Israeli military pilots lack crucial electronic identification codes that would allow their planes to conduct an air raid on Iraqi targets without being accidentally targeted by nearby U.S. and allied warplanes, an Israeli military official said yesterday.
Israel "cannot attack" Iraq without first obtaining access to the codes because its pilots might not survive a flight through the crowded air corridors over Iraq, where U.S. and allied planes are conducting more than 1,000 bombing runs each day, according to Admiral Abraham Ben-Shoshan, the Israeli defense attache in Washington.
Under standard military procedures, planes in a war zone that do not transmit appropriate coded electronic signals identifying them as friendly forces are subject to being shot down. The signals are broadcast by "Identification Friend or Foe" (IFF) transmitters carried by virtually all military aircraft.
In a breakfast meeting for reporters, Ben-Shoshan would not discuss whether his government had been rebuffed in a bid to obtain the codes from the United States, effectively blocking Israel's entrance into the Persian Gulf War to retaliate for Iraqi Scud missile attacks on Israeli cities.
But he emphasized that many Israeli officials believe their air force "should be prepared in a way that if a political decision is made, we have the right answer" to respond to an Iraqi missile or chemical weapons attack causing many Israeli deaths.
Pentagon officials declined comment on Israeli access to the codes, but one said IFF signals have been routinely changed every half hour on a prearranged schedule, barring attempts by unauthorized planes to pass unimpeded through the war zone.
Ben-Shoshan also said "we are sharing everything we know" about Iraqi military forces with Washington, including "a pretty good knowledge of how this enemy behaves, what he does, and how he operates."
Asked for examples, Ben-Shoshan said Israel had "a better way of analysis and more experience" than the West in developing countermeasures to Iraq's Chinese-made Silkworm missiles and its antiaircraft missiles purchased from European and Soviet arms manufacturers.
He said officials in Washington, continuing an eight-year pattern of "strategic cooperation," have provided timely imformation on military activities in western Iraq, the staging area for 27 Scud attacks on Israel.