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WASHINGTON, 19 December 2003 - It's no secret that much of the news reported in Israel's Hebrew-language media never reaches the mainstream American press, for the simple reason that items unfavorable to Israel generally are not translated. And, because very few Israelis break this self-imposed censorship, items from the Hebrew press that do appear may be much more newsworthy than their anemic English translations indicate.
It was a bit stunning, therefore, to read an article in Strategic Assessment, the quarterly bulletin issued by the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. The report, titled "The War in Iraq: An Intelligence Failure?" was written by Shlomo Brom, a brigadier general in the Israeli Army reserves, and said what no one seems to have dared publish since President George W. Bush decided to wage war on Iraq. Shockingly, it told the full truth about the American and British intelligence "sources" making the case for war.
In fact, according to Brom, these sources were utterly compromised by Israeli intelligence, which made the case for starting the war and kept it going as long as necessary. The retired general described Israel as a "full partner" in US and British intelligence failures that exaggerated Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs in the lead up to the US-led invasion.
Israeli intelligence sources and political leaders provided "an exaggerated assessment of Iraqi capabilities," raising "the possibility that the intelligence had been manipulated," wrote Brom, former deputy chief of planning for the Israeli Army.
Brom said his remarks were directed at Israel's Military Intelligence, Air Force Intelligence and the Mossad intelligence agency. Similar allegations have surfaced from US and British sources following months of futile efforts to uncover evidence of Iraq's pre-war weapons programs.
In a Dec. 5 article, Washington Post correspondent Molly Moore quoted from the report: "'In the questioning of the picture painted by coalition intelligence, the third party in this intelligence failure, Israel, has remained in the shadows...A critical question to be answered is whether governmental bodies falsely manipulated the intelligence information in order to gain support for their decision to go to war in Iraq, while the real reasons for this decision were obfuscated or concealed.'"
Articles by Laura King of the Los Angeles Times, Peter Enav of Salon.com.News, and the Associated Press also appeared on the report.
Brig. Gen. Brom's criticism of the Israeli intelligence community - which many Americans believe to be one of, if not the world's best - was unusual. Like many retired intelligence officers, Brom, who retired after a 25-year career, most likely continued to be privy to a great deal of sensitive government information.
According to Brom, Israeli intelligence "badly overestimated the Iraqi threat to Israel and reinforced the American and British belief that the weapons existed."
Attributing the poor intelligence to a lack of professionalism and poor supervision, Brom wrote, "Even if Iraq had any Scud missiles left, I can't understand how Israeli intelligence officers came to believe they threatened Israel, particularly when they hadn't been used in more than 10 years. It's a clear example of how an inability to think clearly is undermining the Israeli intelligence community."
"Brom also cited bitter memories of the 1973 Middle East war," Enav reported, "when Israeli intelligence failed to anticipate an attack by Egypt and Syria, and the country suffered thousands of casualties."
As Brom observed in his report, "Israeli intelligence agencies have tended to overstate the threat the country faces ever since 1973."
Wrote The Post's Moore, "The study did not cite specific exchanges of intelligence. Israeli officials frequently told foreign journalists before the war that Israel and the United States were sharing information, particularly regarding Iraqi missiles and non-conventional weapons that could possibly be used against Israel. The report accused intelligence agencies of being blinded by a one-dimensional perception of Saddam Hussein."
Moore continued, "At the heart of this perception lay the colorful portrait of an embodiment of evil, a man possessed by a compulsion to develop weapons of mass destruction in order to strike Israel and others, regardless of additional considerations."
"When 'Israeli intelligence became aware that certain items had been transferred by the head of the regime from Iraq to Syria," Moore quoted the report as saying, "Israeli intelligence immediately portrayed it - including in leaks to the media - as if Iraq was moving banned weapons out of Iraq in order to conceal them.'"
Brom criticized Israeli intelligence for failing to include the more probable scenario that Saddam Hussein and his aides were moving cash or family members out of the country in the face of an impending attack.
"The study noted," Moore wrote, "that Israeli and US governments have disagreed over the past decade on the 'weight of various threats in the Middle East.' The report said Israel has generally claimed that Iran poses a more serious threat than Iraq, because the latter was 'contained and under control.'"
Moore further quoted the Brom report as saying that "Once the Bush administration decided to take action against Iraq, it was more difficult for Israel to maintain its position that dealing with Iraq was not the highest priority, especially when it was obvious that the war would serve Israel's interests."
One thing is certain. Israel's competing intelligence services soon will begin - if they haven't already - to write scenarios explaining why it will be necessary to bomb Iranian weapons technology, and a whole new virtual weapons industry will materialize. The reason, of course, is to focus international attention on yet another "rogue state," so as not to have to deal with the real problem, making peace with Palestinians. How much longer can this flight from reality be allowed to last?
Richard H. Curtiss is the executive editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs Magazine