[Palestina & Israele]

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Israeli nukes, their history and politics

Israeli  nukes, their history and politics


In July 1956 President Nasser of Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal.

This was a major event in world politics – and history.

Anthony Eden's government in Britain and Guy Mollet's government in France saw this as a major blow to their prestige and interests. 

They decided to invade Egypt, overthrow Nasser, seize the Canal and hand it back to the Suez Canal Company, in which they were major shareholders.  Most British and French citizens opposed this policy.  They did not want their sons to risk their lives in a war for a colonial empire in which they no longer believed.  After WW2 the era of empires and colonies was over.  The people of the colonies had information, and ability, to become free, and struggles for national liberation started in every colony of Britain, France, Portugal, Holland, and Belgium. 

The US too opposed an invasion of Egypt.   It wanted Egypt to join the Baghdad Pact directed against the Soviet Union. But the Soviet Union provided arms and political support to many liberation struggles against colonial powers. It financed and helped to build the high ham in Aswan.  Nasser didn't want to antagonize it.  He refused to join the Baghdad Pact.

The US wanted to change his policy by economic pressure, not by force.

So Eden and Mollet decided to disguise their war as a "peace keeping operation". 

They agreed with Ben-Gurion, Israel's PM, that Israel will invade Egypt, seize the Sinai Peninsula and approach the Suez Canal from the east. Then Britain and France will issue an ultimatum to both Israel and Egypt to withdraw 10 miles from either side of the Canal, to "ensure freedom of passage in the Canal to ships of all nations". They knew Nasser could not accept this ultimatum while Egypt was invaded, but Ben-Gurion will accept it, as it invited him to annex the Sinai.

Ben-Gurion flew to Paris on 22.10.1956 and signed this secret pact with Eden and Mollet.. In Israel he denied he had done so, and kept denying this till his death in 1973. 

So too did Shimon Peres, who only admitted it 30 years later, in 1986.

Israel, itself a product of British imperial politics in the Middle-East in WW1, always depended on political, financial, and military support of foreign powers dominating the Middle East.  The military presence of the British Army in the region enhanced Israel's security.  BG opposed the departure of the British from Egypt, Iraq, Cyprus, and Jordan and of the French Army from Algeria and Tunisia. .The Israeli secret service used contacts with Jewish communities in North Africa to help the French in their war against the liberation movements in Algeria, and Tunisia.

Most Israeli citizens did not know about these clandestine operations and would have opposed them had they known about them. BG was aware of this and therefore withheld the truth from them.  In 1956 most Israelis opposed collaboration with colonial powers.  So BG sent Shimon Peres - who was not a member of the Cabinet or Knesset - as his personal messenger - to France to bypass the Cabinet, the Knesset, and the Press. One of the bonuses France offered Israel was construction of a nuclear reactor in Israel capable of producing plutonium for nuclear bombs.

BG was afraid the majority in the Knesset and in his Cabinet would oppose his decision to invade Egypt, and likewise his decision to produce nuclear weapons in Israel. He kept both decision secret.  Peres never informed the Cabinet or the Knesset about his negotiations in Paris.

He commuted between Paris and Jerusalem to negotiate the military agreement between BG, Mollet and Eden, report only to B.G.  

On October 29, 1956, Israeli paratroopers commanded by Ariel Sharon landed in the Sinai, Israel seized the peninsula as planned and reached the Suez Canal. Eden and Mollet issued their ultimatum and their troops invaded the Suez Canal zone. It seemed as if the plan was going to succeed. But US President Eisenhower was outraged and forced Israel, Britain, and France to withdraw from Egypt. The war ended in a fiasco.  Britain and France ceased to be counted among "The four great powers".  The era of the Two Superpowers - USA and USSR - has begun.

Eden and Mollet had to resign but BG stayed in power, presenting his war to the Israelis as a "preventive war" that prevented an Egyptian attack on Israel.  Actually, Nasser had offered BG Peace  rather than a war…

He did this in a public statement at the Bandung Conference in 1955.

Despite being forced by the US to withdraw from the Sinai (and from the Gaza strip) BG (and Peres) considered the construction of the nuclear reactor in Dimona by France to be a major achievement well worth the losses in this war. 

They did not say this to the families of the soldiers killed in this war.  

The decision to build nuclear weapons in Israel was never discussed or debated in the Knesset, in the Cabinet, in the army, in the press, or in the security services.

This decision was taken by one man alone - Ben-Gurion.  In 1956 the Israeli population stood at about 1.5 million.  The surrounding Arab states had many millions of citizens, their armies were much bigger, and they had plenty of Soviet weapons. BG feared that a combined attack by Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Jordan could destroy Israel. He decided to build atom bombs as an insurance against such a possibility. In 1956 France agreed to sell Israel a nuclear reactor of the type it had just installed at Marcoule, near Avignon. Built in 1952, the G1 reactor in Marcoule was France's first plutonium production reactor, using natural uranium, graphite moderated, and gas-cooling. Its first plutonium separation plant was known as UP1.  Two reactors were built. One in Marcoule, the other in Dimona, Israel.  The Israeli reactor began to produce plutonium in the early 1960s. The French G1 reactor was dismantled after 40 years of service. The one in Israel has continued to work for the past 50 years and has become a health hazard, causing many deaths by cancer to its workers.   So far the Israeli government has refuses to compensate them.

B.G. knew that the US was opposed to nuclear proliferation, and being dependent on US support he denied that Israel was producing nuclear weapons.  Israel's official policy is neither to deny nor to admit that it has - and builds - nuclear weapons. This policy of "ambiguity" is presented in Israel as profound wisdom. Actually it fools no one. Its only purpose is not to embarrass the US, where Senator Stuart Symington introduced an amendment forbidding the US to provide aid to countries that produce clandestine nuclear weapons.  This policy was never applied to Israel.

Of course the US knows very well what Israel's nuclear capabilities are. But an open Israeli admission that it has nuclear weapons would embarrass the US and expose the duplicity of its nuclear non-proliferation policy.  In fact, as early as the 1960s the U2  spy planes of the CIA photographed the Dimona reactor as it was being built and President Eisenhower knew about it in 1960.  However, the US did nothing to stop construction of the reactor nor did it force Israel to accept international inspection of it.  Israel has always refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or to allow any international inspection of its nuclear facilities, and continues to do so to this day.

Israel's nuclear capability forced many Arab States to seek weapons of mass destruction - mostly biological and chemical ones - to counter the Israeli arsenal.  So Israel started an arms race for weapons of mass-destruction in the Middle-East. 

BG did not consider the possibility that an Arab country might acquire nuclear weapons.

He knew that neither the US nor the Soviet Union would give such weapons to an Arab State. He did not believe the Arabs were capable of building such weapons themselves. The collapse of the Soviet Union (making nuclear weapons available for money) and production of nuclear weapons by Pakistan and Iran were possibilities he failed to foresee.

When this happened the situation changed.  Israel's nuclear deterrent changed from an asset into a liability. Israel's small area and high population density, especially the urban areas of  Tel Aviv and Haifa, can be destroyed by just two H-bombs - one on each centre.

The destruction of these two urban centers would amount to the destruction of Israel. 

This is the area where most of Israel's economy and population are concentrated and after a nuclear attack they would be uninhabitable for years.  Iran, with its vast mountainous territory, cannot be destroyed like this and is far less vulnerable.  Even if Israel launched a second strike after being attacked it could destroy Iran. Israeli second-strike capability, recently achieved by acquiring two nuclear submarines from Germany, would not repair the damage caused to Israel by just 2 H-bombs nor would it deter Iranian religious fanatics.  It is therefore essential for Israel to change its nuclear policy from threatening Iran and continuing the nuclear arms race to a policy of seeking to make the entire ME a nuclear-free zone under international supervision.    This does not seem imminent.

The Iranian nuclear threat was described recently by Dr. Yuval Steinitz, Chairman of the Knesset 'Foreign and Defense' Committee. He said: "Iran plans to set up 54000 centrifuges for enriching uranium.

This means that they want to become a nuclear world-power capable of producing 20 to 30 bombs per year, not 2 or 3 bombs that will make them a regional power."  (Ma'ariv   9.10.2005,  p.24)

Facing this situation - and the next Israeli elections in March 2006 -  there is a growing concern among Israelis about Iranian long-range missiles, capable of reaching Israel, and the imminent ability of Iran to build nuclear weapons.   So election candidates propose various Israeli nuclear policies to attract voters.

The daily Ma'ariv published the following  on 5.12.2005:

P.M. Ariel Sharon, leader of the new Kadima Party is quoted as saying:

"We shall not accept a situation in which Iran has nuclear weapons. We act with Europe and the USA. The correct expression on this matter was Bush's statement in which he said that he did not think this matter can be left without treating its foundations.  I hope the Security Council will soon decide to impose sanctions on Iran to stop the process"

But the Chief of Staff of the Israeli armed forces, Dan Halutz, commented that the diplomatic efforts to stop the process will fail and raised a second possibility of applying physical pressure, or military pressure, to Iran. He is reported as saying:

 "Who will apply military options? This is not a question I shall answer.

When will this option be applied?  I shall not answer this either.  But there are options"

Benjamin Netanyahu, the front-runner of the Likud, Party declared:

 "I shall lead the next government to stop the Iranian threat, including all the necessary operations. If this is not done by the present government I intend to lead the next government to stop this threat. This includes all operations necessary to stop Iran from threatening us with nuclear weapons."    

Amir Peretz, the new leader of the Labor Party, said:

"I hope the Israeli government will do whatever is required, ignoring foreign consideration"    

The Minister of Defense, Shaul Mofaz, said: 

"The latest statements on  this issue are irresponsible. The nuclear issue must not be part of the election campaign". (Ma'ariv 5.12.2005 p.1 and 2)

However, since the Israeli public is worried about the issue no candidate can ignore it.

The crucial - and revealing - point is that no Israeli politician, journalist, or academic, has proposed the simple option of an Israeli nuclear policy of support for a nuclear-free Middle East under international control.  This omission exposes Israel's intransigence and the hypocrisy of US policy on this issue.  Why does the US refuse to pressurize Israel to sign the NPT and allow international inspection of its nuclear facilities ?

The honesty of US nuclear policy in the ME is proportional to the pressure it puts on Israel to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and support a nuclear-free ME. 

As long as the US does not apply any such pressure its policy cannot be accepted as honest.


A recently published US report (funded by the Pentagon) proposes that Israel change its nuclear policy. Its authors, Henry Sokolsky and Patrick Clawson in their 314 page document ("Getting ready for a nuclear-ready Iran") say "the idea is not that Israel give up its nuclear weapons unilaterally hoping that others will too. Instead, Israel should simply take a small, reversible, step, in an effort to promote a reciprocal process that would de-escalate the regions nuclear arms race." 

But Israeli officials dismissed the idea that Israel would lead a regional nuclear disarmament process in response to a nuclear-ready Iran. Israel's position, an official said, is that a nuclear-free Middle East could be achieved only through comprehensive regional peace treaties.


In 1986 Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu provided technical proof to the London "Sunday Times" that Israel had some 200 nuclear war heads. Today this number is much higher. Vanunu joined the so-called Nuclear Research Centre in Dimona in 1978 as a technician.

At this time he was a follower of the religio-nationalist Rabbi Kahana.  Like every applicant for a job in Dimona he was checked by the Israeli Secret Service.  His support for Rabbi Kahana was not seen for as a hindrance.  After working a few years he became a student of philosophy at Beersheba University. For a project for a Master's degree he chose the subject, "Moral issues in the nuclear era".  Reading material on this issue he gradually became convinced that nuclear weapons are immoral since their main use is against civilian populations. They are weapons for destroy whole cities.  He also discovered that in Israel there had never been a public debate and a democratic decision to build nuclear weapons. The decision to do this was the private decision of one man - David Ben-Gurion.  Vanunu therefore decided to resign from his job in Dimona and protest in the Israeli press about the secret – and illegal - activity in Dimona.  To prove his claim he took some photos of his workplace before leaving his job.  He resigned in 1986.  He soon realized that if he informed any Israeli Newspaper he would be arrested.  He therefore decided to leave Israel. For a few months he traveled in Europe, passed through the Soviet-Union, and finally reached Australia where he converted to Christianity.   He never approached any foreign embassy to offer the photos he had taken in Dimona.   After a few months in Sidney a friend persuaded him to offer them to the Sunday Times in London. He did so and the Sunday Times invited him to London to check the reliability of his information. He was interviewed by nuclear specialists who checked his photos and information and concluded that they were reliable and that Israel had produced some 200 nuclear bombs. Vanunu was not paid for this information. His aim was to warn the world and Israel's citizens about the illegal activity of producing nuclear weapons in Israel. It is illegal because it was never endorsed by any majority representing the Israeli citizens.  The Sunday Times published Vanunu's report in October 1986 and the Israeli Secret Service began to hunt him down. They lured him to Italy, from where they hijacked him to Israel. He was tried behind closed doors - no journalist was allowed into the courtroom - and was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

In 2004 he was released after serving the full sentence (out of whichh he spent 11 years in solitary confinement) but was forbidden to leave Israel or to talk to journalists. 

The Vanunu trial was a travesty of justice, since Israel does not admit it has nuclear weapons. A government that does not admit it has nukes punishes someone for revealing something whose existence it denies?

From a nationalistic perspective, Vanunu rendered Israel a service. As Israeli nuclear weapons are supposedly needed to deter Israel's enemies from destroying it, then these enemies must be told that Israel has such weapons. For they will not be deterred without proof Israel has such weapons.  Whoever provided such proof did Israel a service.  For this reason there were some observers in Israel, like former general-turned-historian Meir Pail who insisted Vanunu was an agent of the Secret Service and his revelations were organized by the Secret Service.  But the fact that Vanunu was sentenced to 18 years in prison, and served the entire sentence (unlike criminals who get a remission of one third of their sentence) raises questions about the treatment of Secret Service agents by their own government. To reward a man who rendered a service to his country by an 18 years prison sentence is unusual, to say the least.


Those who really want to create a nuclear-free ME must apply international pressure, including economic sanctions, on ALL  ME governments to accept international inspection of all their nuclear research facilities.   

Economic, political, and PR pressures must be applied to EVERY country that opposes international inspection of its nuclear facilities.

This is a minimal demand since "inspection" is not "disarmament".

Israel has persistently and emphatically opposed any international inspection of its nuclear facilities.   So far no one has put ANY pressure on Israel to sign the NPT and declare its support for a nuclear-free ME, though such a declaration alone would still be a long way from dismantling nuclear weapons.


The latest farce in this saga is the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to ElBaradie and the International Atomic Energy Authority for their efforts to reduce the threat of nuclear energy.

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2005 was awarded to IAEA and Mohamed ElBaradei for their "efforts to prevent nuclear energy from being used for military purposes and to ensure that nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is used in the safest possible way".

Why did the Nobel Prize Committee prefer ElBaradei to Mordechai Vanunu who was 18 years in Israeli prison for informing the world press about Israel's nukes?

Awarding the Peace Prize to Vanunu would have been a bold step against nuclear armament.

It seems the Nobel Peace Committee is afraid of antagonizing the Israeli government, or  - of being branded anti-Semitic.

Yet what are the facts?

1. Israel was the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the ME and thus started the nuclear arms race in the Middle-East.

2. For 40 years Israel has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)

3. Israel refuses to allow IAEA inspection of its Dimona nuclear reactor.

Those who REALLY want to stop the nuclear arms race in the ME must take active steps, such as economic sanctions, political pressure, severing diplomatic relations, etc. to compel Israel to sign the NPT and allow an IAEA inspection of Dimona.

This will indicate to all other governments in the region that the efforts to make the ME a nuclear-free zone are not biased.

If Israel persists in its refusal to sign the NPT and to allow inspection of its nuclear facilities and refuses to return to Norway the 30 tons of heavy water it had been lent for nuclear research on condition that it is not used for the production of nuclear weapons, then the same steps the USA and IAEA applied to Iraq  must be applied to Israel.


What did ElBaradei do about Israeli nukes?   Nothing.

What did he say about Israel's refusal to sigh the NPT?  Nothing

What did he say about Vanunu being jailed for 18 years for informing the world press about Israel's nukes?  Nothing


He visited Jerusalem and refused to meet Vanunu lest he antagonize the Israeli government.   No wonder Israel congratulated ElBaradei and the IAEA on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.  The IAEA applied to Israel a very different policy from the one it applied to Iraq.

It tries to solicit co-operation on nuclear disarmament from a government that has refused for 40 years to do so.   This policy has failed for 40 years. 

Why continue with it?

Why reject applying any pressure to such a government to make it change its nuclear policy?

The USA, IAEA, and the Nobel Committee know very well that Israel has nuclear weapons and keeps building them in Dimona, refuses to join the NPT and refuses an IAEA inspection of Dimona. Yet the USA, IAEA, and the Nobel Peace Prize Committee adamantly refuse take any step against Israel's nuclear policy.  This makes them accomplices to Israel's nuclear policy.  Israel persists in its refusal to sign the NPT, yet ElBaradei and the IAEA do not even criticize this - and get the Nobel Peace Prize.

Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell, Hans Bethe , Linus Pauling, and Niels Bohr would have denounced this as duplicity.

Or, as Niels Bohr used to say: "VERY interesting"


The ME doomsday clock is ticking.

Today the danger of nuclear war in the ME is greater than it ever was in the past.  


An Israeli academic tried recently to calm those worries about nuclear war in the ME.

Dr.Ephraim Kam, Head of the Yaffe Centre for Strategic Studies in Tel-Aviv University said:

"We must not forget that even when Iran does have nuclear weapons it will live under major constraints, mainly American deterrence. If Israel succeeds in making the US declare that it will consider a nuclear attack on Israel tantamount to an attack on the US this will improve the deterrence of Iran. But even without such a declaration the Iranians know that by launching a nuclear attack on Israel they risk a US attack on them.   They will also take into account an Israeli retaliation that will destroy Tehran.  During the Cold War mutual deterrence prevented war between the US and the USSR"   (Ma'ariv 9.10.2005. p.24)


This ignores the profound differences between world politics and regional ME politics.

ME politicians lack a sense of responsibility for Humanity that Kennedy and Khrushchev had during the Cuban nuclear missile crisis in 1962.

In the ME,  politics - and leaders -  are motivated by considerations of Honour, Nationalism and Religion rather than by concern for all humanity.


If outside pressures are not applied to ALL M-E governments, a nuclear war in the M-E will be unavoidable. 

Its consequences will not be confined to the M-E.



30.11.2005                                     By  Aki  ORR

(member of the Israeli Committee for a M-E free of all weapons of mass-destruction )


- Letture Salva Cittadini

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