The lesson of Iraq

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 04-Apr-04 | Author: Ze'ev Schiff| Source: Ha'aretz

In the 81 pages of the report of the committee investigating the intelligence establishment after the war in Iraq, there is no hint of what happened to the weapons of mass destruction and the few missiles that were in Saddam Hussein's possession. There is also no attempt to deal with this question. The investigative panels in both the United States and Britain are interested, first and foremost, in whether there was any basis for the launch of the war by their leaders. Israel has to look further than this.

With hindsight, there are several possibilities. One is that these weapons, as well as missiles and launchers, were no longer in Iraq's hands well before the war. Did Israeli intelligence take this into account? The answer is affirmative, and here is the evidence - at a certain stage, Military Intelligence head Aharon Ze'evi-Farkash instructed the "vice versa" team to examine this possibility; that is, there was doubt among those in intelligence, but it did not supersede fears that Saddam nevertheless had a small quantity ("a remnant") of such weapons, as well as a small number of missiles.

A second possibility is that these weapons were destroyed just before the war. That is, Saddam was alarmed by the possibility of a war against him, and therefore, ordered the destruction of this weaponry. But if this was indeed the case, why did he not take the trouble to prove this in order to save his regime and himself? After all, such proof would have been sufficient to strengthen the hands of the many who opposed going to war. What's absurd is that the distrust of Saddam was so great that they did not believe his claim that the weapons had been destroyed.

A third possibility is that the few weapons of mass destruction and missiles that remained in his hands were hidden in Iraq. Evidence of this possibility: the large number of MiG-25 aircrafts that were hidden in the sands and found. In addition, the Iraqis admitted on the eve of the war that they had produced a certain number of Al-Sumud missiles. To this day, about 25 such missiles still have yet to be accounted for. At the Tuwaitha nuclear facility, for example, American soldiers found drums of uranium oxide ("yellowcake"). They did not take their discovery seriously enough, and the Iraqi peasants poured the sludge into the river and turned the drums into water containers. It is strange that all the investigations of the regime heads have not revealed this type of concealment. Could it be that the investigations have not been professional enough?

The fourth possibility is that the materials for weapons of mass destruction have been hidden in Syria. Intelligence does not confirm this assumption, but neither does it refute it at present. A foreign personality who is close to the Syrian regime claims that although the Syrians made a number of anti-American moves on the eve of the war, they would not have taken such a risk.

On the eve of the war, Israeli intelligence focused on what was happening in western Iraq, where missiles were launched on Israel in the Gulf War. There was no sign that Saddam was building up a dangerous deployment there, but the possibility did exist that he had hidden a number of missiles armed with various kinds of warheads. There were also signs that the Iraqis were training with unmanned aircrafts and a Tupolev-16 cargo plane for missions in the direction of Israel.

Various hypothesis were proposed by Israeli intelligence. One, for example, was that Saddam would strike Israel preemptively before the war began. This hypothesis fell. Another hypothesis was that he would use everything he had against Israel if his back was to the wall. This was a working hypothesis and not a conception like there was on the eve of the Yom Kippur War. The conclusion from all this does not point to a fault in the intelligence evaluation that said there was a low probability of an Iraqi attack. In 1991, Israeli intelligence was correct in its evaluation, which at that time was the opposite - that Saddam would launch missiles against Israel.

To sum up, it is not the intelligence evaluation that should be cause for concern in this affair, but rather the fact that Israeli intelligence did not have sufficient information at its disposal, and that Israel's human intelligence ("humint") system is apparently not good enough.