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Israel prepares for possible Iraq attack

Nurses and doctors in protective gear participate in a drill last week at Jerusalem's Hadassa Hospital.
Nurses and doctors in protective gear participate in a drill last week at Jerusalem's Hadassa Hospital.

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The Pentagon is eager to use new technologies to hunt down and target Scud missile launchers hidden in Iraq. CNN's Barbara Starr reports. (January 15)
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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israel is putting the final touches on preparations in case of a possible U.S.-led conflict with Iraq, Israeli sources said Wednesday.

Israel was hit by 39 Iraqi Scud missiles during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The Israeli operation, with the code name Red Hail, focuses on shoring up Israel's defenses against any chemical or biological attack by Iraq. Previously scheduled joint air defense exercises with the United States are also being conducted.

An Israel Defense Forces spokesman declined to comment.

There has been no heightened state of alert for the Israeli public, Israeli officials said.

Israeli officials said the Red Hail operation has been going on for some time and does not indicate the country has any information about when or if the United States will launch an attack against Iraq.

As part of increased U.S. coordination with Israel before any possible war with Iraq, an American military liaison team arrived in Israel over the weekend and will remain at the U.S. Embassy indefinitely, one U.S. source said.

"They are here to enhance our liaison and communications capabilities with the Israelis," said an American official, who did not want to be identified. The official declined to say how many U.S. military personnel are part of the coordination team other than to say a limited number are in Israel.

In another development, Israel has been moving newly arrived, upgraded U.S. Patriot anti-missile batteries into position for a joint exercise that could begin this weekend, U.S. and Israel sources said.

The exercise, dubbed Juniper Cobra, is designed to test how effective the Patriots, along with Israel's $2 billion Arrow missile defense system, would be in shooting down any incoming missiles.

"What we are doing is testing the interoperability between the U.S. air defense units and the Israeli ... units to look at ... how they work together," said an American military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The official said U.S. naval forces also would be incorporated into the exercise.

U.S. and Israeli officials said the joint exercise takes place every other year and was not planned in response to ongoing tensions with Iraq.

An Arrow anti-ballistic missile soars into the sky over Israel's Mediterranean coast in a test this month.
An Arrow anti-ballistic missile soars into the sky over Israel's Mediterranean coast in a test this month.

About 500 U.S. troops will take part in the exercise. Many of those troops as well as the Patriot batteries will remain in Israel, U.S. and Israeli sources said.

During the Gulf War, Israel did not have the Arrow, and the U.S. Patriots proved to be a major disappointment, failing to prevent the Iraqi Scuds from hitting Israel. Two Israelis were killed in direct hits in those attacks. Seventy-two people died mostly from heart attacks due to war-related stress.

Israel did not respond to the Iraqi attacks in 1991, but it is not making such promises this time. The United States is hoping to prevent any Israeli retaliation, fearing it could eliminate Arab support for military action against Iraq.

CNN Correspondent Kelly Wallace and Producer Izzy Lemberg in Jerusalem contributed to this report.



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