Israeli military expects 'a long war,' more attacks by mobile Iraqi missiles WAR IN THE GULF

January 22, 1991|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Sun Staff Correspondent

TEL AVIV, Israel -- Israeli military officials say they believe most of the mobile missile launchers aimed at their country have not been destroyed.

They predict more missiles will come and expect the conflict in the gulf will be "a long war."

Their gloomy assessment comes even as Israel was breathing more easily. It was a quiet night last night, and there has been no missile attack since Saturday morning.

The government this morning felt secure enough to order everyone back to work, although schools remained closed. People were told to bring their gas masks with them, however, a bow to the army's prediction that Iraq still will attack.

The Israeli military assessment contrasts with more optimistic statements by some American officials about the number of Iraqi missile launchers destroyed. It came as Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger visited to offer reassurances of the "enormous, persistent" efforts to erase the missile threat and protect Israel.

Iraqi missile attacks on two successive nights last week seemed to leave this country perched on the verge of sending its own forces to retaliate. That action, which the United States fears would alienate its Arab allies, apparently was put on hold by a huge and hurried airlift to Israel of two sophisticated Patriot anti-missile batteries.

Mr. Eagleburger said yesterday that the delivery of the systems with American crews to operate them was unprecedented. He heaped effusive praise on Israel for its restraint, and took pains to describe what he said

was "a very close, respectful and equal" relationship between the countries.

"The United States stands with Israel in defending against Iraqi aggression," he said after inspecting the site of a missile explosion in Tel Aviv and visiting a Patriot crew. "The United States is -- and has been for many years -- committed to the security of Israel."

The chief Israeli military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Nachman Shai, said yesterday that he believed the American-led forces "are on the way to victory." But he said "this will not be a quick victory. It will be a long one."

General Shai said Israeli military analysts did not believe the massive air attack by the multinational forces has eliminated the threat from Scud missile launchers in western Iraq.

"There is no doubt most of them are operational," he said. "They lost some. We're not sure how many."

Israeli Col. Raanan Gissin estimated there were about 30 mobile launchers in western Iraq that could send missiles to Israel when the war began. By a "fluke of luck," he said, a squadron of jTC American A-10 warplanes en route to another mission spotted 11 of the mobile launchers on a road from the Iraq border to Kuwait.

The squadron commander diverted the mission and destroyed all of the mobile launchers, he said. But he said there may be 20 more that have not been found.

Western Iraq "is riddled with underground shelters for missile launchers and aircraft," he said. The first flush of success in the war had brought optimistic predictions that all, or most, of the missile launchers had been disabled.

There also were assurances that mobile launchers were exposed for several hours while they were prepared for launching. That exposure was said to provide considerable advance warning to the targeted population and time to destroy the launchers.

Neither has turned out to be true. The missiles that have struck Tel Aviv arrived just moments after the start of air raid sirens. And the mobile launchers have proven elusive.

Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of American forces in the gulf, has said that locating a mobile launcher is like "finding a needle in a haystack."

Colonel Gissin said he believes the Iraqis have been very adept at preparing the launchers in ditches or under camouflage, often night when the cool desert temperatures do not affect the fuel.

And though all of the missiles that have hit Israel so far have carried conventional warheads, Israeli officials still believe Saddam Hussein may have the technology for a chemical warhead.

"I believe Iraq's ability to launch chemical or conventional weapons into Israel still exists," said General Shai.

If he does have that ability, why have there been no missiles launched since Saturday against Tel Aviv, which Mr. Hussein had sworn to destroy? And why have there been no chemical attacks?

Israeli military officials believe Mr. Hussein is attempting to drag out the war, and so is spending his armed forces a little at a time. He may be waiting to resume the attack or to use a chemical weapon later when he feels he needs a surprise, they say.

"Their strategy is to try to buy time, to drag the war out," said Colonel Gissin.

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