1. Middle East Poised to Tip Over?

Recent developments tend to support a growing conviction that the United States, together with Israel and the rest of the Middle East, are building up to a nuclear conflict.

These indicative developments were noted by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military and intelligence experts:

A. US and Israeli air squadrons equipped with neutron bombs were put on alert several days ago.

B. Large amounts of intelligence data fed to the governments of the United States, Britain and Israel attest to Israel, the longtime though unadmitted solo nuclear power in the region, having been joined by Iraq and Iran who are said to have acquired various types of atomic weapons. While former intelligence assessments spoke of radiological or “dirty” bombs, updated information suggests both Iran and Iraq now possess small one-kiloton nuclear bombs, shells, landmines and naval mines, which are capable of destroying battleships, aircraft carriers and oil tankers.

C. There is also ample intelligence information that nuclear or radiological bombs have reached the hands of terrorist groups run by Iraqi military intelligence or al Qaeda – or both.

D. On the biological warfront, persistent reports indicate plans by Iraqi terrorist elements or al Qaeda to infect the United States, Europe or even Japan with such diseases as smallpox and anthrax by means of germs planted in oil tankers before they sail out of Saudi or Kuwaiti ports. Since early last week, small contingents of US Navy Seals, especially trained in the handling of biological weapons, have been posted in all Gulf oil terminals. Those terminals are now effectively under military administration and the movements of vessels in harbor, including oil tankers, restricted from dawn to dusk. Ship owners have been warned the Seals will fire on any ships violating the prohibition.

These strict security procedures were introduced in the light of intelligence received of a plan for Iraqi and al Qaeda frogmen to board the tankers in port and infect their cargos with biological agents. Acting on automatic slow-release mechanisms, the agents will spread through the vessel also infecting the oil in its storage tanks. On reaching harbor, the crew, unknowingly diseased together with ship’s cargo and waste, will carry the contagion ashore.

The announcement Thursday December 11 that all Americans will be offered smallpox inoculations, as well as half a million troops, ties in with the increasingly tangible nuclear and biological threats. So does the timing of the White House release of sections of its new strategy document on December 10:

“The United States will continue to make clear that it reserves the right to respond with overwhelming force, including the resort to all our options, to the use of WMD (weapons of mass destruction) against the United States or our forces abroad, and friends and allies.” The document emphasizes the US president’s reliance on counter-proliferation measures, including physical interdiction and pre-emptive strikes against “states or groups” whose weaponry could pose a threat to the United States.

Washington’s hand was also discernible in the dire utterances coming a week earlier, on December 2, from Ephraim Halevy, former director of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency and now prime minister Ariel Sharon’s national security adviser. He spoke of a mega-terror menace hanging over Israel as essentially one of “genocide” with the aim of destroying Israel to its very foundations. “To meet a threat on this scale,” he said, “Israel possesses a broad and diverse array of capabilities, some of them not yet revealed.” Inherent in Israel’s national security balance, he explained, is the ability to countervail menaces of this kind. Should the danger come to pass, that ability will take the conflict to a new plane which, Halevy was sure, would be understood and accepted by world opinion.

These words were generally taken as a reference to weapons and war tactics never yet brought into use that would be employed to counter an unconventional threat to Israel, including a large-scale massacre. Issued shortly after Al Qaeda struck Israeli targets in Mombasa, they were aimed at offsetting the nuclear, biological and chemical terror danger now posed separately and jointly by Iraq and al Qaeda. Once again, such a counter-strike could well be pre-emptive. Immediately after Halevy spoke, US and Israel nuclear squadrons were put on alert.

However, nuclear tensions soared in earnest after Iraq’s submission on December 7 of its mammoth declaration of weapons of mass destruction to UN headquarters in New York and the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.

Glimpsed between the lines on those 11,820 pages and 12 CD-Rom discs is more than a recycled catalogue of Iraq’s civilian and military industrial history. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military and intelligence sources, when pieced together the documents reveal Iraq as possessing a fully matured nuclear capability. However, most tellingly, the nine chapters of the declaration are impregnated with menacing overtones – especially the ones listing nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

Implicit is the threat to unleash those weapons if the United States goes to war against the Saddam Hussein regime.

These are the declaration’s main points as culled by our sources:

1. Iraq reserves the option of retaliating to an American offensive where and when it chooses. This need not be immediately, or even target US troops and bases in the Middle East and Gulf, but could turn into an assault against Washington’s premier allies (presumably using terrorists).

2. Baghdad’s favored candidates for retribution – or even pre-emptive attack – are Britain and Israel. (More about Britain’s role in the Iraq war in a separate article in this issue.)

3. The oil fields and terminals of Kuwait and Qatar are on Iraq’s firing line because of their cooperation with the United States in its war preparations against Iraq.

A senior intelligence source made this comment to DEBKA-Net-Weekly after a preliminary examination of the Iraqi declaration:

“It is a piece of psychology meant to show US leaders and those of other countries supporting Washington’s war effort that an attack on Iraq would be a misadventure ending for each of them in national disaster.”

Another central point made by the source is this: “Iraq contends with some justice that it did not develop and build its weapons of mass destruction unaided, but received help from a long line of companies in the United States, Europe, Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, the Czech Republic, Japan, Singapore and Australia. Therefore, not only the companies, but also the governments of those countries must be held accountable for Iraq’s WMD programs. In the best case, they could claim ignorance; in the worst, they turned a blind eye.”

The Iraqi compilers of the documents hinted strongly that some names were held from the list of foreign companies and governments contributing to the Iraqi WMD program. “The inference,” according to our intelligence source, “is that Baghdad is holding those names over the heads of the United States and the world body and will publish them when it is expedient for Iraq.”

It is also necessary to note the supplier-countries left out of the Iraqi document, although they are known to have assisted Saddam’s unconventional weapons programs. Their omission indicates that Baghdad considers them friendly or still useful. They include Russia, China, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Serbia, Croatia and others.

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