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For weeks now, the most palpable fear on this side of the fighting has been of the Scud missile, that inaccurate but deadly piece of supersonic machinery that has been aimed at Saudi Arabia and Israel since the fighting began.

The Scud attacks come only at night, when allied planes have more difficulty in targeting the missile and its launcher.Now the military has developed a new anti-Scud strategy, one in which warplanes attack the missile launchers within seconds of firing - in some cases, even before the missile is fired. As a result, officers say, they are very close to eliminating the Scud as a threat to both countries.

``We might be only five heartbeats away if we do it right,' one military source said.

Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of allied forces, said in a recent briefing that more than 1,500 bombing missions had been flown against the Scuds, resulting in the destruction of all fixed sites in Iraq.

Now the military is turning its attention to the destruction of the mobile sites, the launchers on wheels.

As part of the new tactic, allied warplanes cruise Iraqi airspace, their instruments scanning for heat generated by a rocket engine.

When it is detected, the pilot dives and strikes.

``They sense we are close, that we're around, that we are able to hit them fast and hard,' one military source said.

The most recent results of those new methods came early Sunday morning, when three Iraqi missiles were fired at targets in both Israel and Saudi Arabia.

In a military communique issued later in the day, the U.S. Central Command said that although the missile launches were not pre-empted, counter-Scud patrols were ``still able to attack two of the three launch sites. Pilots reported secondary explosions at one of the sites.'

Two of the missiles landed in the central area of Israel, with no reports of injuries.

The third, aimed at Riyadh, was intercepted by two Patriot missiles.

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