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Israel: U.S. seeks Saddam's exile, war decision by late January

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

TEL AVIV Israel has concluded that the United States will reach a final decision on a war against Iraq by the end of the month.

A senior Israeli official said a leading consideration by Washington is whether the Bush administration can replace Saddam's regime without a war. The official confirmed reports that Turkey and several Arab countries have been urging Saddam to go into exile, Middle East Newsline reported.

"If the Saddam regime can be replaced with a democracy without resorting to war, that would be the greatest demonstration imaginable of U.S. deterrence," the official said.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said that over the next few weeks Israel will have a better indication of whether the United States will launch a war against Iraq. He cited what he termed two milestones expected to be reached later this month.

The first will be a Jan. 27 report by United Nations weapons inspection chief Hans Blix to the Security Council regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The second milestone would be an address by President George Bush on Jan. 28. Bush is expected to respond to the UN report as well as provide a final determination over Iraq's WMD arsenal.

"By the end of the month, we will have a clearer picture regarding a U.S. attack on Iraq," Mofaz said.

Mofaz was speaking as the first members of the U.S. military liaison team arrived in Israel. The team will coordinate with Israel's military during any U.S.-led war against Iraq and establish a command and communications center that will link the Israel Defense Forces with the U.S. Defense Department in Washington and U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla. Central Command will be responsible for the conducting of any war against Iraq.

Israeli officials briefed by the Bush administration said they have been following reports from European capitals of U.S. hesitation regarding a decision to launch a war in February. They said the reports reflect uncertainties in Washington concerning the support by U.S. allies for an effort to topple the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Officials said they had hoped to obtain a final clarification of a U.S. attack by the end of the week. But they said this has been postponed until the end of January or the beginning of February.

On Tuesday, Mofaz toured an Israel Air Force base and was briefed on the Arrow-2 missile defense system. Israel has prepared two Arrow-2 batteries for operations as well as for an exercise with the United States.

The exercise, called Juniper Cobra, began last week in the Negev desert. U.S. Army and Israel Air Force units have been testing the interoperability and effectiveness of the U.S. PAC-2 Gem+ low-tier systems with other Israeli assets.

By the weekend, the second stage of Juniper Cobra is expected to begin. This will involve the testing of the interoperability of the Arrow-2 medium-tier systems with the PAC-2 batteries from the United States and Germany. Officials said this will probably involve additional test-firings of the Arrow interceptor.

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