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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 24 December, 2002, 14:40 GMT
Israeli media condemns Sharon over Iraq
Israeli man watches video on how to use a gas mask
Israelis are fearful of possible chemical attacks
Several of Israel's leading daily newspapers accuse Ariel Sharon's government of exaggerating the threat of war with Iraq to gain the upper hand in the forthcoming elections.

Israel goes to the polls to elect a new government at the end of January, which some commentators have suggested could coincide with the start of a US-led attack against Iraq.

Cynics will say the only war in sight is the ratings war

Yoel Marcus in Ha'aretz

"The war on Iraq hasn't started yet, but the anxiety level of the public is already pushing through the roof," says commentator Yoel Marcus in the leftist Ha'aretz.

Mr Marcus points to what he describes as scare reports, such as Israelis planning to decamp overseas en masse if war looms and proposals to inoculate the entire population against a smallpox attack by kamikaze pilots.

"These frightening reports do not materialise out of thin air. They are trickled down from above, from the powers that be. The cynics will say that the only war in sight at the moment is the ratings war."

'Windbags'

Such tactics "are great for making people forget about corruption ... The threat of a missile attack diverts attention from the Mafioso takeover of the Likud".

We cannot allow a bunch of windbags in high places to scare us to death

Yoel Marcus in Ha'aret

Marcus says Israel is stronger and better prepared, and Iraq weaker, than during the Gulf War, when Israel came under Scud attack from Iraq.

"In our current state of readiness, with the risks so low, we cannot allow a bunch of windbags in high places to scare us to death."

A commentator in the largest circulation daily, the centrist Yedi'ot Aharonot, condemns US leaders for seeking to lead the world into "a baseless, unjustified, and illogical war" which he feels plays into the Likud government's hands.

"And if there is something that is more astonishing, it is the ardent eagerness of the state of Israel to join this game.

Security hysteria... always leads the voter to favour Sharon

Yedi'ot Aharonot

"It is possible that in the next few days, such madness will reach a climax: the state of Israel will endanger the lives and health of its citizens with a decision on mass inoculation against smallpox. Only cynical politics will stand behind such a decision."

'Hysteria'

Such measures will "help the Americans market the war" as well as preoccupying voters with "security hysteria which always leads the voter to favour Sharon".

In Ma'ariv, an independent daily with the country's second largest circulation, commentator Dan Margalit also notes concerns "that many Israelis will escape abroad if war breaks out".

Sharon says Israel ready for Iraqi attack

headline in Jerusalem Post

He fears that the "mass escape of Israelis from Tel Aviv will encourage [Lebanese Hezbollah leader] Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah and Yasser Arafat to continue to try their strength at extending the violence against Israel".

The Jerusalem Post has a front page picture of Mr Sharon handling a gas mask on a visit to Tel Aviv.

"Sharon says Israel ready for Iraqi attack," proclaims one front-page headline. "Prospects of Saddam's fall brings fears to many, hopes to a few," says another.

Second chance

An analysis piece in Ha'aretz examines the state of Likud's main rival in the election, concluding that Labour leader Amram Mitzna shot himself in the foot by refusing to join an emergency government led by Mr Sharon in the event of war with Iraq.

"Sharon and his people know that the average Likud voter will not be comfortable replacing the government on the eve of war."

"Saddam and Bush give Sharon a second chance," the analyst concludes.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

See also:

22 Dec 02 | Middle East
17 Dec 02 | Middle East
16 Dec 02 | Middle East
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