Israel: the real nuclear threat in the Middle East

Israel: the real nuclear threat in the Middle East
Comment: Israel has a secret nuclear arsenal, refuses inspections and lashes out at anyone who objects. It's time for that to change, says Lamis Andoni.
4 min read
03 Apr, 2015
Netanyahu refuses to talk about his own bombs [AFP]

While questions are raised by experts and world officials on whether the historic US-Iran nuclear deal will put an end to the Iranian "nuclear threat", there has been utter silence on Israel's possession of nuclear weapons.

The US has done everything to cover up Israel's nuclear programme to ensure its favourite ally's military superiority.

Now that the US has reached a deal with Iran that will at least "slow down" its nuclear programme, Israel can no longer claim Iran as "an existential threat" to its existence.

Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, angrily protests against the agreement because he knows it undermines these claims, which have for years allowed his country to get away with murder and evade pressure to join the Non-Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Over the last three decades international attention, and actions, have targeted Iran, Iraq and Syria, as Israel defied calls for international inspections of its nuclear capabilities.

Washington shielded Israel from the scrutiny as it invaded Iraq "to destroy its weapons of mass destruction", which didn't exist, and imposed sanctions on Iran to prevent it from developing an arsenal.

Israel feels free to refuse international inspections of its nuclear facilities, arguing its refusal to sign the NPT strips the international community of any right to do so.

In 2010, Israel responded angrily to a call by all 189 NPT signatories, including the US, for a conference to be held 2012 to ban nuclear weapons in the Middle East.

     Since when does a country's refusal to abide by international treaties give it the green light to violate them?

Israel attacked as "flawed and distorted" the result of that conference - a planned statement to demand UN inspection of Israel's nuclear facilities.

The Israeli government said in a statement: "As a non-signatory state of the NPT, Israel is not obligated by the decisions of this conference, which has no authority over Israel."

What is flawed and distorted is that very Israeli logic: Since when does a country's refusal to abide by international treaties give it the green light to violate them?

With US protection and the international community's failure and silence, Israel continues to refuse to join the NPT, and uses it as an excuse for its self-entitled impunity.

And that US protection is confirmed time and again; in 2010 the US president Barack Obama reneged on his initial call on all countries, without exception, to join the NPT, and slammed the efforts of signatories for "singling out Israel".

Hidden in the desert

Leaks in the 1960s formed a picture of Israel's developing nuclear programme but it wasn't until 1986 that more detailed information emerged.

Mordechai Vananu, a young Israeli nuclear technician, stunned the world when he provided unprecedented details complete with photos to the Sunday Times of London.

Shortly after, Vanunu was abducted by Mossad agents in Italy, taken back to Israel and sentenced to 18 years in jail, including long spells in solitary confinement.

When I finally met Vanunu in a coffee shop in 2006 in East Jerusalem he looked a very tired man, having been ostricised by most of Israeli society. But he was not broken. He told me, as he tells all who meet him, that he has pride, not regret, for what he did, but he did it to stop Israel's nuclear programme.

Since Vanunu's leaks, details have emerged of Israel's weapons, missiles and delivery systems. But the world continues to focus on and badger countries that are deemed "a threat" by Washington.

Western officials rarely talk about the issue and if they do, they talk in private - as if there is an unspoken consensus not to broach the subject unless in defence of Israel. Those few who dare to acknowledge the Israeli programme, or criticise Israel publicly, usually do so after they leave office.

Jack Straw, the former British foreign secretary, surprised many in 2013 by saying on BBC Radio 4's Today programme that in contrast to Iran, Israel had "extensive nuclear capabilities".

But statements like Straw's do not break the wall of silence, nor end Western complicity with the Israeli nuclear programme. After all, there is a declared Western consensus on maintaining Israel superiority in the region.

It can be argued that US determination to get a deal with Iran stems in part from the  desire to undercut Iran's capacity as a regional counter to Israel.

Ensuring Israel's "nuclear superiority" has allowed it to dictate its terms on the ground and on the negotiating table while it pursues its Palestinian land grab.

Instead of being brought to account for its war crimes, the West has been playing a game of self-denial, while its commitment to "nuclear-free zone" in the Middle East translates into disarming all but a nuclear-armed Israel.