| ||Israel Braces for the Iraqi War
| ||CABINET CONVENES FOR PRE-WAR SESSION -
| ||The Cabinet held a special meeting this morning on the eve of the anticipated American-Iraqi war. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said beforehand that he was convening the Cabinet "in order to update ministers, and hear their opinions, about our preparations for the war in Iraq." He repeated the Israeli assessment that "the chance that Israel will be hit is very small; however, we have taken all necessary precautions. If we assume that the chance of being hit is one in a hundred, our preparations provide a response to 100% of the dangers. All the relevant bodies have invested considerable effort in this."
While emphasizing that Israel is not involved in the war, Sharon said, "We of course recognize the great danger inherent in the fact that a country like Iraq, with its current leadership and its weapons of mass destruction, is involved in terror." He said that it is "very likely that there will be attempts to perpetrate terrorist attacks," and, "our struggle against terror will continue."
Israeli evaluations are that the American attack will begin tomorrow, shortly after the expiration of the 48-hour ultimatum at 3 AM Thursday morning (8 PM EST). The ongoing sandstorms in Iraq and Kuwait may cause a delay, however. Maj.-Gen. Aharon Ze'evi-Farkash, head of IDF intelligence, told the Cabinet today that Saddam Hussein is not likely to attempt a strike against Israel before the American assault, so as not to lose his image as the victim of US aggression. Farkash also said that there are no Iraqi aircraft in western Iraq airports.
PREPARATIONS IN ALL WALKS OF LIFE
Despite the fact that Israeli defense sources have been saying for months that the likelihood of missiles being fired at Israel is low, and despite U.S. evaluations that Saddam's forces may use chemical weapons against the Americans - but not the Israelis - Israeli preparations for war continue apace.
Israeli airlines will continue to fly to Israel, but at least one foreign airline has already announced plans to suspend its flights. British Airways said it would cease all flights to Israel beginning tonight, and the head of Israel's Civil Aviation Authority is of the opinion that other airlines will follow suit as soon as the American assault on Iraq begins. Israeli lines El Al and Arkia are on emergency footing, but are flying.
IDF and Police:
The police will be on top alert as of this afternoon, and staff will be increased both at report centers and in the field. The Prime Minister has instructed the police to ensure free passage on any roads that may be closed as a result of possible Israeli-Arab anti-American demonstrations. The IDF's Purim holiday closure on the Arab-populated areas of Judea, Samaria and Gaza will continue until at least Sunday. PA sources report massive buying sprees in the PA by people who fear that the closure may be extended even further because of the war.
Several hospitals are on high alert. Tel HaShomer and Ichilov Hospitals in Tel Aviv, and Rambam in Haifa, will go to emergency footing today.
The nationwide policy is to have them open tomorrow as usual, Education Minister Limor Livnat announced today. On a local level, however, many schools will not open because of a lack of "protected areas" and shelters.
The IDF Spokesperson's Office instructed Israelis yesterday to prepare sealed rooms and required equipment, such as gas masks. IDF officials stressed that the gas mask kits are not to be opened at this time.
The Egged Bus Company, the nation's primary public transportation provider, has trained 100 drivers to drive while wearing gas masks and protective suits in preparation for a war. Egged buses will be deployed in the event of a missile attack to transport victims to local hospitals.
The Tourism Ministry has begun operating a 24-hour a day information center for tourists, which can be reached at these phone numbers: 02-675-4835 and 03-971-1485. Public radio broadcasts will also air messages in English, French, Spanish, and Romanian.
The Government Press Office has prepared two information centers for the tremendous media presence here: one at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem and the second at the David Intercontinental Hotel in Tel Aviv. The Tel Aviv National Information Center will be used as both a workplace by Israeli and foreign journalists and a briefing hall. National Spokesman Maj.-Gen. Amos Gilad, as well as representatives of the GPO, the Prime Minister's Office, the IDF, the Foreign and Health Ministries, Israel Police, the Military Censor, and the Tel Aviv and Ramat Gan municipalities will be on hand at the Center. The Center can also function as a sealed room if necessary. Some foreign journalists have hired rooms in upper floors of Tel Aviv hotels to serve as their "front row seats" in the event of Scud missile attacks in the area.