israel attacking Iraq could hamper U.S. efforts to attract Arab nations to support a U.S.-led war with Iraq.

Sharon did not get a response to the Special Forces proposal during his three-day visit, and it is under consideration, the official said.