American servicemen manning Patriot missile batteries in Israel are having their wages garnished for federal taxes, even though other troops stationed in what is likely to become the Iraq war theater are exempted from such levies.
That, said Democratic Rep. Gary Ackerman of New York, is an injustice that should be rectified.
“Usually, when we put troops in harm’s way, we don’t tax them for the privilege,” said Ackerman, who recently returned from a trip to Israel, where he visited a Patriot missile base outside Tel Aviv and met with servicemen.
Ackerman, the ranking Democrat on the House Middle East and South Asia subcommittee, told the Forward in a briefing March 7 that the troops were paying the federal taxes because, for bureaucratic reasons, Israel has not yet been declared a danger zone in the looming conflict. Other Middle Eastern countries outside of Iraq where troops are stationed, such as Qatar, do have the designation, Ackerman said.
The Patriots are in Israel to protect it from Iraq’s Scud missiles. Saddam Hussein launched a number of such missiles in the 1991 Gulf conflict, when Patriots were first sent in defense of the Jewish state.
Ackerman said that he had broached the matter of Israel’s wartime designation with Undersecretary of Defense Powell Moore. The Defense Department’s press office did not return a call seeking comment by press time.
“If the reason [the troops] are there is the expectation of Scud missiles… if we told the American ambassador we should send non-essential personnel out of the country, certainly… we should declare those young people are in harm’s way and not tax them,” Ackerman said.
Some 800 servicemen are manning Patriot batteries in Israel, Ackerman said, adding that they each pay about $130 a month in federal taxes. “They would be tremendously grateful if we fixed that,” he said.
Ackerman said that while the number of Scuds Saddam has aimed at Israel is small, the American troops are training for the possibility that the missiles could be armed with chemical or biological warheads.
Israeli intelligence sources believe, however, that only a very small likelihood that Saddam will try to attack Israel with missiles. The Israeli army’s chief of staff, Moshe Ya’alon, told the daily Yediot Aharonot last month that “there would have to be a very extreme situation for Iraq to reach a decision to take action against us. It would have to be a situation of desperation.” Israel’s Arrow defense missile also would deflect most Scuds Saddam could launch, Israeli defense officials have said in press reports.
Ackerman said, however, that unlike in 1991, when the United States urged Israel not to respond to the missiles Saddam launched at Tel Aviv, the administration understands that Jerusalem will act if it is attacked in any major way. “We have told Israel that we prefer they stay out of it,” he said, “but we have a keen understanding that if they need they will protect themselves.”