There is scarcely any new information in the report published this week by the German Federal Intelligence Service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), on Iraq's efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction. An almost identical report was published by the BND precisely a war ago.
The difference between the two reports lies not in the content, but in the timing. It is almost certain that the debriefings top BND officials gave to senior journalists in Germany were intended, among other things, to prepare German and European public opinion for a possible American offensive against Iraq.
If the American administration is looking for a way of justifying an attack on Iraq, the German report supplies it with plenty of good reasons. Since the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, nations arming themselves with weapons of mass destruction (WMD) are perceived as a definite threat to the survival of Western civilization.
Thus, if there is clear evidence that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, despite his denials, is continuing to arm himself with chemical, biological and - in the near future - nuclear weapons, those efforts must be stopped. The information contained in the German report justifies not only the elimination of Iraq's infrastructure for the manufacture of WMD, but also the toppling of Saddam.
The most serious of the BND's assessments is the one predicting that Saddam will have nuclear weapons within three years. The Germans stress how little time remains to stop Iraq's nuclear armament program. The question whether Iraq has the capability of completing the process of developing nuclear arms within such a short period of time has become irrelevant. What is really important is Saddam's keen motivation to go nuclear, and no one questions the degree of his motivation.
Ever since December 1998, when the last of the United Nations inspectors left Iraq, nobody knows for sure what is going on in Iraq's nuclear development plans. However, the lack of precise intelligence data does not reduce fears that Iraq could succeed with its nuclear project. It should never be forgotten that, before the Gulf War and based on regular visits by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors, it was universally believed that Iraq had no intentions of developing nuclear weapons. As a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Iraq was praised to the skies. However, after the war, it emerged that the Iraqis were only six months away from completing development of a nuclear bomb.
In a recent interview Khidhir Hamza gave to Newsweek, the senior Iraqi scientist who defected to the West stated: "A minor [uranium] enrichment capability is all that is needed to provide the nuclear core for three weapons." Hamza noted an extensive worldwide network of Iraqi agents who have been successful in obtaining the necessary technology and equipment. "If Russian scientists are employed, Iraq can cut considerably the time needed to produce weapons-grade uranium in large quantities."
The German intelligence experts say that by 2005, Iraq will have ballistic missiles capable of striking Western Europe. The knowledge and experience Iraq has acquired in developing missiles with a range of up to 150 kilometers - with the approval of the UN Security Council - will enable it to soon complete work on the development of missiles with a 3,000-km. range. The combination of a long-range missile and a nuclear warhead will turn Iraq into an immediate threat for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's member-states.
To complete this grim picture, the report's authors estimate that the pace of producing chemical weapons in Iraq has increased significantly and that the Iraqis have the capacity for quickly resuming their manufacture of biological weapons.
In the last few weeks, experts in the American administration are formulating the policy guidelines that the U.S. will rely on in its anticipated move against Iraq. Among the options being considered are an American military invasion of Iraq, support for a local popular uprising and assistance for a insurrection within the Iraqi army.
The leak of the German intelligence report is intended to promote the option involving the use of the U.S. Army to topple Saddam, an option that President George W. Bush favors. The report is meant to soften the opposition of some NATO member-states to an American military operation. From Israel's standpoint, it is a good thing that German intelligence experts are the ones who are pointing to the threat from Baghdad and that they are thus backing the warnings that Jerusalem has been issuing on this matter for the past decade.
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