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October 13, 2002

WEDNESDAY'S White House summit between President Bush and Israel's Ariel Sharon may be the last before the American offensive against Saddam Hussein, which underlines a need for understanding between the United States and Israel at the highest level.

The Israeli prime minister wants to know that the U.S. war planning will ensure that Iraq will not be able to inflict attacks on Israel - as in the Scud salvos of the 1991 Gulf War, but this time with chemical and biological warheads. Bush wants to be assured that Israel will remain completely defensive, since an Israeli retaliatory move against Baghdad, even after heavy casualties, could bring a tough reaction in the Arab world.

Foreign reports reaching Israel say that in preparation for the offensive, U.S. and British bombers attacked an Iraqi control and command center in early September.

Diplomatic reports in the Mideast indicate that when the U.S.-British offensive begins, there will be about 90 days of air raids.

In comparison, there were only 40 days of air raids during the Gulf War and about 70 during the Kosovo conflict.

Sharon told his close aides recently he expects the U.S. to take all the necessary measures so that there will be no need for any Israeli reaction.

In recent visits by Israeli defense officials to Washington, Sharon received an assurance that Israel will get the advance warning it needs to take emergency steps of precaution when the offensive begins.

An Israeli official told The Post, "There is a bond based on credibility between President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon."

When Bush asked Sharon to lift his siege of Yasser Arafat in Ramallah because it was blurring the U.S. focus on Saddam, Sharon didn't hesitate to pull back his tanks.

Last week when the Lebanese started to pump water from the Wazani River, decreasing the flow to the Jordan (Israel's major source of water), Sharon gave priority to a U.S. proposal to mediate a compromise.

These and other issues are likely to be on the agenda Tuesday night at Blair House as Sharon meets Bush's aide Condoleezza Rice, prior to the meeting with the president the following day.


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