With the outbreak of war in the Persian Gulf, Americans need to be alert to the increased risk of terrorist attacks.

That's because terrorism has long been a prime weapon in the arsenal of Saddam Hussein, he has specifically threatened to use it against the United States and its friends, and he has not hesitated to use it before against some of his own countrymen.Yes, the risk of terrorist attacks is greatest in Europe, because it is closer to the Middle East and because it would be easier for Iranian terrorists to go unnoticed in polyglot Europe, with its economic and historic ties to the Middle East, than in the United States.

Even so, American soil is also vulnerable. So Americans ought to remain calm but alert and report any suspicious activities. Likewise, they ought to cooperate with authorities as security is tightened at airports, military bases, and some other facilities.

Moreover, Congress ought to start paying closer attention to some suggestions that Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah has been pushing for some time now in an effort to curb terrorism within the United States.

Hatch, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, thinks America is particularly vulnerable now that Saddam has been playing host to several of the most violent Palestinian terrorist groups, including the infamous Abu Nidal organization.

Hatch is particularly worried about the potential for larger-scale terrorist attacks. Noting that much of the refined oil products transported in the United States pass through a single pipeline system, he goes on to point out that the protection of water, electricity, natural gas and nuclear power plants falls to private companies, "some of which take the threat more seriously than others." So he has been calling for three actions:

1. A national assessment of the vulnerability to terrorism of nuclear power plants, dams, bridges, telecommunications networks and water reservoirs.

2. The establishment of uniform anti-terrorist standards for these facilities.

3. The stockpiling of replacement parts.

Meanwhile, maybe the prospect of a backlash in world opinion can help deter terrorists from using the increasingly sophisticated weapons at their command, including chemical and biological agents plus shoulder-fired air-to-surface missiles.

Certainly, Saddam should be under no illusions about the impact of terrorism on American opinion. Americans would be buttressed in their determination to see the campaign against Iraq through to its conclusion.

Since the objective of terrorism is not just to take lives and damage property but to sow fear, Americans can to some extent fight terrorists by exercising their will-power and refusing to panic.

Beyond the immediate challenge posed by the prospect of increased terrorism looms a long-range task. That task is for technology to develop better methods for detecting the lethal devices of terrorism. It is a task that must be pursued long after the latest armed conflict in the Persian Gulf has ended.