George Bush escalates the new cold war begun by his father, the attention of his
planners is moving to the Middle East. Stories about the threat of Iraq’s
"weapons of mass destruction" are again appearing in the American press, this
time concentrating on Saddam Hussein’s "new nuclear capability". These are
refuted by the International Atomic Energy Agency, whose inspectors have found
no evidence that Iraq, in its devastated state, has a nuclear weapons programme.
distraction, however, is vital. The only weapons of mass destruction in the
Middle East are in Israel, an American protectorate. What is not being reported
is that, as Israel’s hawks fail to put down the Palestinian uprising, their
leader, Ariel Sharon, may well remove the country’s nuclear arsenal from its
nominal strategy of "last resort".
prospect is raised in the current Covert Action Quarterly (www.covertactionquarterly.
org), by John Steinbach, a nuclear specialist whose previous work includes the
mapping of deadly radiation hazards in the United States. He quotes Israel’s
former president Ezer Weizman: "The nuclear issue is gaining momentum [and the]
next war will not be conventional." From the 1950s, writes Steinbach, "the US
was training Israeli nuclear scientists and providing nuclear-related
technology, including a small ‘research’ reactor in 1955 under the ‘Atoms for
Peace’ program". It was France that built a uranium reactor and plutonium
reprocessing plant in the Negev desert, called Dimona. The Israelis lied that it
was "a manganese plant, or a textile factory". In return for uranium, Israel
supplied South Africa with the technology and expertise that allowed the white
supremacist regime to build the "apartheid bomb".
1979, when US satellite photographs revealed the atmospheric test of a nuclear
bomb in the Indian Ocean off South Africa, Israel’s involvement, writes
Steinbach, "was quickly whitewashed by a carefully selected scientific panel,
kept in the dark about important details". Israeli sources have since revealed
"there were actually three tests of miniaturised Israeli nuclear artillery
was at Dimona that the heroic Mordechai Vanunu worked as a technician. A
supporter of Palestinian rights, Vanunu believed it was his duty to warn the
world about the danger Israel posed. In 1986, he smuggled out photographs
showing that the plant was producing enough plutonium to make 10 to 12 bombs a
year, and that at least 200 miniaturised bombs had been built. Vanunu was
subsequently lured to Rome from London by Mossad, the Israeli dirty tricks
agency. Beaten and drugged, he was kidnapped to Israel, where a secret security
court sentenced him to 18 years in prison, 12 of which were spent in solitary
confinement, in a cell barely big enough for him to stand.
Steinbach says that, whatever "deterrent effect" the founders of the Israeli
nuclear programme may have intended, "today, the nuclear arsenal is inextricably
linked to and integrated with overall Israeli military and political strategy".
While Israel has ballistic missiles and bombers capable of reaching Moscow, and
has reportedly launched a submarine-based cruise missile, "a staple of the
arsenal are neutron bombs [which are] miniaturised thermonuclear bombs designed
to maximise deadly gamma radiation while minimising blast effects and long-term
radiation – in essence designed to kill people while leaving property intact".
are the same "limited" nuclear weapons the Reagan administration seriously
considered using in Europe and which Ariel Sharon’s zealots may use as a
"demonstration" that they have no intention of relinquishing the occupied
"Arabs may have the oil, but we have the matches," said Sharon before he became
prime minister. Steinbach says such a threat could be used to compel the Bush
administration to act exclusively in Israel’s favour were it to waver in the
face of growing international support for the intifada. Francis Perrin, the
former head of the French nuclear weapons programme, wrote: "We thought the
Israeli Bomb was aimed at the Americans, not to launch it at the Americans, but
to say, ‘If you don’t want to help us in a critical situation [when we] require
you to help us . . . we will use our nuclear bombs’."
Israel used this blackmail during the 1973 war with Egypt, forcing Richard Nixon
to resupply its badly shaken military. The Israeli nuclear threat is seldom
raised in this country, in parliament and the media, and is a non-issue in the
United States. This is in line with a news agenda on Palestine that is still set
by Israel. However, since the election of Sharon, who has presided over
massacres of Palestinian civilians since 1953, this may be changing. Television
pictures from Gaza and the West Bank ought to leave little doubt that Israel is
a terrorist state, with a policy of state murder.
of the most impressive critics of his own government I met in Israel more than
25 years ago is Israel Shahak, then professor of organic chemistry at the Hebrew
University in Jerusalem, a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto and the Bergen-Belsen
death camp. As Israeli society becomes more and more polarised, Shahak’s courage
and wisdom endure. Three years ago, he said: "The wish for peace, so often
assumed as the Israeli aim, is not in my view a principle of Israeli policy,
while the wish to extend Israeli domination and influence is." He added this
prophecy, of which all but one element has so far proved correct: "Israel is
preparing for war, nuclear if need be, for the sake of averting domestic change
not to its liking [and is] clearly prepared to use, for the purpose, all means
available, including nuclear ones."
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