- In the first months of 2001, efforts to secure peace
in the Middle East were hit by two dangerous developments. Right-winger
Ariel Sharon was elected to power in Israel, the world's neglected nuclear
nation. And President George W. Bush's first foreign policy adventure saw
Iraq bombed by U.S. and British forces, in what was justified as a "defensive"
- Since the Gulf War in 1991, much attention has been Lavished
on an alleged threat from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction while the major
culprit in the region, Israel, has been largely ignored.
- With between 200 and 500 thermonuclear weapons and a
sophisticated delivery system, Israel, population 6 million, recently supplanted
Britain as the world's 5th Largest nuclear power. It may now rival France
and China in the size and sophistication of its nuclear arsenal.
- Possessing chemical and biological weapons, an extremely
sophisticated nuclear arsenal, and an aggressive strategy for their actual
use, Israel provides the major regional impetus for the development of
weapons of mass destruction, and represents an acute threat to peace and
stability in the Middle East.
- The hypocrisy inherent in the condemnation of Iraq's
weapons of mass destruction and the obsessive focus on "rogue states"
such as North Korea, while totally ignoring Israel's provocative arsenal,
- The existence of the Israeli nuclear program is a serious
impediment to meaningful nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. The
time is long overdue for citizens concerned about sanctions against Iraq,
peace with justice in the Middle East, and nuclear disarmament, to confront
directly the issue of Israeli weapons of mass destruction.
- THE ISRAELI BOMB The Israeli nuclear program began in
the Late 1940s. It was established at the Department of Isotope Research
at the Weissman Institute of Science under the direction of Ernst David
Bergmann, "the father of the Israeli bomb," who in 1952 established
the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission.
- From the very beginning the U.S. was heavily involved
in developing Israel's nuclear capability, 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, however, that provided the bulk of nuclear
assistance to Israel, culminating in construction
- of Dimona, a heavy water-moderated, natural uranium reactor
and plutonium reprocessing operation situated near Bersheeba in the Negev
- Israel had been active in the French nuclear weapons
program from its inception, and provided critical technical expertise.
Dimona became operational in 1964 and plutonium reprocessing began shortly
thereafter. Despite Israeli claims that Dimona was "a manganese plant,
or a textile factory," the extreme security measures employed belied
the bogus claims.
- In 1976, Israel shot down one of its own Mirage fighters,
and in 1973 shot down a Libyan civilian airliner that approached too close
to Dimona, killing 104.'
- There is substantial credible speculation that Israel
may have exploded at Least one, and perhaps several, nuclear devices in
the mid-1960s in the Negev near the Israeli-Egyptian border, and that it
participated actively in French nuclear tests in Algeria.
- By the time of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Israel possessed
an arsenal of perhaps several dozen deliverable atomic bombs and it went
on full nuclear alert.
- Possessing advanced nuclear technology and top nuclear
scientists, Israel was confronted early with a major problem-how to obtain
the necessary uranium.
- Israel's own uranium source was the phosphate deposits
in the Negev, totally inadequate to meet the need of a rapidly expanding
program. The short-term answer was to mount commando raids in France and
Britain to successfully hijack uranium shipments, and in the 19673 "Plumbatt
Affair," to collaborate with West Germany in diverting 200 tons of
yellow cake (uranium oxide). These clandestine acquisitions of uranium
for Dimona were subsequently covered up by the countries involved.
- There was also an allegation that a U.5. corporation,
Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC), diverted hundreds
of pounds of enriched uranium to Israel from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s.4
Despite an FBI and CIA investigation, and congressional hearings, no one
was ever prosecuted, although most other investigators believed the diversion
- In the late 1960s, Israel solved the uranium problem
by developing close ties with South Africa in a quid pro quo arrangement
whereby Israel supplied the technology and expertise for the "Apartheid
Bomb," while South Africa provided the uranium.
- SOUTH AFRICA AND THE US In 1977, the Soviet Union warned
the U.S. that satellite photos indicated South Africa was planning a nuclear
test in the Kalahari desert. The apartheid regime backed down under pressure
from the Carter administration.
- On September 22, 1979, a U.S. satellite detected an atmospheric
test of a small thermonuclear bomb in the Indian Ocean off South Africa,
but because of Israel's involvement the report was quickly whitewashed
by a carefully selected scientific panel, kept in the dark about important
details. Later it was Learned through Israeli sources that there were actually
three tests of miniaturized Israeli nuclear artillery shells.
- The Israeli/South African collaboration did not end with
the bomb testing, but continued until the fall of apartheid, especially
with the developing and testing of medium range missiles and advanced artillery.
In addition to uranium and test facilities, South Africa provided Israel
with Large amounts of investment capital, while Israel provided a major
trade outlet undermining the international economic sanctions imposed on
the apartheid regime. Although the French and South Africans were primarily
responsible for the Israeli nuclear program, the U.S. deserves a Large
part of the blame.
- An observer remarked the Israeli nuclear program "was
possible only because [emphasis in original] of calculated deception on
the part of Israel, and willing complicity on the part of the U.S."
Beginning with the provision of a small reactor in the mid-1950s, the U.S.
played a critical role in Israel's nuclear plans.
- Israeli scientists were trained largely at U.S. universities
and were generally welcomed at the nuclear weapons Labs. In the early 1960s,
the controls for the Dimona reactor were obtained clandestinely from a
company called Tracer Lab, the main supplier of U.S. military reactor control
panels, purchased through a Belgian subsidiary apparently with the acquiescence
of the U.S. intelligence community.
- In 1971, the Nixon administration approved the sale to
Israel of hundreds of krytons, a type of high speed switch necessary to
the development of sophisticated nuclear bombs. And in 1979 President Carter
provided Tel Aviv ultra-high resolution photos from the KH11 spy satellite,
which were used two years later to bomb the Iraqi Osirak reactor. Throughout
the Nixon and Carter administrations, and accelerating dramatically under
Reagan, U.S. advanced technology transfers to Israel continued and continue
to the present.
- THE VANUNU REVELATIONS Following the 1973 war, Israel
intensified its nuclear program, while continuing its policy of "nuclear
opaqueness." Until the mid-1980s most intelligence estimates of the
Israeli nuclear arsenal were of the order of two dozen, but the explosive
revelations of Mordechai Vanunu, a nuclear technician working in the Dimona
plutonium reprocessing plant, changed everything overnight.
- A leftist supporter of Palestinian rights, Vanunu believed
that it was his duty to humanity to expose Israel's nuclear program to
the world. He smuggled dozens of photos and valuable scientific data out
of Israel and in 1986 his story was published in London's Sunday Times.
- Rigorous scientific scrutiny of the Vanunu revelations
Led to the disclosure that Israel possessed as many as 200 highly sophisticated,
miniaturized thermonuclear bombs. His information indicated that the Dimona
reactor's capacity had been expanded manifold, and that Israel was producing
1.2 kilograms of plutonium a week, enough to make 10 to 12 bombs per year,
and that it was producing advanced thermonuclear weapons.
- Seymour Hersh, an investigative journalist and scholar
on U.S. intelligence, commenting on the Vanunu data said: "The scope
of this is much more extensive than we thought. This is an enormous operation."
- Just prior to the publication, Vanunu was Lured to Rome
by an Israeli-American Mossad "Mata Hari", and was beaten, drugged
and kidnapped to Israel. following a campaign of disinformation and vilification
in the Israeli press, Vanunu was convicted of treason by a secret security
court and sentenced to 18 years in prison. He served over 12 years in solitary
confinement in a 6 by 9 foot cell, according to Amnesty International,
the longest known modern solitary imprisonment.
- After a year of modified release to the general prison
population-he was not permitted contact with Arabs-Vanunu has been from
the year 2000 subject to punishment spells in solitary and faces more than
three years' further imprisonment. The Vanuatu revelations were largely
ignored by the world press, especially in the United States, and Israel
continues to enjoy a free ride regarding its nuclear status.
- CRUISE CONTROL There is little doubt that Israeli nukes
are among the world's most sophisticated and are largely designed for "war
fighting" in the Middle East.
- A staple of the Israeli nuclear arsenal are neutron bombs,
miniaturized thermonuclear bombs designed to maximize deadly gamma radiation
while minimizing blast effects and long-term radiation-in essence designed
to kill people while Leaving property intact. Weapons include ballistic
missiles and bombers capable of reaching Moscow, cruise missiles, Land
mines-in the 1980s Israel planted nuclear Land mines along the Golan Heights-and
artillery shells with a range of 45 miles.
- The Sunday Times (London) reported in June 2000 that
an Israeli submarine had launched a cruise missile, hitting a target 950
miles away. Israel had become only the third nation after the U.S. and
Russia with this capability. It will deploy this year three of these virtually
impregnable submarines, each carrying four cruise missiles. The nuclear
bombs themselves range in size from "city busters" Larger than
the Hiroshima bomb to tactical mini-nukes. Regardless of its size and scope-
and it would be a serious mistake to underestimate Israeli capabilities-
the Israeli arsenal of weapons of mass destruction clearly dwarfs the actual
or potential arsenals of all other Middle Eastern states combined, and
is vastly greater than any reasonable need for "deterrence."
- Israel also possesses a comprehensive arsenal of chemical
and biological weapons. According to the Sunday Times, Israel has produced
both chemical and biological weapons with a sophisticated delivery system.
A senior Israeli intelligence official acknowledged: "There is hardly
a single known or unknown form of chemical or biological weapon... which
is not manufactured at the Nes Tziyona Biological Institute.'' The same
report described F-16 fighter jets specially designed for chemical and
biological weapon payloads, with crews trained to Load the weapons on a
- In 1998, the Sunday Times reported that Israel, using
research obtained from South Africa, was developing an "ethno-bomb."
"In developing their ethno-bomb,' Israeli scientists are trying to
exploit medical advances by identifying a distinctive gene carried by some
Arabs, then create a genetically modified bacterium or virus... The scientists
are trying to engineer deadly micro-organisms that attack only those bearing
the distinctive genes."
- Dedi Zucker, a Leftist Member of Knesset, the Israeli
parliament, denounced the research saying: "Morally, based on our
history, and our tradition and our experience, such a weapon is monstrous
and should be denied."
- NUCLEAR AGGRESSION In popular imagination, the Israeli
bomb is a weapon of last resort, to be used only at the Last minute to
avoid annihilation. This strategy, described by U.S. journalist Seymour
Hersh as the "Samson Option," is backed by many supporters of
- Whatever truth this formulation may have had in the minds
of the early Israeli nuclear strategists, today the Israeli nuclear arsenal
is inextricably linked to and integrated with overall Israeli military
and political strategy. As Seymour Hersh says in classic understatement:
"The Samson Option is no Longer the only nuclear option available
to Israel.'' Israel has made countless veiled nuclear threats against the
Arab nations and against the Soviet Union and by extension Russia since
the official end of the Cold War. One chilling example comes from Ariel
Sharon, now the Israeli Prime Minister: "Arabs may have the oil, but
we have the matches."
- In another example, Israeli nuclear expert Oded Brosh
said in 1992, "...we need not be ashamed that the nuclear option is
a major instrumentality of our defense as a deterrent against those who
- Israeli academic Israel Shahak commented in 1997: "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: "Israel is preparing for a war,
nuclear if need be, for the sake of averting domestic change not to its
Liking, if it occurs in some or any Middle Eastern states... Israel clearly
prepares... to use for the purpose all means available, including nuclear
- Israel uses its nuclear arsenal not just in the context
of deterrence or of direct war fighting, but in other more subtle but no
less important ways. For example, the possession of weapons of mass destruction
can be a powerful lever to maintain the status quo, or to influence events
to Israel's perceived advantage, such as to protect the so-called moderate
Arab states from internal insurrection, or to intervene in inter-Arab warfare.
- In Israeli strategic jargon this concept is called "non-conventional
compellence" and is exemplified by a 1962 quote from Shimon Peres:
"Acquiring a superior weapons system [read nuclear] would mean the
possibility of using it for complement purposes-that is forcing the other
side to accept Israeli political demands, which presumably include a demand
that the traditional status quo be accepted and a peace treaty signed."
- Robert Tucker asked plaintively in a 1975 Commentary
magazine article in defense of Israeli nukes: "What would prevent
Israel... from pursuing a hawkish policy employing a nuclear deterrent
to freeze the status quo?"
- Another major use of the Israeli bomb is to compel the
U.S. to act in Israel's favor, even when it runs counter to its own strategic
interests. As early as 1956 Francis Perrin, head of the French A-bomb project,
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 we will require you to help us; otherwise we will
use our nuclear bombs"'
- During the 1973 war, Israel used nuclear blackmail to
force Henry Kissinger and President Richard Nixon to airlift massive amounts
of military hardware to Israel. At that time the then Israeli Ambassador,
- Simcha Dinitz, is quoted as saying: "If a massive
airlift to Israel does not start immediately, then I will know that the
U.S. is reneging on its promises and... we will have to draw very serious
- One example of this scenario was spelled out in 1987
by Amos Rubin, economic adviser to then Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.
"If Left to its own Israel will have no choice but to fall back on
a riskier defense which will endanger itself and the world at Large...
To enable Israel to abstain from dependence on nuclear arms calls for $2
to $3 billion per year in U.S. aid." Since then Israel's nuclear arsenal
has expanded hugely, both quantitatively and qualitatively, while the U.S.
money spigots remain wide open.
- IMPLICATIONS It is clear Israel has no interest in peace
except that which is dictated on its own terms, and has absolutely no intention
of negotiating in good faith to curtail its nuclear program or discuss
seriously a nuclear-free Middle East.
- Israel Shahak notes: "Israel's insistence on the
independent use of its nuclear weapons can be seen as the foundation on
which Israeli grand strategy rests.'' Seymour Hersh says "the size
and sophistication of Israel's nuclear arsenal allows men such as Ariel
Sharon to dream of redrawing the map of the Middle East aided by the implicit
threat of nuclear force."
- There is an abundance of evidence to Lend credence to
this analysis. Ever Weizman, Israel's ex-President, said: "The nuclear
issue is gaining momentum [and the] next war will not be conventional."
- Ze'ev Shiff, an Israeli military expert writing in Ha'aretz,
said: "Whoever believes that Israel will ever sign the UN Convention
prohibiting the proliferation of nuclear weapons... is daydreaming."
And Munya Mardoch, Director of the Israeli Institute for the Development
of Weaponry, said in 1994: "The moral and political meaning of nuclear
weapons is that states which renounce their use are acquiescing to the
status of vassal states. All those states which feel satisfied with possessing
conventional weapons alone are fated to become vassal states."
- As Israeli society becomes more and more polarized, the
influence of the radical right becomes stronger. According to Shahak: "The
prospect of Gush Emunim, or some secular right-wing Israeli fanatics, or
some of the delerious Israeli Army generals, seizing control of Israeli
nuclear weapons... cannot be precluded... while Israeli Jewish society
undergoes a steady polarization, the Israeli security system increasingly
relies on the recruitment of cohorts from the ranks of the extreme right."
- During a future Middle Eastern war -not at all unlikely
given the ascension of Ariel Sharon, an unindicted war criminal with a
bloody record stretching from the massacre of Palestinian civilians at
Quibya in 1953 to the massacre of Palestinian civilians at Sabra and Shatila
in 1982, and beyond-the possible Israeli use of nuclear weapons should
not be discounted.
- Seymour Hersh warns: "should war break out in the
Middle East again... or should any Arab nation fire missiles against Israel,
as the Iraqis did, a nuclear escalation, once unthinkable except as a last
resort, would now be a strong probability."
- FLAWED STRATEGIES Many Middle East peace activists have
been reluctant to discuss, let alone challenge, the Israeli monopoly on
nuclear weapons in the region, leading to incomplete and uninformed analyses
and flawed action strategies.
- But placing the issue of Israeli weapons of mass destruction
directly on the table would have several salutary effects. First, it would
expose the primary destabilizing dynamic driving the Middle East arms race
and compelling the region's states to each seek their own "deterrent."
- Second, it would expose the grotesque double standard
which sees the U.S. and Europe on the one hand condemning Iraq, Syria and
North Korea for developing weapons of mass destruction, while simultaneously
protecting and enabling the principal culprit.
- Third, exposing Israel's nuclear strategy will help focus
international public attention, resulting in increased pressure to dismantle
its weapons of mass destruction and negotiate in good faith.
- Finally, a nuclear-free Israel could reasonably be expected
to result in a Nuclear-Free Middle East, making a comprehensive regional
peace agreement much more likely.
- Unless and until the world community confronts Israel
over its covert nuclear program, it is unlikely there will be any meaningful
resolution of the Israeli/Arab conflict, a fact that Israel is apparently
counting on as the Sharon era dawns.
- John Steinbach is a graduate of the University of Michigan
School of Natural Resources and the Environment. With his wife Louise Franklin-Ramirez,
he is the co-author of the map and database "Deadly Radiation Hazards
USA." He is active in the Washington, D.C.-area peace and justice