TEL AVIV (Jul. 16)
Iraq has no nuclear capability at the moment but has the potential to acquire it, according to an exhaustive analysis published Tuesday in the Israeli daily newspaper Ma’ariv.
Moreover, despite U.N. supervision, the Iraqis concealed more missiles than they destroyed, the paper said. And they also concealed large quantities of chemical materials and chemical warheads.
Therefore, Iraq remains a potential military threat to Israel, though much less so than before the Persian Gulf War started in January, Ma’ariv concluded.
The question that most interests strategists is the extent of Iraq’s nuclear capability.
According to Ma’ariv, Iraq possesses the necessary raw materials to manufacture fission bombs. It also has the required knowledge and, beyond that, the fierce determination of Saddam Hussein and his regime to continue its nuclear effort, whatever the cost may be, the paper said.
According to U.N. reports, Iraq has acquired large amounts of raw uranium from Nigeria, Portugal and Brazil, and uranium has been mined in northern Iraq.
There is sufficient uranium for the Iraqis to produce 20 to 40 atomic bombs in 10 years, if they husband their resources and can work without outside surveillance.
But it is not known for certain whether the Iraqis have achieved the technological level necessary to create chain reactions in a critical mass of fissionable material, Ma’ariv said.
Iraq does not need the expertise of foreign scientists. But it does need the various components to produce an atomic bomb.
400 SCUD MISSILES CONCEALED
The questions then are whether Iraq’s nuclear activity can be detected by spy satellite and whether the process can be stopped by aerial bombardment. The answers to both are yes, at least in theory, Ma’ariv said.
Above-ground activity can be detected, especially if it involves radioactive material. However, well-camouflaged underground bunkers would be difficult to detect with satellites, especially if they are scattered throughout Iraq’s extensive territory and if some sites are decoys.
Their destruction is theoretically possible if the United States has the information to pinpoint the sites where nuclear activity is being conducted and has the bombs capable of penetrating very deep, well-fortified bunkers, Ma’ariv said.
The paper cited reports that Iraq has concealed as many as 400 Scud missiles and launchers, which can be secretly brought to western Iraq in striking distance of Israel.
The Iraqis also have the Soviet-made Tupelov-16 bombers, which can take off from bases deep inside Iraq.
They were not used in the Gulf war because of the absolute air superiority enjoyed by the United States and its allies, Ma’ariv said.
On Sunday, French President Francois Mitterrand said a military attack on Iraqi installations would be justified if Iraq continued to try to develop nuclear weapons.
President Bush has also spoken of the possibility of military action against Iraq.