Iraq attack on Israel shocks, sickens Maryland's congressional delegation WAR IN THE GULF

January 18, 1991|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Members of the Maryland congressional delegation reacted with shock to the news of an Iraqi missile attack on Israel -- a place that many of them have visited.

But while some members believed Israel should retaliate, others hoped the Persian Gulf war would not widen to include the Jewish state.

"It's something you hoped and prayed wouldn't happen," said Representative Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md.-3rd, who is Jewish and represents most of the predominantly Jewish communities of the Baltimore area. Mr. Cardin said he and his family have numerous friends in Israel, including Tel Aviv, where several missiles fell. He said he would likely try to reach them today. "It sort of hits you hard. It's hard to describe the feeling," he said.

"Sick," said Representative Beverly B. Byron, D-Md.-6th, when she heard the news.

Both Mr. Cardin and Mrs. Byron said they thought Israel should retaliate for the attack, although Representatives Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-Md.-1st, and Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.-5th, were more cautious.

While Mr. Gilchrest said he thought any Israeli countermeasures should be coordinated with the international alliance, Mr. Hoyer said he thought the U.S.-led coalition could respond effectively without an Israeli presence that might put a strain on the Arab allies. "There's nothing [Israel] can add to what [the coalition] is doing," Mr. Hoyer said.

"It just shows you the madness of Saddam Hussein," said Representative Tom McMillen, D-Md.-4th. "He's trying to turn this into an all-out carnage."

The members said they hoped the international alliance could survive a possible Israeli entrance into the gulf war, a move that could put strains on the Arab members.

"I would hope that cooler heads will prevail," Mrs. Byron said. And Mr. McMillen predicted that the alliance would hold because Arab troops already have entered the conflict.

"It will be stressed, but I think it will stay intact," Mr. Cardin said.

Just before the missiles struck, the Maryland members came away from a congressional briefing by Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, feeling hopeful about the situation. Mr. Cardin called it "a high."

But that all changed when news reports announced the raids. And those in congressional offices watched in stunned silence as journalists in gas masks gave live reports from Israel.

Up until the missile attack, it was a relatively calm day in Washington.

The phones were strangely quiet -- unlike the previous week when constituents jammed the lines, many urging members not to vote for military action.

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