TEL AVIV, Israel - The war in Iraq did not damage international terror groups, but instead distracted the United States from confronting other hotbeds of Islamic militancy and actually ``created momentum'' for many terrorists, a top Israeli security think tank said in a report released Monday.
President Bush has called the war in Iraq an integral part of the war on terrorism, saying that deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein hoped to develop unconventional weapons and could have given them to Islamic militants across the world.
But the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University said that instead of striking a blow against Islamic extremists, the Iraq war ``has created momentum for many terrorist elements, but chiefly al-Qaida and its affiliates.''
Jaffee Center director Shai Feldman said the vast amount of money and effort the United States has poured into Iraq has deflected attention and assets from other centers of terrorism, such as Afghanistan.
The concentration of U.S. intelligence assets in Iraq ``has to be at the expense of being able to follow strategic dangers in other parts of the world,'' he said.
Shlomo Brom, a retired Israeli army general, said the U.S.-led effort was strategically misdirected. If the goal in the war against terrorism is ``not just to kill the mosquitos but to dry the swamp,'' he said, ``now it's quite clear'' that Iraq ``is not the swamp.''
Instead, he said, the Iraq campaign is having the opposite effect, drawing Islamic extremists from other parts of the world to join the battle.
``On a strategic level as well as an operational level,'' Brom concluded, ``the war in Iraq is hurting the war on international terrorism.''
In other findings, Jaffee Center experts disagreed with the Israeli government's statements that its four-year struggle against Palestinian militants is part of the world fight against Islamic terrorism.
Yoram Schweitzer, who wrote the chapter about the Iraq war, said the local conflict is a ``national struggle,'' while international Islamic militant groups like al-Qaida target not only Israel but also the entire Western world.
After interviewing Palestinian militants, including some in prison, Schweitzer said they do not consider themselves part of the al-Qaida campaign. ``Many of them are critical of Al-Qaida and its methods,'' he told a news conference.
The Jaffee report found that Israel has succeeded in reducing Palestinian violence against Israelis.
Feldman said the motivation of Palestinian militants to attack the country remained unchanged, but praised the work of military intelligence in preventing many attacks.
``The only reason these (anti-terror) operations succeed is that we have better intelligence,'' he said.
Feldman said the weekend attacks in the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula aimed at places where Israelis gather did not figure in to the assessment. Thirteen Israelis were among at least 34 people killed in two car bomb attacks Thursday.
``We regard the attacks in the Sinai in a different category,'' he said, likening it to an attack at a hotel in Mombasa, Kenya, last year that killed 10, including three Israelis.
The report includes statistical breakdowns of the military forces and their capabilities in the Middle East, as well as analyses of regional issues.
© 2004 Associated Press