Iraqi Supplier, Iranian Horizon

Bush is grappling with a bitter command decision: Based on the findings in the field, be it in Tehran or New York, there will always be those who will argue that he acted too early or too late.

The Sinai terrorist attacks have pushed an important event out of Israelis' minds: the release of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) report, issued by the CIA and the Pentagon, which probed occupied Iraq for 18 months and interrogated its senior officials, in an effort to discover the hidden treasure of Saddam Hussein - weapons of mass destruction.

ISG head Charles Duelfer filled the 1,000-page report with highly instructive details, some of which come from Saddam's interrogation. Israel has a special interest in the revelations, both in order to see when its own intelligence and security assessments were right (leading up to the 1991 war) and wrong (ever since 1991), and given the intensification of Iran's missile and nuclear procurement efforts.

As opposed to conventional wisdom, bombing of the Iraqi reactor in June 1981, of which Menachem Begin was so very proud, was no more than a negligible footnote in the history of Saddam's nuclear development. In Saddam's opinion, the Iranian threat was and remains supreme, much more - in the absence of an Israeli ability to invade Iraq - than the desire to achieve a balance in nuclear weapons that the ISG report attributes to Israel. Saddam - not Israel - determined when to step up the pace of nuclear development, and it was he, as well, who hastened to invade Kuwait and not wait another year for the development to mature. Saddam ordered that development of nuclear weapons be stepped up in 1987, toward the end of the Iraq-Iran War, as a lesson from his successful use of chemical weapons - 101,000 combat warheads - to break the Iranian "human wave." Saddam explained to his interrogators that the strategic ambiguity that he took pains to communicate - and which deceived Bush into believing that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq - was meant to deter Iran. Saddam's military commanders were deceived, as well. They exercised a battle doctrine that assumed the use of chemical weapons against foreign forces besieging Baghdad, and believed that Saddam was, indeed, hiding secret Doomsday weapons.

In 1991, Saddam ordered that chemical and biological weapons be readied for an attack on Israel, Saudi Arabia and the American forces. On the eve of the war, his aides expressed doubt about the ability of the missiles and aircraft to reach their targets. Their skepticism may have increased later on, upon hearing the reports from Israel (which were soon found to be mistaken) about the Patriot's success at shooting down Scud missiles. When it developed that the war was restricted to expulsion of the Iraqi army from Kuwait, the Iraqis saw this as the successful deterrence provided by their weapons of mass destruction.

Ethically speaking, the satanic plan to annihilate Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities with lethal germ warfare justified the verdict that Ehud Barak wished to serve on Saddam in 1992, in the "siach ated" assassination operation; but the newly released information demonstrates that the potential damage would have been greater than the benefit of the operation. The sense of skepticism increases - which at the time induced Military Intelligence to back away from the gamble - if it were possible at the time to acquire perfect intelligence, as required for such an operation. It is possible that Iraq would have crumbled, sunk into a chaos of uprisings (such as we have seen in the past year), and been subject to Iranian influence.

The Duelfer report dwells upon the limitations of intelligence gathering and evaluation: Western experts search in vain in the East for a mirror image of their own countries and clear organizational flowcharts, in the face of ploys of obscuration, deception, suppression and cunning. "You attacked buildings, not the ability that we managed to get out of them," one Iraqi captive told his American interrogator. This difficulty in deciphering the intelligence and formulating the policy went beyond mere analysis of the recent past, into the present-day mysteries of Iran.

Uzi Rubin, who was director of the Homa missile defense program, wrote this week that Iran, which is almost capable of launching a surveillance satellite, an Iranian "Ofek," is on the threshold of attaining dual capability - seeing what is happening in Israel and launching intercontinental missiles. The first Iranian satellite should not be disparaged; it would be too small and light for a nuclear warhead. It is not unlike the Soviet Sputnik, about which the Americans were frightened to see what would come after it. Iran, tricky and compartmentalized, is another edition of Iraq, because once again, in the absence of any unequivocal intelligence, Bush is grappling with a bitter command decision: Based on the findings in the field, be it in Tehran or New York, there will always be those who will argue that he acted too early or too late.