Israel Releases Assessment of Pre-War Intelligence Failure

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - An Israeli committee investigating pre-war intelligence assessments has concluded that intelligence-sharing among Western agencies helped reinforce the idea that Iraq still possessed weapons of mass destruction.

The Knesset subcommittee investigating Israel Defense Forces (army) and Mossad (secret service) intelligence prior to the Iraq war released the results of an in-depth review on Sunday.

President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have both come under fire for going to war in Iraq last spring based on their own intelligence assessments that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.

Israeli leaders ordered costly preparations for the possibility that Israel would come under attack by Iraq. As part of those preparations, Israel erected Patriot anti-missile batteries, vaccinated 17,000 first responders against smallpox and updated gas mask protection kits for the public.

But Israeli intelligence regarding pre-war Iraq fell short in a key area -- it was based on evaluations rather than actual facts, said Yuval Steinitz, head of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and chairman of the investigating committee.

"There was not enough solid information, intelligence information concerning such issues as weapons of mass destruction, missiles, Saddam Hussein's decisions, intentions," Steinitz told reporters in the Knesset.

"The main question from our perspective was not whether there was or was not something non-conventional but why there was [not] more solid ground to know [rather] than simply to estimate," he said.

Shared information among Western intelligence agencies also led to a cycle of reinforced miscalculations in which one agency shared its information with another, which passed it on to other agencies and finally ended up back at the original source.

While not singling out any intelligence agency as the source of assessments, Steinitz said that American and British intelligence were in a better position to know what was actually in Iraq than Israeli intelligence was.

"In this case, American and British intelligence services had much better access to Iraq simply by sitting in Kuwait and other closer destinations, simply by their capacity to fly almost freely above the Iraqi soil," he said.

"Most Western, especially United States and British intelligence services have clearly [had] advantages over the Israeli intelligence services," he added.

The committee found that intelligence deficiencies were based on honest mistakes, Steinitz said.

But Knesset Member Haim Ramon, who sat on the committee, disagreed. According to Ramon, the Israeli intelligence community should have looked at the facts and come up with a different conclusion. Instead they came up with evaluations to cover their own shortfalls, he charged.

"They failed to understand or translate...what they saw," Ramon said. "In this case they didn't see anything [and] said because we did not see anything, it must be there...

"Basically the point where they made their mathematics in the early 90's was the only serious evidence for missiles and they didn't change it [despite the fact they tried] to find these missiles in the [last] 12 years. When you can't see something after twelve years after [such] strict surveillance, you must come to the conclusion that they are not there," he said.

Still traumatized by their failure to predict the 1973 Yom Kippur war, Israeli intelligence services attempted to cover their lack of information by projecting a more serious scenario than they had evidence to back up, Ramon said.

But committee member and former Mossad chief Shabtai Shavit disagreed. In most intelligence situations, experts have information on weapons but are forced to evaluate motivations and estimate the probability that the weapons will be used, he said.

In Iraq, the situation was reversed. The intelligence community knew that Saddam had the intent but did not know about his capabilities and therefore had to take the threat seriously, Shavit said.

Repercussions on Iranian intelligence

The faulty intelligence on Iraq does not have any impact on the credibility of the intelligence assessments on other countries such as Iran and its development of nuclear weapons, the committee members said.

Israel has been at the forefront of warning the international community to take Iran's development of nuclear capabilities seriously.

Iran claims it is building a nuclear reactor for civilian purposes but Israel and other Western intelligence agencies charge that Iran's civilian nuclear program is a cover for the development of atomic weapons.

"With regard to Iran, it's very clear that solid information does exist," said Steinitz.
"There is much difference between evaluation and information."

"The question [with Iran] is not a lack of evidence," said Ramon. "[I] mean [for instance] because we can't see any development of nuclear power we think they have nuclear power. We have positive evidence."

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.