Hundreds of American soldiers have arrived in Israel for joint maneuvers with that country's anti-missile defenses, aimed at providing protection against any Iraqi strikes if the United States attacks Iraq, officials said Tuesday.
Israel is preparing for the possibility Baghdad will launch missiles against it during any new war as it did during the 1991 Persian Gulf war. Iraq fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel during that conflict, causing much damage, but few casualties.
The joint maneuvers are being conducted in southern Israel using two anti-missile systems, the U.S.-made Patriot and the Arrow, which was developed by Israel and the United States, military officials said.
The U.S. soldiers, who brought Patriot anti-missile batteries with them, will remain in Israel until the end of any war on Iraq, military officials said.
On Wednesday, Israel will go into a higher stage of alert, codenamed "Red Hail," media reported. Zalman Shoval, an adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said Red Hail was planned long in advance and does not mean Israel knows if or when a U.S. attack on Iraq would be launched.
As part of its preparations for a possible chemical or biological weapons strike, Israel is distributing gas masks to its citizens and launching a television and radio advertising campaign instructing people how to respond.
Soldiers are visiting schools to instruct children and answer questions. Newspapers run banner headlines at least once a week about the threat of war.