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U.S. Considers Israeli Iraq Plan
( 2002-10-19 14:41 ) (7 )

The Bush administration is weighing an Israel proposal for a joint operation in Iraq's western desert to disarm Iraqi missiles before they could be launched against Israel.

If successful, the operation might not only protect Israeli civilians from an Iraqi attack like the one they weathered in the 1991 Persian Gulf War but eliminate the troublesome prospect of an Israeli retaliatory attack on Iraq.

Under the proposal, which would involve American special forces troops, Israel would furnish the United States with intelligence about the sites and how to disarm them early in the conflict.

The idea was presented during Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's talks in Washington this week with President Bush and senior White House, Pentagon and State Department officials.

Afterward, both sides said Sharon had received assurances the United States would make a maximum effort to reduce any threat to Israel posed by Iraq.

The Israeli plan was not announced, but an account was provided to The Associated Press on Friday by a U.S. official on condition of anonymity.

Israel yielded to a request from then-President George H.W. Bush in the 1991 war to hold its fire even though 39 Iraqi Scud missiles struck Israeli territory. The president did not want to risk losing Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria and other Arab nations that joined his war coalition to reverse Iraq's occupation of Kuwait.

This time, however, Sharon has declared Israel "will take the proper steps to defend its citizens" if Iraq launches its missiles against the Jewish state.

While there are fewer Arab nations lined up with the United States than a decade ago, there still would be a risk of defection if Israel were to attack Iraq.

On Wednesday, with Sharon at his side in the Oval Office, Bush endorsed Israel's right to self-defense. Still, the prospect of Israel attacking Iraq could hamper U.S. war preparations.

Sharon was not given a response to the special forces proposal during his three-day visit, and it is under consideration, the U.S. official said.

Bush has approved U.S. combat training for Iraqi opponents of Saddam Hussein, The Washington Post reported Saturday. As many as 5,000 recruits will begin an initial training phase next month, administration and military officials told the newspaper.

The training was authorized by Bush in a presidential directive on Oct. 3, the Post said, and allows for spending $92 million in Defense Department funds.

On the diplomatic front, the State Department asserted Friday that Bush has the authority to attack Iraq to force it to disarm even if the United Nations does not give the United States the support it has been seeking and not getting for five weeks.

The administration would like a tough resolution from the U.N. Security Council to strengthen the president's hand, but negotiations continued to drag on even after the United States agreed to soften a threat in its initial proposal.

In an effort to woo France, which is opposed to threatening language in the initial resolution, U.S. diplomats agreed to drop the phrase authorizing "all necessary measures" to disarm Iraq.

Still, said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, "We want a strong resolution that clarifies there will be consequences for continued Iraqi noncompliance" with U.N. demands unless Baghdad rids itself of all weapons of mass destruction.

Based on consultations the administration had at the United Nations and elsewhere, "we expect to achieve those things in a resolution," Boucher said.

If that does not work, and the United Nations does not approve a tough resolution, Bush still retains the authority "to do what is necessary for our national security," he said.

It was a message emphasized Friday by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who said in a Washington speech that the only hope of peacefully stopping Iraq's weapons program "is by having a credible threat of force behind our diplomacy."

"No one should be under any illusions that Saddam Hussein will give up the weapons that he is not supposed to have simply because the United Nations passes another resolution," Wolfowitz said. "He will only do so if he believes that doing so is necessary for his personal survival and for the survival of his regime."



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