JERUSALEM – Erroneous Israeli warnings about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction ahead of last year's U.S.-led invasion were based on speculation, not fact, parliamentary investigators said Sunday, but stressed that intelligence agencies had not tried to mislead Israel's Western allies.
A report released Sunday said Israeli intelligence concluded there was a high probability that Saddam Hussein (search) possessed weapons of mass destruction, despite little evidence backing that assessment, the report said. Estimates of Iraq's weapons arsenal also increased inexplicably ahead of the war, the report found.
Still, the report stressed that the intelligence agencies did not deliberately mislead Israeli officials or try to push the United States into war. The report delivered a blow to the reputation of Israel's intelligence agencies which were seen as highly effective.
"The committee ... did not find any signs that show an attempt to distort the intelligence picture in order to stress the necessity of going to war," it said.
The United States and Britain cited Iraq's development of weapons of mass destruction as a main reason for going to war. But since ousting Saddam, the coalition has failed to find any such weapons, causing political problems for President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair (search).
Israeli lawmakers said the coalition's decision to go to war was based on Western intelligence, not Israeli assessments.
"We did not take the decision to go to war. We were not telling the Americans or the British, do this, or don't do that," said Haim Ramon (search), a lawmaker from the opposition Labor Party who was on the committee.
According to Sunday's report, Israeli intelligence exaggerated Iraqi capabilities and readiness to use its weapons. For instance, estimates of Iraq's missile arsenal grew from a few dozen in 2001 and 2002 to as many as 100 missiles just before the war, it said.
"Why didn't we succeed in laying down a broad and deep (intelligence) framework so we could rely on reports and not speculation and assumption? That is the central question," said lawmaker Yuval Steinitz, who led the eight-month inquiry.
Ramon said he pressed intelligence officials to tell him on what they based their assessment that there was a high probability that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. "I asked them and they didn't have an answer," Ramon said.
Based on these assessments, the Israeli military last year ordered citizens to unseal the gas masks they keep with them on a permanent basis. The step cost the country millions of dollars, although no missiles were fired on Israel during the war.
In the 1991 Gulf War, Saddam's forces fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel. All had conventional warheads, causing considerable damage but few casualties.
The report recommended a series of measures to avoid similar mistakes in the future. Among the recommendations: the appointment of a special intelligence adviser to the prime minister and legislation to define the roles of the Israeli civil and military intelligence services. The recommendations are non-binding.
The Israeli subcommittee spent eight months considering the intelligence agencies' performance on Iraq. The 80-page report is the unclassified portion of its study. A secret section is still in preparation.
The parliamentary report was based on the closed-door testimony of some 70 witnesses, including the prime minister, defense minister, military chief, and the heads of the Mossad foreign intelligence service, the Shin Bet domestic intelligence service, and the military intelligence service.