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      Arab States Relieved

    By Lee Hockstader
    Washington Post Foreign Service
    Monday, November 16, 1998; Page A17

    JERUSALEM, Nov. 15—For the second time in a year, Arab states expressed relief today that threatened U.S. airstrikes against Iraq had been averted, while Israel, the target of 39 Iraqi Scud missiles in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, took a slightly more wary view.

    "Now we are not talking about military strikes. We are talking about an exchange of views and letters and commitments," Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa said. "I believe this is a very important opening, and the problem we hope will be defused."

    Jameel Hujailan, secretary general of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, expressed hope that the matter will end in a diplomatic solution as the Iraqi people are Arab brothers.

    Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in a statement: "Israel has no illusions about the intentions of Saddam Hussein. The degree of his compliance with his commitments is always in doubt, and therefore Israel will continue to keep its eyes open and ensure it will be ready for every possible situation in the future."

    On both sides of the Middle East divide, Arab and Jewish reactions to the apparent resolution of the showdown over Iraq were muted, a reflection, perhaps, that the next crisis may be only months away.

    Word that Washington had aborted planned missile attacks against Iraqi targets at the last minute ignited no street celebrations or triumphal speeches in the Middle East. Rather, there was a sense that the U.S.-Iraqi cycle of tension, challenge and resolution was becoming routine.

    "If the choice is between a military response and the return of the inspectors, then the return of the inspectors is a preferred outcome," said Gerald Steinberg, a scholar at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Israel's Bar-Ilan University. "Assuming now there will be a lot of pressure on Saddam to allow the inspections to go forward, it narrows the ability of Iraq to maintain its facilities for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. Some of those things will be rolled back a bit."

    Shai Feldman, director of the Jaffe Center, a think tank in Tel Aviv, said it appeared at first blush that Saddam Hussein had again misread U.S. determination to keep him in check.

    But, he said, there may be another interpretation. "It could be his whole purpose is not the end of inspections but the end of sanctions, and if that is the purpose, Saddam succeeded in drawing attention" to the fact that Iraq has been under sanctions for seven years, Feldman said, adding, "If the French and the Chinese and the Russians and others become increasingly vocal on this issue, maybe he won."

    During the Persian Gulf showdown last February, tens of thousands of Israelis thronged gas mask distribution centers and many others left the country, providing fodder for media images of a panicky population. Officials issued contradictory and confusing statements. This time, Israelis took the crisis in stride and their leaders' remarks on the potential dangers were intentionally subdued.

    Some Israelis, still smarting from the memory of Iraq's attacks on the Tel Aviv area in 1991, are taken with the idea of seeing Saddam Hussein whacked with cruise missiles. Many others were quietly pleased that war was averted.

    "We hope the return of the inspectors to normal work will enable meaningful inspections that will prevent development and manufacture of weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles," Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai said in a prepared statement.

    News services reported:

    Among the five permanent members of the Security Council, Russia, China and France welcomed Iraq's decision while the United States and Britain said they remain suspicious of Saddam Hussein's sincerity.

    U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan praised Clinton, saying his "statesmanlike response today will be welcomed by the international community."

    Russia urged Washington to end the standoff with Iraq without using force. "The decisions taken by the Iraqi leadership and joint efforts of diplomacy . . . have allowed a way to open to end this worrying crisis," Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told reporters after he met with Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

    British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told CNN that Britain is "fully behind President Clinton in the central thrust of his remarks."

    "It is quite clear that Saddam Hussein has backed down, and the only reason he has backed down is because he was convinced there was a real, credible threat of force from the United States and the United Kingdom," Cook said.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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