JERUSALEM, DEC. 5 -- Israel has again warned the Bush administration against allowing Iraqi military power to remain intact through a peaceful solution to the Persian Gulf crisis, and hinted that if there is such a settlement, it might take preemptive action of its own against Iraq.
In one of the strongest assertions of Israel's interest in the U.S.-Iraqi standoff so far, Foreign Minister David Levy summoned U.S. Ambassador William Brown to a private meeting Tuesday and told him that "Israel expects the United States to stand by the commitments it took upon itself" following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, a senior official said.
In Israel's view, Levy said, the principal U.S. commitments had been to bring about the withdrawal of Iraq from Kuwait and to "remove the military threat," according to the account provided by officials today. They said Levy told Brown that Israel had agreed to adopt its "low profile" policy during the crisis, in which it has refrained from action of its own, largely because of its perception of those U.S. commitments.
The Israeli officials did not cite any specific reference for the claimed U.S. commitment to "remove the military threat" on Israel's behalf, although U.S. officials have declared "stability" in the region as one of their demands of Iraq and they have said that they are seeking ways to "contain" Iraq's military power after the Kuwait crisis is over.
Speaking before parliament today, Levy said, "Israel is not advising the U.S. to start a war and certainly it is not threatening Iraq." However, Israeli radio quoted him as saying, "Israel is taking nothing for granted and will make its own decisions."
"If anyone thinks that through some maneuver in the name of peace" Iraqi President Saddam Hussein "will be able to continue to threaten with the aim of surprising Israel," Levy declared, "he will find Israel ready, always, with its might, to destroy his security, to hurt him until he is sorry and regrets his action."
Israel has been pressing for U.S. action against Iraq's military power since early in the gulf crisis, leading to charges by critics that it is trying to push Washington into a war. While denying that charge, senior officials here contend that a new Middle East war will be inevitable if Saddam is not disarmed.
Levy's public and private statements reflected the concern that has spread through the government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir since the decision by President Bush to open a dialogue with Saddam. On Sunday, Levy said he had received a message from Secretary of State James A. Baker III reassuring Israel that the overture to Iraq did not mean a change in U.S. policy in the gulf.
However, even if Saddam fails in his announced intention to raise the issue of Palestinian rights in the dialogue, Israeli officials are worried that the prospective withdrawal of Iraqi and U.S. forces from the battle lines around Kuwait would eventually leave Israel to face a still-strong Saddam alone.
The influential daily Haaretz today interpreted Levy's message to Brown as signifying that "Israel has decided to warn the international community that a lack of determination to act against Saddam Hussein will result in Israel taking military measures." A Foreign Ministry official said that interpretation was exaggerated, but confirmed Levy's warning to Brown.
Asked today whether Israel would find a peaceful solution to the gulf crisis unacceptable, a senior military official said: "I can live with a peaceful solution, but the question is what kind of a peaceful solution. If Saddam Hussein will finish the conflict with all the capabilities that he has now . . . that will be a very big question for the future."
The official said that in Israel's estimate, Bush's offer of talks had created "a euphoric mood" in Iraq. "The Iraqis do not feel squeezed like they did," he said. "They feel they have achieved some kind of victory."
Military officials said Israel's anxiety about the military threat it might face in the aftermath of the gulf crisis had been compounded by indications that Syria is making new efforts to acquire advanced weapons.
The senior official, who spoke on condition he not be identified, said Israel had indications Syria is close to obtaining intermediate range missiles from North Korea. The missiles, called the Scud C in the West, are a modified version of the short-range Soviet Scud missile and resemble those that Iraq has deployed against Israel and Saudi Arabia, the official said.
He added that Israel had not confirmed that the North Korean deal would go through. He said Damascus must be acquiring the missiles with Israel in mind, because their range of 350 miles would not allow them to be fired from Syria against Iraqi targets.