Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israel is preparing itself for the possibility that if the U.S. broadens its war against terror to include strikes on Iraq, Israel may become a retaliatory target of Saddam Hussein.
Despite that grim prediction, experts here warned that it may be better for America to take on the Iraqi leader now, rather than later after he has obtained nuclear weapons.
If the U.S. decides to take action against Iraq, then the probability that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein would strike Israel, significantly increases, said Dr. Dany Shoham, from the BESA Center for Strategic Studies near Tel Aviv.
In the 1991 Gulf War, Israel did not respond when it was hit by at least 39 Iraqi Scud missiles fired at it in retaliation for the U.S.-led war on Iraq. Saddam has openly pledged his support to the Palestinian cause, sent money to the families of those killed in clashes with Israel and recruited soldiers for an army to liberate Palestine.
Head of Israeli intelligence General Amos Malka said last week that the Iraqi leader "will attack Israel if he feels the United States is threatening his control of Iraq."
Nevertheless, Shoham said if the U.S. intends to target Iraq it would be better to do so now, before Saddam Hussein obtains nuclear weapons.
"The strategic equation would undergo a shift in the future if Iraq or Iran [obtains] nuclear weapons," he said in a telephone interview. "In such a case [Iraq] wouldn't fear a nuclear retaliation [if he launched an attack with] chemical or biological weapons."
Western analysts estimate that Iraq and/or Iran could have nuclear weapons within five years.
"Time is against us," Shoham said.
Professor Benny Morris of Ben Gurion University in the Negev cautioned that if the U.S. decides to attack Saddam Hussein, it could have serious repercussions in the Middle East.
"Destroying Saddam Hussein would be a benefit to all mankind," Morris said. "He is a dangerous man, he has dangerous weapons and he wants to get even more dangerous weapons."
However, if America only drops a few bombs on him, then he might retaliate towards Israel, which would be detrimental. It could also "open a whole new can of worms with the Arab States and between Israel and the Arab states," he added.
Nevertheless, if there is a perceived threat from Iraq or even Iran, then it is better to deal with them now, Morris said.
Iraq and Iran's main goal is to acquire nuclear weapons, not biological or chemical. Although the biological weapons are "scary," he said they don't kill millions of people. On the other hand nuclear weapons are "scary" and they do kill millions.
If Saddam obtained nuclear weapons, he could send out anthrax packages to everyone and threaten a nuclear retaliation if he is attacked, he said.
"It might be in everybody's interest to destroy those regimes," he added.
Secretary of State Colin Powell refused to speculate about whether or not the U.S. had placed Iraq on its list of "targets" as part of its pledged war against terrorism, but he did say that Washington was watching Iraq.
"We keep a close eye on Iraq," Powell said at a joint press conference on Wednesday. "We will continue to work on modifying the sanctions regime so we keep the Iraqi regime bottled up with respect to the development of weapons of mass destruction, but we do not hurt the people of Iraq."
As U.S. investigators probe the source of the spread of lethal anthrax in the U.S., experts have said it is clear that it was produced in laboratories so highly sophisticated that a state is likely to have been behind it.
Shoham said the U.S. cannot ignore the possibility that Iraq might be behind the anthrax attacks. Iraq is believed to have extensive stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.
"At least in the case of the envelopes sent to Congress, the powder containing anthrax was weapons grade," said Shoham, who is an expert on weapons of mass destruction. "It is more likely that such weapons grade powder was prepared in a sophisticated laboratory."
So sophisticated were the anthrax spores found in Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office that they could only have been produced in three countries: the U.S., the former Soviet Union and Iraq, the Washington Post reported on Thursday.
Mixed with a chemical agent, the anthrax spores were made more buoyant, making them more likely to be inhaled.
"Saddam Hussein more than once declared he intends to take revenge against the U.S., and he never gave details how," Shoham said. It is also possible that there is a connection between Iraq and terrorist organizations, he added.
No matter who is behind the anthrax attacks, it is unlikely that the U.S. will find the kind of proof that could stand up in a court of law. Nevertheless, Morris said, that should not keep the U.S. from responding.
"Usually when you engage in war, you're not going after proof that would hold up in a court of law," said Morris, who is an expert on Middle East history.
Throughout history there has never been such a demand for proof in order to go to war. The situation now, in which there is a "court of world opinion," is unprecedented, he said.
Iraq will strike Israel if the United States threatens Saddam Hussein, head of Israeli intelligence General Amos Malka said Tuesday.
The Iraqi president "will attack Israel if he feels the United States is threatening his control of Iraq," Malkha told the parliamentary foreign and defence committee, Israeli television reported.