Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said Monday Israel was eager to fight Iraq but was staying out of the gulf war to ensure victory for U.S.-led forces.
"Our people want to fight very much," Shamir's office said he told visiting New York City Mayor David Dinkins."But we are taking into account the complex situation and don't want to complicate it even more because our goal is the victory of the coalition," the Israeli leader said.
Shamir reinforced remarks by deputy army chief Ehud Barak that Israel's "fingers itch" to wipe out Iraqi launchers firing Scud missiles at the Jewish state, but cool, clear heads were behind its restraint.
Under pressure from the United States, Israel has suspended its usual policy of swift, brutal reprisals despite about 30 Scud missile attacks that have killed four Israelis and wounded 273 since war erupted Jan. 17.
Washington, opposing Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait, believes his Scud attacks are a bid to suck Israel into the war and prompt Arab countries hostile to the Jewish state to desert the U.S.-led coalition.
The United States has sent Israel Patriot anti-missile missiles and crews to counter the Scud threat.
Maj. Gen. Barak, due to become army chief of staff in April, said he believed Saddam prayed each night for an Israeli attack on the launchers that would rouse Arab support for Baghdad.
He told Israeli television Iraq's missiles were becoming less effective as they faced pounding by U.S.-led forces but the threat remained.
"It is worth noting that in the first nine days of the launches, we had 25 missiles fall on the state of Israel. In the next eight days, only five fell, causing little damage," he said.
Israel believed Iraq had 10 or 12 mobile missile launchers in western Iraq at the start of the war but some might have been taken out by the allies, the general said. The Scuds fired at Israel came from western Iraq.
The former head of military intelligence, Barak said Israel had "very good" plans for removing the Iraqi missile threat but the time and manner would be decided by the government and army, preferably in coordination with the United States.Comment on this story
"We are pained by every loss, infuriated by physical damage and on the professional level our fingers itch sometimes to undertake an operation we think will remove the threat," Barak said.
"But neither fury nor pain nor itchy fingers are the best guide and they will not substitute for cool, clear thinking."
Israeli officials said most schools would reopen Tuesday after a nearly three-week closure imposed by the war. Palestinians in occupied lands remained under curfew and U.N. relief workers were sending in emergency food supplies.