Nuclear Arms Writer Advised Not to Visit

Article excerpt

JERUSALEM - Lawyers are advising a Washington-area researcher not to visit Israel because of a book he published detailing the political history of the nation's nuclear weapons program.

The issue is raising questions about the state of democracy in a country where even the smallest details of the nuclear program are kept secret from the people whose taxes support it - Israelis.

Avner Cohen, a Maryland-based historian whose book "Israel and the Bomb" appeared in Israel this month, bases his work only on declassified Israeli and American documents and extensive interviews.

He does not describe the Israeli arsenal. He gives away no technical secrets and, according to Israeli experts involved in the nuclear program, he in no way compromises Israeli security.

Yet the issue is so sensitive in Israel that police filed one case against Mr. Cohen, dropping it only after an investigation. Attorneys for the historian now have advised him to cancel a visit to promote the book for fear the case could be reopened without notice.

"I spoke to various officials here, and my conclusion was that he should not come for now," said Mibi Moser, the author's Israeli attorney.

For more than 40 years, Israel has kept its nuclear secrets from the world, afraid that coming clean about its atomic arsenal would invite U.S. pressure to join the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and encourage Arab countries to get their own bombs.

"Because of the total censorship, no factual information whatsoever is available on any aspect . . . environmental, safety, doctrine, any aspect is virtually unavailable," Mr. Cohen said in a telephone interview.

One of the most unsettling aspects of Israel's nuclear secrecy is the matter of location. Where in this undersized and overcrowded country are the bombs stored? Where is the nuclear waste buried? Whose communities are downwind from what might be an outdated nuclear facility?

For years, Israelis heard about their nuclear stockpile from reports abroad, including a meticulous description of the Dimona bomb factory by Israeli nuclear technician-turned-whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, spread over the pages of the London Times. …