The first name of Eliahu Ben Elissar, chairman of the Israeli parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, was incorrect in a picture caption yesterday. (Published 1/30/91)
TEL AVIV, JAN. 28 -- Iraq launched another Scud missile attack against Israel tonight, and sources said the government is pressing Washington to allow Israeli forces to carry out an unspecified but already planned operation against Iraq to stop -- or at least deter -- such attacks.
The army said there were no injuries in tonight's missile attack, the seventh to be aimed at Israel in the last 11 nights.
Israeli radio and military officials said parts of the Scud, which may have been defective, landed on Arab villages in the occupied West Bank, several miles east of Tel Aviv, the Associated Press reported. It was the first reported hit of a Scud in the West Bank, whose Arab population largely backs Iraq.
The army said no Patriot air defense missiles were fired but it gave no reason. There was speculation it was because no Scuds came within range of the Patriots, which are deployed to defend Israeli cities.
On the question of Israeli attacks, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir declared earlier today that Israel will not launch military action without U.S. consent. "Israel is not interested in doing anything . . . that will not be of use in reducing the dangers facing us," he told the parliament. "Therefore we will do everything, under the exisiting circumstances, in coordination with the United States."
Until now, the United States has urged Israel to stay out of the Persian Gulf War, and reportedly has withheld vital intelligence information such as aircraft identification codes that Israeli planes would need to operate over Iraq in concert with U.S. forces. Last week, senior Israeli officials said they were willing to let allied forces battle the missile threat in Iraq, and the chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Shomron, said it was "mistaken" to believe that Israel could quickly take care of the threat by itself.
However, two more missile attacks on Tel Aviv and Haifa over the weekend have persuaded officials that Israel should try to launch an operation of its own against Iraq to stop or deter further missile attacks, sources said.
"We would like to go, but in coordination with the United States, because we can't continue like this," said a senior official who asked not to be named. Asked if the United States was willing to agree to Israeli action, the official said, "We are talking to them and we will see."
Another official said, "Some people in the American administration are also raising questions about American performance against the missile sites. But you don't yet see those people saying that Israel should be allowed to do it."
This official said the change in Israel's position since last week was that "a week ago there was skepticism about what Israeli operation there could be that would be effective. Now we are convinced that we know what we could do, and it's just a question of getting the go-ahead to do it."
The government's public and private statements suggest that Israel will continue to refrain from military action if it is vetoed by Washington. Israel has decided to go along with U.S. wishes so far, largely because it feels that its long-term military and political interests lie in closely cooperating with Washington as it battles Iraq. Sunday, the cabinet reaffirmed that "restraint" policy, despite some objections from hard-liners.
Defense Minister Moshe Arens has hinted at Israel's eagerness to act several times recently. Today he told Israeli radio: "We are ready, yes. We had a few good months to prepare and drill. . . . There are plans."
Arens added that "a significant degree of consultation" with the United States "is required so we can enter the same airspace."
One reason Israel gives for urgency in sending its forces into action is concern that Iraq will soon attack it with chemical or biological weapons. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has repeatedly threatened to "burn" Israel with chemical weapons, and did so again over the weekend.
Israeli analysts are concerned that Iraq may now turn to chemical weapons because its attempt to draw Israel into the war with conventional attacks has failed, and because its military situation appears to be growing more desperate. "The moment is approaching when Saddam is likely -- out of desperation or other considerations -- to use unconventional weapons against Israel and the coalition," military writer Amos Gilboa wrote today in the newspaper Maariv.
Official sources said the principal reason given by U.S. officials for opposing Israeli entry into the war has been the possible impact on Jordan, which has said it would resist any Israeli use of its airspace. Although the governments of Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia, the chief Arab allies in the U.S.-led coalition force, have indicated they would tolerate action by Israel to defend itself, Washington fears that might provoke turmoil in the general population of those countries, officials here say.
According to sources here, U.S. envoy Richard Armitage was rebuffed by King Hussein when he visited Amman last week to seek greater cooperation from Jordan. Israeli sources said Hussein, who has tilted toward Iraq throughout the crisis, insisted to Armitage that Jordan would attack any Israeli planes that flew over his country -- whose airspace Iraq uses regularly to fire the Scud missiles at Israel.
As a result of Jordan's position, analysts here said, any Israeli operation is likely to be a one-time action that would involve only one round trip for planes across Jordanian territory.
"We can't be involved like the Americans in search-and-destroy missions day after day in western Iraq, because that would exacerbate the Jordanian problem," one source said.