PM: Saddam hiding biological and chemical weapons in Syria
Israel has information Saddam Hussein has hidden chemical and biological weapons in Syria, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Tuesday night.
Sharon, in an interview on Channel 2, said Israel is currently trying to verify this information. "We believe, and I say it has not been completely verified, that weapons he [Saddam] wants to hide chemical and biological weapons were smuggled into Syria," he said.
Sharon said he does not know of other countries in which Saddam may have tried to hide weapons. He said Israel does know, however, that Iraqi scientists and experts have been in Libya working on Libya's nuclear program.
In addition to smuggling weapons, Sharon revealed that the security services recently captured a cell belonging to the Palestinian Liberation Front which trained in Iraq and planned to carry out a mega-attack in Israel, possibly on civilian aircraft. Sharon said the cell was trained in Iraq in the use of anti-aircraft missiles.
Sharon also said high level "coordinating" talks have been held in Iraq with
He said he believes there will be a US war against Iraq, and repeated his stock phrase that if attacked, "Israel will know how to defend itself."
Sharon said the ability of the US and Israel to defend against missile attacks has improved substantially since the 1991 war. "The public needs to be relaxed, and know that all the necessary steps have been taken and we are ready and prepared for any situation," he said.
Sharon deflected criticism he was fanning panic in the country to divert attention from the internal Likud scandals, saying these are "very grave charges." He said Labor Party Chairman Amram Mitzna's accusations are a very "cynical" claim. "War is horrible, and you don't bet on whether there will be a war," he added.
Furthermore, he said, the whole world and not only Israel is dealing with the possibility of a war with Iraq.
Regarding Sharon's comment about Iraq hiding chemical and biological weapons in Iraq, one observer said this type of behavior is not foreign to Iraq, since in 1991 Saddam positioned planes in Iran an enemy neighboring state during the Gulf War.
The observer noted, however, that governments are generally very loath to give up any control of their chemical and biological stockpiles, especially to regimes which in the final analysis may or may not cooperate. Syria aligned itself with the US during the Gulf War.
All it would take would be for one Syrian official to get wind of this and hold a "smoking gun" against Saddam, the observer noted. He said although the idea Saddam has smuggled weapons into Syria is plausible, the probability is low, especially since there are numerous areas in Iraq where the weapons could be hidden from the UN inspectors.
Stories that Iraq is hiding its chemical and biological weapons in other countries have been making the rounds for weeks, the observer said, noting that Sharon was careful in saying Israel is currently in the process of confirming these reports.
Reacting to other charges from the Labor Party, Sharon said his son, Omri, has no ties to organized crime, and accused the press of hounding Omri. He said he would distance anyone found to have obtained his slot on the Likud Knesset list illegally, including Omri, but stressed that his son is not connected to the Likud corruption scandal.
Sharon said he would make sure the committee to change the Likud election system,
headed by Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit, also changes the Likud's voter registration
system to ensure that criminal elements do not join the party.
"I didn't know criminals were joining the Likud," Sharon said. "It's easy, maybe too easy, to join the Likud."
Sharon received a boost from a poll aired earlier on Channel 1's Politica program,
which indicated that the Likud has recovered from the corruption scandal. After falling
from 39 mandates two weeks ago to 35 last week, the Marketwatch organization's poll
indicated that the Likud would receive 37 mandates if elections were held today.
Labor fell in the poll from 23 mandates last week to only 21 seats. Shinui reached 15 mandates for the first time in a poll, Arab parties 10 seats, Meretz 8, National Union 8, Shas 7, National Religious Party 4, United Torah Judaism 5, Yisrael B'Aliya 3, and Am Ehad 2.
"Israeli citizens support the leadership of Sharon and the Likud and will not stoop to the incitement and smear campaign of the Labor Party," the Likud campaign said in response. "The public is expressing no confidence in Mitzna and his defeatism toward Palestinian terrorism."
In a boost to Mitzna, the poll also found 57 percent would support separating unilaterally from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, along with evacuating settlements.
Mitzna blamed Labor's trailing in the polls on his predecessor, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, for keeping Labor in Sharon's national-unity government.
"If Labor would have quit the government a year ago, the reality in Israel and the polls would be the opposite," Mitzna told Channel 1. "I don't believe in serving in a national-unity government under Ariel Sharon. I won't join any government that doesn't adopt unilateral separation and evacuating settlements