IN Jerusalem, Israeli officials breathed a sigh of relief yesterday that the massive allied offensive against Iraq had reduced the threat of an Iraqi missile attack and heightened chances that the Jewish state would be able to sit out the Gulf war. ``There was a tense feeling that Iraq would try to draw us in,'' an Israeli Army spokesman says. ``Now we are glad to know that the Iraqi threat was all talk and no substance.''
``I am happy this morning,'' says a smiling Jerusalem taxi driver. ``The United States has done our work for us.''
But Israeli leaders warned that their country is not completely out of danger.
``We cannot say at the moment that the threat to Israel has been removed. It has been reduced,'' Deputy Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday.
US warplanes led an attack early yesterday on missile installations in western Iraq that Iraq had threatened to use for conventional or chemical strikes against Israel.
Iraq began the war an estimated 60 fixed and mobile missile launchers. All of the fixed sites aimed at Israel were destroyed in the first wave of air attacks, the Pentagon announced.
Before the war, Israel pledged that it would not initiate an attack against Iraq but would reserve the right to respond if attacked first. US officials were concerned that, if Israel joined the war, Arab states might quit the anti-Iraq coalition, turning the conflict into a new Arab-Israeli war.
Although tensions have eased in Israel, civil defense authorities instructed all nonessential workers to remain home with gas masks ready and to await further instructions on radio or television, in case of an Iraqi chemical weapons attack.
Gas masks were distributed to all Israelis and to some Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories in anticipation of a possible Iraqi attack. Hotels, meanwhile, have provided emergency equipment to foreign visitors, including several hundred journalists and American and European Jews who were visiting the country to show solidarity during the crisis.
In a typical Jerusalem hotel, a tightly sealed top floor room, complete with shortwave radios and food, has been reserved in case of a gas attack. An underground chapel with thick cement walls has been reserved in case of an attack with conventional explosives.
Most Israelis were asleep when news of the US-led attack was first broadcast, at 2:00 a.m. local time. The streets of Jerusalem were eerily quiet yesterday, with virtually all shops closed and traffic extremely light. One Jerusalem resident said the unusual calm seemed like Yom Kippur, the Jewish holiday on which business and traffic come to a halt.
Meanwhile, the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip have been placed under total curfew to prevent demonstrations of Palestinian solidarity with Iraq. Israeli Army radio reported that military jeeps were patrolling the territories, broadcasting warnings that the lives of curfew violators would be in danger.
News of the start of the Gulf war was announced on loudspeakers in mosques and quickly spread throughout the territories. Several shots were fired at the US consulate in Arab East Jerusalem early yesterday. Israel has warned that tanks would be used to quell major outbreaks of violence in the territories.
Mr. Netanyahu said the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) ``had just announced that it will conduct a terror campaign against the US and others around the world.''
A PLO statement issued in Tunis yesterday said the ``cowardly aggression'' of the anti-Iraq coalition should be opposed ``on all levels,'' but made no explicit reference to a terrorist campaign.