Thursday the Middle East Stepped Back from the Brink of War : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

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Thursday – the Day the Middle East Stepped Back from the Brink Feb. 23: Very few people knew how close the Middle East came on Thursday Feb. 22 to exploding in a regional war. At 6 am., Israel placed its forces on high missile readiness after being alerted by US intelligence to movements by 6 Iraqi armored divisions deployed close to frontier with Syria. American satellites additionally picked up Iraqi preparations for launching long-range surface missiles. DEBKAfile’s sources disclose the trigger of this sequence: a warning from a European government, probably Britain, to Iraqi intelligence that Israel would not again sit still and wait for Iraqi missiles to rain down on its towns as it did in the 1991 Gulf War. It planned to pre-empt any missile attack by knocking out Iraqi missile concentrations on the ground, as well the 6 armored divisions poised for advance since early in the Palestinian intifida. This Iraqi strength, Saddam was told, would be disposed of swiftly with the help of small neutron bombs. Iraqi decision-makers were impressed enough to test American and Israeli reflexes: they pushed ahead with technical preparations for the launching of surface missiles, taking them up to one stage before Saddam’s firing order. Israel received the information that the missiles would be ready for that last button to be pushed at 6 pm Thursday evening. One hour earlier, 2 US Awacs and 4 Hawkeye- A2C spyplanes, and another 36 assorted US and British fighter craft, took off from the Turkish base at Incherlik and from US Navy carriers in the region, and headed for Iraq’s Western Desert. Their mission was to flatten Saddam’s surface missiles the moment the spyplanes reported them operational. Opposite Syria’s Mediterranean coast, Israeli Air Force craft took off at the same time. As they crossed over the desert, the US and British airborne flotilla ran into fierce anti-air missile fire from batteries emplaced north of the Iraqi oil city of Mosul – altogether 35 missiles were fired. The allied fighters blasted the Iraqi batteries in return but caused very little damage. A few minutes after 6 pm, everyone started breathing upon learning that the Iraqi surface missiles had become stationary. Israel called off its missile alert at 19.30 hours, as DEBKAfile reported half an hour later. Thursday’s scare can be expected to recur in the coming days and weeks. President Bush hinted as much when he warned Saddam at his Washington news conference Thursday Feb. 22 that if he developed weapons of mass destruction there would be consequence. But the US President knows very well that the Iraqi dictator is already engaged in developing those weapons, including a nuclear bomb. Jan. 22, two days before he took his seat in the Oval Office, the New York Times, under the heading “Iraq Rebuilt Weapons Factories, Officials Say” filled several columns with a rundown on production at an industrial complex in Falluja, west of Baghdad, together with information contained in reports laid before the new president. The paper quotes officials are providing details on the reconstruction of three factories, all of which were previously involved in producing chemical or biological agents and were closely monitored by UN inspectors. Bush therefore has all the information he needs to justify US military action against Iraq, and his use of the word “consequences” indicates his intention of doing so. Thursday’s events were a foretaste of how the US-Iraqi confrontation may affect Israel. There is more and possibly worse to come. Earlier, DEBKAfile Picks up Four Ominous Developments in Last Hours The security picture pieced together by DEBKAfile on the strength of information from its American and Israeli intelligence sources and from Israel military quarters looks like this: 1. Early Thursday morning, US satellites picked up Iraqi ground-to-ground missiles moving west with launching equipment. US intelligence estimates that the missiles would be ready for launch by the evening prompted Israel to place all its security forces on the ready Thursday morning. 2. According to fresh reports from certain Arab capitals, Syrian president Beshar Asad has reached a strategic decision. This is interpreted in two ways: He has either agreed to grant the 6 Iraqi armored divisions deployed on the Iraqi-Syrian frontier passage through his country, or given the Hizballah the nod to unleash a long-range rocket attack against northern Israel – or both. This development is behind the grave warning the US and Israeli governments issued to the Syrian government Thursday morning. The night before, Northern Israeli towns and villages were warned to prepare for long-range rocket attacks from Lebanon. 3. Palestinian sources confirm 1. and 2. and refer to unusual Palestinian military activity in the last 24 hours. In view of these reports, and the spreading word of Palestinians plans to bring out heavy weapons, Israeli units have reportedly stepped up their sorties into Palestinian-controlled Areas A. DEBKAfile’s sources learn that a massive Palestinian terrorist attack may be programmed as the starting signal for a regional flare-up. 4. The combined American-British air raid last Friday missed its essential target: a command and control center 20 miles north of Baghdad for the coordination and dispatch of both anti-air and ground to ground missiles. The allies had intended to pre-empt Saddam Hussein, following intelligence of his decision to launch missile-attacks on Israel, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The failed air raid strengthened Saddam’s resolve. Now, he his determined to go to war without delay, before the Western allies reduce his missile-launching capability.

-- Robert Riggs (, February 24, 2001

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