The big threat in the Middle East is Israel, not Iraq



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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