JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel is urging U.S. officials not to delay a military strike against Iraq's Saddam Hussein, an aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Friday.
Israeli intelligence officials have gathered evidence that Iraq is speeding up efforts to produce biological and chemical weapons, said Sharon aide Ranaan Gissin.
"Any postponement of an attack on Iraq at this stage will serve no purpose," Gissin told The Associated Press. "It will only give him (Saddam) more of an opportunity to accelerate his program of weapons of mass destruction."
The United States has been considering a military campaign against Iraq to remove Saddam from power, listing him as one of the world's main terrorist regimes. However, there is considerable world opposition to a U.S. strike.
As evidence of Iraq's weapons building activities, Israel points to an order Saddam gave to Iraq's Atomic Energy Commission last week to speed up its work, Gissin said.
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"Saddam's going to be able to reach a point where these weapons will be operational," he said.
Gissin said Israel was not seeking to dictate the timing of a U.S. military campaign but said that, faced with the threat of one, Saddam was fast developing weapons.
While the Israeli government backs U.S. action against Iraq, there is also concern in Israel that in response, Iraq would launch missile attacks against Tel Aviv and other cities in Israel.
During the 1991 Gulf War, in which U.S.-led forces pushed back an Iraqi invasion of neighboring Kuwait, Iraq hit Israel with 39 Scud missiles — none of them with chemical or biological warheads — causing few casualties but extensive damage.
In the 1991 conflict, the United States worried it would lose Arab support if Israel retaliated for the strikes, and under heavy pressure Israel reluctantly agreed to hold back. However, Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said Israel would defend itself against any new attacks.
In an interview published Friday, Ben-Eliezer told the daily Yediot Ahronot that Israel would surely become a target during such a conflict and would consider retaliation in coordination with U.S. forces.
"We will be one of the main targets," he told the newspaper. "What I told the Americans, and I repeat it: 'Don't expect us to continue to live with the process of restraint. If they hit us, we reserve the right of response."'
Iraq has few chemical and biological weapons, Ben-Eliezer said. "We are taking this into account and we are prepared. But we are so far away from this right now that all this hysteria is simply unnecessary," he said.
A survey in the daily Maariv newspaper showed 57 percent of Israelis were in support of an American battle to wipe out Saddam's leadership, though about the same percent of people questioned believed Iraq would attack Israel. The survey found that 28 percent of them thought Iraq would use chemical or biological weapons against Israel.
The poll, which surveyed 590 adult Israelis and quoted a 4 percent margin of error, found 23 percent were in favor of using nuclear weapons against Iraq to retaliate for such an attack.
Meanwhile at a demonstration in the southern Gaza Strip on Thursday, about 200 Palestinians called on Iraq to strike Israel.
— Arizona Daily Sun