Sharon disclosed Libyan nukes in 2001, angering U.S.

Friday, April 2, 2004

TEL AVIV Israel's intelligence community detected Libya's nuclear weapons program as early as 2001, but a public disclosure by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon slammed the door on vital data exchange with Britain and the United States.

Israeli military sources said the intelligence community learned of the outlines of Libya's nuclear weapons program about three years ago and reported this to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and leading ministers. But the sources said Sharon disclosed Libya's nuclear program publicly on two occasions, thereby angering Britain and the United States.

The account by the military sources was confirmed by a U.S. official. The official said Britain and the United States refused to discuss Libya's weapons program out of concern of Israeli leaks amid the Western effort to persuade Moammar Khaddafy to abandon its weapons of mass destruction.

On Sunday, an Israeli parliamentary report asserted that Israeli security agencies failed to track and assess the progress in Libya's nuclear program, Middle East Newsline reported. Instead, the report said, Israel learned of Libya's procurement of advanced centrifuges from Britain and the United States when they announced in December 2003 Tripoli's agreement to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction programs.

"The U.S. intelligence community was furious with Sharon and a high-level message told him to stop discussing the subject," the U.S. official said. "At that point, the subject became taboo in the intelligence exchange between Israel and the United States."

Libya was cited as one of two major failures by the Israeli intelligence community over the last decade, the report said. The report, questioning whether Tripoli's WMD programs were a suitable priority in the intelligence community, found it hard to imagine that Libya could develop a nuclear weapons infrastructure without Israel's knowledge. The unclassified version of the report did not provide details of Libya's nuclear weapons program.

Israeli military sources said military intelligence and the Mossad detected the Libyan nuclear weapons program before that of other Western intelligence agencies. But they said the information obtained by Israel consisted of no more than a broad outline of Libya's nuclear weapons development.

"There is no question that the British and U.S. access to Libya's WMD facilities gave these countries a much clearer and more detailed picture of Tripoli's nuclear weapons program," a military source said. "We were kept out of that loop, altogether."

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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