Jerusalem, March 23, 2003

Cabinet Communique
(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

At the weekly Cabinet meeting today (Sunday), March 23, 2003:

1. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made the following remarks:

"I want to praise the citizens of Israel for showing responsibility, equanimity and sagacity at these times.

We are continuing to monitor developments in the war in Iraq and will decide our future steps according to events.

I call on Israelis to continue with their daily routines, to go to work and to send their children to school.

It is important to follow instructions and directions from the proper authorities."

2. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz briefed ministers on the war in Iraq and ongoing security matters. Regarding the former, the Defense Minister said that while the campaign is proceeding as planned, it is too early to assess its status. The key will be breaking the Iraqi regime’s main support in and around Baghdad. The gradual build-up of readiness brought both the defense establishment and the Israeli public to a very good level of preparedness upon the opening of the campaign, without causing panic. The mobilization of reservists, and the levels of active and passive readiness, are unprecedented; the coordination with the US is very good. The Defense Minister said that we have succeeded in keeping up our daily routines; the public has behaved with noteworthy maturity. However, the Defense Minister warned against complacency and said that the while the threat is indeed low, it has yet to be removed. Therefore, we will remain on high alert; the public must follow the instructions of the defense establishment to the letter.

Defense Minister Mofaz also discussed the Palestinian sector, in which popular support for Iraq remains widespread. Israel is also on high alert vis-a-vis the northern front and is continuing to fight Palestinian terrorism regardless of the campaign in Iraq. The Defense Minister detailed recent Palestinian efforts to perpetrate acts of terror and the security establishment’s counterterrorism efforts.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom briefed ministers on current diplomatic matters related to Israel and the war in Iraq.

Minister Natan Sharansky discussed the atmosphere of anti-Semitism that has accompanied the anti-war demonstrations around the world. To this end, the Cabinet issued the following statement:

"The Government of Israel is closely monitoring expressions of anti-Semitism around the world and views them with utmost seriousness. The Government calls on governments and world leaders to use all necessary means to prevent such phenomena and to take steps against those who break the law."

3. The Cabinet authorized the Ministerial Committee on Legislation to approve draft legislation inter alia that provides protection for employees in time of emergency. The attack on Iraq may make it necessary for the authorized defense authorities to order workers to remain in their homes and, in any case, to be absent from work. This may also include the closing of educational institutions, which would require employees to be absent from work in order to supervise their children. The draft legislation is required in order to assure continuity in labor relations during periods of enforced absence – that balances the rights and needs of both employees and employers.

4. Since the war in Iraq and its concomitant tensions have resulted in the significant increase of war risk insurance rates collected from ships arriving to Israel, the Government has decided that it will issue maritime insurance policies, via the Inbal Company and the taxation authorities. The Cabinet appointed a committee to work on the relevant details vis–vis premiums and which assets are insurable.