Israel Cautiously Celebrates End of War
Israelis quickly put away their gas masks and stripped away protective plastic from doors and windows Thursday as the prospect of Iraq attacking Israel with chemical or biological weapons seemed to fade as Gulf War combat halted.
Israeli civil defense officials also gave permission for movies, sporting events and concerts to zatake place, as in peacetime.
For the first time in six weeks, Israel Radio carried weather reports; they had been halted to avoid giving Iraqi pilots clues about conditions over Israel.
Three European airlines that had suspended flights to Israel during the war when insurance rates soared said they will resume flights. Lufthansa said it will resume service today, the Greek airline Olympic said it will resume Monday and Austrian Airlines plans to resume next Thursday. Israel’s El Al airline continued flying during the war.
Celebrations of the halt in hostilities were restrained.
Israel is commemorating Purim, a holiday dedicated to a biblical deliverance of Jews from an evil Persian minister bent on annihilating them.
Some revelers drew a parallel between the ancient enemy, Haman, and the new one, Saddam Hussein. In some homes, where a traditional cookie called Haman’s ear is served, families changed the name to Saddam’s ear.
Rabbis chanted blessings as assistants stripped away plastic from windows and doors. The plastic had been put up to block toxic gases if the Iraqis attacked Israel with chemical warfare. Civil defense officials ordered Israelis to put away their gas masks, issued last fall in anticipation of possible chemical bomb attacks.
Hussein’s survival rankled some. Levana Galili, a housewife shopping on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem, expressed alarm and said of the Iraqi leader: “He will be back in a few years with more weapons. He must be thrown out.” On Israel Radio, a child interviewed in Jerusalem said flatly that Hussein “must die.”
Earlier in the day, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir had voiced disappointment that Hussein appeared to have survived the war. “We would have preferred for Saddam Hussein to be deposed,” he said. “But we are satisfied with the results. It is only a matter of time before the Iraqi dictator disappears from the political arena.”
Chaim Herzog, the country’s titular president, added, “I have to say that I won’t feel that the war is over if Saddam Hussein stays on as president of Iraq.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the allied victory as “glittering” but added, “There must be the destruction of Iraq’s capacity to threaten the region.”
Despite Iraq’s acceptance of a halt to the fighting, Israel’s armed forces remained on a high alert ordered at the start of the war.
Jets have been constantly on patrol in Israeli airspace in case Iraqi bombers tried to make last-ditch attacks. Six Patriot antimissile batteries supplied by the United States, and one provided by the Netherlands, will remain in place for the time being, army officials said.
“We have reason to celebrate,” said army spokesman Nachman Shai. “But we have to be careful. In terms of war, there is only a suspension of hostilities. We will keep an eye open.”
Iraq still possesses functioning missile launchers and caches of Scuds capable of hitting Israel, Shai said, concluding: “When you ask if the threat is removed, I would say no. But the probability of launches has gone down.”
Iraq launched 39 missiles at Israel during the war, killing two civilians, wounding more than 200 others and causing damage totaling $200 million, according to the latest army figures.
Meantime, Palestinians received the news of the halt in fighting with resignation mixed with fanciful imaginings of an Iraqi victory. “I know it is an Iraqi victory,” said Jafer, an activist in the Palestinian uprising who lives in the village of Kfar Malek. “The Americans are lying when they say they took so many prisoners. I have only seen a hundred on TV.”
Community leaders voiced hope that, with the fighting over Kuwait at an end, the Palestinian nationalist cause would get attention from the world community. Faisal Husseini, a prominent voice of the Palestine Liberation Movement, urged the United States “to create a comprehensive and just peace in the region that will put the Palestinian issue as a priority.”