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A Danger Called Israel

By Gideon Spiro

11 April 2010

(On the occasion of President Obama’s conference for the reduction of nuclear arms)

Israel today is on the front line in the international campaign against the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran. Israel does not deny reports that it is conducting exercises with military aircraft, all of them US-made, with the objective of bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities. An Israeli military action would likely bring the region to the point of nuclear confrontation, the results of which would be a disaster for the whole world. At this stage the USA is trying to rein Israel in, and the government of Israel is hoping that the strong Jewish lobby in the US Congress will push the USA to military action against Iran in cooperation with Israel. The conservative Jewish lobby, known for its hawkishness, played a significant role in pushing the USA into invading Iraq, and now it hopes to achieve a similar result in Iran. The election to the US Presidency of Barack Obama, who is to the left of his predecessor Bush, constituted a blow to the extreme right-wing government that is now ruling in Israel, and gave hope to the Israeli and international peace camp that the USA will not be dragged into another military adventure that would likely entail catastrophic results for the region and the world.

Israel’s official policy on the nuclear issue since the 1950s, when the nuclear reactor was built at Dimona in southern Israel, has been that “Israel will not be the first to introduce nuclear arms into the region,” but today that policy is a completely anachronistic. In the 1960s and 1970s, there were suspicions that Israel was developing nuclear arms, but there was no proof in the form of a “smoking gun”. In 1986 the technician Mordechai Vanunu, who had worked for years at the reactor in Dimona, revealed to the British newspaper the London Sunday Times what was going on within the facility’s walls, including photos from its deepest recesses, from which it became clear that already by the mid-1980s Israel was in possession of over a hundred atom bombs. Thirty-four years have passed since then, the reactor has been upgraded, production has continued, and today it is estimated that there are hundreds of atom and hydrogen bombs in Israel’s possession, as well as long-range Jericho missiles that can carry nuclear warheads.

To that must be added the production of chemical and biological weapons at the biological institute at Nes Ziona, not far from Tel Aviv.

In sum: Israel is a nuclear power whose arsenal surpasses that of China, the UK or France.

Israel has turned into a powder-keg of weapons of mass destruction, a Garden of Eden for Strangeloves of various kinds. There is no other country in the world where such a vast quantity of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons is stored in such a small territory.

Israel has pushed the Middle East into a nuclear arms race, and its policy was and still is to preserve its nuclear monopoly and to use its military power to prevent its neighbours from acquiring nuclear capability. Under the government of Menachem Begin in 1981, Israel bombed the nuclear reactor that was under construction in Iraq. Even though it was a French research reactor, the government of Israel decided that even a research reactor represents an unacceptable danger, and it was completely destroyed.

In 2007 the government of Israel under Ehud Olmert decided to bomb a nuclear facility in Syria which according to Israeli intelligence sources had been built by North Korea.

Iran is not Iraq or Syria, neither in terms of military armament nor of the extent of its nuclear facilities, and an Israeli bombardment of Iran would be likely to bring about the Armageddon.

Israel will not be able to retain its nuclear monopoly. It is only a matter of time until its neighbours also have nuclear arms, unless the world wakes up and ensures that the Middle East is turned into a zone free of weapons of mass destruction before it is too late.

Iran claims that it does not intend to produce nuclear weapons, but Israel also claimed that when it built the Dimona reactor, and official denials in that domain have to be taken with a great deal of skepticism. Nobody knows what Iran has and what it does not have. The elimination of Iran’s nuclear facilities, which are spread out over large areas, is beyond Israel’s military power. An Israeli military attack would perhaps succeed in postponing the production of an Iranian Bomb for a while, if it has such a plan, but it will also certainly create a new armed conflict the end of which no one can envision.

Israel is today ruled by a right-wing government, among the ministers of which there are more than a few religious fundamentalists and extreme nationalists who have proven in the past that they have itchy trigger-fingers. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Israel is no less dangerous than Ahmadinejad’s Iran. The most effective way to avoid disaster in the Middle East is to divest all states in the region of nuclear arms, and the process must start with Israel, for it is Israel that introduced those arms into the region. That has to be the most urgent mission of the USA and the European community, Israel’s allies.

Construction of the nuclear reactor at Dimona began in the 1950s, with the help of France.

The reactor was conceived as a result of Israel’s support for the colonial war that France waged in Algeria. It was built as an expression of France’s gratitude for that support.

In 1960 Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion announced the construction of the reactor with a brief statement in the Knesset, and indicated that it was a research reactor for peaceful purposes which would be open to scientists from all over the world. Already then it was clear that this was a deception, and that the reactor was intended for military purposes.

When American spy planes discovered the construction at Dimona during the Kennedy Administration, the American government tried to prevent it from being activated. The US sent experts to inspect the site, but Israel succeeded in misleading them. Today it is clear that President Kennedy’s fear that the reactor would provoke a nuclear arms race in the region was justified.

After the June 1967 war the alliance between the US and Israel became closer. The US became Israel’s main arms supplier. Prime Minister Levi Eshkol (1967-1969) came to an understanding with President Lyndon Johnson on the nuclear issue, the essence of which was that the Administration would turn a blind eye in return for an Israeli declaration that Israel would not be the first to introduce nuclear arms into the region. That agreement was reaffirmed at a meeting between Prime Minister Golda Meir (1967-1974) and President Richard Nixon. It permitted the USA to continue to give Israel economic and military aid. Thus the USA became a silent partner in and financier of Israel’s nuclear enterprise. After all, the operation of the reactor at Dimona and the whole nuclear weapons establishment costs a vast amount of money, estimated at a billion dollars a year. Without the American aid that today amounts to three billion dollars a year in grants and in the past has reached 4 billion, Israel could not finance the nuclear adventure. To that must be added 6 billion dollars in loan guarantees that the US government gave to Israel which permit Israel to receive loans on the international market. Add to that fundraising for Israel in the international Jewish community, another billion a year. And of course there are the payments from Germany, which cumulatively amount to billions. Only in that way could Israel finance its nuclear enterprise, a mighty army equipped with the most modern weapons and periodic wars, all while maintaining a European-level economy and standard of living.

At the foundation of the Israeli nuclear enterprise stands the Holocaust. Like many things in Israel, the Holocaust is pressed into service as a political weapon for current needs. It is a weapon that has proved to be very effective, both for getting money and aid and for blocking criticism of Israel.

The rationale at the base of acquiring the nuclear arsenal in the 1950s was that the Arabs aspired to destroy Israel and a doomsday weapon would deter them.

The picture that was drawn then was of Israel as the small David facing a mighty Arab world, the Goliath that wanted to annihilate us.

Over fifty years have passed since then, and it has become clear that the military Goliath in the region is none other than little Israel. Israel, which has the most modern army in the Middle East, equipped with the best the American Power can provide, and which has been ruling over the Palestinian people for over 40 years now and has initiated several wars, has become the Sparta of the Middle East. The only war in which Israel sustained a serious blow was the Yom Kippur War in 1973, but even then Israel’s existence was not in danger. The occupation of Israel was not part of the plans of the armies of Egypt and Syria; their goal was to undermine the status quo of the Israeli Occupation after the June 1967 War (the Six-Day War, as we say in Hebrew), that was summed up in the arrogant statement of then Defence Minister Moshe Dayan, that “it is better to have Sharm al-Sheikh without peace than peace without Sharm al-Sheikh.” The achievements of the Egyptian army in the Yom Kippur war paved the way for the peace accord with Egypt, which entailed Israel’s returning of the whole of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt, right down to the last millimetre.

Israel’s nuclear arsenal is the object of nearly the last remaining Zionist consensus from Left to Right. Over 90 per cent of Israel’s citizens support Israel’s possession of nuclear arms, and accept the thesis that it is intended to defend Israel from destruction. Jewish Israelis’ perception of themselves as the ultimate eternal victims can be called the Israeli national hobby.

Those in Israel who oppose Israel’s nuclear possession of nuclear weapons are very few, and they are considered naןve at best and traitors at worst.

As we have seen, Israel’s official policy has not changed, and President Shimon Peres, one of the fathers of the Dimona plant, has said more than once that when full peace and friendly relations prevail between Israel and the entire Arab world, then it will also be possible to speak about the disarmament of the region.

In other words, Peres says Israel will not give up its nuclear weapons as long as the Messiah has not yet come, and with that he is speaking for the overwhelming majority of Jews in Israel.

The rationale of opponents of nuclear weapons, especially members and sympathizers of the Israeli Committee for a Middle East Free of Nuclear, Biological and Chemical weapons, is as follows:

Israel is not faced with danger of destruction. That allegation is a cynical attempt to play on fears and traumas from the period of the Holocaust. There is no danger of destruction, both because Israel is the strongest military power in the region on the basis of its conventional armament, and also because no Arab state today aspires to destroy Israel. Israel’s conventional army in Israel is strong enough for Israel’s needs – unless Israel is planning to establish control over additional areas in the Middle East.

Even Iran never threatened to destroy Israel or to attack it. Meanwhile it is only Israel that is speaking about a military attack on Iran. The Iranian president’s denial of the Holocaust is definitely worthy of condemnation, but so is Israel’s collaboration with Turkey in the denial of the Armenian holocaust.

Israel’s arsenal of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons presents the country with problems both externally and internally:

There are no “responsible hands” when it comes to nuclear weapons. The most responsible hands are those that do not have the option of pushing the nuclear button. Its very existence of it is an incentive to use it. Its use could occur under a number of circumstances: an incorrect reading of the adversary’s intentions, adventurousness on the part of irresponsible leaders or an erroneous evaluation of the situation on the battlefield (as nearly happened during the Yom Kippur War, when aircraft carrying nuclear bombs stood by ready to take off).

Internally the dangers are no less: the reactor sits in the Great Rift Valley, which is prone to earthquakes. All the experts agree that it is only a matter of time until an earthquake strikes the area. What we do not know is how strong it will be. An earthquake that is 8 or 9 on the Richter scale would break the reactor and create a radioactive cloud that would render at least half of Israel unfit for human habitation, if not all of it. The nuclear waste that has been accumulating for decades now, and the methods being used for the disposal of which are unknown to us, endangers the soil and the water table. And of course there is the danger of a nuclear disaster of the type that occurred at Chernobyl, whether as a result of human error or technological failure. In the city of Dimona, which is not far from the reactor, there are already a growing number of cancer patients, and the State authorities refuse seriously to investigate any connection to the reactor.

As well, Israeli citizens face similar dangers from the Biological Institute in Nes Ziona, where means of biological warfare are researched and developed. A disaster at the Institute could release into the air incurable diseases that could cause terrible epidemics.

Regarding Israel’s nuclear arsenal, Germany unfortunately plays a negative role under the guise of aid and assistance, against the background of Israel’s playing on feelings of guilt connected to the Holocaust. Germany has provided Israel with super-modern submarines that carry missiles with nuclear warheads. Those submarines, which cost hundreds of millions of dollars, were given to Israel for free, all of course in the name of compensation for the horrors of the Holocaust. Thus is created the absurd paradox that in the name of the first Holocaust, Germany is helping to bring about a new holocaust – a nuclear holocaust. This is a debasing of the lessons of the Holocaust. The lessons of the Holocaust are embodied in the struggle against racism and violations of human rights and not in support for a state that violates them and not in arming that state with weapons of mass destruction.

Israel is not a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and therefore the agency in Vienna has no capacity to monitor it.

We must demand that the international community stop discriminating in favour of Israel and treat it as what it is: one of the actors that is endangering the peace of the world today. Israel’s possession of nuclear arms encourages its neighbours to seek nuclear arms of their own. It is hard to exaggerate the danger that entails, in a region where so many leaders, both in Israel and its neighbours, claim to have a direct line to the Almighty. The campaign against Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons is a worthy one, but it will be a lot more efficacious and just if it is done in the context of a campaign to create a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, which of course will include Israel.

We must demand that Israel sign the Nonproliferation Treaty and open the Dimona reactor to international inspection, as preliminary regional confidence-building measures.

Only true friends will make such demands, and stick with them even if Israel howls and screams “anti-Semitism!” The time has come to stop getting excited at the manipulative way official Israel uses that issue. Only thus can Israel’s security be ensured in the long run, as well as that of its neighbours.

I cannot end this piece without demanding that Israel stop its persecution of the prisoner of conscience and alternative Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mordechai Vanunu, the man who exposed Israel’s nuclear arsenal and for that sat in prison for 18 years. He was not broken and continues to be committed to the noble idea of a world free of weapons of mass destruction. The man has served out his entire sentence and he should now be permitted to leave Israel and live his life in a place of his choosing.

Translated from Hebrew for Occupation Magazine by George Malent.