Israel Girds for Gulf War, Palestinians for Crackdown
US and Israel fail to agree on Israeli response if attacked by Iraq
JERUSALEM — WITH the Gulf crisis sliding toward war, Israelis and Palestinians are considering the consequences of a conflict in which they may become embroiled. For Israelis, the chief concern lies in the prospect of Iraqi missiles, possibly carrying chemical warheads, landing on major population centers.
Palestinians also are anxious about chemical weapons, but they have the added worry that Israel may use war in the Gulf as a cover for an unprecedented crackdown in the occupied territories.
Since the failure of the Baker-Aziz talks in Geneva, there has been a perceptible change in mood, with foreign nationals and some Israelis scrambling to catch flights out of the country as those who remain prepare for a chemical weapons attack.
On a street corner in Jerusalem, two young entrepreneurs were doing a brisk trade in plastic sheeting and insulation tape - the basic requirements for securing homes against chemical weapons.
By the end of last week, defense officials began to appear on television and radio, offering advice to the public on how to act in a state of emergency. Although the advice concentrated on protection against chemical weapons, officials were keen to play down the likely cost of an Iraqi attack.
``If we're speaking about chemical warfare, launched by missiles, we are speaking about 100, 120 casualties, most of them lightly wounded,'' the Army's surgeon general, Brigadier Yehuda Danon, told Israel Radio.
Meanwhile, Israeli leaders and US officials held their highest level talks yet on the Gulf crisis.
Last Thursday, President Bush telephoned Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir for the first time since Aug. 2. Over the weekend, US Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, held a series of consultations with Mr. Shamir and senior Cabinet ministers. The talks were thought to center on Israel's insistence that it will retaliate in the event of an Iraqi attack. Washington, which fears the defection of Arab allies if Israel enters the fray, is understood to have assured Israel that it will come to the country's defense.
But an official in the prime minister's office told Israel Radio that no agreement had been reached with the US on the issue of Israel's defense. On Sunday, press reports said Shamir reiterated his government's intention to look after itself. ``That's the way it's been,'' he reportedly told Cabinet colleagues, ``and that's the way it will be.''
And Defense Minister Moshe Arens publicly vowed to retaliate immediately if Iraq carried out its threat. ``If Israel is attacked we will reply.''
Ze'ev Schiff, Israel's senior defense correspondent, writing in Haaretz newspaper, said that the US and Israel lacked ``even minimal operational coordination.''
``Thus in the event that Israel is forced to defend itself against an Iraqi attack,'' Mr. Schiff wrote, ``there is a danger that Israelis and Americans may be harmed in the air during operations simply because they won't know if they've run into friend or foe.''
The civil defense campaign launched in the news media took many Palestinians by surprise. Following the airing of an Arabic-language program, giving details on how to protect your home, shops in Arab East Jerusalem quickly sold out of plastic sheeting and scotch tape.
Palestinians living in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip have not yet received gas masks, and there are no signs that they will. Israeli officials have said they do not think the territories will be the target of gas attacks, but by the weekend Jewish settlers began to receive gas masks.
Meanwhile, Palestinian leaders have voiced concern at the prospect of an impending Israeli clampdown on the Palestinian intifadah (uprising).
Citing his own foreign and Israeli sources, leading Palestinian activist Faisal Husseini told a press conference that he knew of plans to evict large numbers of Palestinians while international attention was focused on the Gulf.
``We believe that there will be a real possibility that extreme groups, inside the Israeli community and inside the Israeli forces, will implement such a thing,'' he said, adding that Jewish settlers might play a crucial role.
``We believe that if there will be a war, the Israeli authorities will announce closure of the [occupied territories],'' Mr. Husseini said. ``Then they will start dealing with the people there, far from the media, far from supervision from the international community.''
Security sources deny the existence of such plans, but several officials have warned Palestinians not to use the Gulf crisis as an excuse to escalate the three-year-old intifadah.
The Army's advocate general, Brig. Gen. Amnon Strashnow, said on Saturday that ``the laws of war will be applied'' if Palestinians attempt to obstruct the Army's operations.
``The regulations on opening fire will be amended and adapted to the Army's needs, in order to enable it to carry out its missions,'' he told Israel Radio.
The Palestinian human rights organization, Al-Haq, said existing open-fire regulations already violated international law.
``A further relaxation of these regulations will erode the last remaining constraints on the use of lethal ammunition against unarmed civilians,'' Al-Haq said.
Husseini urged foreign governments not to evacuate diplomatic staff and foreign volunteers, saying they were urgently needed to monitor anticipated human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Britain and the US have already advised their citizens to leave Israel and the Israeli-occupied territories.
Bir Zeit University professor Hanan Ashrawi said Israelis would use ``psychological warfare and rumor-mongering'' against Palestinian civilians, to create panic and ``instill in them the need to leave.''
Ibrahim Muttar, a Palestinian economist, said such fears were based on the experience of 1948, when ``Israel used various means to cause eviction and panic.''
``But I think we've learned a lot from the 1948 experience,'' Mr. Muttar said. ``And that is that under no circumstances should we ever leave our homes, our villages, and our towns. No matter what the Israelis do, we're not going to leave.''