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INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS -
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Israel rated world’s sixth-largest nuclear power

Posted in the database on Thursday, May 11th, 2006 @ 17:32:58 MST (1407 views)
from Aljazeera.com  

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Mock-up of an Israeli Bomb (courtesy Mordechai Vanunu

History repeats itself: a Middle Eastern country launches its own nuclear program. The international community suspects it is a cover for building atomic weapons. The United States calls for the country’s nuclear sites to be inspected. Another government urges the country to scrap its nuclear plans. It is answered by defiant boasts that the nation's sovereignty will not be compromised.

The country in question is not Iran in 2006, but Israel in 1969. The current dispute over Iran's nuclear program has shocking parallels with the tensions sparked off by Israel’s attempts to acquire the nuclear bomb in the 60s. The only major difference is that the U.S. decided at the time not to curb the Israeli nuclear program. Recently declassified documents reveal that the Nixon administration reached a secret understanding with the Israelis in 1969 that allowed them to pursue their nuclear program as long as they maintain a policy of deliberate ambiguity.

In fact, this understanding paved the way for Israel, the 4th largest military power in the world, to be the only nuclear power in the Middle East and the world’s sixth country to acquire atomic weapons, a title its government has never admitted nor denied, according to an article on AFP. Despite its policy of ambiguity, Israel’s nuclear arsenal is estimated between 200 and 300 warheads. According to Eldridge, editor in chief of Jane's Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defense, this estimate "is based on the production capacity of the country's reactors.”

Meanwhile, the International Institute of Strategic Studies estimates the number of warheads that Israel possesses as being "up to 200". And the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a U.S. advocacy group co-founded by Ted Turner, the founder of CNN and a former senator, believes that Israel’s arsenal "is comparable in quality and quantity to that of France and the United Kingdom."

With French assistance, Israel built a nuclear weapons facility at Dimona in the Negev desert in 1958. The Dimona site has a plutonium/tritium production reactor, an underground chemical separation plant, and nuclear component fabrication facilities. In the early years of its nuclear program, Israel may have used French testing data to confirm its own weapon designs. Moreover, recently declassified British documents show that Britain helped Israel in making its nuclear bomb forty years ago, when it sold the Jewish state 20 tonnes of heavy water, a key substance for the production of atomic bombs. Experts suggest that the Israeli Defense Forces had their first nuclear weapons ready before the Six-Day War.

In 1986, Mordechai Vanunu, a former technician at Dimona, revealed to the media evidence that Israel possessed and produced nuclear weapons. At the time of Vanunu's arrest, The Times reported that Israel had material for approximately 20 hydrogen bombs and 200 fission bombs.

According to AFP, an unspecified number of ground-to-ground missiles, comprising short range Jericho 1 and medium range Jericho 2 missiles, forms Israel's strategic force. At the end of the 1990s, the Jewish state also acquired three diesel-powered, Dolphin-class submarines, capable of launching nuclear-armed cruise missiles. Moreover, the Washington Post recently reported that Israel has succeeded in modifying U.S.-made cruise missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads to be launched from submarines.

Unlike Iran and North Korea, Israel has never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, designed to prevent the global spread of nuclear weapons. As a result, it is not subject to inspections and the threat of sanctions by the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has repeatedly asked Israel to give up its secret nuclear arsenal to avoid an arms race in the Middle East.

U.S. intelligence agencies often omit Israel from semiannual reports to Congress identifying countries developing weapons of mass destruction to protect the Jewish state from any economic or military sanctions. On the other hand, the U.S. is leading an international campaign against Iran over its nuclear program, which Tehran insists is for generating power.

Israel also stepped up rhetoric against Iran. Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres warned on Monday that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called for Israel to be wiped off the map, should bear in mind that his own country could also be destroyed.

Although Peres didn’t say who should attack Iran, he implied that military action should be led by the U.S., pointing to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The U.S. is striving to get a UN Security Council resolution demanding the Islamic Republic to halt uranium enrichment activities. But the truth is that Tehran hasn’t violated the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or any other international obligations.

“Let me remind everybody that nothing Iran is accused of doing is illegal,” said Scott Ritter, the former UN weapons inspector who challenged the Bush administration's drive to Iraq War. “We’re condemning Iran for doing that which is permitted under a treaty which it has signed and entered into in force, and has UN inspectors on the ground verifying Iranian compliance.”

It is obvious that Israel, which already possesses nuclear weapons, poses danger to Middle East stability. The U.S.--the only nation to have ever used nuclear weapons against human beings-- should bear in mind this fact before it presses Tehran over its nuclear ambitions. Washington’s refusal to consider Iran’s proposal to make the Middle East a nuclear-free zone shows what all the U.S. hype about Iran’s nuclear program is really about. It simply doesn’t want to eliminate nuclear weapons in the Middle East as long as they remain in the hands of an ally.



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