Call me old-fashioned, but when I recently went down to the local branch of Israel's Civil Defense Office to get my gas masks, the last thing I expected to hear was a lecture on their improved color patterns.



The sprightly young soldier who greeted me was only too happy to shake off the boredom for a few minutes as she proceeded to demonstrate how these intimidating contraptions work. In case of a chemical attack, she said, put the mask on, turn this, push that, and you'll be fine, she tried to reassure me.







When I mentioned that the gas masks somehow seemed different from the ones we had worn during the 1991 Gulf War, during which Saddam had unleashed dozens of Scud missiles against Israel, she grew even more animated. "Yes, they are no longer just a dark color," she told me, sounding like a teacher praising a student for a particularly astute observation. "We have added this orange strip to certain models, to brighten them up a bit."



Oy vey, I thought. Is this what homeland security has come to? Designer gas masks?



Though tempted to ask if the current inventory was part of the fall or winter collection, I wisely chose to remain silent.



The reason for my gas-mask shopping spree was simple. Watching the news last week, I saw Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz addressing reporters in Ankara, Turkey. Mustering up about as much charm as can be expected from one of Saddam Hussein's favorite errand-boys, Aziz sought to calm his Turkish hosts when he said, "We are not going to retaliate against anybody in the region except American aggressors."



By the time he had finished his sentence, I was already on my way to the gas-mask distribution center.



After all, the regime Aziz works for hardly has a stellar track record when it comes to telling the truth. Just ask Scott Ritter. Well, maybe not him, but ask anyone else and they will most assuredly agree: Veracity is not one of Saddam's predominant character traits.



If Saddam and his cronies are willing to lie about weapons of mass destruction, then it seems safe to assume that we shouldn't rely on his candor about a possible missile attack against the Jewish state, either.



Of course, the prospect that we here in Israel might soon find ourselves racing for the air-raid shelters is no laughing matter. After two years of relentless Palestinian terror, people's nerves are frayed enough as it is. The danger posed by a sufficiently desperate, and well-armed, Saddam Hussein, is very real, so Israelis have little choice but to prepare for the worst, even as they hope for the best.



The terrifying experience of coming under an Iraqi missile attack was best described by one of America's most well-known modern war heroes. In his autobiography ?It Doesn't Take a Hero?, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of allied forces in Operation Desert Storm, describes how on January 21, 1991, he was in Riyadh when six Iraqi Scuds were fired against the area.



"Sirens sounded throughout the city and Patriot batteries went on full alert? we made sure our gas masks were handy," he writes. "We all had our hearts in our throats? while we didn't think Iraq had chemical warheads for its Scuds? in those minutes we all cast nervous glances at the air-conditioning vents."



It is precisely this kind of anxiety that Israelis must now prepare to face once again. But despite the dangers and the uncertainties, there is widespread support across the Israeli political spectrum for President George W. Bush's brave and determined stance.



Indeed, with the exception of Britain's Tony Blair and Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is the only world leader that has come out fully and unequivocally behind America's policy on Iraq. Sharon has openly praised the president, and made clear Israel's readiness to assist in any way possible.



As far back as the early 1980s, Israel was alone among Western nations in recognizing Saddam as a menace to both regional and global stability. While much of the world viewed the secular Iraqi dictator as an important counterweight to the newly installed fundamentalist regime of the ayatollahs in neighboring Iran, Israel took decisive action to disrupt Saddam's quest for nuclear weapons.



In his speech last week, President Bush noted that Saddam might be less than a year away from having nuclear weapons. Had Israel not undertaken its 1981 bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak, Saddam by now might very well have been in possession of an operational warhead. Though Israel was roundly condemned at the time, the wisdom of that attack has never seemed more prescient than it does now.



And so, as America's young men and women in uniform prepare to put their lives on the line for the sake of a noble cause, the U.S. can rest assured that the people of Israel will be praying for their safety and their success. We might find ourselves dashing for cover, or running to the shelters, but that seems a small price to pay for removing Saddam and the threat he poses to all of us.



And even if we are forced to don our designer gas masks once again, they will not be able to muffle the words of gratitude that we have for America's leadership on Iraq: Thank you, President Bush.

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Michael Freund served as deputy director of communications and policy planning in the Israeli prime minister's Office from 1996 to 1999.



This article originally appeared in National Review Online.