Laughing the World to Scorn

Dismay in Israel as Saddam threatens regional stability yet again

On November 13, President Saddam Hussein double-thumbed his nose at the world and drove American UNSCOM members out of Iraq within hours of a UN Security Council resolution condemning his refusal to cooperate with the weapons inspection teams.

The UN's response to the expulsion was to again condemn Iraq "in the strongest possible terms" and pull most of the other inspectors out of the country, effectively terminating the largely unsuccessful six year mission aimed at closing down Iraq's programme for developing weapons of mass destruction.

Hussein made his move undeterred by the fact the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz was steaming around in the Gulf carrying enough weaponry to destroy Baghdad. British naval vessels were also rerouted to the Mediterranean.

As tension escalated, observers doubted that the Americans would be happy with "just another UN statement". Some commentators maintained that, if there was military action, America would go beyond a single missile strike, and would attack all bases suspected of housing non-conventional warfare equipment.

Ever war-wary Israelis kept both eyes on the Gulf, but Defence Minister Yitzhak Mordechai encouraged his countrymen to keep calm. "We will follow events and whatever needs [to be done] will be done in coordination with the United States," he said.

But the crisis was unfolding as Israel's standing in the international community lay at its lowest point in years. On the very day the Security Council was again castigating Iraq, the General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to condemn Israel for continuing "settlement construction" in Judea and Samaria.

At the same time, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was being given a "frosty" reception in England where he had arrived for a three day visit. Prime Minister Tony Blair reportedly addressed the Israeli in stern tones, in effect joining the international chorus blaming him for the virtual demise of the Oslo process. Demonstrating British Jews called on the Israeli leader to "go home". And even as the US was considering its response to what Secretary of State Madeleine Albright termed Iraqi "arrogance", she was wagging her finger at Israel during a meeting with Netanyahu.

On November 10, acording to the Washington Post, hundreds of Arabs demonstrated in the Palestinian Authority areas, burning Israeli and American flags, waving pictures of Hussein, and urging him to attack Israel.

"The Palestinian leaders supported Iraq in the 1990-91 Persian Gulf crisis," recounted the Post, "and Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip danced on rooftops when [39] Iraqi Scud missiles slammed into Israeli cities."

According to witnesses, the demonstrators came from across the political spectrum in the self-ruled areas, from militant Islamic fundamentalist groups to the mainstream PLO.

"'The Palestinian people's backing for Iraq has not changed. There is a general feeling that the United States is hostile to the Arab nation and is biased toward Israel,' said Azzam Ahmad, the PA ambassador to Iraq and an official in Yasser Arafat's self-rule administration."

In early November, the press was reporting that the number of Israelis calling at distribution centers to exchange their old gas-mask kits--complete with syringes containing antidotes for nerve agents--had tripled to 6,000 a day.

As America dispatched more warplanes to the Gulf, and the Russians--strongly opposed to the use of military action against Iraq--joined efforts to find a diplomatic solution, Mordechai warned of a very strong IDF response to any Iraqi attack on the Jewish state.

For the umpteenth time in its 50 year modern history, Israelis pondered the prospect of war.

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