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The Forgotten Bomb in the Basement

Linda S. Heard

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The USA surely deserves our unending thanks for making our world a safer place. It dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to contain Japan, napalm and Agent Orange in Vietnam in its fight against ?Communism?, and ousted Afghanistan?s Taleban with the help of daisy cutters, bunker busters and cluster bombs. In Iraq it used cancer-engendering depleted uranium and non-precision cluster bombs leaving a trail of limbless children in their wake… but all in a good cause. Iraq had to be prevented from developing weapons of mass destruction and needed ridding of a dictator. After all, hadn?t Saddam ? like the British before him in Iraq ? used chemical weapons?

The United States of America, making the world safe for oil barons and those Iraqis not victim to depleted uranium poisoning.

The United States of America, making the world safe for oil barons and those Iraqis not victim to depleted uranium poisoning.

How churlish of us not to appreciate the Bush administration?s efforts in combating terror when we see Libya willingly discontinue its WMD programs and fall over itself to finger the Pakistani nuclear scientist who helped it with its nuclear aims.

It goes without saying, we should all be delighted Iran is opening up its nuclear facilities to inspections while Pakistan is being closely monitored by US intelligence agents scurrying around that country, not to mention the US troops on its soil. The Islamic world?s sole nuclear power is now cleverly contained.

So now we can all sleep well at nights secure in the knowledge our futures lie in the capable hands of Uncle Sam… or can we? Hang on! Haven?t we forgotten something? What about that tiny country, run by that peaceful chap Ariel Sharon who once said: “The Arabs may have the oil, but we have the matches”.

How right he was. Israel is now the only country in the region, which has nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. But as far as the US administration goes, that?s OK because Israel is the only democracy in the Mideast and shares American values. Never mind that Sharon was held indirectly responsible by an Israeli commission for the massacres at Sabra and Shatilla; that he is currently penning the Palestinians into an open-air prison and let?s ignore the fact he?s being investigated for corruption over “the Greek Island” affair. Here is a man who can be trusted not to press the lethal button.

In what way is it safe to leave a state, at war since its inception, with the world's third or fourth largest arsenal of weapons of mass destruction?

In what way is it safe to leave a state, at war since its inception, with the world’s third or fourth largest arsenal of weapons of mass destruction?

On the other hand, the US and Britain accused Saddam Hussein of being deceitful over his weapons programs and ignoring UN resolutions but never does Israel?s duplicity come under the spotlight or the flouting by Israel of international norms and treaties. Israel doesn?t officially admit it has WMD and, thus, would never contemplate allowing the IAEA, the nuclear watchdog, through its Dimona doors. Isn?t there something wrong with this scenario?

Israel?s nuclear ambitions began with a lie in which France was heavily implicated. Indeed, French engineers constructed the Dimona reactor and plutonium-separation plants in the 1950s. Later on France supplied Israel with uranium from its African colonies. In official Israeli parlance the complex was “a manganese plant”. When aerial photos indicated otherwise then Israeli Prime Minister Ben-Gurion announced in December 1960 that a 24-megawatt reactor had been built for peaceful purposes. The US accepted this at face value and persuaded Israel to agree to inspections, which took place at various intervals until 1969. The problem was inspectors only got to see the upper floors as lifts going down to the hidden underground plutonium plant were sealed and camouflaged.

After 1967 France was no longer able or willing to supply Israel with uranium yellowcake, so South Africa stepped in to the breach. A Center for Non-proliferation Studies? report sets out four “clandestine nuclear deals” between Israel and South Africa related to yellowcake and tritium.

But that bastion of democratic principles and human rights, Israel would never actually use nuclear weapons, would it?

According to numerous reports Israel came close to using its nukes in the ?73 war. Time magazine reported the then Defense Minister Moshe Dayan as saying: “This is the end of the third temple” with “temple” being code for nuclear weapons. A story put out by the Israelis ? probably as a deterrent ? talks of nuclear missiles being pointed at Damascus and Cairo. Israel was also on nuclear alert during the 1991 Gulf War.

At some point the Americans chose to turn a blind eye to Israeli WMD, even though it received a wealth of information that Israel and South Africa were jointly carrying out nuclear tests in the ocean.

In 1986, Israel?s nuclear capabilities were outed by whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu, a technician who worked at Dimona. A man of conscience, while out of the country, Vanunu maintained the Israelis were producing some 40 kilograms of weapons grade plutonium each year. Israel?s response was to kidnap him, take him back to Israel and slap him in jail where he remains mostly incommunicado until now. Although he is due for release in April this year, he is to be prevented from traveling, publishing articles or giving interviews.

Although attempts to tell the world have been stifled, the facts about Israel's nuclear weapons programme has been available for decades.

Although attempts to tell the world have been stifled, the facts about Israel’s nuclear weapons programme has been available for decades.

According to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Israel today holds the world?s fifth largest stockpile of nuclear warheads, while a 1997 Jane?s Intelligence Review report suggests it has over 400 thermonuclear and nuclear weapons. On the chemical and biological weapons front, the Israeli Institute for Biological Research at Nes Ziona ? replaced by orange groves on aerial survey photographs and maps ? is where these lethal weapons are concocted ? the ones the Americans were certain of stumbling across in Iraq. In 1994, Le Nouvelle Observateur reported the Nes Ziona facility deals with the production of 43 non-conventional chemical and biological weapons.

As for delivery systems, Israel has Jericho missiles with ranges up to 1,500 km, while the Shavit satellite launch vehicle is capable of conversion into an intercontinental ballistic missile with a 7,800 km range.

And there we all were worried about Saddam Hussein!! While the Arabs are busy giving up any deterrents they may have had or dreamt of having and the US and Britain are patting them on the back for being good little boys, Israel must be laughing up its sleeve. The Arabs should wake up and smell the danger before it?s too late.

Published Tuesday, February 17th, 2004 - 11:36am GMT

Linda S. Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs, and can be contacted at

Article courtesy of Arab News

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