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President Saddam Hussein admitted Monday that Iraq has sophisticated binary chemical weapons and warned that if Israel attacked it, Iraq will retaliate and destroy half the Jewish state.

"We don't need an atomic bomb because we have advanced chemical weapons," INA quoted Hussein as saying during a ceremony to decorate senior Iraqi officers. "Iraq's chemical weapons' capability is matched only by the United States and the Soviet Union."We will let our fire eat half of Israel if it tries anything against Iraq," Hussein said.

In a statement after Hussein's speech, the Iraqi foreign ministry denied that Iraq was trying to develop nuclear weapons and said such charges were intended to prevent

it from obtaining "scientific and technical know-how."

Hussein lashed out at Western criticism of what U.S. and British authorities said were clandestine efforts by Baghdad to smuggle parts for nuclear weapons and over the March 15 execution of British-based reporter Farzad Bazoft on spying charges. Hussein said Bazoft, a reporter for the London Observer weekly, was a spy.

British authorities arrested several Iraqis last week as they allegedly tried to smuggle from the United States electronic devices used to trigger nuclear weapons. Hussein said the devices were "only condensors which we bought for $10,500 and it's not logical that these could be used in atomic bombs."

Israel condemned Hussein's comments on chemical weapons. "It is high time for the civilized world to act in unity and see to it that Hussein will not have the possibility to pursue his irresponsible and criminal designs," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Yossi Amihud in Jerusalem.

Avi Pazner, a spokesman for Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, said Israel had "no aggressive intention against anyone, including Iraq." Asked about the possibility of a pre-emptive strike against Iraq, he said: "We don't even want to talk about that kind of thing."

Israeli aircraft attacked a French-built nuclear reactor near Baghdad in June 1981. Israel claimed Iraq was developing nuclear weapons. Baghdad denied the charge.

Hussein's rhetoric comes amid growing Arab frustrations with Israel's refusal to enter talks with the Palestinians and an expected flood of Soviet Jewish emigrants to Israel following Moscow's easing of travel restrictions.