Strikes on Iraq Prompt Mixed Mideast Reactions

Some Arab nations point to West's `double standard' in enforcing UN resolution - roundup

ARAB states appeared little more than anxious bystanders yesterday in the aftermath of the Western air strike on Iraq.

The few leaders prepared to comment, Reuters reported from Cairo, showed little enthusiasm for military action to force Iraq to comply with United Nations resolutions passed at the end of the Gulf war in 1991.

They know many ordinary Arabs deeply resent the West using force against Iraq while failing to order UN sanctions against Israel, an anger which could erupt in street protests. They fear anything that further weakens Iraq could also strengthen an already resurgent Iran and create still more threats to stability in the Gulf, source of 40 percent of the world's oil imports.

Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry under-secretary Suleiman Majed al-Shahin said he hoped the air strikes would prevent more "miscalculations" by Iraq. But other Gulf governments, which Arab diplomats describe as having longed for a Western strike to remove Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, said nothing.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who helped the United States to assemble the Gulf war coalition, said he regretted the renewed use of force. But he added that Saddam had "regrettably entangled himself and his country in this miscalculated adventure."

He emphasized that Egypt was committed to Iraq remaining one country and did not want to see it divided into three, which Arabs worry could be the result of the West establishing "no fly" zones to protect Kurds in the north of Iraq and Shiite Muslims in the south.

Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, who also sent troops to fight for Kuwait in 1991, told a news conference that any illegal Iraqi actions should stop.

But Mr. Assad voiced the deep frustration Arabs feel about what they see as the West's double standard - willingness to use force against Iraq but reluctance to intervene to stop Serbs attacking Muslims in the Bosnian civil war and total refusal to allow UN sanctions on Israel.

"We are all concerned, of course, about international legitimacy. But whenever this expression is used it reminds us that this legitimacy does not follow a balanced path. We want this legitimacy to be applied everywhere," he said. Jocular tone in Israel

The Monitor's Peter Ford reports that Israelis awoke yesterday morning to hear Israel Radio's news presenter wishing everyone a good day - except Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

The radio's jocular tone was typical of the relaxed way in which most Israelis reacted to the news of Wednesday night's air strike against Iraq. Fears that the Iraqi leader might retaliate by firing missiles at Israel were few and far between.

With Army Chief of Staff Ehud Barak visiting Washington and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin speaking at the annual dinner of the British-Israeli Chamber of Commerce, it was clear that Israeli leaders felt no need to be in their situation rooms. "We call on the public to continue with their daily routine," Mr. Rabin told his audience. "The fact that I am here with you is an example of that."

Senior officials bolstered the mood of normalcy, which contrasted sharply with the nervous tension that gripped Israel during the Gulf war two years ago, by explaining why they thought an Iraqi attack was out of the question.

"There is no Arab coalition to be broken by an attack on Israel," said Ori Orr, a retired Army general who heads the parliament's Foreign Affairs and Security Committee. "Also Saddam Hussein says he doesn't have missiles, and if he attacks Israel he will be admitting that he does."

Palestinian reaction to the raid was muted, as their leaders weighed the disastrous consequences of the Palestine Liberation Organization's (PLO) opposition to the Gulf war.

That position cost the PLO all its financial support from the Gulf countries. "You won't hear a word from [PLO headquarters in] Tunis," said Hanan Ashrawi, spokeswoman for the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East peace talks. "We are going to allow a lot of other people to express themselves before we do." Britons call attack `political'

Senior British government sources tell the Monitor's Alexander MacLeod that the key aim of the attack was political rather than military.

By striking at static and mobile missile installations, an official said, the Western powers were "sending a recorded delivery letter" to Saddam to "comply with UN resolutions and cease-fire terms, or face further attacks."

The sources stressed that although the missile targets hit by US, British, and French planes were significant Iraqi military assets that could be used for hostile purposes, they were not the prime object of the mission.

The dual political aim, sources said, was to force Saddam to allow UN helicopters to carry out assigned tasks in northern and southern exclusion zones, and to persuade him to stop infringing UN-determined international boundaries.

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