U.S. persuaded Israel not to launch full-scale retaliatory assault on western Iraq WAR IN THE GULF

March 07, 1991|By Patrick E. Tyler | Patrick E. Tyler,New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- When Israel was attacked by Iraqi missiles on Jan. 18, Israeli leaders informed Washington that they planned to retaliate with a large air and land incursion into western Iraq to wipe out the missile launchers, administration officials say.

The Israeli plan was kept on hold for weeks and ultimately abandoned as Bush administration officials pressed Israel to stay out of the war.

It called for an Israeli armed sweep through western Iraq by helicopter gunships and "significant ground forces," including commando teams, all protected by Israeli air force planes that would have secured an air "corridor" through Jordan or Saudi Arabia to support the operation, the officials said.

The intensity and scale of the military operations contemplated by Israel were the primary reasons President Bush and his senior advisers devoted a large amount of time in the first weeks of the air war to persuading Israel to avoid any military action that would threaten the anti-Iraq coalition and play into the hands of President Saddam Hussein by bringing Israel into the war.

The plan Administration officials said that in order to head off Israeli retaliation, they sent U.S. Special Operations Forces into western Iraq to help locate the mobile Scud launchers.

U.S. officials believed that they had Israel's tacit agreement not to retaliate for Scud attacks after President Bush discussed the Scud threat on Dec. 11, before the air war began, with Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and assured him that the U.S. war plan called for aggressive attacks on the Scud sites in western Iraq.

But when Iraq launched the first seven modified Scud-B missiles against Tel Aviv and Haifa on Jan. 18, the tacit agreement was replaced by pressure to respond.

Within hours, Defense Minister Moshe Arens was on the hot line to Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, who spent that evening at the White House fielding calls with Israeli leaders along with Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Mr. Bush.

Mr. Arens described the plan for a full-scale assault in the Iraqi desert to Mr. Cheney and requested U.S. assistance for a full retaliatory raid. Administration officials said the Israeli plan called for flying air transports filled with Israeli troops through Jordan or Saudi Arabia to the Iraqi desert, where they were to attack the fixed Scud sites at Iraq's large H-2 and H-3 air bases.

The Israeli helicopter and ground forces also were to conduct search-and-destroy missions for Scud launchers while warplanes flew strike and reconnaissance missions.

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