TEL AVIV -- Israel's air force commander, Maj. Gen. Avihu Bin Nun, said he expects Israeli warplanes will soon be drawn into a war with Iraq, and he warned that as they fly over Jordan to their targets, King Hussein will have to choose between allowing the overflight and the annihilation of his own air force.
"We are probably going to be involved in some operations," Bin Nun said. "Probably if we have to fulfill missions over Iraq we will fly over Jordan -- there is no other way."
Bin Nun's statement, in a press conference for foreign journalists, came as the Israeli military continued to predict that war in the Persian Gulf is imminent. It cautioned Israelis that a preemptive Iraqi missile strike could come at any time.
In Tel Aviv, which Saddam has threatened to strike at the onset of any conflict, normally bustling streets were quiet this afternoon as many residents stayed home, near their army-issued gas masks and the "war rooms" they have prepared for an emergency. In an effort to relieve the tension, bars near the city's Mediterranean beaches promoted "doomsday" parties for people who wanted to drink or dance through the U.N. deadline -- after which war may begin.
As the deadline passed, the army announced a curfew on 600,000 Palestinians in the occupied Gaza Strip and West Bank. All schools throughout Israel as well as as the territories were ordered closed until Sunday.
Jordan has vowed to resist any move by Israeli planes across its territory. Asked about that, Bin Nun, who commands Israel's air force of more than 600 planes, said that in Israel's last two major wars, in 1967 and 1973, Jordan decided the same question differently, joining an Arab fight against Israel in 1967 and avoiding it in 1973.
"In '67 . . . we had to destroy their air force and it took us about two hours," he said. "In '73 they played a wiser role. . . . We had to fly over their air space to get to Syria, and they did not use their air force."
"I believe that if they look at the situation today, they'll take the '73 experience," he said. "If they do, they won't lose anything, because we have nothing against Jordan."
Israeli military officials say they are concerned that any U.S. strikes on the Iraqi bases will not be thorough enough to stop an attack on Israel. A senior official source warned today that if Iraq attacks Israel, Israeli planes will head for the missile bases within an hour, unless it is clear that American bombers are already destroying them.