World - Reuters

Israeli Secret Services Faulted for Iraq Forecasts

Date: Sun, Mar 28, 2004

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel overestimated Iraq (news - web sites)'s military capabilities but the miscalculation in no way influenced the U.S. decision to topple Saddam Hussein (news - web sites), a parliamentary inquiry found Sunday.

It was rare public criticism of the secret services in Israel, issued even as Britain and the United States -- partners in the Iraq invasion -- conduct their own investigations into intelligence failures which preceded the war.

The Knesset Subcommittee on the Secret Services also assailed Israeli intelligence as slow to pick up on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi (news - web sites)'s weapons of mass destruction program until shortly before he abandoned it in December.

"The military and political echelons are responsible for an intelligence foul-up regarding Iraq and Libya," the panel said in the 80-page report calling for an overhaul.

Officially at war with Saddam, its avowed enemy, Israel shared intelligence with Washington, its closest ally, before last year's invasion. Then, as now, it played down its cooperation to avoid deepening Arab ire at the campaign.

Yuval Steinitz, a lawmaker from the right-wing ruling Likud party who led the inquiry, said Israeli input played "a very minor role" in Washington's prewar planning.

"The American and British intelligence services had much better access to Iraq by simply sitting in Kuwait and being able to fly almost freely over Iraqi soil," Steinitz told reporters.

Having failed to uncover weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the United States and Britain have been at pains to defend the assessments that drove them to war.

SNOWBALL EFFECT

The report complained of a snowball effect in intelligence sharing, whereby some Israeli assessments, analyzed by U.S. counterparts, eventually found their way back to Israel in repackaged form.

"It is not inconceivable that (such) analyzes had a bolstering and authenticating effect as though authoritative," said the report, parts of which were kept classified.

Before the hostilities, Israel issued its citizens with gas masks for fear Iraq would strike with non-conventional missiles -- an escalation of its 39 Scud salvoes in the 1991 Gulf war.

After the U.S. invasion passed without attack on Israel, the army came under criticism for having ordered the public to put protective plastic sheeting on windows and open sealed gas mask kits at a replacement cost of millions of dollars.

The subcommittee widened its probe beyond Iraq after the U.S.- and British-brokered disarmament pledge by Gaddafi caught Israel by surprise. Last October, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (news - web sites) said Libya was seeking nuclear weapons.

The Steinitz report urged better coordination between the Mossad, which carries out espionage and counter-terrorism operations abroad, and Military Intelligence, charged with keeping an eye on the armed forces of hostile states.

Leading Military Intelligence's efforts is a signals interception unit known as 8200. New Yorker magazine recently said the unit tipped off the United States on Iran's procurement of nuclear know-how from Pakistan.

The subcommittee report suggested 8200 be streamlined and upgraded as a civilian unit.

U.S. officials declined comment on the findings. A spokesman for Sharon, who oversees secret services, said the report "will be taken into consideration."

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