Published March 18, 2003
JERUSALEM – The military asked Israelis on Tuesday to prepare sealed rooms in their homes in case of an Iraqi chemical-weapons attack.
The recommendation marked another step in war preparations. On Monday, Israelis were asked to buy the items necessary for sealing rooms, including plastic sheeting and duct tape. The military has also called up hundreds of reservists in anti-aircraft and rescue units and in civilian defense in anticipation of a U.S. attack on Iraq.
Israel has been preparing for months for the possibility that Iraq will lash out at Israel -- as it did during the 1991 Gulf War -- in retaliation for a U.S. strike.
Israel's military is already stretched thin as a result of 2 years of fighting with the Palestinians. Reservists are doing long tours of duty in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The Home Front Command announced that a special emergency TV channel would begin operating later in the day, broadcasting explanatory films on how to seal a room and updating the public on developments.
But citizens do not yet need to fit their gas masks with filters, it said. More than 93 percent of Israelis have updated gas masks, military officials said.
The army spokeswoman, Brig. Gen. Ruth Yaron, said Israel is in a "high level" of preparation but urged people to "act normally and celebrate Purim" -- a reference to the holiday that commemorates the saving of the Jews in ancient Persia as recounted in the biblical Book of Esther.
Purim is celebrated with parades and costume parties for children. The largest parade, in the central Israeli town of Holon, was to proceed as planned later Tuesday.
Hardware stores reported brisk business Tuesday.
"Saddam is like a rat in trap," shopper Oded Sarusi said as he pushed a cart overflowing with supplies, including a transistor radio and a fire extinguisher. "The only way for him to save his pride and reputation in the war is to attack Israel. That is why I'm buying all these things."
Israel says it reserves the right to respond if attacked by Iraq, but military officials have suggested the retaliation will depend on the extent of damage or casualties caused by an Iraqi strike.
In the Gulf War, 39 Scud missiles hit Israel, causing some damage but few casualties. Under intense pressure from the United States, Israel did not retaliate in order not to break up the Arab coalition against Saddam Hussein.
The daily Yediot Ahronot published a large graphic on its front page Tuesday showing how a room should be sealed and equipped. It also included a guide, "How to get through the war safely," with articles on war stress and details on government compensation for Scud damage.
Israel's national lottery announced it would hold drawings in a shelter, instead of in a TV studio.