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Israelis fear heavy toll in Iraq attack

Hotel rooms are already reserved. Flights out of the country are booked.

Whether or not Israel is drawn into the looming gulf conflict, a U.S. military strike on Iraq could bring daily life here to a standstill, inflicting a heavy toll in lost wages, lost school days and just plain panic."People will stop going to work, and even if they go, they won't really concentrate - they'll have their radios on and TVs on," said Robert Rosenberg, managing editor of the business magazine Link.

Israeli fears are based on a two-part scenario: that the United States will attack Iraq and that Iraq will retaliate by striking at Israel as it did during the 1991 gulf war.

While Iraq hasn't made any threats against Israel this time around, and government officials insist the odds of Israeli involvement are very low, many Israelis aren't taking any chances.

The government's assurances, they note, are belied by its recommendation that Israelis get new gas masks and buy materials to seal rooms against chemical and biological weapons.

So they are snapping up packing tape and rolls of plastic, standing in line to replace gas masks and booking hotel rooms and flights out of the country - all before a single missile has been launched.

"I don't understand how we couldn't be involved," said Carmit Arabov of Tel Aviv, which bore the brunt of the 39 Scud missiles that fell on Israel in 1991. "The government wouldn't hand out all the masks and warn people if they didn't think somehow we might be involved."