ISRAEL: Washington backs Middle East's `nuclear outlaw' (2022)

March 24, 2004 -- “Everycivilised nation has a stake in preventing the spread of weapons ofmass destruction... We’re determined to confront those threats at thesource”, US President George Bush declared in a February 11 speech.

“Wewill stop these weapons from being acquired or built. We’ll block themfrom being transferred. We’ll prevent them from ever being used. Onesource of these weapons is dangerous and secretive regimes that buildweapons of mass destruction to intimidate their neighbours and forcetheir influence upon the world.”

Arguing for combative new “arms control” measures that wouldfurther entrench the West’s control over nuclear weapons, Bush casuallyrepeated the now thoroughly exposed lie that the US-led war againstIraq was launched because Baghdad “refused to disarm or account for ...illegal weapons and programs”.

Bush used the speech to signal that Iran remains inWashington’s gun-sights, alleging that Tehran “is unwilling to abandona uranium enrichment program capable of producing material for nuclearweapons”. Bush also demanded that North Korea “completely, verifiablyand irreversibly dismantle its nuclear programs”.

The February 11 speech marked a new high for hypocrisy andcynicism. It was prompted by embarrassing revelations that Washington’scloset ally, Pakistan, has been the world’s leading peddler of nuclearweapons technology for more than a decade — and its customers haveincluded Iran and North Korea. Until 2003, Washington tolerated theactivities of Pakistan’s state-sponsored nuclear smuggling and spyingrings.

US allies

Washington has never opposed“dangerous and secretive regimes” developing nuclear, chemical andbiological weapons “to intimidate their neighbours and force theirinfluence upon the world” — only those that are not US allies.

Saddam Hussein’s Iraq developed and used its chemicalweapons arsenal, and began an effort to build nuclear and biologicalweapons, while an ally of the US prior to 1991. Washington begannuclear cooperation with Iran in 1957 under its “Atoms for Peace”program and encouraged US corporations to sell “dual use” nucleartechnology to the US-backed Shah of Iran’s dictatorship.

But the most spectacular — and under-reported — example ofWashington’s support for nuclear proliferation is its dealings withIsrael.

The corporate press endlessly parrots US (and Israeli)charges that “weapons of mass destruction” in the hands of Iraq, Iran,Libya and Syria pose a grave threat to peace. However, Israel is the only state in the Middle East that possesses nuclear weapons and the delivery systems to use them anywhere in the region and beyond.

Israelis the only state in the Middle East that has considered using them,and the only state in the region that refuses to sign the NuclearNon-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). It refuses to allow internationalinspections of its nuclear, chemical or biological facilities. YetIsrael’s nuclear monopoly is rarely acknowledged by the capitalistmedia, and is persistently covered up by Washington.

Israel may well be the world’s fifth-largest nuclear power,ahead of Britain, and could even rival China for fourth place.Estimates of its stockpile range from 200 to more than 400 nuclearweapons, including medium- and long-range nuclear missiles,aircraft-mounted nuclear bombs and submarine-based nuclear cruisemissiles, as well as sophisticated low-blast, deadlyradiation-producing (“neutron bombs”) nuclear artillery shells and evennuclear land mines.

French role

According to a 1999 research paperprepared for the US Air Force Counterproliferation Center by US armyacademic Warner Farr, Israel began its quest for nuclear weapons soonafter its creation in 1948. In 1953, Israel’s Prime Minister DavidBen-Gurion ordered the development of nuclear and chemical weapons as acounter to the Arab countries’ larger armies.

In 1956, as quid pro quo for joining the French andBritish governments’ invasion of Egypt, France agreed to supply Israelwith a large “research” nuclear reactor. France and Israel secretlyagreed to pool their efforts to rapidly develop nuclear weapons andassociated technologies, including uranium enrichment and plutoniumseparation.

A reactor and related facilities were secretly builtunderground at Dimona, in the Negev Desert near Beersheba, using thecover story that it was a “manganese plant”. Hundreds of Frenchtechnicians helped build it.

Ben-Gurion appeared before the Knesset on December 21, 1960,and lied to the world when he stated the reactor was being built“entirely for peaceful purposes”. As Farr notes, the facility’s solepurpose was to produce nuclear bombs.

The Dimona reactor began operation in 1962. The French-builtplutonium plant within the complex began production in 1965. On the eveof the 1967 “Six-Day War”, Israel had enough plutonium to produce atleast one working nuclear bomb. According to journalist Seymour Hersh,in his 1991 book The Samson Option, after 1968 Israel was producing nuclear bombs at the rate of three to five bombs a year.

However, in 1986, the British Sunday Timespublished an expert examination of data supplied by former Dimonatechnician Mordechai Vanunu. It revealed that Israel possessed 200highly sophisticated nuclear bombs. It was estimated that Israel wasproducing enough plutonium to make 10 to 12 bombs a year. (By the timeVanunu’s revelations were published, Israeli agents had lured him toRome, where he was drugged and shanghaied to Israel. He was secretlytried and condemned to 18 years’ jail, most of which has been spent insolitary confinement. He is due to be released in April.)

US collusion

While Washington was not Israel’smain collaborator in its first acquisition of nuclear weapons, it madea significant contribution, which has expanded over the years. Israel’soriginal nuclear scientists and technicians were trained in USuniversities and government weapons labs. This cooperation continues tothis day.

In 1955, the US supplied Israel’s Nahal Sorek researchreactor, which began operation in 1960 under the Atoms for Peaceprogram. Farr notes that there is evidence that Israel had access todata from US nuclear tests in the 1950s and ‘60s.

On March 7, Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reportedthat the US provided at least six tonnes of weapons-grade uranium underAtoms for Peace. Considering Israel’s chronic shortage of uranium inthe early years of its weapons program, some of this prized materialalmost certainly was diverted to Dimona. The US also supplied Israelwith heavy water.

According to British Sunday Times reporter Peter Hounam’s 1999 book, Woman From Mossad: The Torment of Mordechai Vanunu,Dimona’s control panels were supplied by Tracer Lab, the company thatoutfits US military reactors, with the knowledge of US intelligenceagencies.

Hersh revealed that US President Richard Nixon’sadministration in 1971 approved the sale to Israel of hundreds ofkryptons, high-speed switches used in nuclear weapons, andsupercomputers used in the design of nukes. Jane Hunter reported in theJune 24, 1994, Middle East International that US President George Bush senior’s regime sold at least 1500 nuclear “dual-use” items in Israel, in defiance of the NPT.

AsStephen Zunes of the liberal US Middle East Policy Council pointed outin a 1997 article: “Given the enormous costs of any nuclear program ofthe magnitude of Israel’s, it would have been very difficult ...without the tens of billions of dollars of direct and unrestrictedAmerican financial support. In effect, the United States has subsidisednuclear proliferation in the Middle East.”

However, Washington’s greatest assistance has been to useits political and diplomatic might to shield Israel from demands thatit give up its nuclear monopoly in the region. In his 1998 book, Israel and the Bomb,Avner Cohen, an Israeli working at George Washington University’sNational Security Archive, recounted US President John Kennedy's 1961meeting with Ben-Gurion in New York to express Washington’s concernthat, if news of Israel’s nuclear weapons program ever leaked, Arabstates might approach the Soviet Union for nuclear weapons.

However, Kennedy did not demand that Israel abandon itseffort, simply that Ben-Gurion agree that Israel will never admit inpublic that Israel was pursuing atomic weapons. Ben-Gurion agreed totoken annual “inspections” by US officials beginning in 1962. Inreturn, the US would not press Israel to disarm. This meant nodetectable nuclear tests and no public threats to use nuclear weapons.This arrangement formed the basis of Washington’s “don’t ask, don’ttell” policy in relation to Israel’s weapons of mass destruction, or“nuclear ambiguity” as it is referred to in Israel, which remains ineffect to this day.

`Apartheid’ bomb scandal

Washington evenpermitted the white supremacist regime in South Africa to acquirenuclear weapons with Israeli assistance. From 1967, Israel turned toapartheid South Africa for uranium for Dimona and access to secretfacilities to test nuclear weapons and nuclear-capable medium-rangemissiles. In return for this, and Israel’s busting of economicsanctions imposed on the pariah state, the racist regime was given the“apartheid bomb”.

Hersh detailed how US President Jimmy Carter’sadministration remained silent when US satellites in 1977 revealed thata nuclear test site was being jointly prepared in the Kalahari Desert.Two years later, on September 22, 1979, US satellites observed a jointIsraeli-South African nuclear explosion in the Indian Ocean. Washingtonkept silent about this disturbing atomic partnership.

In 1997, South Africa’s deputy foreign minister Aziz Pahadand apartheid-era military chief Constand Viljoen confirmed that theracist regime had accumulated six nuclear bombs via its dirty dealswith Israel. In an unprecedented speech, a member of Israel’s Knesset,Issam Makhoul, declared in 2000: “The crime of manufacturing nuclearweapons in Israel was combined with another crime, the collaborationbetween Israel and the neo-Nazi apartheid regime in South Africa.”

In 1981, Washington went even further to maintain Israel’snuclear monopoly in the Middle East by providing Tel Aviv withhigh-resolution photographs, enabling Iraq’s incomplete Osiraq nuclearreactor to be destroyed by Israel’s US-supplied fighter planes. Whilethe US publically criticised the attack, Hersh reports that in private“[US President Ronald Reagan] was very satisfied”.

A token ban on the delivery of more US jets to Israelimposed after the attack was lifted just two months later. The US Houseof Representatives passed a motion endorsing the Israeli aggression andcalled for the US to seek the repeal of UN Security Council motion 487,which had condemned the attack.

The December 26 Haaretz reported that “former USpresident Bill Clinton promised two [Israeli] prime ministers, BenjaminNetanyahu [in 1998] and Ehud Barak [in 1999], that the US would ensurethat Middle Eastern arms control initiatives did not impair Israel’sstrategic deterrence capabilities”.

For a nuclear-free Middle East

In Israel and the Bomb,Avner Cohen summed up the Israeli ruling class’ frightening attitudetowards fighting a nuclear war: “[Israel] must be in a position tothreaten another Hiroshima to prevent another holocaust.”

According to Farr, on October 8, 1973, Israeli PrimeMinister Golda Meir, placed Israel’s nuclear missiles and aircraft onalert during Israel’s war with Egypt and Syria. William Burrows andRobert Windrem, in their 1994 book Critical Mass, state that this was not the first time. They write that in 1967, two Israeli nuclear bombs were ready for use.

In1985, Israeli spy Jonathon Pollard was found to have supplied Israelwith US nuclear targeting data on the location of Soviet militarytargets and information on Soviet air defences. And during the 1991Gulf War, Israel’s nuclear weapons were primed and ready for launchthroughout the 43-day long conflict.

Supporters of Israel’s policy claim that it requires anuclear “deterrent” to dissuade attacks from the Arab and Muslimstates’ larger armies. However, Israel long ago achieved superiorityover its neighbours in terms of conventional arms thanks to decades ofmassive US military aid. More recently, apologists for Israel’s nuclearmight have rested their argument on the claim that Arab countries with“weapons of mass destruction” surround Israel.

However, this justification has been weakened by recentevents. It is now confirmed that Iraq totally destroyed all its weaponsof mass destruction at least 10 years ago. Libya has abandoned itsfeeble weapons programs and Iran has agreed to internationalinspections of its nuclear energy facilities, which the InternationalAtomic Energy Agency agrees are not part of a program to developnuclear weapons.

If anything, it is Israel’s massive arsenal of nuclear,chemical and biological weapons that drives nearby states to seek amilitary deterrent. This fact is recognised in Washington, according toa report in the April 17, 2003, Washington Post. Present andformer US intelligence officials told the newspaper that thedevelopment of Syria’s chemical weapons and Scud missiles were startedmore than 30 years ago as “a force equaliser with the Israelis”.

Arab and Muslim states have repeatedly urged Israel to jointhem in creating a WMD-free zone in the Middle East, but this has beenstymied by Tel Aviv and Washington. The 1991 UN Security Councilresolution under which the US justified its invasion of Iraq includedthe goal of “establishing in the Middle East a zone free from weaponsof mass destruction and all missiles for their delivery”. Washingtonhas not sought to implement that in relation to Israel.

Since 1987, Israel has ignored at least 14 resolutionspassed by the UN General Assembly and the IAEA General Conferencecalling on Israel to join the NPT. In December, the General Assemblypassed such a resolution by a vote of 164-4, with 10 abstentions.

In December, Syria asked that a draft resolution bediscussed by the UN Security Council calling for the implementation ofprevious resolutions “aimed at freeing the Middle East region of allweapons of mass destruction” and urging all Middle East states to signinternational treaties forbidding the spread of WMD. The US andBritain, permanent members of the Security Council with veto power,disregarded Syria’s request.

“We have been pursuing this for years because we believeit’s the only solution for the Middle East to be truly peaceful andstable”, Syrian government minister Bouthaina Shaaban told the December29 Christian Science Monitor.

“If the US decides... to take a leading role in the Middle East and treats countriesfairly, and the UN takes a strong role, then I don’t see why Israelshould not give up its nuclear weapons. It’s up to the internationalcommunity now to say what’s right.”

There is even support for such a zone in the Israeli Knesset. Haaretzreported on December 26 that United Tora Judaism MP Meir Porush stunnedthe chamber when he declared: “The state of Israel should dismantle itsnuclear weaponry like Libya is doing.”

However, despite the mounting pressure, Israel’s rulers haveno intention of giving up their nuclear monopoly. Prime Minister ArielSharon told the daily Maariv newspaper in October that Israelwill not dismantle its “special measures”: “Looking ahead, these thingsare very important... It is impossible to expect that the US willremain [in the Middle East] for ever.”

Nor does the US intend to give up its backing for the MiddleEast’s only nuclear outlaw and key strategic ally in the region. A“senior American official” bluntly told the December 26 Haaretz: “I don’t think there will be a change in policy toward Israel in thenuclear field. The Arabs will raise the issue, and Israeli will need tofind a way to explain its policy. But we understand that as long asIsrael is facing Arab rejectionism from so many directions, the way todeal with this is via quiet discussions.”

As Jordan’s former UN ambassador Hasan Abu Nimah wrote in an article on the Electronic Intifada website on January 22, Israel’s nuclear monopoly and Washington’sunstinting backing for it have nothing to do with self defence.Washington and Tel Aviv are pressing for “the unilateral disarmament ofIsrael’s adversaries, not in order to make the region safer, but simplyto ensure continued Israeli military hegemony” of the oil-rich MiddleEast.

Stephen Zunes notes that “the primary concern of the United States is not the prospect of horizontal nuclear proliferation per se,but any challenge to its military hegemony in the post-Cold War world.With [US planners] moving away from the prospect of a major East-Westconfrontation to ones involving medium-intensity warfare against ThirdWorld regional powers, the desire for a nuclear monopoly by the majorpowers and certain allies like Israeli becomes all the more critical.”

From Green Left Weekly, March 24, 2004.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.

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