Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - As the U.S. and allied troops try to secure western Iraq to lessen the threat of ballistic missile strikes against themselves and Israel, the motivation to carry out such an attack is increasing, an Israeli expert said on Monday.
U.S. and allied troops reportedly have secured air bases in western Iraq, from which Scud missiles were fired at Israel during the 1991 Gulf War. But Israel remained on high alert Monday, with orders for Israelis to carry gas masks with them at all times still in force.
Children could be seen on Monday going to school for the fourth day lugging brown gas mask protection kit boxes - some of them decorated with stickers. But much of the general public has not heeded the warning to carry their kits with them at all times.
Earlier media reports suggested that Israel would lower its state of alert on Sunday, but over the weekend, Israeli security officials decided to maintain the level of alert fearing that as the war in Iraq progresses, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's motivation to carry out an attack would increase.
An expert on Iraqi weapons, Dr. Dany Shoham from the BESA Center for Strategic Studies, said that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein may still launch missiles at Israel and could still use chemical weapons against allied troops and Israel.
"On the one hand, the capabilities are currently being lessened and lessened," Shoham said, as allied troops are occupying more territory.
"As a consequence, the Iraqis would lose the grounds from which they could launch missiles," Shoham said in a telephone interview. "The overall capacities for employing chemical and biological warfare are being reduced."
But on the other hand, Saddam's personal situation is worsening daily, thereby increasing his motivation to use the weapons, Shoham added.
"The incentive to deliver would be greater both against coalition troops and Israel," he said. "At the same time, the physical distance between advancing troops day to day is smaller, that's why the Iraqis may use short-range delivery systems, for chemical or biological delivering capabilities."
Shoham said he believes that Saddam may still employ chemical or biological weapons, particularly against advancing U.S. and allied troops "when he reaches a point [in] his own assessment that he's not going to survive."
According to Shoham, Saddam retains only a "residual" capacity - not a full inventory of weapons of mass destruction. But those capacities would have been well concealed so he could employ them with minimal effort.
Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told cabinet ministers on Sunday that it was too early to assess the situation in Iraq and that the key would be breaking the Iraqi regime in Baghdad.
Mofaz said that while the threat from Iraq was low, it has not yet been removed and therefore Israel would remain on high alert.
He said the public and defense establishment were at a very good level of preparedness, with the mobilization of reservists, unprecedented levels of active and passive readiness and "very good" coordination with the U.S.
Israeli Maj-Gen. Amos Gilad, coordinator of Israel's activities in the West Bank, said that just despite the fact that the U.S. is in control of the airports in western Iraq, the danger to Israel was not diminished or eliminated.
"Western Iraq is a huge area, and as long as there is not complete control over it, there can be no prevention of hostile activity," Gilad was quoted as saying by YNET on Sunday.
"As long as Saddam and his regime have not collapsed the danger is minimal, but the possibility exists that someone could still fire upon Israel," he added.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told reporters on Sunday that while there had been no evidence of attempts to launch Scud missiles at Israel, the task of teams operating in Western Iraq was "to see that there are not ballistic missiles fired from the West at neighboring countries."
Secretary of State Colin Powell briefed Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom over the weekend on the status of the fighting in Iraq, a statement from the foreign ministry said.