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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

March 09, 2003

The Israeli Wild Card

This article in Newsweek ponders Israeli's response should an American war with Iraq cause Saddam once again to strike at Israel.
[...]But the defenses aren’t foolproof, and any Iraqi attack that causes fatalities would almost certainly bring Israel into the war, defense sources say. If Saddam uses a conventional warhead, the Israeli Air Force would likely conduct pinpoint missile strikes—taking out, for example, any remaining Scud launchers. The retaliation would be far more severe in the event of a chemical or biological attack. Then Israel might fire a barrage of long-range interballistic missiles tipped with conventional warheads at a variety of Iraqi targets. (It is considered highly unlikely that Israel would use unconventional weapons, including nukes.) “Israel cannot be perceived by its enemies as a country which defaulted its defense to someone else,” says one high-ranking Israeli official. “That would send a fatal signal of weakness.”

Israel might also step up military assaults in its own backyard. In recent weeks the Israeli military has escalated hit-and-run raids in the Gaza Strip in an effort to eradicate strongholds of the militant group Hamas. The raids have caused appalling civilian casualties. Palestinians fear that, with world attention focused on the Iraqi conflict, Sharon could order a far bloodier reoccupation of the Gaza Strip. Israeli analysts and government officials say Sharon isn’t likely to risk such a move. “Sharon is extremely sensitive to what he hears from the White House,” says Shai Feldman of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv. “The costs would be too high [for the U.S.-Israeli relationship].” Yet Sharon has consistently placed Israel’s security concerns, or his interpretation of them, ahead of United States interests. With the second gulf war looming, some fear he’ll do it again—with potentially calamitous results.[more]