`Desert Storm' Success Elates Joint Forces but Task of Freeing Kuwait Is Hardly over with the American-Led Campaign to Oust Saddam Hussein from Kuwait under Way, the Suspense Is over. Initial Successes Have Inspired Hope That the Crisis Will Be Resolved with Minimal Suffering. Israeli Fears of an Attack from Iraq Have Eased, but Not Disappeared. for Many, Especially in the US and Britain, Ambivalence about the War Yields to National Unity and Support for Their Leaders. but Peace Activists See Work Ahead - as Do the Soldiers

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DESERT Shield has become a Desert Storm whose intensity seems to have caught even those involved by surprise.

When the United States-led military alliance launched initial attacks against Iraqi targets in the early hours of Thursday morning they hit with massive force, as US officials had been warning all along would happen. What Washington hadn't predicted was the apparent high degree of success in this first, heavy punch.

After months of tension and agonizing over the possibility of military force going badly awry, reports that most of the Iraq's Air Force and a large portion of its best ground forces had been destroyed resulted in a surprised sense of relief in the halls of the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill. Aides began openly voicing hopes that the war could be over by the weekend.

But others cautioned that the first blush of optimism would almost surely give way to a more realistic assessment of the task still at hand.

Initial reports are often too rosy, cautioned one consultant to the Pentagon on conventional forces. "There's a lot more to go," he said.

Reports of initial strikes had an almost antiseptic quality, with the only damage reported being hits on four French Jaguar airplanes, none apparently serious.

As of early Thursday morning no US personnel had been reported to have been even scratched - a situation which, in war, will almost certainly not be sustained.

For days US Rep. Les Aspin, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has been one of the most optimistic voices on the battle outcome in Washington, talking of a quick fight and moderate casualties, but Thursday he warned that things were far from over.

"I'd be stunned if there weren't some casualties," he said.

At this writing the most important aspects of the young war were things that hadn't happened.

The first involved Iraq's much-feared Scud missiles. A threat to civilian populations in both Saudi Arabia and Israel, they were a primary target of the first wave of UN air strikes. Though there were unconfirmed reports that as many as five had been fired, none reached any target of significance, and as the day passed in Tel Aviv it seemed clear that a Scud attack - Iraq's best tool for dragging Israel into the war - was no longer a significant danger.

A scenario involving Israeli retaliation, inflaming Arab public opinion, had been the concern of Washington officials. …