Anticipating a U.S. military strike against Iraq, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright on Sunday in private consultations for several days’ advance warning of any bombing and immediate defensive measures against an Iraqi biological attack, according to officials from both countries.
Albright, in turn, probed Israeli intentions on the manner and scale of its reprisal should Iraq respond to American bombing with a counterattack against the Jewish state. Both matters reprised a delicate dialogue that accompanied the 1991 Persian Gulf War, when Iraq sought to redraw the war’s political map by launching missiles at Israel, and the Bush administration successfully urged the Israeli government to hold return fire.
American officials familiar with the late-night exchange maintained ambiguity on whether the Clinton administration has asked that Israel forgo retaliation in case of an Iraqi attack. The president’s foreign policy advisers reportedly do not wish to be seen as depriving a close ally of its right to self-defense, but officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they are worried - as their counterparts were seven years ago - that Israeli involvement in an exchange of fire would substitute an Arab-Israeli conflict for the American-crafted lineup of Iraq against a unified international community.