Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said Israel's defense was the domain of the Israeli government, despite his meeting with a high-level U.S. delegation apparently sent to dissuade Israel from involvement in a possible Persian Gulf war.
Israeli officials meanwhile conducted emergency drills and handed out chemical warfare defense kits Sunday in preparation for a possible Iraqi attack. Iraq has threatened to attack Israel first if Iraqi forces occupying Kuwait are attacked by a U.S.-led multinational force.Meanwhile, thousands of people crowded airports in hopes of leaving Israel because of the Iraqi threat.
Undersecretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, carrying an undisclosed message from President Bush, arrived Saturday and held several meetings over the weekend with Shamir, Defense Minister Moshe Arens and Foreign Minister David Levy.
"We continue to conduct talks with the delegation. . . . Until the talks will end and we will reach a conclusion, I cannot say a word," Shamir said.
But at a Cabinet meeting, Shamir reportedly said Israel's defense was the domain of the Israeli government and would remain so, Israel radio reported. Shamir was responding to questions by several ministers whether he had consented to a possible U.S. request to refrain from retaliating if Iraq attacked Israel.
U.S. national security adviser Brent Scowcroft said Sunday on CBS television the purpose of the American delegation was to keep Israel out of the war.
But Transportation Minister Moshe Katsav, commenting on Eagle-burger's presence, said Israel had until now behaved with more than usual restraint.
"It is impossible that if Israel is attacked, she will remain seated with folded hands," Katsav said. "Iraq must know that if Israel is attacked, Israel will react."
Zeev Schiff, a commentator for the Haaretz daily, said he thought the meetings would focus on "what happens after the strike, after we absorb the attack."
He said Israel does not oppose the fact the American military would attack Iraqi missiles and aircraft threatening Israel.
Meanwhile, both Israelis and Palestinians were preparing for a possible Iraqi chemical attack.
Israeli civil defense authorities held a large-scale drill in Tel Aviv, Israel's largest city and the city specifically targeted by Iraq.
The civil defense also started distributing 1 million chemical warfare defense kits at 900 distribution centers throughout Israel's rural sector.
Civil defense authorities said they hoped to finish the operation Tuesday, Army radio reported. Approximately 3.5 million protective kits have been distributed in Israel's urban centers since the end of October.
The Israeli Cabinet Sunday authorized Shamir and several other ministers to issue emergency regulations if needed to ensure vital supplies and services in special circumstances.
Many Israelis did not await instructions from the civil defense officials but rather continued hoarding canned food and prepared their homes against the lethal gas.
Street vendors on Jerusalem's main Jaffa road were selling insulation tape for double the price. Plastic sheets used to cover windows were sold out in many of the capital's shops.
Markets and gas stations in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip were crowded with Arab inhabitants buying canned food and gasoline, Palestinian sources said.
Meanwhile in Beirut, Syrian troops deployed in Lebanon have taken extraordinary precautions against a possible spread of chemical warfare in the Persian Gulf area.
The officials said Syria's 35,000 troops deployed in two thirds of the country were supplied with gas masks, anti-chemical equipment and flour to cover their bodies in case they were showered with deadly liquids.
Israel's media advised civilians to use flour to cover their flesh against chemical gases and acid rains. In Lebanon, a local environmental organization instructed citizens to use running water, preferably warm, in case of a chemical attack.