Saddam Hussein, in mustering what was left of his air strike arsenal to attack Israel, is activating his threat to try to turn his rape of Kuwait into a general Middle East conflagration. It was always his trump card, one he flourished, and it forces excruciating decisions on the Jewish state.
The Israeli ambassador to the United Nations has stated that Israel will not respond at this point. Maybe so, maybe not. To do so could draw Jordan into the war on Iraq's side and split Syria, always a doubtful factor, away from the fragile international coalition arrayed against Iraq. Not to do so would contravene any nation's right to hit back if attacked -- a fundamental element of Israel's defense strategy against its hostile neighbors.
Just how delicate the situation is was reflected in the Israeli government's denial about whether any of the Scud missiles lobbed into the Tel Aviv-Haifa area contained nerve gas or other deadly chemicals. Any chemical warfare attack would leave Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's regime with little choice but to retaliate, even knowing this would fit in with Hussein's plotting. On the other hand, Israeli forebearance if it is hit only by conventional weapons could confound the dictator's plans -- provided U.S.-led forces take out what is left of Iraq's mobile missile capability, and quickly.