NEW YORK (Jan. 27)
Uncertainty about Iraq’s biological weapons program and missile capability has heightened concern that Baghdad might strike Israel in the event of a U.S.-led military confrontation.
Iraq may possess enough biological substances, such as anthrax or botulin toxin, to “blow away Tel Aviv,” The New York Times quoted Richard Butler, head of the United Nations weapons inspection team, as saying in an interview Monday.
Butler was more cautious Tuesday in remarks to Jewish organizational leaders here.
“I cannot say, `There’s the missile that will do this thing,’” he told the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. But he added it would be “reasonable to extrapolate that what was said in The New York Times” about an attack on Tel Aviv “could be the case.”
“We have sufficient evidence about their biological weapons capability” to suspect “what is in the Times today,” he said.
Butler said his U.N. team of weapons experts had been unable to account for between 75 and 100 warheads believed to be in Iraq’s possession.
“We know they filled a number of these warheads with chemical weapons and biological weapons,” he told the Jewish leaders.
He also said that while 817 of the 819 Scud missiles Iraq had imported have been destroyed or accounted for, “very serious residual questions” remain about any Scud missiles that Iraq may have produced itself.
“There remains an indigenous missile capability,” he told the Jewish umbrella group.
The Times quoted Butler as saying that Iraq’s biological weapons may be loaded into missiles that could be put onto mobile launchers to avoid being hit in a bombing strike. Iraq used this same method to launch conventional Scud missile attacks against Israel during the 1991 Gulf War.
While almost all of those missiles have been destroyed, it is believed that Iraq still has a small arsenal. But Butler’s team does not know how many missile systems Baghdad currently possesses.
The remaining missiles are “very crude, but they work,” the Times quoted Butler as saying.
The U.N. weapons chief repeatedly stressed to his jewish audience the importance of his team getting full access to all suspected Iraqi weapons sites.
“Keep your eye on the ball,” he said. Make sure, he added, that Iraq does not succeed in “diverting attention from the fundamental task of disarmament.”
Iraq has “created a quantity and quality of weapons of mass destruction that is breathtaking in its scope and in its danger to the region, and possibly beyond,” he told the Jewish leaders.
“What is at stake in the Middle East is stability and security there.”