Israel Wins Points for Restraint After Iraqi Missile Attacks
FOR Ruti, the Gulf war has come perilously close to home. The 21-year-old mother of one was listening to the radio early Thursday when the mournful wail of air raid sirens suddenly shattered the night silence. Just as she opened her front door to investigate, she saw an Iraqi missile slam into a neighbor's house.Skip to next paragraph
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``It was a huge red light exploding,'' she recounted the next day, pointing to the now-vacant lot where two houses once stood and to the shattered glass, crumpled cars, and twisted railings that litter this lower class neighborhood on the outskirts of Tel Aviv.
Despite such scenes of destruction, wrought by Iraqi missile attacks on Friday and Saturday, six days of siege have paid unexpected dividends for the Jewish state.
Strongly criticized for its suppression of the Palestinian uprising in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel has suddenly won the admiration of the world for its poise and restraint under fire.
``Suddenly it's become plucky little Israel again,'' quips a Western journalist in Jerusalem, referring to Israel's one-time image as a scrappy David in a world of menacing Arab Goliaths.
The assault on Israel has also transformed relations with Washington.
Ties between Israel and the Bush administration had been frayed because of deep disagreements over Jewish settlement in the West Bank and ways to advance the Middle East peace process. But following the Iraqi attacks, Washington has rushed to provide moral and military support to its beleaguered ally.
The United States dispatched two batteries of Patriot surface-to-air missiles to Israel on Saturday to defend against oncoming Scuds. It is the biggest airlift of military supplies to Israel since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. The accompanying team of military advisers are the first to participate directly in the defense of Israel.
The US also announced that it was sending the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal to the eastern Mediterranean, off Israel's coast. Meanwhile, Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger arrived in Israel Sunday to coordinate policy. The visit is partly a symbolic show of support, but it is also designed to enhance strategic cooperation between the US and Israel.
Washington's sudden interest in Israel is not entirely disinterested. The Bush administration is concerned that if Israel retaliates the anti-Iraq coalition will be weakened. To give Israel breathing room, the coalition air forces have intensified efforts to locate and destroy Scud missile launchers in western Iraq.
Israeli officials continue to insist on their right to strike back at Iraq but have agreed to be patient to keep the coalition intact.
Israeli officials believe the US is prepared to bid high for continued Israeli forbearance.
``We are accumulating points now,'' says a Israeli official, who was quoted in news reports here.
Israel could call in its chips by convincing the US to scale back or cancel a projected $20 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia or to increase aid to help Israel absorb the wave of Soviet immigrants arriving in Israel.
More worrisome to Palestinians is the possibility that the US may ease pressure on Israel to agree to an international conference to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian dispute after the Gulf crisis.