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Israelis skeptical of report of upgraded Iraqi nuclear threat

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February 27, 2001 


JERUSALEM-(AP) - Israeli weapons experts responded with some skepticism Monday to a Western intelligence report that Iraq could have nuclear weapons in three years, and some said the warning may be tied to U.S. efforts to re-ignite an anti-Iraq campaign.

"It has very much to do with American internal politics," said Yiftah Shapir, an expert in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction at Tel Aviv University's Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies.

The report published Saturday in the German daily Die Welt says that the German intelligence service, the BND, has detected signs that Iraq has resumed efforts to produce nuclear weapons.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is trying to import raw material for nuclear weapons production through a network of dummy companies, said the report, published a week after a U.S. and British airstrike on Iraq.

Since taking office last month, U.S. President George W. Bush has been trying to bring Iraq back to the top of the international agenda.

"I think Mr. Bush is trying to finish what his father didn't," said Shapir. "He is sounding the alarm bells and letting everyone know that we have a problem."

Other experts said that though sanctions in place since Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 have been largely ineffective in punishing Saddam's regime, they would make it impossible for Iraq to develop nuclear weapons in three years.

"The time table of three years is a worst case scenario based on the premise that sanctions will be removed now. But that is not the case," said Shlomo Brom, the army's former chief of strategic planning.

Shapir said Iraq would probably need another decade to produce nuclear weapons. He said there is evidence that Iraq is working to produce chemical weapons and that activity in the chemical industry has increased since U.N. weapons inspectors left in 1998 after Saddam refused to cooperate with them.

Danny Shoham, a senior researcher at Bar-Ilan University's Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, said he believed Iraq can develop nuclear weapons in less than three years if it can obtain significant amounts of uranium or plutonium, the core components of nuclear warheads.

"I think it's a real possibility," Shoham said. "The government should trace what's going on there with biological and chemical weapons and find out who the foreign suppliers are."

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