No black holes

Ze'ev Schiff


August 8, 2004

Last week, just a few months after the special investigative committee into the state of Israel's intelligence preparedness before the war in Iraq published its unclassified report, several people received the classified section of the report. It is unfortunate that it was not the other way around - first the release of the confidential report and only afterward, or at the same time, the publication of the unclassified section.

The bottom line in the report is that no "serious black holes" were discovered, as promised, in Israel's intelligence community. It is impossible to come away from the general report convinced that a sign has been posted to warn against the danger that an intelligence assessment "could turn out in the future too to be unreliable," as it says on page 13 of the unclassified report. Was the intelligence indeed unreliable?

It may be hoped that the head of Military Intelligence, Brigadier General Aharon Ze'evi-Farkash, will soon present MI's position regarding the report. It cannot be ignored that a rift has developed between the chair of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee MK Yuval Steinitz, on the one hand, and Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon and the army, on the other.

In a recent interview of Steinitz published in Malam, a periodical on intelligence matters, he bitingly accused the army, saying that "the democratic norms regarding the intervention of the government and the parliament in security matters have not been sufficiently assimilated by the Israel Defense Forces." Clearly, military intelligence was wrong in its assessments on the eve of the war, for example, in the view that Saddam Hussein might "run ahead" and attack Israel, that is, preempt the American strike.

Another mistake involved the estimate of the number of missiles that Iraq had. At first, the estimate was 20-50 missiles, and later that appraisal was raised (following pressure from air force intelligence) to 50-100 missiles. In any case, it is clear that this was not the result of negligent intelligence. There was a dearth of information on Iraq, especially outstanding in the area of human intelligence (HUMINT) capabilities, which falls under the responsibility of the Mossad.

The most serious accusation made by the committee relates to the subject of Libya's nuclear capabilities ("partial blindness," "a serious intelligence failure"). Paradoxically, it was in this area that an extraordinary complaint was voiced. Chief of Staff Ya'alon and MI chief Ze'evi-Farkash maintain that in their testimony they were not asked anything at all about Libya. They are joined by former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy, who in a letter to Steinitz dated April 13 wrote: "I served as chief of the Mossad in the years 1998-2002 and I hereby state that I was not asked even a single question by the committee about Libya. The subject of Libya was reported to, and debated by, the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee before the appointment of the current chair. If he had examined the minutes of the committee, he could have avoided publishing a mistaken report."

Another astonishing aspect, which is not related directly to the report, is that MI proposed to the Mossad that they investigate the subject of Libya together. The current head of the Mossad rejected the offer and carried out a separate investigation - the Mossad of the Mossad. Yet another matter involves the recommendations made by the Steinitz committee.

Some are reasonable, such as the formation of a ministerial committee on intelligence, the appointment of a special secretary on intelligence affairs for the prime minister, the establishment of an academy of intelligence professions and the need to strengthen the satellite system.

Other recommendations have a clear tendency toward strengthening the Mossad at the expense of military intelligence. This is the case regarding the special electronic surveillance Unit 8200 and the strategic-national intelligence assessment. Thought must be given to improving the determination of priority intelligence requirements (PIR) for the intelligence establishment in general, with the integration of the political echelon, or the establishment of an advisory board in conjunction with Unit 8200.

But the situation today is that the Mossad is faltering - or failing, in the view of others - in the area of HUMINT, terror prevention and other roles. Instead of improving, we have recently been seeing the agency's unfortunate blunders in New Zealand and Canada. In such a situation, new tasks should not be added; instead, the Mossad should be required to do its job properly.