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Monday, March 31, 2003 Adar2 27, 5763 Israel Time:  23:37  (GMT+3)
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Military intelligence: Iraq may be hiding
weapons in Syria
By Gideon Alon and Ze'ev Schiff, Haaretz Correspondents

Iraq may be using Syria to hide forbidden long-range surface-to-surface missiles and chemical and biological weapons, the head of the Military Intelligence research unit told the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday.

In December 2002, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said there was a possibility that Saddam Hussein had sent biological and chemical weapons to Syria, in an effort to hide them from United Nations weapons inspectors.

Brigadier General Yossi Kuperwasser told the committee that the likelihood of an attack on Israel was still low, given the current situation, but warned that this could change in a very short space of time, for example, if coalition troops found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or carried out a significant attack on a leading Iraqi official.

Haaretz reported in December 2002 that some Iraqi equipment transferred from Iraq to Syria was apparently earmarked for Hezbollah in Lebanon, to be used in opening a northern front against Israel in the event of an American offensive in Iraq.

The shipments contained Iraqi rockets with a range of 100 to 150 kilometers, and possibly also various items that Iraq wanted to hide in Lebanon.

In an interview with Channel Two television in December, Sharon spoke of the possibility that Saddam Hussein had had chemical and biological weapons smuggled to Syria in order to hide them from United Nations weapons inspectors.

Hezbollah has received rockets from Syria before. But the previous shipments contained Fatah and Tsumud rockets, whose range is no greater than 70 kilometers.

Iraq's efforts to hide weapons were focused primarily on weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical or biological weapons. The discovery of such weapons in Iraq would provide the United States with a justification for its military action and toppling Saddam Hussein's regime. But at the same time that it is hiding its unconventional weapons, there were reports last year that Iraq had been trying to increase the number of Scud missiles at its disposal.

It is known, for instance, that the missile cargo captured in late 2002 on a ship bound for Yemen from North Korea was in fact destined for Iraq. The Americans released the ship after Yemen promised to keep the missiles itself, apparently to ensure Yemen's cooperation in the struggle against Al-Qaida.

In addition, the Syrians at one point tried to find Scud missiles for Iraq. Given the Scuds' range, they were obviously meant to be used against Israel in case of war, rather than against other states in the region like Saudi Arabia.

The Syrian aid to Iraq - in making military purchases and apparently also in hiding equipment - raises questions regarding President Bashar Assad's willingness to jeopardize his relations with the United States. On one hand, Damascus is making an effort to help Washington with information about Al-Qaida, but on the other, Baghdad is exerting economic pressure on it. In addition to helping Iraq, Assad also takes a risk by sheltering and aiding terrorist organizations like Islamic Jihad and Hamas, hiding behind the claim that they only operate information offices in his country.

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