'UK covered up Israel criticism'

'The Guardian' says Foreign Office tried to suppress anti-Israel reference in Iraq weapons dossier.

By JONNY PAUL, LONDON
February 21, 2008 20:38
2 minute read.
'UK covered up Israel criticism'

dimona reactor 248.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

The British Foreign Office fought to keep secret any mention of Israel in the first draft of the controversial 2002 Iraq weapons dossier made public this week, The Guardian newspaper asserted on Thursday. Claiming to have exposed "the full extent of government anxiety about the state of British-Israeli relations" after seeing a leaked document, the paper's screaming headline read: "How Labor used the law to keep criticism of Israel secret." The Guardian said the document revealed how the Foreign Office successfully fought to have a handwritten mention of Israel in the dossier kept secret, claiming there was "nervousness at the top of government" about any mention of Israel's nuclear arsenal and a fear that any public mention of the reference would seriously damage UK-Israeli relations. The Iraqi weapons dossier, which accuses Iraq of flouting UN regulations on weapons of mass destruction, was made public this week. The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, said last year that it was in the public interest that the document be released in its entirety. The Foreign Office requested a hearing before the Information Tribunal, which adjudicates on disputes involving the Freedom of Information Act, to appeal his ruling and succeeded in having the single handwritten mention of Israel kept secret upon release of the draft to the public. The reference to Israel was written in the margin by someone commenting on the opening paragraph of the draft of the dossier written by the Foreign Office's chief information officer John Williams. It was written next to the claim that "no other country [apart from Iraq] has flouted the United Nations' authority so brazenly in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction." In a statement to the tribunal, Neil Wigan, head of the Arab, Israel and North Africa desk at the Foreign Office, said he did not know who wrote the comment. "I interpret this note to indicate that the person who wrote it believes that Israel has flouted UN authority in a manner similar to that of the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein," Wigan said, and added that that the disclosure and comparison with Saddam Hussein would seriously damage UK-Israel relations. "The implied accusation of a breach of the UN's authority by Israel is potentially very serious," he said. "Unfortunately, there is perception already in Israel that parts of the FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office] are prejudiced against the country." A senior spokesman for the Foreign Office told The Jerusalem Post: "We do not comment on leaked documents. That is all we are saying on this."


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