Israeli Intelligence Failures

Israeli Intelligence Failures Contributed to Iraq War Fever

Respected Israeli security thinker Shlomo Brom argues in the current Strategic Assessment that Mossad fell down on the job in realistically assessing the threat to Israel of Iraqi weapons programs and stockpiles. (I.e. there were no significant WMD programs and very, very few if any stockpiles, but Mossad kept saying that both existed and were serious threats.) Brom points out that a major intelligence failure like this is inevitably bad for Israel’s foreign relations posture, since enemies may conclude that if it so scared by paper tigers, then it is a pushover. Crying wolf is also always a bad idea, since when a real threat comes along the crier will be discounted. He admits that Israel has no real reason to regret the Iraq war, given that Saddam gave money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.

Brom is insufficiently cautious here. The Israeli military has already concluded that while the overthrow of Saddam is a security plus for Israel, if Iraq falls into chaos then the war may actually have worsened the security environment. I blogged on the Israeli intelligence failures and their possible effect on the war at the beginning of October.

Critics of Brom on the Israeli far Right defend the assessment and say that Israel’s failures cannot have been that important to the war anyway, given the similar failures by US and British intelligence. They also hold out hope that WMD weapons programs or stockpiles will yet be found in Iraq. Yeah, and OJ is going to find the real killers eventually, too.

The first argument, that Mossad’s failures were unimportant, is flawed because the US has long relied heavily on Israeli intelligence in the Middle East. In fact, Israeli intelligence and military support is the main justification for the US grant of billions of dollars a year to a first-world country with an average annual per capita income of $17,000 a year. (The US gives almost nothing to the 4th-world countries that really need aid, in contrast). Moreover, there is evidence that Israeli generals and intelligence officials had special access to Undersecretary of Defense for Planning Douglas Feith, and that they made many unlogged visits to his office. And, as former State Department counter-terrorism analyst Greg Thielmann pointed out in the Oct. 9 Frontline, Feith’s Office of Special Plans cherry-picked “intelligence” (damning anecdotes from unreliable sources) and by-passed the usual intelligence channels by piping this skewed information directly to Dick Cheney.

Given this ability to put reports on an expressway right into Cheney’s brain, Feith’s office had extraodinary influence on Iraq policy-making. If the OSP’s cherry-picking was reinforced by assurances from Israeli intelligence and military offices that Iraqi WMD posed a significant threat, then that may have capped the argument and made it seem airtight in the oval office.

Brom’s report is in the best tradition of tough-minded Israeli realism, which does not shy away from coming to damning conclusions about Israeli policy. This tradition is under siege from far rightwing ideologues grouped in the Likud Party and its allies, who shout “traitor!” at any Israeli who dares suggest that there might be something wrong with Ariel Sharon’s Iron Fist approach. I have several Israeli academic friends who have essentially fled abroad because they cannot take the harassment from the latter-day Jabotinskyites any more.

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