Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israel's Nuclear Weapons: Changing the Subject of Debate

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israel's Nuclear Weapons: Changing the Subject of Debate

Article excerpt

Israel's Nuclear Weapons: Changing the Subject of Debate

By Israel Shahak

In the present situation, when U.S. support for Israel is so great, there is absolutely no hope that Israel will sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. There is even less hope for the demand for Israel's de-nuclearization.

Let us recall that when this demand was raised only a year ago in the spring of 1995, Israel had the full support of the United States against Egypt. The latter, whose $2 billion of economic aid depends on the support of "the Jewish lobby" in the U.S. Congress, had to stop its opposition to the Israeli nuclear monopoly in the Middle East.

So what, in this admittedly bad situation, can be done? My answer is that for the time being, instead of demanding the impossible, let us initiate a debate about the possible uses of Israeli nuclear weapons in the Middle East.

Officially, Israel neither admits nor denies possession of nuclear weapons. But unofficially it claims that its nuclear weapons will be used only as a last resort if it is faced by an assault from a large coalition of Arab states which would threaten its very existence.

Let us debate this claim.

Is such a coalition of Arab states now possible? Perhaps Israel, as is so often proclaimed by U.S. presidents and other officials, has such a qualitative superiority over all Arab states in non-conventional weapons that its existence or even security are not in any danger. If so, are its nuclear weapons intended for quite different aims?

Let me quote in this context from an article by Amir Oren in Ha'aretz of Dec. 27, 1995, who discusses "the principles but also the build-up" of Israeli nuclear weapons. He says, in a seemingly neutral way because of the limitations imposed by Israeli military censorship: "It is not necessary to be a partner to the secrets in order to question whether a state which has nuclear power intends to use it under certain circumstances, including in battle. It is important to question whether certain nuclear states which accumulate nuclear bombs and missiles do this for no apparent reason or whether they calculate the number of the bombs in their possession according to the number of enemy targets, as shown by various strategic plans."

In my interpretation, the seemingly vague expression "a state" applies to the state of Israel. Under the present circumstances we should say, "O.K. Israel has nuclear power and we cannot oppose this fact because of the U.S. support. But will Israel be prepared to give an undertaking not to use those weapons, either offensively against any state (Iran for example), or to protect another state?"

Where does the money for the Israeli nuclear project come from?

The last possibility is by no means a theoretical one. Ze'ev Schiff, one of the respected correspondents of the Hebrew press for strategic and military affairs, reporting from Qatar where he was on a visit, wrote in the Jan. 31 Ha'aretz that some strategic experts of the Gulf states, especially of Kuwait, proposed "an alliance between the Gulf states and Israel" on condition that "Israel should finalize its peace arrangements with Syria" first. The purpose of such an alliance is to use an "Israeli nuclear umbrella" to secure the Gulf states against Iran and Iraq.

Schiff wrote that he interviewed a British admiral who happened to be in Qatar "who analyzed the possibilities for the security of the Gulf area in the future. I asked him with astonishment, why, in his view, the Gulf states were not secure with the large American umbrella? …

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