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The Threat Posed by Israels Nuclear Capacity


The following is an excerpt from an article written by an American Jew - Dr. Edna Homa Hun - a fifth-generation member of a Jewish family from Palestine, who is now an American citizen living in Massachusetts and Florida.

 

September marked 11 years since Mordechai Vanunu informed the world - via an interview published in the London Sunday Times - that Israel was producing nuclear weapons; confirmed that there was an atomic reactor in Dimona; and that there already existed in Israel a stockpile of at least 200 nuclear bombs.

Accounts of Vanunu's capture, so-called trial, and punishment are too well-known to bear repetition. However, his 18-year sentence and his banishment to an isolation cell in Ashkelon prison bear witness to Israel's nuclear reality, widely suspected within Israel itself (it is after all, a very small country) and recently, and briefly, discussed publicly in the July 30 issue of Israel's Hebrew daily Yediot Ahronot.

The article itself was written by Yediot's London correspondent, Modi Kreitman, and was based on the report written by American free-lance journalist Harold Hough for the September issue of Jane's Intelligence Review. Hough, a veteran writer for Jane's, is highly regarded as an expert in analyzing satellite photos, and for his wide-ranging sources of information. For the article, Hough was able to obtain extraordinarily good aerial photos of the missile base in Kfar Zachariah, several kilometers southeast of Tel Aviv.

In addition to the fact that the Yediot Ahronot article was the first fully public presentation in Israel of unequivocal information about the existence of Israeli nuclear weapons and the missiles for delivering them, one must ponder the subsequent silence about this weighty issue. It is as if someone telephones you with sensational news and, having spoken it, the line goes dead and you are left holding the soundless receiver! After the Yediot article and one further brief commentary in another daily -- the matter was shelved. No TV program took it up; no radio talk shows elicited listeners' views, reactions or questions. No questions were raised about the disposal of nuclear waste! The genie was pushed back into the bottle.

And there are the Kfar Zachariah nuclear bunkers within spitting distance of Tel Aviv's southeastern suburbs, vulnerable to attack, and the air force base at Tel Nof upwind from north Tel Aviv beaches. Yet public discussion is non-existent, or strangled.

In a tangential connection (the presentation in Tel Aviv of the one-actor play on the life and imprisonment of Mordechai Vanunu), Israeli columnist Meir Stiglitz wrote on July 14, 1997: "Israel is the only Western democracy possessing 'nuclear capacity' in which nuclear policy is effectively left out of public discourse. Those who are known as the country's leading intellectuals have chosen to abdicate and leave this issue almost entirely in the hands of the defense and security establishment."

From the viewpoint of an American, the publication in Israel of an article about the Hough report in Jane's raises several questions. For example: Why was this report about Israel's nuclear bomb and missile arsenal published at all? And why now? Intriguing also is the insertion in the Yediot article of sketches depicting the storage bunkers, transporters and preparatory deployment, as well a map of Israel described as "the nuclear map of Israel", reproduced from the American book Critical Mass published in 1994 and from a 1996 issue of Jane's. But these visual aids did not appear in Hough's Jane's article which only included a few satellite photos of the Kfar Zachariah area.

The Yediot article appears under an enormous banner headline signaling its importance: "THE ATOMIC WEAPONS ARE EXPOSED TO A HIT." This is the main theme both of the Hough report and the Yediot article about it. This information was meant to be seen!

Perhaps I am grasping at trivialities, but I am puzzled by the fact that the Yediot piece conceals the identity of the satellite that took the photos. Insistence on anonymity in this matter is explained as "not wanting to reveal the source of the information in order to avoid compromising it." But how can it be "compromised" when, in his Jane's article, Hough notes that the photos came from an Indian satellite?

Both articles recount Jonathan Pollard's contribution to Israel's nuclear program, although Yediot elaborates on it. Of course, in Israel Pollard is a hero. He spied for Israel and he provided it with U.S. radar-images of targets in the Arab countries and in the Soviet Union. These pictures were crucial, since they serve the guidance system of Israel's Jericho 2 missile, which became operational just at that time, in 1984 and 1985.

The Yediot article also reports Hough's speculation that quite surely the guidance system of Jericho 2 includes images of such targets as population and industrial centers in Libya, Syria, Iraq and Iran, and probably also the oil fields in Saudi Arabia and the cities of Dhahran and Riyad. Is that ever a warning!

In poignant contrast, not enough people in Israel, if any, have publicly acknowledged Vanunu's heroism, about which Shai Bar Ner of the Tel Aviv weekly remarked (in connection with the play "Mr. V"): "This is an attempt to look at ourselves as a nation through the story of a technician who decides that he is not willing to risk a Nuclear Holocaust [for the world]."

Another contrast between Pollard and Vanunu are their conditions of imprisonment: Vanunu has been held in isolation for 11 years now! Even during the once-a-month visit with a family member, no one is permitted to touch or embrace him! The severe, indeed inhumane, punishment imposed on Vanunu, because he is regarded as a traitor, is not the lot of Pollard, the traitor to America, who remarried while in prison. I am probably not the only Israeli-American who entertains the idea that the punishment of Vanunu owes its viciousness to his conversion to Christianity!

Hough's Focus and Message

From the satellite photos and his analysis, Hough judges there are at least 400 nuclear "devices" stored at Kfar Zachariah. On the assumption that they match the size of those in the U.S., each is equal to the Hiroshima bomb!

Some are of the kind to be dropped from aircraft; others constitute the warhead on Jericho 2 missiles. But there it is: a substantial nuclear arsenal of approximately 400 bombs - and counting.

Transcending the revelation about Israel's nuclear weapons is the crucial consideration that Hough addresses, namely, under what circumstances would they be used? That is where he issues a critical warning: Due to anxiety about potential damage to the storage facilities, or in response to a false alarm, Israel might hastily press the "red button" and launch a pre-emptive strike, rather than risk such damage.

During the Cold War both the Soviets and Americans experienced "false alarms". But they were willing to wait for verification. Both had the advantage of geographical size and a dispersed, well-protected nuclear arsenal. Nothing like that obtains in the case of Israel.

Built in the 1980s at the time of the Soviet threat, the Zachariah storage base was constructed with little above-ground protection. Nothing was placed in silos (as in the U.S. and U.S.S.R.) and bunkers are not hardened, or only minimally so. In fact, the storage facility is carved into a limestone cliff, probably in caves. Both missiles and their operators are inadequately secured.

With more than a hint of admonition, Hough makes the assessment that Israel's strategists prefer to invest in augmenting their arsenal, rather than protecting it. After all, today's threat, in Hough's words, "is no longer the Soviet Union but from a Third World country's missiles".

No More Make-Believe

Over the last decade or more, we have all been witness to the choreography of coy pseudo-denial, that fell far short of admission, so very deftly danced by Israel's Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin as they played musical chairs between prime minister, defense minister and foreign minister. The favorite mantra was: "Israel will not be the first to strike with a nuclear weapon." But always there was the steadfast refusal, invariably delivered in a huff, to even consider signing the international non-proliferation treaty (NPT).

What has consistently baffled me is the kid glove behavior toward Israel's nuclear arsenal by just about every government or non-governmental organization. On every occasion of which I have any knowledge, when countries possessing nuclear weaponry are exhorted to banish this scourge from the earth, Israel's weaponry is never mentioned. For example, the prospectus for a late October conference in Boston on "Organizing for a Nuclear Free Century of Peace" by "The New England Organizing Conference for Nuclear Weapons Abolition" assumes that only the U.S., Russia and China possess nuclear weapons!

Discussions of the dangers of open conflagration in the Israeli-Arab conflict invariably tiptoe around the Israeli nuclear peril. Better still, to distract attention, everyone is alerted to alleged Iranian endeavors to construct nuclear facilities, or to the unending U.N. efforts to ferret out yet another secret Iraqi cache of "weapons of mass destruction". The favorite potential nuclear "devil" remains Iran.

In an article in Yediot Ahronot of April 21, 1996, its very same London correspondent, Modi Kreitman, quoted a London Times interview in which an Israeli government spokesman is saying: "Israel is likely to bomb the Iranian nuclear reactor... if the Hezbollah attacks Jewish or Israeli targets abroad." The article was accompanied by a map showing the location of an Iranian reactor 170 kilometers northeast of Tehran in an area immediately adjacent to the southern shores of the Caspian Sea.

This is 1800 kilometers from Israel as the crow flies, but a bit longer using a flight-path across southern Turkey. There was further menacing hyperbole in the statements made in that Times interview, which can't be read without realizing that all the while Israel is adding more nuclear weapons to its arsenal.

In an Aug. 20 column in Yediot Ahronot, Meir Stieglitz also presented some trenchant "home truths". Loosely translated, he wrote:

(...)

"There is a widespread assessment that through growth and constant improvement, the Israeli air force (IAF) is the best in the region, and perhaps even beyond. A Jane's special report from February 1997 asserts that this air force "has transformed the balance of conventional military power in the region. The IAF can now shape future battlefields by interdicting Egyptian, Iraqi and other Arab reinforcements, and by freezing Syrian operational and strategic reserve ground units in place."

In addition to its nuclear arsenal, an expanding space-based surveillance system and a soon-to-become-operational anti-tactical ballistic missile, the "Arrow" (theoretically capable of protecting 85 percent of the Israeli population), "have transformed the Middle Eastern military balance and placed a finite limit on the ability of Arab States to overcome Israel".

On top of that the U.S. will increase its pre-positioned supply of weaponry in Israel to a value of approximately a half-billion dollars. The understanding, of course, is that these weapons remain the property of the U.S. They would be released to the Israeli army only "if the American administration is convinced that a situation of tension or open hostilities exists". (Ha'aretz, June 25 1997.)

It's a pity so few Americans are familiar with the legend of the "Golem", a monster created by a rabbi in Prague to defend his community from persecution, but which eventually ran out of control. It seems to me that in Israel, Americans inadvertently have created another "Golem", over which they, too, have long since lost control.





See also:

The BBC Film That Exposed Israel's Secret Illegal Nuclear Weapons (FULL Documentary)





"Israel's Secret Weapon" - Alternative version (if the other one is censored)

 


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