Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Will Israel Again Use Nuclear Leverage on U.S.?

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Will Israel Again Use Nuclear Leverage on U.S.?

Article excerpt

Nuclear specialist and longtime activist for Palestinian rights John Steinbach posed a frightening question at a July 29 luncheon briefing at Washington, DC's Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine. Is Israel prepared once again to threaten to use its nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction to gain special American support in the peace process?

According to Steinbach, who has studied this subject for more than two decades, in 1973 Israel's ambassador threatened to use nuclear weapons on Egypt if the United States did not immediately launch a massive airlift to save the rapidly disintegrating Israeli army in the Sinai. It worked then, Steinbach said, and one can easily imagine a scenario in which Israel, faced with having to give up all of "Judea and Samaria," quietly, behind the scenes, threatens the U.S. or its allies with the use of neutron, gamma ray bombs to eliminate the Palestinian population.

Technically, Israel has the proficiency to make such a neutron bomb, noted Steinbach, but there is no indication that the Bush administration has received any such threat from Israel.

Israel's nuclear weapons arsenal is currently estimated to consist of anywhere between 200 to 500 weapons and is arguably the third most sophisticated arsenal in the world. While the subject of nuclear weapons may only recently have become a hot topic in global relations discourse, he pointed out, nuclear weapons have been a part of Israel's strategic confrontation with the Arab world since the early 1950s.

The nuclear weapons project began with Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. In 1952, Ernst David Bergman gave life to Ben-Gurion's vision by creating the Israeli Atomic Energy Agency, designed both to innovate various sources of energy and to deal with the issue of national security and defense. During the 1950s, Israel went on to cultivate close ties with France regarding nuclear weapons, eventually signing a contract wherein France agreed to help develop the infrastructure of Israel's nuclear weapons project.

This infrastructure was more or less in place by 1965, leaving Israel with only one significant glitch in its project: much-needed access to uranium. As an initial attempt to overcome this difficulty, Israel raided Britain and France for uranium, in what became known as the Plumbat Affair. Searching for a more sustainable solution to its uranium problem, Israel then formed a partnership with apartheid South Africa at a critical point in the latter's history, when it had been ostracized by the rest of the international community for its apartheid regime. From this alliance, Israel received uranium, while-South Africa, in turn, benefited from trade relations with Israel at a time when it was under international economic sanctions.

On the eve of the 1967 war, a mere 10 days before attacking Egypt, Israel ordered the production of two atomic bombs. This signified the birth of a new concept: that of the Israeli nuclear deterrent, otherwise known as "the Samson option," or the weapon of last resort.

In 1986, Israeli whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu exposed Israel's nuclear weapons arsenal, revealing that Israel had 200 very advanced weapons, including thermonuclear and miniature weapons. After being kidnapped and returned to Israel, Vanunu was convicted of treason. After serving 11 years in solitary confinement, he only recently has been permitted into the general prisoner population. …

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