Israel’s liberal daily Ha’aretz led Thursday with a report of the narrow Israeli Cabinet approval of the Wye agreement, but in the same front-page article it said that the Ministry of Construction and Housing had published its first tender as part of a plan to build 6,500 housing units at Har Homa in East Jerusalem. “U.S. officials say that during the Wye summit, they warned [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu not to build on Har Homa, and officials say they believe they have the prime minister’s commitment not do so,” the paper said. On the subject dominating most of the Middle Eastern and European press–the prospect of a U.S. military attack on Iraq–Ha’aretz quoted Israeli sources as saying that they believe Iraq is “extremely unlikely” to fire missiles at Israel. “Saddam Hussein would be likely to attack Israel only if he felt his reign was seriously imperiled,” the sources said.
In its lead article, the conservative Jerusalem Post said that Israeli defense officials saw a U.S. strike on Iraq as “inevitable,” but they also regarded the chances of an Iraqi Scud attack on Israel as “next to zero.” The Israeli government’s orders for the reopening of all gas mask distribution centers and the updating of chemical warfare protection kits were merely a precaution, the paper reported. An op-ed piece by Daoud Kuttab in the Jerusalem Post noted a dangerous trend for anti-Israeli militants always to raise their level of violence in periods between the first steps toward genuine peace and its actual implementation. Calling on Netanyahu and Yasser Arafat “to stand side by side after any anti-peace incident and publicly repeat their unified commitment to peace and security for both peoples,” Kuttab wrote that if they did this “there is no doubt that, in time, peace will indeed be at hand.”
In a front-page editorial, Italy’s La Stampa noted that President Clinton, no longer the “lame duck” his enemies had called him only a few days ago, has now decided to deliver “a definitive blow” against Saddam. Saying the Gulf states, France, and Russia are all against U.S. military action, La Stampa said that Clinton, who has “truly resumed the leadership of the world,” has decided to go ahead on his own. Corriere della Sera of Milan reported from New York that Germany also opposes an American strike against Iraq.
The conservative Paris daily Le Figaro said in a front-page editorial that Saddam had made “a fatal error” by assuming that Clinton would emerge weakened from the midterm elections because of the Monica Lewinsky affair. “The result: the six-year duel between Clinton and Saddam has reached a point of no return. … The American president has two years to create for himself a place in the history books other than that of a debauchee who was lucky to reign over a period of prosperity,” Le Figaro said. “The United States wants to lance the Iraqi boil, and it is ready to do so on its own at any moment.” But the paper blamed Saddam’s intransigence for this situation. “If one really wishes Iraq well and wants to end an international crisis, one must get rid of Saddam Hussein,” it said. “The first strike would therefore only be the prelude to a long offensive.”
The liberal Paris newspaper, Libération, said France was disappointed by Iraq’s response to its neutrality in the Iraqi showdown with the United States. “It is difficult to propose mediation when one doesn’t understand the position of one of the parties,” it quoted a French government source as saying. But Libération added that, despite its “disappointment,” France was still not ready at this stage to participate in any American strikes against Iraq.
In London, the Times ran a hard-line editorial saying that “it will not be enough this time for fire-power to be marshalled and then abandoned on some diplomatic pretext. … Iraq must now accept an expanded Unscom, with a larger proportion of American and British experts, unimpeded authority, and an unrestricted timetable,” the paper said. “Anything less than this would only represent another escape for the Iraqi dictator and more danger for the world.”