MANAMA, Bahrain -- Kuwait is moving its American-made Hawk missiles to shoot down Iranian Silkworms, and U.S. officials are helping the emirate devise a defense system to protect its coastal oil installations, Western officials said Friday.
The officials said Kuwait's force of improved Hawk surface-to-air missiles is being moved from around Kuwait City to Faylakah Island, south of the Faw Peninsula from where Iran launched recent attacks on Kuwaiti targets.
The latest Iranian strike on Kuwait was Thursday when a Silkworm missile crippled Kuwait's main oil-loading terminal at Sea Island. It was the first successful Iranian attack on the tiny nation's offshore installations.
Late Thursday night, Kuwait for the first time said it was considering severing diplomatic relations with Iran. The conservative gulf states have been reluctant to break ties with Tehran despite their opposition to its radical Islamic government.
In Tehran Friday, Iranian Parliament Speaker Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani threatened further attacks on Kuwaiti and Saudi Arabian targets unless the two states stop supporting Iraq in the 7-year gulf war.
The London marine insurance market reacted to the escalating crisis in the gulf Friday by increasing rates for war risk insurance on cargo shipped to and from Kuwait at the northern end of the gulf.
A U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said American and Kuwaiti officials are holding discussions on devising a new air defense system to protect vital coastal oil installations from further Iranian attacks.
The officials are considering radar installations that would confuse the guidance systems of the Chinese-made missiles, placing decoy targets off the Kuwaiti coast and installing chaff guns that fire chunks of metal to divert the missiles, he said.
The systems would work in conjuction with the Hawks to defend against the Silkworms, a surface-to-surface missile that flies at low altitude before plunging into its target.
U.S. officials have been urging the Kuwaitis for several days to place their Hawks in the path of the Silkworms, diplomatic sources said.
'It would seem the logical thing to do,' a Western diplomat in Kuwait said.
Kuwaiti Defense Minister Sheik Salem Al-Sabah met Sunday with Brig. Gen. Jed Pearson of the U.S. Central Command to discuss cooperation between the United States and Kuwait against the Iranian threat. Redeployment of the Hawks was apparently a major topic.
Kuwait is known to possess four batteries of Hawks, each battery consisting of eightmissiles. They traditionally have been deployed around Kuwait City.
But an analyst at Britain's respected International Strategic Studies Institute questioned the ability of the Hawk missile to down the Silkworms because of the low altitude at which the winged missiles fly.
Another defense analyst in Kuwait said 'the Silkworm is like a helicopter flying at tree-top height. By the time you see it coming it may be too late.'
Kuwait fired one of its Soviet-made SAM anti-aircraft missiles at the Silkworm that struck the U.S.-flagged Kuwaiti tanker Sea Isle City in Kuwaiti waters last Friday.
The United States retaliated by destroying an Iranian oil-drilling platform in the southern gulf. U.S. commandos destroyed radar and communications equipment on another platform.
The Kuwaiti arsenal also includes the French-made Rattlesnake anti-missile system, acquired recently to stop low flying targets.
Rafsanjani said that unless Saudi Arabia and Kuwait announced their neutrality, 'you should know that invisible shots will be fired in your direction and use of bigger invisible shots has not been made,' Tehran radio reported.
Rafsanjani said at a Moslem prayer meeting that Iran has 'kept open the road for Kuwait's return trip' to neutrality. Kuwait has given passive support to Iraq in the war and Iran has accused the wealthy nation of providing Iraq with funds and port facilities.
Relations between the conservative, Sunni Moslem government of Saudi Arabia and the radical Shiite government of Iran have steadily worsened since more than 400 Iranian pilgrims were killed in riots at the holy city of Mecca in July. Saudi Arabia has called on Arab League nations to sever ties with Iran.
Foreign ministers from the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council arranged to meet in Saudi Arabia Saturday to discuss the crisis in the gulf.
'Either Iraq should stop these attacks, or these countries keep neutrality in the war,' said Rafsanjani, widely considered the most influential Iranian politician after ailing spiritual leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeni.
'Otherwise, the Islamic republic, relying on God and being in possession of more effective invisible shots, will use them,' Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Rafsanjani as saying.
The crowd responded with cries of 'revenge, revenge,' for the U.S. attack on Iranian oil platforms, IRNA said.