According to the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Israel is the fifth largest nuclear power in the world. The CIA estimates Israel’s nuclear weapons to number between 200 and 400. According to published research on Israel’s nuclear program, Israel’s arsenal enables it to “obliterate all imaginable targets in most Arab countries.” Furthermore, a 1993 official report to the U.S. Congress states that Israel has “undeclared offensive chemical warfare capabilities” and is “generally reported as having an undeclared offensive biological warfare program.” Yet despite Israel’s nuclear might, polls have shown that only 18.3 percent of Israelis have a sense of national security. Moreover, one in four Israelis believe that the country should give up its nuclear arsenal.
On the international level, there has been continuous apprehension over Israel’s “alleged” nuclear program. Israel has purposely remained ambiguous about its nuclear program, maintaining that it would not be the first to “introduce” nuclear weapons in the region. Successive U.S. governments have refused to raise the issue with Israel and have remained silent as international demands on Israel to tell the truth increase.
But with the growing tensions in the Middle East and the Bush administration’s “crusade” to rid the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction, can the United States justify its insistence that Iran, Libya and Syria allow inspections while allowing Israel to disregard international inspections?
Revealing the Secret – Mordechai Vanunu:
Details of Israel’s secret nuclear program were brought to light 18 years ago by Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli scientist at Israel’s top-secret Dimona reactor. Vanunu, who has served 17 years in an Israeli prison–”11 of which were in harsh solitary confinement–”took photographs of the sensitive areas of the reactor complex and smuggled them to the United Kingdom were they were published in the London Sunday Times. The revelations were the first confirmation that Israel had an extensive nuclear program. Vanunu’s scheduled release in less than three months is sure to spark speculation over whether the whistle-blower still holds secrets that would add to international apprehension over Israel’s nuclear program.
The Israeli nuclear program is rarely discussed in the United States, and less so in Israel. The United Nations General Assembly and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) General Conference have adopted 13 resolutions since 1987 appealing to Israel to join the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. With the resolutions being non-binding, Israel has ignored them.
The United States, United Nations, and Israel’s Weapons:
In May 1963, U.S. President John F. Kennedy told then-Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion that the Dimona reactor “seriously jeopardized U.S.-Israeli relations.” According to published materials, it was clear to the United States that Israel was building an atomic bomb to the “vexation of Kennedy, for whom nuclear non-proliferation was a touchstone.” However, the Israelis were “splendidly” evasive on the subject, setting off a flurry of diplomatic activity with Washington demanding to inspect the site. Today, the United States carefully avoids addressing Israel’s nuclear program and whether it is in favor of international inspections of Israel’s nuclear stockpile. When asked specifically about Israel, U.S. officials simply reiterate that the United States “has a long-standing position of universal adherence to the treaty on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.”
Most disconcerting however, is the Bush administration’s relentless approach on nuclear and chemical weapons in Iran and Libya, even Syria, while it refuses to raise the issue with Israel. Israel’s nuclear program has advanced rapidly since its initiation in the 1950s. Today, Israel is capable of launching a nuclear attack by air, land and sea with its Dolphin Class submarines from Germany specifically equipped with modified cruise missiles. The German submarines are said to be the most advanced diesel submarines in the world with only the United States capable of destroying them.
Representatives of the United Nations have also expressed concern over Israel’s nuclear program. In late 2003, Mohammed Al Baradei told Israel’s Haaretz newspaper that he believed Israel had nuclear weapons and that the stockpile should be eliminated in order to promote peace in the Middle East. He stressed that Israel has never tried to deny or disprove the assumption that it has nuclear capability.
Nuclear Weapons or Peace:
The most puzzling decision has been the Bush administration’s lukewarm reaction, to put it mildly, to Syria’s recent proposal at the United Nations Security Council to make the Middle East an area free of weapons of mass destruction. The Syrian proposal also included a call for all countries in the Middle East to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty. To this day, Israel remains the only country in the region that has yet to subscribe to this international accord.
Israel’s continued disregard of international inspections will continue to drive countries in the region to acquire chemical and biological weapons, if not nuclear arms. Efforts to reach a stable and lasting peace between countries that rely on having superior arms for leverage on the negotiating table will fail. The best way to avoid calamity may be in linking nuclear non-proliferation with an all-encompassing Middle East settlement.