Israeli intelligence missed Libyan nukes in 'worrisome failure'

Monday, March 29, 2004

JERUSALEM Israel's vaunted intelligence community failed to detect major progress in Libya's nuclear weapons program and learned of the developments from U.S. and British agencies.

An Israeli parliamentary report asserted that Israeli security agencies failed to track and assess the progress in Libya's nuclear program. 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.

"In Libya, a worrisome failure took place when one fine day they [Israeli intelligence agencies] awoke to learn that that country has been galloping toward nuclear weapons which could threaten the essential survival of Israel from foreign security services," an unclassified version of a report by the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee said.

However the determination by the Knesset panel, headed by Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Yuval Steinitz, contrasted with two statements by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon regarding Libya. In 2002 and 2003, Sharon warned that Libya was developing nuclear weapons and that its program was more advanced than Iraq. At the time, the United States refused to endorse Sharon's assertion, Middle East Newsline reported.

The report, released on Sunday by the Knesset intelligence subcommittee, focused on the Israeli intelligence community's mistaken assessment that Iraq possessed WMD during the last years of the regime of Saddam Hussein.

But the study also discussed the Israeli failure to detect Libya's nuclear weapons program.

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.

"The idea that a hostile Arab state such as Libya, with an unpredictable leader like [Moammar] Khaddafy, is likely to develop a military nuclear industry without a required alert by Israeli intelligence services to foil or lessen the threat and to prepare in advance is, to say the least, intolerable," the report said.

The report warned that the "partial blindness" that struck Israel regarding Libya's nuclear weapons program could recur regarding the WMD programs of other regional states. Several of the witnesses told the Knesset panel that this failure marked a "red light" and an "earthquake" in intelligence community. They also said the government maintains inadequate control and supervision over Israel's intelligence agencies.

Israel's intelligence community comprises of military intelligence, Mossad and the Israel Security Agency. The first two agencies deal with foreign intelligence, particularly that of strategic weapons programs in the Middle East, while the ISA focuses on internal security and the Palestinians.

The report warned that Israel must improve its intelligence in so-called second- and third-tier countries, a reference to regional states that are not Israel's neighbors. But the report praised Israel's intelligence community for being the first to warn the international community of Iran's nuclear weapons program in the mid-1990s.

During their secret negotiations and subsequent inspections of Tripoli's WMD facilities, Britain and the United States did not share information with Israel on Libya's nuclear weapons program, the report said. The report suggested that the British and U.S. refusal to cooperate with the Israeli intelligence community stemmed from concerns that information on Libya's nuclear program would be leaked to the media. The panel warned that Israel could be deemed as untrustworthy of sensitive information by major foreign intelligence services.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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