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THE PLASTIC SHEET AND GAS MASK SYNDROME
(Op-Ed by Moshe Arens, "Yediot Ahronot", Feb 26, 1998, p. B3)

It is highly probable that the Annan-Aziz agreement is nothing more than
another act in the drama being produced and directed by Saddam Hussein.
This does not mean that we should remain on gas mask, plastic sheet and
antibiotics alert for the next act.

Those Israelis who were prepared for the worst, certainly breathed sighs
of relief as they watched Kofi Annan and Tariq Aziz, signing an agreement
in Baghdad whose contents they could not then know. However, there can be
almost no doubt that the agreement reached by the UN is nothing more than
another scene in the drama being produced and directed by Saddam Hussein,
which will have further episodes.

Seven years ago, during the Gulf War, U.S. President George Bush described
Saddam as "worse than Hitler." Or course he exaggerated, but Saddam is
certainly a "little Hitler," and should one day be tried as a war
criminal. It is enough to examine his past deeds: Violating an agreement
he himself signed, Saddam attacked Iran, beginning and eight-year war,
causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people; just like Hitler,
he annexed a neighboring state and, like Hitler, he has used gas against
civilians. How, then, can an agreement he signed be trusted? Even if the
new agreement enables UN representatives free access to Iraqi ammunition
sites suspected of containing chemical and biological weapons, does anyone
doubt that the Iraqi strongman will continue his efforts to build these
weapons and that lifting the sanctions will make these efforts easier for
him?

Does this mean that Israelis must from now on live with gas masks, plastic
sheets and anti-anthrax medicine within reach? It would be a grave mistake
if the government continues, through official channels, to create panic in
the public. The television coverage of recent weeks, broadcast world-wide
and showing an airlift of protection means arriving daily in Israel, and
the media accounts of the country's leaders asking the countries of the
world to send gas masks to Israel, presented a picture of the average
Israeli losing his composure and has already caused serious damage to the
country.

The damage is severe not only due to the economic price exacted by the
last minute efforts to prepare for the worst case scenario -- a price that
can be calculated as being at least several hundred million dollars -- nor
even in terms of damage done to the tourist industry, or the nervous
strain caused to the citizens of the country. The most serious damage was
caused by the impression that Israel panics at every sign, even the
slightest, of real or imagined danger.

In an attempt to justify the government's policy, Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu compared the situation to that on the eve of the Yom Kippur War,
and reminded us of the consequences of the tragic decision by Golda Meir's
government to ignore the warnings of an Egyptian-Syrian attack and not to
mobilize the reserves.

However, there is not the slightest similarity between the two situations:
then, there were fully mobilized Egyptian and Syrian armies deployed
opposite the Israeli lines, and Anwar Sadat warned almost daily that war
with Israel was unavoidable. The potential results of an Arab attack on
Israel without a reserve call-up were expected to be catastrophic. It was
a serious mistake not to be prepared against such a danger. By contrast,
Iraq's ability today to harm Israel is almost nonexistent, and it is no
coincidence that neither Saddam Hussein nor any of his senior officials
made any threats towards Israel.

In any event, Saddam is well aware of Israel's deterrent capability, and
when weapons of mass destruction are concerned, it is deterrent force that
provides a security umbrella to Israel's residents, not gas masks or
antibiotics. For these reasons, it was a mistake to raise the population's
anxiety level.

The fact that an impression was created that an Arab leader has only to
whistle and Israelis will cover their heads with gas masks could cause us
serious problems in the future. But worse than that, if we do not show
confidence in our deterrent capability, it is possible that some Arab
leaders may begin to doubt its existence.

.



From owner-israel-mideast@PANKOW.INTER.NET.IL  Sun Mar  1 10:56:14 1998
Subject:      Plastic Sheet and Gas Mask Syndrome-"Yediot", Feb 25, 1998
Status: O
X-Status: 

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