Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israel's Nuclear Weapons Strategy: Not for Discussion in English

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israel's Nuclear Weapons Strategy: Not for Discussion in English

Article excerpt

Israel's Nuclear Weapons Strategy: Not For Discussion in English

Although the revelations of Mordechai Vanunu have convinced the world that Israel already has considerable nuclear weapons capability, there are three resulting questions upon which the American media are reluctant to speculate. Does its possession of nuclear weapons underlie Israel's unwillingness to discuss compromises that would make possible peace with the Arab countries? Could Israel's nuclear weapons plant at Dimona become another Chernobyl? How far would Israel go militarily to prevent any Arab state from developing nuclear weapons? Whether Israel's U.S. media apologists like the answers or not, Israeli authorities and commentators in the Hebrew press have responded clearly to all three questions.

On April 17, 1992, Passover Eve, Israel's Deputy Chief of Staff, Gen. Amnon Shahak-Lipkin, was asked by Ma'ariv's Ya'akov Erez and Immanuel Rozen: "Assuming that nuclear weapons are introduced into the Middle East, isn't it time to change our attitudes toward nuclear realities and begin thinking about negotiations and secret diplomacy? Will we be always able to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons?"

The general's answer was remarkably negative: "It is never possible to talk to Iraq about anything; it is never possible to talk to Iran about anything, and certainly not about nuclear weapons. With Syria we cannot talk either. I don't agree that preventing or postponing [their acquisition of nuclear weapons] is not in our power. A postponement by one week may be crucial, while a postponement for 10 years would be magnificent. Today, not a single Arab state has a proven nuclear capability. I believe that the State of Israel should from now on use all its power and direct all its efforts to preventing nuclear development in any Arab state whatsoever."

Asked if his statement implied that Israel would use "violent means" to carry it out, the general replied: "In my opinion, all or most available means serving that purpose are legitimate."

The risks for the Middle East and beyond of the policies advocated by Shahak-Lipkin are obvious. Equally irresponsible is his reiteration, in the same interview, that keeping Saddam Hussain in power in Iraq is in Israel's best interest, a statement he had made on the last day of the Gulf war more than a year earlier. Asked if he considered "this opinion still correct," the general answered:

"As far as I am concerned, it would be preferable if Saddam Hussain had not been born. We tried to prevent his birth but we failed. Now we need to decide what to do. It would have been ideal for everybody if it were possible to change the character of the Iraqi regime, and its insane attitude of hostility toward the entire world. But in Iraq no change will ever be possible. Iraq will always remain the same, bent on defying the whole world.

The development of Israeli nuclear weapons is being paid for by the American public.

"True, it was helped by the entire world to become what it became. But since the Iraqi thinking can never change, a possible removal of Saddam Hussain alone can only lead to the emergence of another dictator who will smile nicely to the entire world. And the entire world, anxious to somehow compensate Iraq for hardships inflicted upon it, will help in its recovery and in restoration of its capabilities. Therefore, if I have to choose between a boycotted Iraq with Saddam and an Iraq without Saddam again supported by the entire world, then I opt for Saddam, because Saddam will never be helped by anyone."

Israeli custom commands the generals in active service to stop short of saying too much in such interviews, but it lets semiofficial experts or retired generals reveal Israeli strategic intentions to the nation's elite in a more informative manner. On the same day that General Shahak-Lipkin was interviewed, nuclear-weapons expert Oded Brosh published an article in Ha'aretz which, for the first time in the Hebrew press, openly discussed options for the actual use of Israeli nuclear weapons during a war. …

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