During the 1991 Gulf War, many Arabs could not believe that Israel would stand helpless in the face of the series of Iraqi Scud missile attacks on its cities.
There were reports of Israeli parachute landing operations in west Iraq, but they were not confirmed. However, Israel remained as the ghost participant in the war.
In a report published by the Israeli Air Force Magazine, cited by The Jerusalem Post on Monday, the Israeli air force admitted that its fighters were in the air waiting for a political decision to attack Scud bases in Iraq.
Following is the full report as run by The Jerusalem Post:
To mark the 10th anniversary of the Gulf War, the air force has revealed some details of its planned attack on Scud missiles in western Iraq.
According to the latest edition of Air Force Magazine, which hit the newsstands, some planes were already in the air waiting for the final government approval for the strikes. The approval never came.
On the third day of the 1991 war, the cabinet of then-prime minister Yitzhak Shamir met to discuss various responses to the initial Scud missile attacks on Tel Aviv and Haifa.
"A decision in principle had been made that Israel must retaliate, but we still were not yet talking of an official cabinet decision," Maj.-Gen. (res.) Avihu Bin-Nun, then commander of the IAF, was quoted as saying.
"Since the retaliation operation demanded serious preparation, I immediately gave the order to start moving. We had to start preparing the forces, briefing the teams and arming the aircraft," Bin-Nun said.
He said that airborne radar aircraft and refueling planes needed to take off before the attacking force.
"These planes had already become airborne and were flying over the country in the chance that we received the cabinet authorization to get going," Bin-Nun said.
Bin-Nun said the objectives of the strike were to hit the Iraqi Scud missile launchers and to "carry out punitive actions" against Iraqi targets. He did not elaborate.
Until now, no official word had been released regarding Israel's planned retaliatory operation against Iraq.
At the time, the air force planned to use its most modern acquisition, the Apache attack helicopters. Col. (res.) Moshe Cohen, the first commander of the Apache squadron, told Air Force Magazine that they had done dry runs on simulated targets built in the Negev.
"We carried out the simulations... to train on locating targets and shooting them," Cohen said. "There was a sense that we could do the mission, but we weren't overconfident and we certainly weren't arrogant about it.”
The United States flew more than 2,000 sorties over the western Iraqi desert, expressly to wipe out the Scuds. They failed miserably as they struck at decoys. The Iraqis were able to lob a total of 39 Scuds at Israel before the end of the war.
One of the questions was whether the IAF would have had better results had it executed its plans.
"Even if we had stuck to only striking at the Scuds, I am convinced that we would have succeeded more than the Americans," Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora Ram, then-deputy head of the IAF, was quoted as saying.
"In my opinion," Bin-Nun added, "our operation would have reduced the number of Scud firings significantly. It would not have eliminated the [Scud] attacks. It would not have altered the essence of the war. But it certainly would have contributed to the reduction in the number of missile strikes." Bin-Nun said that even though 39 missiles were relatively few rockets, he believes the IAF could have reduced that to less than a dozen.
OC Air Force Maj.-Gen. Dan Halutz is quoted as saying that a Scud attack doesn't necessarily have to be answered by striking back at the Scuds themselves.
"There are a wide variety of other targets that can be hit in retaliation for someone launching missiles at Israel. You don't have to operate with symmetry. One thing is certain, today we won't be sitting on our hands watching how surface-to-surface missiles fall on Israel.”
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)