Israelis braced for attack - why aren't we?

January 07, 2003|By Irwin J. Mansdorf

RAANANA, Israel - In Israel, you clearly feel the winds of war. But these are not winds blowing from the Palestinians. They are from Iraq.

Israel has declared Jan. 15 as the beginning of a heightened state of alert, code-named "Red Hail," one of six separate alert levels in response to the threat Iraq poses. While no one is sure if Israeli troops will respond to an Iraqi attack, one thing is clear: Israelis are preparing for the worst.

While the American media is replete with stories and pictures of troops in the Persian Gulf area preparing for war, Israel's media is focused on how the home front is readying sealed rooms and bomb shelters.

For those who ask where is the "home front" in this war, you need not look further than Israel. Having been attacked in 1991 by Iraq, a country that does not share a common border with Israel, a country that has no territorial dispute with Israel, one may ask why it is that Israelis, not Americans, are equipped with gas masks.

What is clear is that Iraq sees Israelis as enemies. An Iraqi leadership that has gassed its own citizens would certainly do the same to its enemies.

So the fact that every Israeli man, woman and child has a "protection set" of gas mask and injection against nerve gas is not surprising. Neither is the fact that schools are preparing children for war with lesson plans that review what to do in case of biological or chemical attack. Words like smallpox, sarin, VX and anthrax are as ubiquitous today in Israel as Big Mac is in the United States. Every citizen who does not have a bomb shelter nearby is instructed on how to prepare a special "sealed room" against chemical or biological attack.

So the question isn't why Israelis are preparing the home front. The question is why aren't Americans doing the same?

In Israel, a separate "home front" command has geared up for all contingencies that may come as a result of an attack on Iraq. Watch the news in Israel and see reports of an emergency services drill with personnel, bedecked head to toe in protective gear, spraying a suspected chemical warhead.

Turn the channel and see a hospital staff member explain how, in case of a biological attack, medical staff will go from house to house distributing medicine to every citizen in an affected area. Talk to children and hear how the teachers are preparing their students, explaining what may happen and teaching them means of coping physically and emotionally with the threat.

One of the scenarios Israel is preparing for is the launching of a terror attack by "sleeper cells" that may be equipped with chemical or biological agents smuggled into the country. While many are not sure if Iraq has the ability to attack Israel in conventional military style, no one can rule out the use of terrorists to carry out Saddam Hussein's plans. In a world that has seen the Tokyo subway system attacked with sarin gas and the United States Postal Service with anthrax, is there any certainty that the "homeland" is safe from Mr. Hussein or those who sympathize with him?

Israelis are keenly attuned to danger and aware of the threats against them. But are Americans, having suffered a cataclysmic terror attack a little over a year ago, prepared to deal with the real threat to the homeland?

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, when asked about the possibility of an Iraqi attack on Israel, said, "The danger exists ... but we've taken all measures to prevent it."

On that score, Israeli citizens can vouch for their leadership.

Hopefully, Americans will be able to do the same for theirs.

Irwin J. Mansdorf is a psychologist living in Israel who has dealt extensively with the effects of terror in Israel and the United States. He is as a consultant to Project Liberty, which counsels victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

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