TEL AVIV, Israel -- The Israeli defense minister said yesterday that Israel would respond to Iraq's early morning missile attack, but he would not say when or how.
"This act is a very serious act, and we will respond," Moshe Arens said in a televised interview yesterday. He said the United States "knows that if we are attacked, we will respond. And we have been attacked."
His statements were echoed by several other top government officials. But no known military action was taken last night, and Israel appeared to be giving the U.S.-led forces more time to find and quiet the missile launchers.
The bombardment of Tel Aviv and Haifa with about eight missiles early yesterday has threatened to bring Israel into the Persian Gulf war and could rearrange the war lineup.
But Israeli leaders have said it is a point of political and practical necessity to retaliate whenever Israel is harmed. There were no deaths and only a dozen minor injuries in the attack yesterday.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir has not spoken publicly about Israel's intentions. But yesterday, Mr. Arens' comments were seconded by Foreign Minister David Levy and Benjamin Netanyahu, his deputy.
Mr. Arens noted of the allies, "We take into account their presence. But we will do what has to be done." He added: "We will retaliate."
The allies believe such a move is exactly what Saddam Hussein hoped in launching missiles at a country 350 miles from Iraq's closest border.
The question of if, when and how Israel should move was hotly debated here and abroad yesterday. Many residents of Tel Aviv seemed willing to be a little more patient.
In interviews, most said they would wait to see whether Mr. Hussein bombarded them again. But many added that another night's shelling would be enough: They said Israel should then respond.
Nerves were jangled last night by three false alarms. The first, at 8:40 p.m., was accompanied by instructions on state radio and television that all citizens throughout the country should put on gas masks. That alarm lasted 24 minutes. A second sounding of the sirens came at 12:32 a.m., but an "all-clear" signal was given just three minutes later. At 4:50 a.m., they went off again.
Israel radio said the second false alarm was sparked by sightings of a Soviet satellite that had burned up and re-entered the atmosphere.
The Iraqi attack was accomplished with Scud missiles, which are said to be somewhat inaccurate and carry a limited payload. But daylight yesterday revealed that the damage from their explosions was more than the "minor damage" that government officials had reported.
At the site of one impact, the missile blew the concrete-block front walls completely off two two-story buildings. It so badly damaged two other similar homes that the government demolished them yesterday.
That no one was seriously injured in the blasts "was very, very lucky," said a neighbor. The neighborhood of this missile landing was a poor, residential area in south Tel Aviv. Many of the residents are Iraqi Jews.