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The Bush administration has not yet decided whether Iraq will be its next target; however, the possibility that Iraq is currently in America's gun sight is generating considerable agitation in Israel's defense community, which fears that any attack on the regime in Baghdad could lead Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to attack Israel.

This fear is so great that serious consideration is being given to the idea of inoculating all of Israel's citizens against smallpox. The problem, as usual, is that - instead of focusing on facts, reliable information and logical analyses - Israeli leaders have lost no time in generating panic and hysteria among the members of the general public.

The chance of any Israeli becoming a casualty of an Iraqi biological weapon, even should Saddam's regime find itself endangered, is so small that it certainly does not justify the fear-mongering campaign that senior members of Israel's defense establishment have been engaging in over the past few weeks.

Although Iraq does possess chemical and biological warfare materials, there is still a big difference between possessing such materials and having the capability to use them to attack Israel. Chemical gases or disease-bearing spores can only be delivered to Israel through planes or ballistic missiles. Thus, in order to arrive at a correct assessment of the non-conventional Iraqi threat to Israel, the present state of Iraq's missile arsenal and its air force must be examined.

According to the assessment of the United Nations inspectors who operated in Iraq between 1991 and 1998, Saddam Hussein currently possesses between six and 16 Al-Hussein ballistic missiles, which have a sufficient range to hit targets in Israel, while he has a much smaller number of missile launchers. From the technical standpoint, these missiles are apparently in pretty bad shape because they were hidden and perhaps even dismantled.

None of the missiles is positioned in Western Iraq, from which they must be fired in order to hit any targets in Israel (the Al-Hussein has a range of 600 kilometers). It is highly probable that, in the event of an American attack on Iraq, the Americans will closely monitor, through their sophisticated intelligence devices, all Iraqi activity in this region and will be able to locate and - given their air superiority - to knock out the heavy vehicles needed to transfer the missiles to the western part of Iraq.

Israel must demand that America include in its air offensive plan the destruction of all suspected storage areas for missiles and for their components as well as the knocking-out of all Iraqi military units making their way from the central to the western part of the country.

Furthermore, it should be noted that it is not clear whether Iraq does in fact possess biological warheads for its missiles. The UN inspectors never uncovered any evidence that even one of the missiles concealed by the Iraqis was biological. Iraq has not even conducted one test of a biological missile.

In view of the above data, the idea of inoculating the entire Israeli population against smallpox appears bizarre, to say the least. Moreover, even if the Iraqis do have biological missiles, no one can guarantee to Israel that they are armed with smallpox germs.

Another way of hitting Israel would be to use aircraft. However, the Iraqi air force is on the verge of collapse. Iraq has only a small number of fighter jets, which are in an extremely poor state of maintenance, and its fighter pilots seldom train. It is by no means clear whether Iraq has biological weapons with which it could arm its planes. In any event, the chances of an Iraqi fighter jet penetrating Israel's air defenses are extremely slim. Moreover, if the Americans do in fact attack Iraq, they will destroy most of its planes while they are still on the ground and will try to down any jet that takes off in a westerly direction.

Over the past few weeks, there has been talk of the possibility that the Iraqis might turn their Czech Aero L-29 Delphin training aircraft into pilotless planes that could then be armed with biological weapons. It is doubtful whether the Iraqis have managed to develop pilotless aircraft that could be effective in carrying out a mission of spreading biological weapons.

Even if the Iraqis have been successful in such a project, everything that has been noted above concerning their fighter planes would apply in any case to the pilotless aircraft as well. Furthermore, the Czech training planes are slower than fighter planes and are much simpler to down.

The aforesaid does not, of course, mean that the Iraqis are incapable of firing a missile at Israel. However, even the possibility of one missile hitting a target or of a few isolated missiles landing here does not justify the current fear-mongering.

The behavior of the Israeli defense establishment in fact seriously undermines Israel's deterrent power. Serious discussions of the idea of inoculating the entire Israeli population against smallpox sends the clear signal to the Iraqis that Israel has no faith in its own deterrent capability.

Instead of conveying the unequivocal message that any use of biological weapons would be a step for which Israel would deliver a powerful and appropriate response, Israel is broadcasting to Saddam that it is preparing to absorb - and defend itself from - any biological attack he might launch. This sort of message in effect provides an enemy with the legitimacy to use biological weapons.

Besides, what about the Arrow anti-missile missile defense system? Israelis have been promised that the Arrow could protect them even from the threat of nuclear missiles. Does the fear-mongering mean that Israelis should not rely on the Arrow to protect them from such a small number of less lethal missiles? If, in the event of such a small ballistic threat, the Arrow cannot provide an effective solution - that is, a solution intended to prevent panic-mongering - of what possible value are the gargantuan investments that have been made in this anti-missile defense system?