Israel Shrugs Off Any
Threat Of Iraqi Missiles
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak shrugged off any threat of Iraq firing ballistic missiles at Israel on Friday but promised to be ready for the possibility, however remote.
The United States, concerned that Iraq could try to fire missiles at Israel, alerted a U.S. Army Patriot anti-missile battery in Germany to prepare for possible deployment in Israel, senior defence officials said on Thursday.
"I can promise that we are ready and are following well all that is happening and we will be ready for every sort of development," Barak told reporters during a visit to schools in the central Israeli town of Ramle.
"I am not sure any more that we must truly be worried and I don't know whether this Patriot battery must truly be worried," Barak said in jest.
U.S. officials said they had no indications Iraq would launch the missiles but were getting ready should Baghdad act against Israel as part of any renewed campaign against minority Kurds in northern Iraq or Shi'ite Moslems in the south.
"We have told a battery to be on alert, to be on their toes -- a short tether -- for possible movement" to Israel, a senior defence official told Reuters.
The Washington Post said on Friday that U.S. and Israeli officials were concerned Iraqi President Saddam Hussein could try to act against Israel during the U.S. presidential election, in the false belief that U.S. policymakers were distracted.
No Evidence Of Imminent Threat
U.S. officials insisted there was no evidence of an imminent threat against Israel, but they were not taking any chances.
Washington sent Patriot missiles to Israel for the first time during the 1991 Gulf War, but they failed to halt most of the 39 Iraqi Scud missiles fired at Israel, many of which damaged neighbourhoods in and around Tel Aviv.
The Pentagon sent Patriots to Israel again in December 1998 during escalating tensions over Iraq's refusal to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors. That crisis resulted in a brief U.S. and British air war against Baghdad called Operation Desert Fox but Iraq fired no missiles at Israel.
The Washington Post also quoted an Israeli official expressing concern about Iraqi actions as the U.S. presidential election neared.
"There is a feeling that maybe Saddam is going to do something as we get closer to the American election," the newspaper cited the official as saying. "There is a concern."
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