February 4, 2004
From Associated Press
A prominent Israeli MP said yesterday that his country's intelligence services knew claims that Saddam Hussein was capable of swiftly launching weapons of mass destruction were wrong but withheld the information from Washington.
"It was known in Israel that the story that weapons of mass destruction could be activated in 45 minutes was an old wives' tale," Yossi Sarid, a member of the foreign affairs and defence committee which is investigating the quality of Israeli intelligence on Iraq, told the Associated Press yesterday.
"Israel didn't want to spoil President Bush's scenario, and it should have," he said.
Another member of the committee, Ehud Yatom, said Israel had told the Americans it believed the weapons existed but had not seen them.
On Sunday, the former UN weapons inspector, Scott Ritter, told Y-Net, an Israeli newswire, that the Israeli intelligence services reached the conclusion years ago that Iraq no longer had weapons of mass destruction.
"In the end, if the Israeli intelligence knew that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, so the CIA knew it and thus British intelligence too" he said.
Another MP, Roman Bronfman, said if Mr Ritter was correct, it meant the government had misled the Israeli public in the run-up to the war when it ordered people to prepare sealed rooms and gas masks in preparation for a potential WMD attack.
However, questions over the quality of Israeli intelligence are unlikely to concern the public as greatly as in Britain and the US. Israelis overwhelmingly welcomed the overthrow of the Iraqi leader.
In November 2003, a respected Tel Aviv thinktank concluded that Israeli intelligence had joined the US and Britain in an "exaggerated assessment" of Iraqi weapons.
In 2002, the former head of the Mossad intelligence agency, Efraim Halevy, told a closed meeting of Nato that there were "clear indications" that Iraq had renewed its efforts to build WMD after the UN weapons inspections were halted in 1998. He also said Iraq had preserved elements of its ability to manufacture chemical and biological weapons.
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