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http://www3.haaretz.co.il/eng/scripts/show_katava.asp?id=28964&mador=1&datee=9/28/98

Ha'aretz, September 28, 1998

Former American inspector: Israel was key in unmasking Iraqi arms

By David Makovsky, Ha'aretz Diplomatic Correspondent

 

NEW YORK - Israel was quietly instrumental over the last four years in helping United Nations arms inspectors uncover how Iraq conceals its weapons of mass destruction, according to the person who headed the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) unit dealing with Iraqi arms concealment.

In an exclusive interview with Ha'aretz last Friday, veteran arms inspector and former Marine Scott Ritter said he made many trips to Israel during his tenure as arms inspector. "From '94 to '98, I was there a lot," Ritter said.

Ritter quit his post last month in protest of what he felt was Clinton administration inaction in carrying out the Iraqi arms inspections.

Ritter told Ha'aretz that he had the idea of soliciting Israel's assistance with the inspections because UNSCOM was not getting adequate assistance from the Central Intelligence Agency and other U.S. government offices.

Ritter praised the professionalism Israel showed in working with UNSCOM over the last several years. He said it demonstrated that Israel was taking seriously a UN Security Resolution passed after the Gulf War calling on all member countries to work closely with UNSCOM to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction.

"I can honestly say that if weren't for Israel, the Special Commission would not have been able to carry out the anti-concealment effort," Ritter said. "It's Tel Aviv that can be hit by these missiles and not New York City, and we were actually, frankly speaking, a little dismayed with the lack of intensity, the lack of enthusiasm that emanated from Washington, D.C. on this issue. The [U.S.] treated [concealment] more as an academic exercise, and I thought Israel treated it as it is - a matter of life and death."

Ritter also blamed the CIA for instigating the FBI's current investigation into whether Ritter engaged in espionage by providing sensitive information to Israel. Ritter ridiculed the investigation on several counts as "outrageous."

First, he indicated the idea of cooperation with Israel was authorized by UNSCOM head Rolf Ekeus and each trip was approved by his superiors. Second, he said, he informed the U.S. government "every step" of the way. Third, being a UN official, he had no CIA security clearance, and therefore even if he wanted to, he would have no access to top-secret U.S. documents, a point which he says the CIA recognizes. Ritter insisted that the CIA was motivated more by jealousy since UNSCOM had a better working relationship with Israeli officials than American officials.

Since quitting last month, Ritter has appeared before Congressional panels to complain about how the Clinton administration told UNSCOM not to conduct arms inspections in the last couple of months in order to avoid confrontation with Iraq. The administration sharply denies the charges.

The interview with Ha'aretz, which runs in full detail tomorrow, is the first time that Ritter has addressed in depth UNSCOM's ties with Israel and its link to the FBI investigation.

The former arms inspector stressed that it was UNSCOM tapping Israeli expertise in dealing with cells of militant groups, not UNSCOM being used by Israel. "Israel was a fair player on all of this. It was extremely responsible," Ritter said, adding: "I didn't receive any money from Israel... I got a shake of the hand, a pat on the back."

(The complete interview with Mr. Ritter appears in tomorrow's edition of Ha'aretz-IHT.

 

 

(c) copyright 1998 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved


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