Blasts raise fears of Israeli entry into gulf conflict


January 19, 1991|By Paul West | Paul West,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Iraq launched a second missile attack against Israel early today, raising fresh fears that Israeli armed forces would be drawn into the Persian Gulf war.

A series of explosions rocked Tel Aviv, the nation's largest city, shortly before 7:30 a.m. local time (12:30 a.m. EST).

The Defense Department confirmed that at least three Scud missiles had been launched from western Iraq, and witnesses in Tel Aviv confirmed four hits. Baghdad radio announced that 11 missiles were launched.

Less than an hour after the blasts, an all-clear was sounded. Israelis were advised that they could remove gas masks and leave their sealed rooms, indicating that the attack was conventional, not chemical.

Israeli authorities said there were casualties but offered no specific information. An Israeli doctor, interviewed on television after the attack, said that he knew of at least a half-dozen people who were injured but that their injuries were not chemical.

There was no immediate indication of Israeli retaliation, but the Israeli health minister, Ehud Olmert, was quoted after the attack as saying, "Now I am afraid retaliation is almost inevitable."

"We have never asked other people to protect us, to fight for us. We won't do it this time," Dan Meridor, the Israeli justice minister, said in a TV interview after the attack. "This cannot go unpunished . . . this cannot go on forever."

Unlike the initial Iraqi Scud missile strike early yesterday morning, which did little damage, today's attack occurred in broad daylight. But most streets were largely deserted because of the early hour and the fact that it was the Jewish sabbath.

The barrage was further proof that the U.S.-led air campaign against Iraq had failed to knock out all its missile-launching sites, particularly those in the western portion of the country within range of Israel.

Throughout yesterday, U.S. fighter jets prowled the skies over Iraq's western reaches, scanning the barren landscape for Scud launchers.

"We are going to be redoubling our efforts in the darnedest search-and-destroy effort that's ever been undertaken out in that area. And I hope that that is very reassuring to the citizens of Israel," President Bush said at the White House.

Israeli leaders insisted yesterday that they would retaliate, but more than 24 hours after the first Iraqi missiles landed, there was no sign that a counterattack was imminent.

"The U.S. administration knows that if we are attacked, we will respond," Defense Minister Moshe Arens said. "And we have been attacked."

Mr. Bush, reporting to congressional leaders on the initial progress of Operation Desert Storm, now in its third day, declared that "our forces have performed magnificently."

Another front in the air war opened yesterday with the first raid from Turkey. A flight of 27 planes was reported to have taken off in the early morning, only hours after Turkey's Parliament agreed to having its territory used.

"The flights started as training," President Turgut Ozal said on television. "But they had permission beforehand, and afterward TC they may have gone somewhere else."

Almost all the activity remained in the air. Except for one minor artillery exchange Thursday, no ground hostilities have been reported.

In Saudi Arabia, senior officers dismissed speculation that a ground attack on Iraqi positions in Kuwait was imminent. They said the attack might still be a week away and would be preceded by a massive and sustained aerial bombardment of the heavily fortified border defenses.

In the Middle East, allied aircraft were taking off from carriers and land bases at the rate of nearly 2,000 missions a day, although heavy cloud cover again forced some fighters to return to base still carrying all their bombs.

The clouds also hindered efforts to use spy satellites in the search for the mobile Scud launchers, reported to number two dozen or more.

Returning pilots reported that Iraqi air defenses continued to put up little resistance, and U.S. casualties remained light.

In all, seven U.S. fliers were listed as missing in action, including at least one presumed dead. The number of downed U.S. jets grew to four. Four other allied planes also have been reported downed.

Iraqi officials in Baghdad said that U.S. airmen had been taken prisoner, but U.S. spokesmen said they knew of no U.S. prisoners of war.

Despite earlier reports that allied forces were in control of the skies over Iraq -- one of the initial objectives of the operation -- senior U.S.

officials said the allies had not yet achieved complete air superiority.

"Unfortunately, a lot of their aircraft are in hardened shelters. We attack the shelters, and we don't know the results on the aircraft," Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles A. Horner told reporters in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The televised briefing was the first by U.S. commanders in the region since the war began.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.