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Scud Hits Tel Aviv, Leaving 3 Dead, 96 Hurt

By Rick Atkinson and Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, January 23, 1991; Page A01

Post time line
Iraq delivered its most dramatic counterpunches of the Persian Gulf War yesterday, attacking a Tel Aviv neighborhood with a Scud missile that caused three Israeli deaths. Another 96 other people were injured, according to Israeli radio. Earlier, Iraqi forces set fire to oil facilities in southern Kuwait as part of what some U.S. officials fear could be the beginning of a scorched-earth tactic.

The attack on Israel, the most destructive launched by the Iraqis in six days of war, demolished apartment buildings and storefronts. The Israeli deaths, all apparently from heart attacks, also raised the issue of whether Israel's government, widely praised for not retaliating after two earlier Scud attacks, would now strike back.

The White House condemned the incident as a "brutal act of terror against innocent victims" and lauded Israel for showing "remarkable restraint in the face of this aggression."

The attack came on a day when Iraqi forces in southern Iraq also lobbed at least six Scud missiles at targets in Saudi Arabia. U.S. Patriot batteries there successfully parried the attacks by knocking down several missiles, while the others fell harmlessly either in the desert or in the Persian Gulf. But the Patriots, which had performed flawlessly until yesterday, failed to intercept the Scud aimed at Tel Aviv about 8:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m. EST).

Iraqi television aired videotape showing two more captured American pilots, and Iraqi authorities released casualty figures saying that 41 Iraqis had been killed and 191 wounded in allied attacks since the war began. The Iraqi toll, delivered to the United Nations, would appear to contradict accounts from terrified refugees but support U.S. assertions that "collateral damage" to non-military targets has been minimized.

Aerial photographs showed fires at wells and tanks in the Wafra oil field in southern Kuwait, about 10 miles north of the Saudi border, according to U.S. military officials in Saudi Arabia. Oil industry executives also reported blazing tanks at two facilities 25 miles farther north on the outskirts of Kuwait City, although it was not clear whether those fires were set by allied bombing in the area or deliberately by Iraq.

Pentagon officials said the thick black smoke might be a nuisance for pilots trying to find their targets in the area and could complicate efforts to defend Saudi Arabia from further Scud attacks. But a larger concern is that yesterday's destruction foreshadows Iraqi intentions to cripple operations at one of the world's richest oil patches.

Petroleum experts said such a tactic could cause environmental problems and destroy Kuwait's production and storage capacity, although oil in the subterranean fields would not be affected. Even so, the development caused jitters in the oil markets as prices jumped nearly $3 a barrel.

Worries about terrorism also increased, as police in Brazil and Lebanon reported bombings thought to be connected to the gulf war. In Paris, the French government expelled 10 Iraqis and six unidentified foreigners Tuesday after an anonymous warning of plans to attack an oil facility near Marseilles. In Tampa, Fla., officials preparing for Sunday's Super Bowl continued to tighten what may be the tightest security ever for an American sporting event.

Clearing skies over much of Iraq permitted allied warplanes to intensify their bombing and reconnaissance missions yesterday, as total sorties in Operation Desert Storm increased to more than 10,000 since the war began Thursday. In other action, Navy bombers attacked and apparently sank an Iraqi minelaying ship, and later attacked three smaller boats, according to U.S. military officials in Riyadh.

Despite an intensive allied search-and-destroy operation aimed at wiping out the Scud threat, yesterday's successful attack on Israel illustrated that the missiles, although crude and militarily insignificant, have become an effective weapon of terrorism that has affected allied strategy in the war's early stages. Although two U.S.-manned Patriot batteries were rushed to Israel from Europe on Saturday, Pentagon officials had cautioned that the missile defense was not foolproof.

In private briefings this week, military officials have hedged their assessment of how many Scud launchers -- both fixed and mobile -- remain to be destroyed, and slightly raised their estimates of the number in the Iraqi arsenal, according to congressional sources.

Pentagon officials yesterday expressed growing frustration at the allies' inability to knock out the Scud launchers. Many planners underestimated the Scud, one senior official said, by failing to recognize that "a militarily insignificant pinprick that has absolutely zero impact" nevertheless can carry considerable punch as a "geopolitical terror weapon."

Allies Wage Protracted 'Scud Hunt'

Variously referred to in the Pentagon -- with a certain irritation -- as "the great Scud hunt" or "the Scud diversion," allied efforts to knock out the Iraqi missiles could drag on indefinitely, a Pentagon official said.

Officials also expressed chagrin at the press corps' demand for immediate results from what pilots call BDA -- bomb damage assessments. Extensive World War II BDA was not undertaken until 1946-48, one source observed, adding, "If you want definitive BDA on what we did in downtown Baghdad, you and I will have to take a trip there after the war."

Because of the bad weather, some of the bombing over the weekend was done using radar. Satellite and reconnaissance planes were delayed in scanning the damage beyond "a rough judgment," the official said. More extensive damage assessment results are likely to be released as early as today, according to White House officials, who said President Bush had reviewed new photographs of the bombed targets and was satisfied with the results.

Noting that the weather improved yesterday over much of Iraq and permitted an intensified bombing and reconnaissance campaign, Lt. Gen. Thomas Kelly, senior operations officer for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters, "I can assure you we're working very hard.

War planners predicted again yesterday that the bombing phase of Operation Desert Storm will continue for three to four weeks before ground assaults begin in earnest, with the entire war likely to last several months. "We're not going to punch ourselves out," Kelly added.

The first six days of the air war have concentrated on "putting Baghdad out of business as a center of command, to make communication as difficult as possible," an official said. "We're still in that phase."

The next phase will focus more intensely on the Kuwaiti theater. The timing depends on weather -- persistent cloud cover has put the bombing schedule back a day or two, one senior official said -- and other factors.

"There's a lot of work to be done yet," a Pentagon official said. "Many of the bridges between Baghdad and the KTO {Kuwaiti Theater of Operations} are still standing. Some have been attacked and are still standing."

For reasons not fully understood by U.S. planners, allied bombers also have had more trouble than expected in knocking out Iraqi airfields. Although an airfield would appear to be "a sitting duck that never moves . . . it turns out it's tough to put it down and keep it down," an official said. Iraqi engineers have been filling craters quickly and otherwise improvising ways to keep their runways working.

The problem has had limited impact on allied operations because Iraqi planes usually have chosen to flee or remain hidden rather than challenge the invaders. If that strategy persists, a source said yesterday, Saddam "may still have a sizable air force" whenever the war ends.

The Pentagon also is expected to release some videotaped footage of air strikes that have been less than the pinpoint successes aired thus far. One taped sequence shows a raid that targeted a government ministry in Baghdad but demolished a building across the street because the pilot misidentified his target.

Such mistakes are inevitable in such a massive bombing campaign, U.S. officials said, and "collateral damage" to civilian facilities is believed to have been relatively light in the first six days of bombing. One U.S. government estimate puts the number of Iraqi civilian deaths in a four-week bombing campaign at roughly 2,000.

U.S. B-52 bombers are now flying from bases near Jiddah in Saudi Arabia and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. Pentagon officials are delighted that none of the aging workhorses has been shot down yet, a reflection of flight plans that have put them over less-defended targets rather than downtown Baghdad.

Although bombers have flown many raids over the Iraqi Republican Guard formations, an official said, "we have yet to really concentrate on that target set" and the full fury of the B-52s will be unleashed on the Guard in the near future. The official Iranian news agency reported yesterday that allied warplanes have attacked the strategic Iraqi city of Basra, site of Iraq's military headquarters for operations in Kuwait; a refugee reported that Republican Guards' garrisons had been hit in "a big, big attack."

Bombers continue to strike command-and-control bunkers and will do so until the last day of the war, an official said. Saddam has been targeted as part of the larger cadre of senior Iraqi commanders, but is now believed to be hiding in hotels or other civilian centers.

New Policy on Downed Aircraft

U.S. officials listed no new downed U.S. aircraft yesterday and instituted a policy of delaying announcements of lost planes for 72 hours to permit search-and-rescue missions. About 70 percent of the more than 10,000 allied sorties have been flown by the U.S. Air Force, which has lost only two or three planes to enemy fire; other Air Force losses have been from accidents, according to a Pentagon official.

After two more captured U.S. pilots were shown on Iraqi television yesterday, lawmakers pressed Pentagon officials about why the United States had failed to destroy the television facilities there. U.S. intelligence believes that Iraq is broadcasting on a low-power station around Baghdad. A Cable News Network spokesman said Iranian television was picking up Iraqi signals and rebroadcasting them.

Iraq said Tuesday it will abide by the international conventions on the treatment of war prisoners if the same principles are applied to Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater again warned that Saddam could "be held accountable for his treatment of the POWs and other crimes."

Bush issued his statement of sympathy for Israel after meeting for nearly two hours with national security and military aides. According to administration officials, Bush called in Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney, Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of State James A. Baker III, national security adviser Brent Scowcroft and others for a status report on the war. The session began just after the attack on Tel Aviv and also dealt with the continuing U.S. effort to keep Israel out of the conflict.

The cost of the war continued to climb, at home and abroad. Israel said yesterday it will need at least $13 billion in additional economic aid from the United States because of the war and the cost of absorbing Jewish immigrants from the Soviet Union. On Capitol Hill, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said the air war against Iraq is costing the U.S. Treasury "under half a billion dollars a day."

The White House confirmed that Bush had sent special envoy Richard Armitage to Jordan for talks with King Hussein. One major reason for the sudden trip, a senior administration official said, was to discuss the Jordanian leader's Saturday speech, in which he warned that Jordan would defend its airspace. That statement was widely interpreted as a threat against Israel, which likely would fly over Jordan in any retaliatory raid on Iraq. Armitage is trying to persuade King Hussein not to further widen the war by firing on Israeli planes.

Refugees arriving in Jordan from Iraq offered eyewitness accounts of civilian injuries and damage to non-military targets caused by the bombing of Baghdad. The accounts could not be verified independently, given the lack of communication with the Iraqi capital. But the refugees, many of them Egyptian workers, said U.S. statements that civilian targets had been spared were "propaganda." Iraqi radio also reported that U.S. pilots had damaged the Iraqi national museum during a bombing raid yesterday.

Western peace activists fleeing Baghdad also described a city that has "no water, no sewerage, no electricity, nothing to cook with and no petrol for bringing food from outlying districts," as Australian Jack King put it. Others reported "very little" damage in downtown Baghdad but asserted that some pilots had missed their targets.

'Saddam, Our Beloved, Hit Tel Aviv'

Iraq threatened suicide attacks in retaliation for the bombing and said Iraqi forces will defeat the allies' "smart weapons" with faith. "The historic movement of the Arab and Islamic nation is our weapon, while the computer and electronics are theirs," said Iraqi radio monitored in Cyprus by news services. "Victory is for the faithful . . . . Faith is our weapon while theirs is infidelity."

In Jordan, 500 mostly Jordanian and Iraqi women chanted and waved banners outside the U.S. Embassy in Amman, urging Saddam to attack Israel with chemical weapons. "Saddam, our beloved, hit Tel Aviv with chemicals," they said. Bush was denounced as a "butcher of children."

But in Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak brushed aside Arab opposition to the war, saying there would be no change in Egypt's staunch support for the allied effort to dislodge Saddam's forces from Kuwait. He also rejected calls for a cease-fire to give diplomacy a new chance to work and ridiculed Saddam for the Iraqi Scud attacks on Israel. He spoke before the latest attack hit Tel Aviv.

The newspaper of Syria's ruling Baath party was even harsher on Saddam, saying in an editorial that Iraq and its people had been "pushed . . . to suicide." It called on the Iraqi leader either to prevent further destruction or resign, saying that would be "a manly stand."

Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev called for a peaceful settlement to the gulf war and warned that conflict should not be allowed to spread further. But he also reiterated his support for the effort to liberate Kuwait. Meanwhile, an independent Soviet news agency quoted an unidentified member of the Soviet general staff as saying that 90 percent of the allied air strikes were missing their targets.

United Nations Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar reiterated his call to Saddam to "respond positively" to his Jan. 15 appeal for a withdrawal from Kuwait in return for the opportunity to have other issues discussed, as several non-aligned nations pressed peace proposals. But there appeared to be little hope for such diplomacy.

Contributing to this report were staff writers Ann Devroy, John M. Berry, David S. Broder, Helen Dewar, Tom Kenworthy, George Lardner Jr., John M. Goshko, Dana Priest, R. Jeffrey Smith, Barton Gellman, and correspondents Nora Boustany in Jordan, William Claiborne in Jerusalem and Michael Dobbs in Moscow.


© Copyright 1991 The Washington Post

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