A Scud missile attack destroys a Tel Aviv building (Photo: Bill Badey, Twitter)

On January 18th, 1991, Iraq under the regime of Saddam Hussein fires eight Scud missiles at Israel in the early hours of the morning immediately after the US military launched airstrikes on Iraqi sites at the very beginning of the Persian Gulf War. The Scud missiles hit Haifa and Tel Aviv, which Palestinian activists claim to be occupied territory, wounding seven Israeli citizens and damaging millions of dollars in infrastructure. 

Being the first time Tel Aviv was targeted since Israel’s war for independence, the attack remains a symbol of just how close relations are between the United States and Israel; to the point that Saddam Hussein saw attacking Israel as retaliation against American forces attacking Iraq.

Likud Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir who gathered the security cabinet immediately after the attack in an all-day emergency session was instructed by Washington to hold fire and not retaliate. Israel respected the American request all throughout the Gulf war and did not retaliate. Saddam Hussein’s military would later fire over 30 Scuds at Israel during the war in an attempt to spark Israeli retaliation in the hopes of shattering the global anti-Iraq coalition that was attempting to drive Iraqi forces out of Kuwait. 

To this day, the decision by Israel to hold fire and listen to American orders remains controversial. The multiple attacks that would come after January 18th would lead to 13 Israeli casualties on Israeli soil, a direct violation of Israeli sovereignty. In an autobiography by Moshe Maron, a man whose house was destroyed by an Iraqi missile, he wrote: "Late at night, a siren was heard all over the city [Ramat Gan]. Ahuvah [Moshe’s wife] and I quickly ran to our safe room and waited for the missiles to come. About two minutes later we heard the sound of the boom clearly. It was a loud noise like I had never heard before, and it was very frightening! The Scud really fell At the entrance to our house, the house was shaken to its core, and all the windows shattered into pieces.”

The Shamir government in general was extremely cooperative with the American government. During the late 80s and at the height of the Iraq-Iran war, Yitzhak Shamir authorized armed deals with the Ayatollah’s anti-Zionist Iran, through US mediation. Nevertheless, the Shamir-Likud government was able to withstand the attacks without responding partly due to the United States' supply of Patriot anti-missile batteries to Israel.

Another consideration that eased the criticism of Shamir's policy was the fact that the Scuds missiles used by Iraq were not highly efficient and only carried conventional explosive warheads. There was, however, a fear that Saddam might resort to targeting Israel with chemical weapons, leading to the Israel Defense Forces 'Homefront Command' issuing gas masks to all citizens and providing clear instructions to the Israeli public.


Sign Up For The Judean Newsletter

I agree with the Terms and conditions and the Privacy policy