There were growing signs that the government would refrain from retaliating for repeated Iraqi missile attacks on Israel to avoid fracturing the U.S. Arab alliance against Saddam Hussein.
There were no policy announcements after a Cabinet meeting Wednesday, the day after the bloodiest Iraqi Scud attack, but a national opinion poll conducted after the first two missile strikes Friday and Saturday said 80 percent of the respondents opposed Israeli military retaliation.But the poll was conducted before Iraq's third Scud missile strike, which killed three people and injured 96 others in Tel Aviv, Israel's most populous city.
Still, Shulamit Aloni, a member of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, who also is a member of a small liberal party normally opposed to Shamir's governing right-wing Likud Party, praised the government Wednesday and urged it "not to be dragged into the war by the Iraqi provocation."
Hours after Wednesday's emergency Cabinet meeting, Iraq launched at least one more Scud missile at Israel, but a U.S. Patriot missile intercepted it, scattering debris over the northern part of the country but causing no injuries, army spokesman Nachman Shai said.
At least one Patriot, part of an undisclosed number deployed in Israel over the weekend and manned by U.S. and Israeli forces, was fired by an American crew after the Iraqi Scud was detected about 10 p.m.
It was the second time Patriots had been fired since their deployment, and the first successful interception. Tuesday night, a Patriot was fired at an incoming Scud, apparently making a partial hit. But the Scud's conventional warhead was not destroyed and slammed into a Tel Aviv neighborhood.
Among the topics at the Cabinet session was believed to be why the recently deployed Patriot missile defense systems failed to nullify Tuesday night's Iraqi missile attack. Israel Radio reported that joint U.S. and Israeli crews were investigating the failure.
Lower-level government officials and members of the Knesset reiterated the familiar statement that Israel would respond to Iraqi missile attacks at a time and in a manner of its own choosing.
"Every person in the state of Israel would say to you that must hit them back so hard that their screams of pain will be heard to the edges of the Earth for a long time," said Health Minister Ehud Olmert, state-run Israel Radio reported.
"The government is not different from the natural and healthy reaction of every person," Olmert said. "The only difference is that the government has more tools to know and more tools to estimate."