by DEBKAfile, 9 January 2002

"The Israeli government perceives the threat of a nuclear, biological or chemical attack as tangible enough to earmark a sizeable amount, the equivalent of US$100 million, for measures to protect the population. According to DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources, intelligence supporting this reading has reached Jerusalem from more than one source, including the United States, where the nuclear-bio-chemical terror alert first declared for a period running from mid-December to mid-January has been extended by a further three months until the end of April.

US intelligence believes that the escape of thousands of al Qaeda and Egyptian Islamic Jihad fighters from Afghanistan to the Middle East has magnified the threat to Israel. The fugitives, who have fanned out through Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Jordan, Lebanon, Sudan, Egypt and the Horn of Africa, may have kept unconventional weapons with them in their flight, or have access to hidden caches in the region.

The terror alert sounded by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld last month touched also on cruise missiles capable of delivering chemical or biological warheads, including anthrax spores in terrorist hands – and not only in Iraq. He defined Europe and the Middle East as additional potential targets for this kind of terrorism.
US spokesmen have of late been playing down a possible US-led offensive against Iraq. But if Saddam Hussein thinks they are merely throwing sand in his eyes, he may well launch a pre-emptive strike to forestall the American move.

The Israeli government’s decision today ties in with an earlier DEBKAfile report of a US boat docked in Haifa port with a cargo of vaccines and counter-measures for biological, nuclear and chemical warfare. Public funds will be needed to organize the distribution of the vaccines and medicines. The budgeting decision was made public - both to impress the country with the seriousness of the danger and to calm fears.