Beleaguered Israelis gain unusual sympathy WAR IN THE GULF

January 21, 1991|By Los Angeles Times

MANAMA, Bahrain -- For the first time in more than 40 years, the people of Israel are getting a sympathetic hearing in the Arab world following Iraq's missile attacks on the Jewish state.

"Of course, we hate the suffering of the civilian population," said Abdullah Sharhan, a spokesman for the Kuwaiti government in exile.

In Bahrain, newspapers' front pages told sympathetic accounts of how Israeli civilians had narrowly missed being hit by the missiles, a shift in mood that would have been unthinkable six months ago.

The shift in view may have been prompted by television coverage of the attacks against Israel, which are given wide play in the Persian Gulf area.

The news coverage has touched a chord among the civilians of the gulf's Arab nations as they too scramble to find gas masks and protect their homes against possible chemical attack.

Arab officials in the gulf, in particular, privately have applauded Israel for showing restraint by not retaliating against Iraq for the two waves of Scud missiles that hit Israel Friday and Saturday. Israel's restraint has helped preserve the delicate allied coalition against Iraq.

For many gulf leaders, Iraq's pledge that the missiles would "bury the Zionists" appeared instead aimed at destroying the resolve of the Arabs aligned against Baghdad.

"The missile attacks on Israel are designed to serve a political purpose rather than inflict a military or strategic blow," said the Khaleej Times, an English-language newspaper in the United Arab Emirates. "It should be safe to assume therefore that the global alliance will continue to hold together despite Israel's involvement in the war by way of response to the Iraqi attacks."

Even the U.S. decision to send Israel advanced Patriot anti-aircraft missiles and U.S. Army crews to man them passed without criticism in the Arab states of the gulf, which in the past have criticized U.S. military support for Israel.

"It's a matter between the United States and Israel," said a senior government minister in the gulf region. "They have 6 6TC long-standing security relationship. We think that's fair enough."

The new mood in the gulf, of course, does not eliminate the Arab world's old grievance against Israel and its occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. But even on the subject of the conflict itself, there is clearly a new attitude.

In part, countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, which have been loyal supporters of the Palestine Liberation Organization, are furious over the PLO's public support for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"We don't have a problem with the Palestinians, we have a problem with the leadership of the PLO, who have supported Iraq," Kuwait's ambassador to Bahrain, Faisal Hajji, said.

Added another Kuwaiti exile: "We feel that these people have not appreciated the 40 years we have stood with them. Without the gulf countries, they would have been nothing."

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