The New York Times leads with news that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has told U.S. officials that Israel will retaliate in the event of an Iraqi attack. The Washington Post leads with a detailed account of the Pentagon’s plans for attacking Iraq. The Los Angeles Times leads with Iraq’s announcement that it will not allow United Nations weapons inspectors into Saddam Hussein’s presidential palaces.
The NYT says Israel has decided to retaliate if Iraq fires scud missiles at Israeli targets, as it did 39 times during the Persian Gulf War. During that conflict, under pressure from the United States, Israel did not strike back. But Sharon has decided that Israel’s restraint was interpreted as weakness in the Arab world, and if Saddam Hussein employs the same tactic in the event of a U.S. attack, Israel will respond. U.S. officials fear that a retaliatory strike could threaten the cooperation of Arab states in any war effort against Iraq. The story says the United States has already gone to great lengths to negate the threat to Israel from Iraq’s scuds, including installing a data link to relay U.S. satellite data detecting scud launches directly to the Israeli air force. The NYT points out that the scud attacks were not very effective back in 1991, killing just two Israelis; twice as many accidentally suffocated while wearing the gas masks issued to protect against a feared chemical attack.
The WP offers a lengthy and detailed follow-up to yesterday’s NYT scoop that the Pentagon had delivered specific military options to President Bush on how to oust Hussein. The NYT story didn’t offer much on what the plans actually said, but the WP—which credits the NYT for breaking the story—has unearthed a lot of detail (some “operational details,” the paper says, were withheld to avoid putting troops at risk). The attack, which could be launched 45 to 60 days after the president gives the order, would involve an aerial bombardment far more intense than the one that opened the Gulf War and a far smaller ground invasion force (about 100,000 troops). Military planners are betting on mass defections of Iraqi troops. Interestingly, the story says U.S. warplanes patrolling the no-fly zones over Iraq have already been ordered not to bomb certain units thought to be ready to switch sides.
The LAT says Iraq has reversed course and is now refusing to agree to let weapons inspectors into presidential palaces. The story is based on an announcement over Iraqi radio yesterday that the government will not agree to any U.N. resolution that “contradicts what has been agreed upon with the U.N. secretary-general.” The announcement, the LAT says, specifically referred to a 1998 agreement between U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Saddam allowing for inspectors to visit the palaces, but only if accompanied by an array of diplomats. The LAT says this agreement “prolonged the process” of inspection and gave Iraq a “new channel of appeal,” but doesn’t explain how Iraq’s apparent desire to revive the agreement means it will exclude inspectors from the palaces.
The WP fronts a report from Iraq on Saddam’s relative popularity there, and his recent appeals to Islam as a way to rally his people behind him. Though it is illegal to criticize Saddam, and foreign reporters are usually unable to interview Iraqis without a government official present, the WP was able to interview “several” Iraqis in private who expressed support for the leader. While many Iraqis thought he was foolhardy to invade Kuwait, and blamed him for the Gulf War, many now admire him for standing up to the United States. And as Iraqis have turned more deeply to religion in the face of poverty and hardships caused by international sanctions, so has Saddam—the formerly secular leader has cultivated the growth of militant Islam in Iraq and is trying to present himself as the country’s religious leader. One mosque in Baghdad houses a 605-page Koran that Iraqi officials say was written with 50 pints of Saddam’s blood.
The LAT fronts the fascinating story of Earnest James Ujaama, the Seattle man accused by federal prosecutors of trying to establish an al-Qaida training camp in remote Oregon. Ujaama, born James Earnest Thompson, was an entrepreneurial success story, profiled in the Seattle Times business section under the headline, “Young, gifted, and black.” He was a motivational speaker and self-help guru who sought to help inner-city youths get interested in starting their own businesses. But during a stay in London, he fell under the influence of the radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, who preaches at a mosque that was frequented by Richard Reid and Zacarias Moussaoui, and hatched a scheme to start a terrorist training camp in Bly, Ore., and charge the would-be terrorists for the service. He is now in federal custody in Seattle.
The NYT goes inside with another fascinating story, this one about former NBA star Bison Dele, whom authorities believe was murdered by his brother in the South Pacific in July. Dele, whom the NYT calls a “troubled, eccentric NBA millionaire,” retired from the Detroit Pistons in 1999, midway through his career. He was last seen alive in Tahiti, where he was preparing to sail his 55-foot boat to Hawaii with his brother, girlfriend, and a French captain on board. Everyone on board but Dele’s brother, Miles Dabord, disappeared, and Dabord recently turned up in a coma in a California hospital, apparently after a suicide attempt.
The WP fronts a story on the growing popularity of breast implants—a record 220,000 American women underwent the procedure last year, and the industry says 10 percent more will get them next year. And the implants are getting bigger, too: an average of 350 cubic centimeters, compared to 250 in the 1980s. Still, many warn that health risks remain, even with saline implants—almost a quarter of cosmetic implants require follow-up surgery, and none are likely to last more than 10 years.
The NYT “Week in Review” section has the story of the Atlas 5, the successor to America’s first intercontinental ballistic missile. The new iteration of the missile, which debuted last month, is actually a cargo missile designed to launch payloads into orbit, including military satellites. What makes it interesting is that it is based on a Soviet-era Russian engine design—it turns out the Reds built a much better rocket engine than we did, one that runs on, of all things, kerosene. When the U.S. Air Force needed to build the next generation of the rocket that was built to rain warheads down on Moscow, it did so with the help and ingenuity of a Russian firm called NPO Energomash.