Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - The threat of an Iraqi chemical weapons attack on Israel is not confined to Iraq firing missiles from its Western sector, an Israeli intelligence expert said on Wednesday.
The question is if Iraq has made up its mind to use chemical weapons against advancing allied troops as well as Israel and if they still have the capability, said Dr. Uzi Arad, director of the Institute of Policy and Strategy at Herzliya's Interdisciplinary Center.
Israel has been on high alert since the opening of the war in Iraq last week. Israeli citizens have been instructed to have their gas masks with them at all times and to seal a room in their homes against the threat of a chemical missile attack.
Israel was hit by at least 39 Iraqi SCUD missiles, armed with conventional warheads in retaliation for the U.S.-led war against Iraq in 1991.
Officials have said that while the probability is low that Israel will be hit this time around, if Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is backed into a corner, he may unleash his arsenal.
"There is a threat to Israel and there has been a threat and it is not confined to Western Iraq only," Arad told a briefing of diplomats and journalists at the Institute of Contemporary Affairs in Jerusalem on Wednesday.
"If the Iraqis had wanted to deliver chemical or biological munitions to Israel... they could have used all three methods: missile capability, which is limited operationally by numbers and by our defensive capabilities; airborne capabilities, unmanned aircraft as well as aircraft, also limited because of our ability to intercept ...but also they have ground capability," said Arad, who held senior positions in Israel's foreign intelligence service, the Mossad, between 1975 and 1999.
According to Arad, Iraq could have operatives in Jordan and elsewhere that could penetrate into Israel or even the U.S. to perpetrate a chemical or biological attack. He pointed out that even President Bush was inoculated against smallpox as a precautionary measure against a biological attack.
"The rest of the equation remains. Have they made up their mind to do it and what are the operational chances of success?" Arad said.
"They've not reached the moment in which they may decide to use [them]. They could use chemical weapons against the advancing coalition troops. I think that this is a real possibility," he said. If they do that then why not strike Israel, he added.
"When they will cross the threshold and if [they] cross the threshold, [they] cross it here, [they] can cross it there," he said. "Whether they can do it operationally, [it is] difficult, [it] can become more difficult, but it can be done."
Saddam used chemical weapons at least eight times between 1983 and 1988, including serine and mustard gas against advancing Iranian troops in the Iran-Iraq war, delivered by artillery shells and from aircraft or helicopters, Arad said.
"There is a method in this doctrine namely the [Iraqis] when they're outnumbered or feeling like they're about to be overrun...on the ground they should use those weapons tactically and they've used them," he said.
He pointed to the fact that some Iraqi troops are carrying gas masks as a sign that they may already know that the regime has planned to use chemical weapons against advancing troops.
"The record is there. It's not a new thing for them. They did it. They have it. They know how to do it. Therefore the question is will the circumstances that will justify such use occur again," Arad said.
On the one hand the Iraqis might be tempted to use chemical weapons out of vengeance but on the other hand they might refrain from doing so, fearing an American retaliation, he added.
But Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has refrained from issuing any threat other than bringing the commanders to trial as war criminals, which would be a "very unpersuasive threat" as far as the Iraqis go, he said.
Rumsfeld said on Tuesday that there are "intelligence scraps...that suggest that the closer that coalition forces get to Baghdad and Tikrit, the greater the likelihood and that some command and control arrangements have been put in place" to use chemical weapons.
He has urged commanders to disobey orders to use chemical weapons, threatening them with a court case if they proceed.
This is different form the kind of rhetoric employed by then-Defense Minister Dick Cheney during the 1991 Gulf War, Arad noted.
"So it's a major dilemma," Arad said. "I think that the possibility of Iraqi use is not negligible.""