Report: U.K. gov't hid reference to Israel on Iraq weapons dossier
The British newspaper The Guardian reported Thursday that the Foreign Office in London had successfully managed to conceal a reference to Israel in a September 2002 document on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, fearing harm to bilateral ties.
The Guardian says that the word "Israel" was handwritten next to a statement in the "now discredited" dossier which said that "no other country [apart from Iraq] has flouted the United Nations' authority so brazenly in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction."
According to The Guardian, "a senior Foreign Office official" says that the move was aimed at preventing any damage to relations between Israel and the United Kingdom.
The Guardian report also says the Foreign Office made no effort to conceal handwritten notes listing other countries such as the U.S., Japan and Germany in sections dealing with Iraqi belligerence.
According to The Guardian, the decision to remove Israel from the dossier was made by a body called The Information Tribunal, which "adjudicates on disputes involving the Freedom of Information Act." The tribunal heard the case after the Foreign Office reportedly appealed the decision to release the dossier in its entirety.
The newspaper quotes a statement to the tribunal by Neil Wigan, head of the Foreign Office's Arab, Israel and North Africa Group, in which he reportedly said "he did not know who had referred to Israel in the margin."
The Guardian quotes Wigan as saying that, "I interpret this note to indicate that the person who wrote it believes that Israel has flouted the United Nations' authority in a manner similar to that of the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein."
According to The Guardian, Wigan said that the revelation that Israel is mentioned in the dossier "would seriously damage the U.K.'s relations with Israel."
The Guardian also quotes Wigan as saying that comparing Israel to Saddam Hussein and the "implied accusation of a breach of the UN's authority by Israel are potentially very serious."
He also reportedly said that, "Unfortunately, there is perception already in Israel that parts of the FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office] are prejudiced against the country."
A spokeswoman for British Prime Minister Gordon Brown would not comment on the document itself but said: "Our position in terms of encouraging all signatories of the [nuclear] non-proliferation treaty to abide by that remains the same."
"But we also recognize Israel's position needs to be looked at in a regional context, bearing in mind they have neighbors such as Iran who deny the right of Israel to exist."
Succumbing to three years of pressure from freedom of information campaigners, the British government released the once-secret draft document on Monday.
The 32-page document, written by a former director of communications at the Foreign Office, cites intelligence sources to state that Iraq had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and could easily use them since it had done so before.
The document, amended in the margins, makes no mention of Saddam Hussein being capable of launching weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes, a false claim later used in another government dossier to make the case for going to war.