Iraqi Scud explodes in Tel Aviv
In January and February of 1991, 38 Iraqi Scud missiles landed in Israel (four others fell short and landed in the West Bank). The bombardment started on January 18, when Tel Aviv and Haifa were hit by 8 Scuds, and continued for several weeks. Six missiles fell in the Negev, apparently aimed at the nuclear reactor in Dimona. All of the Scuds had conventional warheads, although Saddam had previously used Scuds with chemical warheads in his war with Iran. The Scuds were of Soviet design, based on the German V-2 developed for Hitler by Werner von Braun.
Israelis put on gas masks and huddled in sealed rooms during the attacks. Only one Israeli was killed directly (this has been termed ‘miraculous’), but “15 died of heart attacks, suffocation in their gas masks or reaction to a chemical-weapon antidote that some took in a panic” [Time]. There was great fear of chemical attacks, especially since the Scuds’ propulsion system used red fuming nitric acid as an oxidizer, which was extremely irritating when inhaled or on the skin.
The Bush I administration requested (i.e., ordered) Israel not to take any military action against Iraq, because the presence of Israel would damage the anti-Saddam ‘coalition’ that included such countries as Syria, the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, etc. Of course the lion’s share of the actual fighting was done by Western nations, particularly the US.
In other words:
Saddam invaded Kuwait and directly threatened Saudi Arabia. The US and other Western nations, with token ‘participation’ by some Arabs (Saudi Arabia committed the most forces, but was little help) liberated Kuwait and defended Saudi Arabia. Because of Arab sensibilities, Israel was told to hold still and absorb what — but for incredible luck or divine intervention, take your pick — could have been a catastrophic attack.
What’s wrong with this picture? What’s wrong with a situation in which the Jewish state, which was created and maintained at great cost, in part so that the Jewish people would no longer experience pogroms or worse, was prevented from acting in self-defense — because the Arabs’ rejectionist ‘honor’ apparently was more important to Bush I than Jewish lives?
Like the 1930’s when the British chose to restrict Jewish immigration into Palestine and to condemn hundreds of thousands of European Jews that might have been saved rather than annoy the Arabs, we know that our concerns are not the same as those of the great powers. But that’s why we Jews have — or thought we had — a sovereign state.
The US promised to take care of the Scuds for Israel. They deployed highly ineffective Patriot missiles and flew numerous sorties into Iraq, including intensive B-52 bombing raids, with little or no results. The mobile missile launchers were elusive and could be set up and fired quickly.
Part of the problem was that in the beginning, Norman Schwarzkopf, the U.S. Army general who ran the war, underestimated the Scud. After all, the crude, 40-ft. Soviet-designed missile, which is in the arsenals of some 25 nations, has a bull’s-eye a mile across. Schwarzkopf called it a “mosquito” that was “clumsy and obsolete.” He resisted sending commandos into Iraq to hunt down the Scuds. — Time
He was probably sorry on February 25, when an army barracks in Dharan, Saudi Arabia, was hit by a Scud, killing 25 Americans and wounding over 100.
The situation today is somewhat parallel. The US is saying to Israel, “Trust us, we’ll take care of Iran”, although it is doubtful that the US has the means to do so diplomatically or the will to do so militarily. And in no uncertain terms Israel has been told, “there will be big trouble” if it acts unilaterally. Not only that, but by refusing to sell certain weapons and systems to Israel, the US has even damaged Israel’s ability to threaten or deter Iran from attacking Israel, directly or by proxy.
The difference is that today many Arab nations would be happy to see Israel attack the Iranian nuclear weapons facilities. It is primarily the US and Europe, worried about Iran’s ability to create disturbances in the oil supply, who are obstructing Israel’s right to self-defense.