Israel 'may rue Saddam overthrow'

The head of Israel's domestic security agency, Shin Bet, has said his country may come to regret the overthrow of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Yuval Diskin said a strong dictatorship would be preferable to the present "chaos" in Iraq, in a speech to teenage Jewish settlers in the West Bank.

He also said the Israeli security services and judiciary treated Arabs and Jewish suspects differently.

A Shin Bet veteran, Mr Diskin took over as Shin Bet's chief in May.

His speech to the students at the Eli settlement as they prepared for military service was secretly recorded and broadcast on Israeli TV.

When asked about the growing destabilisation of Iraq, Mr Diskin said Israel might come to rue its decision to support the US-led invasion in 2003.

"When you dismantle a system in which there is a despot who controls his people by force, you have chaos," he said.

"I'm not sure we won't miss Saddam."

The security chief was also asked to compare the treatment of Jews and non-Jews by Israel's security and judicial establishments.

"I do not see equality in the way the system handles them when they are guilty of the same type of offence," he said.

"If I had arrested a terrorist from Nablus and Eden Nathan Zaada [an Israeli army deserter who shot dead four Israeli Arabs on a bus in August], they wouldn't have received similar treatment in interrogation or court."

Mr Diskin also said he thought Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had made a mistake when he withdrew the Israeli army from the Gaza Strip last year without ensuring the Palestinian Authority could fill the security vacuum.

"From a security perspective, I am opposed to handling over territories to the Palestinians unless we know there are officials there who will take control and commit themselves to upholding the law," he said.

"If there are no such officials, then I am against handing over territories to Palestinian control."

But Mr Diskin criticised militant Israelis who have used violence to oppose further withdrawals from the West Bank.