The full extent of government anxiety about the state of British-Israel relations can be exposed for the first time today in a secret document seen by the Guardian.
The document reveals how the Foreign Office successfully fought to keep secret any mention of Israel contained on the first draft of the controversial, now discredited Iraq weapons dossier. At the heart of it was nervousness at the top of government about any mention of Israel’s nuclear arsenal in an official paper accusing Iraq of flouting the UN’s authority on weapons of mass destruction.
The dossier was made public this week, but the Foreign Office succeeded before a tribunal in having the handwritten mention of Israel kept secret.
The FO never argued that the information would damage national security. The Guardian has seen the full text and a witness statement from a senior Foreign Office official, who argued behind closed doors that any public mention of the candid reference would seriously damage UK/Israeli relations. In the statement, he reveals that in the past five years there have been 10 substantial incidents and 20 more minor ones relating to Israeli concerns about attitudes to their government within Whitehall.
The Information Tribunal, which adjudicates on disputes involving the Freedom of Information Act, agreed to remove the single reference to Israel when it ordered the release of the draft of the Iraqi weapons dossier written by John Williams, the FO’s chief information officer at the time.
Along with unfavourable references to the US and Japan, the reference to Israel was written in the margin by someone commenting on the opening paragraph of the Williams draft. It was written against 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 statement to the tribunal, Neil Wigan, head of the FO’s Arab, Israel and North Africa Group, said he did not know who had referred to Israel in the margin. He went on: “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.”
Foreign Office successfully fought to keep secret any mention of Israel in the first draft of the Iraq dossierPublished February 21, 2008 Foreign & Commonwealth Office , Foreign Policy , Freedom of Information , Government , Israel , Politics 1 Comment