WHY DIDN’T ISRAEL RESPOND TO IRAQ?
West Asia region has been a fascinating place for international politics. The region continues to see wars, revolutions, civil wars, invasions and what not for centuries now. There have been some intriguing circumstances that make this region a prime focus in the International arena.
Gulf war of 1991, where Iraq attacked Kuwait due to some Oil and it’s production dispute, was one such incident. This war is the strangest war in Israel’s war-scarred history. Israel which was not a participant in this war by any normal standards.
During this Gulf War, without provocation, Iraq fired around 40 Scud missiles at Israel, aiming to drag Israel into the war and thus imperil the US-led coalition, in which several Arab countries participated. By launching these Scud missiles, Saddam Hussain, then President of Iraq who was the main culprit of this Gulf war, did try to drag Israel into this and transform what was an Arab-Arab conflict into an Arab-Israel conflict. A state of emergency was declared and the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) were put on alert but fortunately the order to strike never came.
On the night of 18/19 January 1991, the first barrage of eight Scud missiles hit the Israeli city of greater Tel Aviv and Haifa region. It was a first air strike on an Israeli city since 1948 and first ever attack Tel Aviv. After months of uncertainty and bluster, Saddam Hussein carried out his threat to attack the Jewish state, dramatically raising the stakes in the Gulf War. Over a period of more than 1 month, approximately 38 Iraqi versions of Scud missiles fell (33 El Hussein missiles and 5 El Tijara missiles) in 19 missile attacks. These missiles mainly hit the greater Tel Aviv region and Haifa, although western Samaria and the Dimona area were also hit by missiles. In total 13 civilians lost their lives and more than 200 people were left injured.
The then-defense minister Moshe Arens and -IDF chief of staff Dan Shomron held an emergency meeting with the chief of staff and his deputies, and Israel declared a formal state of war alert. They did not retaliate immediately though. On the other hand, the United States was opposed to an Israeli intervention in the conflict, fearing that it would cause problems for some of the other coalition members, who wouldn’t want to be seen as fighting on the same side as Israel. This US intervention put a hold on Israel intention to attack Iraq. The US assured Isreal that they will take Isreal’s revenge and that their involvement in this war could lead to the help of Iraq.
IDF was thus put on stand by and they devoted their main devotional effort in defending civilians and coordinating wartime activities between government offices and emergency services. Masks or biological/chemical warfare kits were distributed among civilians as there were speculations that Iraq could use chemical weapon on Israel.
The coalition army, therefore, engaged in what was known colloquially as “Scud hunting,” searching for the launchers from which the Iraqi army was firing the missiles not only at Israel but also at Saudi Arabia, including one attack that hit a US Army barracks, killing 28 soldiers. Although the damage was not much it left a profound psychological impact both in Israel and in the Arab world.
It was odd that Israel, of all the countries, was left with no choice than to play the role of sitting duck because its entire military doctrine was geared to seize the initiative and go on the offensive. The main principles of this doctrine are deterrence, pre-emption, carrying the fighting to the enemy’s territory as swiftly as possible, and self-reliance. All of these principles were violated by Israel’s passivity during the Gulf War. Israel denies getting provoked, although there were several instances where it seemed to lose its patience. The USA, on the other hand, played an important role in keeping Israel quiet. Israel got assurance from the American President, George H. W. Bush that the USA will get them, their revenge.
After more than a month of intensive air attacks, the Allies launched a land military operation on 24 February. One day later, the Iraqis began retreating. On 28 February, President Bush declared victory. Kuwait was liberated but Saddam Hussein remained in power in Baghdad.
(Writer is a student of International Studies and often writes on historical and social issues)