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Israeli Report Blasts Intelligence for Exaggerating the Iraqi Threat

March 29, 2004
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Israel’s foreign intelligence services have come under public scrutiny with revelations they overestimated one major threat while underplaying another.

Hot on the heels of the testimony of former U.S. counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke accusing the Bush administration of ignoring pre-Sept. 11 U.S. intelligence reports because it was focused on Iraq, the Steinitz Report issued on Sunday blasted those in Israel who had pushed for the war on Iraq.

The 80-page report, compiled by the Knesset Subcommittee on Secret Services under lawmaker Yuval Steinitz, lambasted prewar assessments by Mossad and military intelligence officials that it was “very likely” Saddam Hussein had missiles with non-conventional payloads aimed at Israel.

That perceived threat prompted the Defense Ministry to issue millions of gas masks and order citizens to prepare sealed rooms, at a cost of millions of dollars.

“The military and political upper echelons are responsible for the mess-up,” said the Steinitz Report, which charged Israeli intelligence analysts with overconfidence and oversimplification.

The report also said Mossad and military intelligence officials are in need of a major overhaul after they failed to track Libya’s pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.

Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi abandoned the program in December in negotiations with the United States and Britain that were kept secret from Israel.

“The idea that a hostile nation like Libya, with an unpredictable leader like Gaddafi, was in the running to develop a militarized nuclear industry, without Israel getting the necessary advance warning from its intelligence service to act preventively or at least prepare accordingly, is — to put it mildly — intolerable,” the report said.

“The prime ministers lack the proper tools that would afford them real oversight and orientation on the intelligence apparatus and building a real force for intelligence analysis.”

Israel stayed on the sidelines of the Iraq war out of concerns its involvement would alienate the few U.S. allies in the Arab world.

But Israeli intelligence assessments were regularly fed to Washington.

“It is not inconceivable that assessments passed by an Israeli intelligence agency . . . to a friendly agency were bounced back and force, played a key role in that friendly agency’s planning, and ultimately ended up with the agency where they originated in the form of an analysis by an altogether different agency. Such assessments would immediately be perceived as another authoritative body bolstering and verifying the original Israeli view,” the report said.

Yet asked by reporters if Israeli intelligence might have misled the United States and its ally Britain as to Iraq’s real capabilities, Steinitz was more circumspect.

“American and British intelligence services had much better access to Iraq by simply sitting in Kuwait and other locations, and by being able to fly almost freely over Iraqi soil,” he said.

U.S. and British officials did not comment.

The Steinitz report did not recommend action against any specific intelligence officials. But it said military intelligence, which has swollen steadily in terms of manpower and funding since Israel’s failure to foresee the Arab assault which opened the 1973 Yom Kippur War, should be cut down in size.

Unit 8200, the military intelligence codebreakers — who, according to a recent report in the New Yorker magazine, tipped off the United States as to Iran’s nuclear buildup — should become a civilian agency, the report said.

Meanwhile, it called for the Mossad to be boosted. According to security sources, the spy agency has fallen into lethargy recently through a combination of military intelligence’s wide reach and an over-reliance on cooperation with foreign agencies.

The Prime Minister’s Office, which oversees all of Israel’s intelligence agencies, said it would consider the recommendations.

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