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A heated argument over the question of the war against Iraq is currently under way in Washington. While President Bush and his close advisers, particularly from the Pentagon, are determined to launch a war against Iraq, there are voices in Congress and even among the military top brass calling for restraint and caution and an attempt to first exhaust the diplomatic channels.

Israel should hope that those calling for war gain the upper hand, because if Saddam is not toppled, it will not be long before Israel is threatened by nuclear weapons, not to mention biological and chemical ones. If Saddam stays in power, claims Khidir Hamza, an Iraqi nuclear engineer who defected to the West, Iraq eventually will manage to obtain nuclear weapons.

The problem facing the Bush administration in its attempts to form a coalition for a war against Iraq, both on the home front and overseas, is proving that Saddam is continuing to develop weapons of mass destruction. With great sophistication, the Iraqis have managed to hide their operations in this field. American spy satellites have not managed to locate the factories and laboratories, most of which are hidden deep underground. CIA agents have had little success in penetrating Iraq and collecting information, and most American intelligence is based on reports from Iraqi defectors and United Nations inspectors who left Iraq in December 1998.

With the UN weapons inspection program suspended for the past four years, nobody in the West knows what has happened with the Iraqi weapons program since then. What is certain is that Saddam's desire to develop weapons of mass destruction has not waned. "Even while we were carrying out our weapons inspection, Iraq continued its operations," said Charles Duelfer, a former deputy chairman of the UN Special Commission overseeing the destruction of Iraqi weapons (UNSCOM).

This week, Saddam renewed his cat-and-mouse game with the United Nations, declaring that he was ready to commence negotiations for the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq. The American administration rejected outright any possibility that Saddam's move would deter it from its decision to remove him from power, but in Russia and France there have been calls for the U.S. to wait until the talks with the UN have been exhausted.

Opponents of a war on Iraq in Europe and the United States, who base their case on the fact that there is no concrete proof of Iraq's operations in the field of non-conventional weapons, ignore the fact that on the eve of the Gulf War Iraq received a commendation from agents of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who visited Iraq's nuclear facilities. After the war, it became clear that Iraq was only months away from the development of a nuclear bomb. They are also impervious to the fact that Iraq's biological weapons facilities were so well hidden that some of them were not discovered until 1995.

Adnan Sa'ad al-Haidiri, an Iraqi engineer specializing in the construction of "sterile rooms," necessary in the development of biological weapons, defected in 2001 and claimed that some 300 secret weapons productions facilities were reactivated after the withdrawal of UN weapons inspectors four years ago.

If the United States does decide to launch a war against Iraq, its military planners will face a difficult dilemma. The aim of the war will be to destroy Iraq's non-conventional weapons capacity but, to quote Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, air strikes alone will not suffice as the Iraqis have buried much of their activity in this sphere underground. The Americans will have no choice but to use ground forces. The question is whether to invade Iraq from its borders using hundreds of thousands of troops, or to take over Baghdad with special forces at the beginning of the war.

It is possible that an American attack on Iraq could lead to the launch of missiles against Israel. However, it will also diminish a dangerous strategic threat hanging over the country. In any event, the number of missiles in Saddam's hands is not large and it is doubtful he is in possession of operational biological warheads. Moreover, if the United States does answer Israel's calls and take action to reduce Saddam's ability to launch weapons, the danger will be diminished even further.

Therefore, the Israeli government should support Bush's policy and not sink it with moves against the Palestinians. We must also hope that the prime minister will not take advantage of a war in Iraq to take further far-reaching military actions in the territories.