Middle East residents fear Iraqi attacks

Families in Israel have prepared “safe rooms” that might protect them in case of an attack.

Dan Haugen

Residents in the Middle East are concerned that the U.S.-led Operation Iraqi Freedom could trigger additional attacks, said University students and staff with relatives in the region.

Arab Student Association President Yosef Elbedour spoke with one of his brothers in Be’er Sheva, Israel, on Sunday. The city in southern Israel is home to his Palestinian parents and eight siblings.

“They’re very worried,” he said. “They believe that this is going to become regional. It’s going to affect every spot in the Middle East.”

He said his family has prepared an underground “safe room” where they would go in case of an attack. They are also stocking up on essential supplies.

Elbedour’s fear, he said, is Iraq’s suspected possession of weapons of mass destruction.

“I don’t know if (Saddam Hussein) has any. Maybe he’s saving them for the last minute,” he said. “He might use them against Israel, and that’s where my family is.”

Koby Nahmias, of the University group Friends of Israel, said he shares similar concerns. The foreign exchange student has several friends and family members in Batyam, Israel, a suburb just south of Tel Aviv.

“This time, Saddam Hussein has nothing to lose, and if he has nothing to lose, then Israel is an obvious target,” Nahmias said.

His family also has a “safe room,” sealed off from the rest of the house with duct tape and plastic sheeting.

Worries have calmed some since U.S. and coalition troops seized key air bases in western Iraq over the weekend, he said.

“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. 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,” Israeli Major General Amos Gilad said Sunday.

“If Israel gets involved, it will be chaos,” said Arab Student Association advisor Ayman Balshe. Balshe has family in the United Arab Emirates, where he said people are nervous about conflict spreading out of Iraq.

“The region is very shaky right now,” Balshe said. “It’s just waiting for a spark to ignite the whole region.”

Sharareh Noorbaloochi, a computer engineering student from Iran, said her friends in Iran have not expressed fear since the war started. But there is some public concern in Iran that, as a country on President George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil” list, it might face U.S. military action next, Noorbaloochi said. However, she believes that possibility to be remote.

Polls show negative view

According to an Arab American Institute/Zogby International poll conducted in early March, support for U.S. policy in the Middle East is at “dangerously low levels.”

Only 10 percent of those polled in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates expressed a favorable opinion of the United States. In Saudi Arabia, that number was just 3 percent.

“I don’t expect that the numbers have gone up,” Arab American Institute President James Zogby said Monday. “There’s almost no room for the numbers to go down, but I think that the attitudes have been hardened.”

James Zogby is the brother of John Zogby, president and CEO of Zogby International. The organization conducts polls both domestically and internationally on a variety of issues.

The institute has been conducting the poll for three years, and James Zogby said there has been a steady decline in opinions since then.

“The history of the region over the last 100 years is a growing frustration with a loss of control of their own destiny,” James Zogby said. “Westerners carved up their region, occupied their region, colonized their region, imposed regimes, gave Palestine away, and this war – because it was done against their wishes, only creates a deeper divide. We think we’re doing it with the best of intentions. They don’t see it that way because they were not brought in.”

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