A deadly Iraqi Scud missile slipped through U.S.-manned Patriot interceptor batteries Tuesday and thundered into a densely populated neighborhood of Tel Aviv, killing three residents and injuring 70 others.
It was the third and gravest attack on Israel since the Persian Gulf War began six days ago. The high number of casualties raised anew the question of whether the Jewish state would retaliate--and risk splintering the U.S.-Arab coalition against Iraq.
The Scud missile hit apartments. The three dead were elderly residents who apparently suffered heart attacks. Three of the wounded, including a baby girl, were critically injured. The rest received light to moderate wounds. The warhead carried a conventional explosive, and government spokesmen said there was no trace of poison gas.
A short time earlier, Iraqi forces had fired four Scud missiles into eastern Saudi Arabia. They were aimed at Dhahran, site of a major allied air base. But all were destroyed by Patriot missiles before they reached their targets.
The missile attacks came as allied warplanes streaked over mist and drizzle along the northern Saudi front lines and passed a new mark in air power--10,000 sorties in six days since the war began, surpassing what is often cited as history’s greatest concentration of air power: the 6,151 sorties flown against Nazi Germany during six days of 1944.
In the Persian Gulf itself, U.S. Navy planes sank an Iraqi mine-layer and another ship and chased away two other boats. And on the ground, Iraqi tanks shuttled from one hardened concrete bunker to another. Iraqi gunners fired sporadically at allied troops. Allied engineers cleared new roads to the front, in preparation for a bitter ground war.
There were these other developments:
* The Iraqis displayed on television two more men whom they identified as American prisoners of war. They were identified by the Iraqis as U.S. Air Force Maj. Jeffrey Scott Tice and Capt. Harry Michael Roberts. The allies expressed concern that they would be sent to join other POWs as human shields at strategic Iraqi facilities.
* The Iraqis torched oil facilities in occupied Kuwait, sending thick, black smoke over the desert and hampering allied pilots. In all, three facilities were burned, military and oil company executives said. The fires brought a rise in world oil prices and fears of ecological damage.
* President Bush’s spokesman said the commander in chief would like to receive better damage assessments from his commanders. A Pentagon spokesman conceded that “we don’t have a fully accurate picture” of U.S. and allied progress. Bush’s spokesman called the President “pensive and fairly preoccupied.”
One of Bush’s biggest concerns was whether Israel would retaliate against the Iraqis for their latest missile attack on Tel Aviv. Israeli Health Minister Ehud Olmert, a confidant of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, seemed to suggest that such retaliation is only a matter of time.
“It is not whether Israel will react or not,” Olmert said, “but when.”
Air raid sirens wailed just after 8:30 p.m. Tuesday Israel time. Moments later, two explosions were heard in the coastal Tel Aviv region. The pair of booms raised speculation that one Scud was shot out of the air while the other crashed into Tel Aviv.
At least two Patriot antimissile rockets were fired, but it was not immediately clear how many Scuds were heading for Israel and whether the Patriots actually downed any of them. The Scud that hit demolished a two-story apartment building. The missile ripped down walls in two others.
It damaged dozens of neighboring two- and three-story apartment houses.
Residents of the neighborhood said they had time to retreat into plastic-sealed rooms and put on gas masks. “We all huddled in a room. Then, boom, and the windows exploded,” said Saguy Goldberg, a 14-year-old who was visiting his grandmother and eight friends and relatives.
Despite the attack, government spokesmen indicated that workers will be asked to go to their jobs today. “Life will go on as normal,” pledged Brig. Gen. Nachman Shai, the chief army spokesman. “We must by all means maintain a regular and normal life.”
Whether or not the Patriots knocked down a Scud, Israeli officials warned that they are not a cure-all for missile attacks.
“We appreciate the excellent work of the Patriot crews,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “But that only gives part of the answer.” Danny Naveh, a spokesman for Defense Minister Moshe Arens, said, “The Patriot improves our defense. But it is not the full answer to removing the threat.”
Outbursts of public anger could pressure Shamir’s government to order Israel’s air force into action. Shamir was scheduled to meet with his Cabinet and top military officers this morning.
Ron Ben-Yishai, a knowledgeable Israeli defense correspondent, said Israel would retaliate only if it could be more efficient in knocking out Scud launchers than the Americans and their allies have been. In any event, he predicted, Israel would cooperate with the U.S. command in Saudi Arabia to coordinate any kind of attack.
Iraq’s mobile Scud launchers have proved an elusive target for allied jet bombers flying out of Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf. Iraq is believed to have hidden some of them underground, rolling them out only for surprise use.
In its attacks on Tel Aviv last Friday and Saturday, Iraq launched 11 missiles. Their explosions injured 28 people, all slightly, and left more than 700 homeless. Doctors said that most of those injured in the new attack would be released from hospitals by this morning.
The United States has pressed Israel to desist from retaliation so as not to complicate Washington’s job of holding together a fragile anti-Iraq coalition of Arab states who are also hostile to Israel. Arens, the Israeli defense minister, has dismissed all suggestions that Israel hold off retaliating indefinitely, at Washington’s behest.
Arens declared: “Our actions that would be taken in the defense of Israel are really not contingent on receiving permission from anybody.”
Visiting Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger has praised Israel’s restraint. During meetings Tuesday, before the latest attack, he signed legal agreements with Israel formalizing the stationing of U.S. troops in Israel. The soldiers are manning the Patriot launchers.
Eagleburger also heard a request for $13 billion in aid from Israeli Finance Minister Yitzhak Modai, who said Israel will suffer $3 billion in economic losses if the war lasts a month. He said the Israelis need compensation.
Added government spokesman Yossi Olmert: “If God forbid, the war drags on, we’ll need more.”
The other $10 billion is a longstanding request by Israel for money to build housing for new Soviet immigrants. Cash-strapped Washington rejected the request last year, at a time when relations between Washington and Jerusalem were strained because of Israel’s suppression of Palestinians.
Israel hopes, however, that its cooperation with the United States against Iraq has improved relations. “It’s a whole new atmosphere,” Olmert, the health minister, said. “In times of trouble, we find out what unites us.”
More POWs Paraded
In Washington, Tice and Roberts, the two men whom the Iraqis identified as new American POWs, were described by the Pentagon as missing in action. Interviews with the two men were played on Iraqi TV and radio.
Propaganda use of captured servicemen violates the Geneva Convention on treatment of war prisoners. The Bush Administration has denounced such actions as “war crimes” and vowed to hold the Iraqi leadership responsible.
The United States filed complaints with the U.N. Security Council.
The White House said it is “far too early” to talk about compiling a list of war crime charges against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. But a senior State Department official who asked to remain anonymous told the Reuters news agency that the United States is examining a number of ideas for eventually bringing Iraqi leaders to trial for war crimes.
The official said a 15-page discussion document had been circulated within the government. Options, the official said, included creating a Nuremberg-style tribunal.
The effect on allied airmen of the televised displays of POWs seemed mixed. Certainly, it gave them grim warning of what might happen if they were shot down. But at the same time, the displays seemed to anger them.
Some vowed to redouble their efforts against the Iraqis.
Meanwhile, allied military officials counted another loss--a British Tornado shot down early in the day. It raised to 15 the number of allied planes lost in combat--nine of them American. The allied command said 17 Iraqi planes have been destroyed in dogfights.
In all, the Pentagon lists 13 American pilots and crew members as missing in action.
Iraq, for its part, said allied warplanes attacked Baghdad 20 times late Monday and early Tuesday and struck residential areas.
Iraq Radio also asserted that allied bombers attacked two major Islamic religious sites--the towns of Karbala and Najaf. The Iraqis vowed that “holy anger” would bring “suicide operations” by Muslims who “will seek retribution.”
At allied headquarters in Saudi Arabia, military officials said they were limiting attacks to strategic targets, although some did not discount collateral damage. They said, however, that they were specifically avoiding holy places.
Times staff writers J. Michael Kennedy and Kim Murphy, in Riyadh and Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, respectively; Charles Wallace in Manama, Bahrain, and Melissa Healy and David Lauter, in Washington, also contributed to this report.