Ghazala Yasmin *
Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the US, the world has been increasingly concerned with proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. While much attention has focused on the threat posed by Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, the deadly nuclear arsenals of Israel keep eluding the attention of world powers, particularly of the US. The world’s most efficient ‘secret’ manufacturer of weapons of mass destruction was not Iraq, nor is it Syria — it is Washington’s closest ally and partner in the Middle East, Israel. Israel started its nuclear programme more than fifty years ago, which has grown to such an extent over the years that it is considered the fifth-largest nuclear power in the world. The country has a large stockpile of warheads, an advanced ballistic missile programme, cruise missiles, sophisticated air delivery system, submarine-launched nuclear capability and an anti-ballistic missile system.
The paper attempts to evaluate the present nuclear capabilities of Israel. It will take into consideration the nuclear potential of other states in the Middle East, especially with reference to the change that has been brought in the region with Iraq’s WMDs no longer posing a threat following the US military action against it, Iran having signed the Additional Protocol to the NPT, and Libya’s renunciation of its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. These three developments in 2003 have altered the nuclear equation in the region.
Against this background, the paper examines the implications of Israel’s nuclear weapons programme for the region, taking into consideration Israel’s hegemonic designs, its aggressive posture and its conflict-ridden history with its neighbours.
Israel’s Nuclear Programme
Israel began showing interest in acquiring nuclear weapons right from its creation in 1948. The Israel Atomic Energy Commission was established in 1952. By 1953, a process for extracting uranium, found in the Negev desert, was perfected, and a new method of producing heavy water was developed – providing Israel with an indigenous capability to produce some of the most important nuclear materials used in reprocessing facilities i.e. to produce weapon-grade plutonium. France provided the bulk of early nuclear assistance to Israel, including the construction of Dimona - a heavy water-moderated, natural uranium reactor and plutonium reprocessing facility, situated near Bersheeba in the Negev Desert. It was the result of an agreement signed with France in 1953, for atomic cooperation, and later a secret agreement concluded between Israel and France in 1957. The Dimona reactor became critical in 1964, and started producing approximately 8 kg of plutonium per year, enough for the manufacture of one to two fission weapons after reprocessing.1 Dimona forms the basis of Israel’s nuclear programme.
The US intelligence sources first detected the construction of Dimona plant in 1958, but it was not identified as a nuclear site until two years later when Israel admitted that the Dimona complex was a nuclear research centre built for ‘peaceful purposes.’ Throughout the 1960s, the CIA tracked the developments at Dimona. By the mid-1960s it had determined that the Israeli nuclear weapons programme was an established and irreversible fact.2 Despite concrete evidence of Israel’s clandestine nuclear activities, the US did nothing to stop it. In 1968, the CIA issued a report that Israel had successfully started production of nuclear weapons. Except for a few token visits made in 1960s by US inspection teams, Dimona has not been subjected to international inspections.
On September 22, 1979, a US satellite detected an atmospheric test of a small thermonuclear bomb in the Indian Ocean off South Africa but, because of Israel’s apparent involvement, the report was quickly ‘whitewashed’. Later it was learned through Israeli sources that there were actually three carefully guarded tests of miniaturised Israeli nuclear artillery shells.3 It was also reported that Israel acquired data on thermonuclear tests from France and the US, and might have developed thermonuclear weapons. Seymour Hersh, in his book, The Sampson Option, written in 1991, has claimed that by 1990 Israel had developed low-yield weapons for artillery and landmines, as well as thermonuclear weapons.4
Apart from production of weapon-grade plutonium at Dimona, Israel’s other major weapons facilities include: nuclear weapons design facility at Nahal Soreq; missile test facility at Kefar Zekharya; nuclear weapons assembly facility at Yodefat; and tactical nuclear weapons storage facility at Eilabun.5
The actual size and composition of Israel’s nuclear stockpile is uncertain. Estimates vary from 100 to 500 warheads. It is widely reported that Israel had two nuclear bombs during the 1967 Six-Day War, and in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Israelis had reportedly 13 twenty-kiloton atomic bombs. In 1986 Mordechai Vanunu, an Israeli nuclear technician who had worked at Dimona, disclosed details and photographs of Israeli nuclear weapons programme, which were published in the London Sunday Times, and consequently led experts to conclude that Israel had a stockpile of 100 to 200 devices at the time. The US-based Federation of American Scientists (FAS) estimates of Israeli stockpiles of 100 to 200 warheads are based on the rate at which weapon grade plutonium was being produced at the Dimona nuclear reactor.6 According to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists estimates, Israel has the world’s fifth-largest stockpile of nuclear warheads - more than Britain’s 185 (the other four states with world’s largest nuclear stockpiles are the US, Russia, China and France). Other sources, such as Jane’s Intelligence Review, estimate that Tel Aviv has between 400 and 500 nuclear weapons.7 Whatever the number, there is little doubt that Israeli nukes are among the world’s most sophisticated.
Israel has a well-developed missile industry, producing ballistic and cruise missiles, as well as missile defence systems and unmanned aerial vehicles. The Jericho missile series was initiated in 1960s with the help of France. Jericho-1, completed in 1973, is a short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) with a 500 km range, 500 kg payload and can be equipped with conventional as well as nuclear warheads. There are reports that Israel has deployed upto 50 nuclear-tipped Jericho-1 missiles on mobile launchers near Jerusalem. The intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), Jericho-2, deployed in 1990, has a range of 1500 km and a payload of 1000 kg.8 It is believed that there are a total of 100 Jericho-1 and Jericho-2 missiles deployed by Israel. Israel’s successful satellite launches using the Shavit space launch vehicle (SLV) suggest that Israel could quickly develop missile platforms with much longer ranges than the Jericho-2.9 There are unconfirmed reports of a Jericho-3 programme under development using the Shavit technology, with a range of upto 4500 km and 1000 kg payload. Israel also has an advanced spy-satellite system that provides both the Israeli Government and military with vital information on its Middle Eastern neighbours.
Israel’s nuclear-tipped Jericho-I and Jericho-2 missiles alone are capable of hitting targets anywhere in Syria, the whole of Iraq, some parts of Iran including its capital, Tehran, they can easily cover more than half of Saudi Arabia, as far as Riyadh, the entire Egypt and Jordan, and some parts of Libya. If reports of Jericho-3 development are true then Israel’s threat not only covers the entire Middle East, but extends far beyond – the missiles can reach as far as Pakistan, major parts of India, some parts of China, all the Central Asian states, Southeast Russia, the entire Europe and majority of states in the African continent.
Jericho Missile Ranges
Jericho-1 _________ 500 km
Jericho-2 - - - - - - - - 1500 km
Source: Missile ranges have been added by the author to the map taken from Encarta Atlas
Israel is also developing the Homa anti-tactical ballistic missile system. It is a ten-year initiative to provide an anti-missile umbrella shield to protect Israel’s population centres. Partly funded by the US, it is expected to be the world’s most advanced missile interceptor system. The centrepiece of the project is Arrow. Arrow-1 and Arrow-2 are anti-tactical ballistic missiles with limited area coverage tailored to Israel’s needs and limited geographic area. The Arrow-2 is supposed to intercept incoming missile warheads at ranges of 40-50 km. Each battery of Arrow-2 can be equipped with at least 50 missiles. Israel has plans to deploy three batteries of Arrow, which will cover upto 85 % of its population. The first was deployed in 2000, the second in 2002, and the third is expected to be deployed in 2004.10
Israel’s Ballistic Missiles
Missile Range Payload Origin Deployed/Year
Lance 130 km 450 kg USA 1975
Jericho-1 500 km 500 kg Indigenous/ 1970-3
Jericho-2 1500 km 1000 kg Indigenous/ 1990
Jericho-3 4500- 1000 kg Unconfirmed reports of the 4800 km missile under development
Shavit (SLV) 4500 km 150-250 kg Indigenous Launched 1988, 1990, 1995
Compiled from sources:
1. ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East’, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies, http://cns.miis.edu/research/wmdme/ball_dep.htm
2. ‘Israel’s Aerospace & Defence industry’, Jane’s Special Report, 2001, pp. 37-38, 43
Israel’s air-based, nuclear-capable delivery vehicles include approximately 50 F-4E-2000 Phantom aircrafts with a 1600 km range, and 205 F-16 Falcon aircrafts with a 630 km range, which are capable of carrying nuclear and chemical bombs.11 Both aircrafts are American in origin. It is believed that Israel’s nuclear forces were put on high alert during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. An F-4E squadron was placed on high alert, ready to strike with the country’s nuclear arsenal. Although the battle turned in Israel’s favour, it appears that in 1973 the Middle East came quite close to a nuclear conflict.
Israel has also acquired three Type 800 Dolphin class submarines from Germany in 1998-9. Two of these were ‘donated’ by Germany. There are some suspicions that the US might have paid for the submarines. The Dolphins have nearly a 3,000-mile operating range and are equipped to launch conventional torpedoes or long range nuclear-capable cruise missiles.12 Reports by Federation of American Scientists of a May 2000 test launch indicated that Israel has a 1500 km range nuclear-capable cruise missile that can be launched from its new Dolphin-class submarines.13 A version of Popeye Turbo cruise missiles is being developed to be deployed on Dolphin submarines.
According to one report, Israel and the US officials have admitted collaborating to deploy the US-supplied Harpoon cruise missiles armed with nuclear warheads in Israel’s fleet of submarines, giving Israel the ability to strike at any of its Arab neighbours.14 Although it had long been suspected that Israel bought the three German submarines with the specific aim of arming them with nuclear cruise missiles, the admission that the two countries have collaborated in arming the fleet with a nuclear-capable weapons system has come significantly at a time of growing crisis between Israel and its neighbours. The disclosure was made amid rapidly escalating tensions following a raid by Israeli jets in October 2003, on an alleged terrorist training camp near the Syrian capital, Damascus, and after Israel had announced that states ‘harbouring terrorists’ are legitimate targets (similarity with the US pre-emptive strategy discussed in later sections). Making the knowledge public that the submarines are armed with nuclear weapons was designed to deter a counter-attack on Israel. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Israeli and Bush administration officials stated that the sea-launch capability gives Israel the ability to target Iran more easily, in case the Iranians develop their own nuclear weapons – a statement that holds an open threat.15
The Dolphins can operate in the Mediterranean, and can hit any target in Libya. Moreover, they can patrol the Indian Ocean, permitting targeting of sites in Iran or any of the key Saudi bases in the country’s southern desert. Israel’s sea borne nuclear doctrine is designed to place one submarine in the Persian Gulf, the other in Mediterranean, with a third on standby.
Israel’s fleet of submarines is the first such force in the region to be armed with nuclear-tipped missiles and gives it a second-strike capability, which means that if its nuclear arsenal, which is primarily land-based, were destroyed in a missile attack it would still be able to retaliate with devastating power from the sea against any aggressor. It also gives Israel the ability to launch pre-emptive strikes, nuclear or conventional, far from its own shores. Having established a triad of nuclear forces, Israel can now target any country in the Middle East and beyond, if it chooses, while remaining relatively immune from counter-attack.
Israel’s Nuclear Strategy
The twin pillars of Israeli nuclear policy have been – ambiguity about its own nuclear programme; and a commitment to denying Arab states any level of nuclearisation.
Israel does not have an overt nuclear doctrine beyond its insistence that it will not introduce nuclear weapons into the region. Instead, it follows a policy of what Avner Cohen calls ‘nuclear opacity’ – possessing nuclear weapons while denying their existence. This has allowed Israel to enjoy the benefits of being a nuclear weapons state in terms of deterrence without having to suffer the international repercussions of acknowledging their arsenal.16
This neither-confirm-nor-deny posture has evolved since the late 1960s, partly as an Israeli hedge against the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Israel resisted pressure by the Johnson administration to sign the NPT in 1968, and in 1970 it obtained from the Nixon administration a set of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ understandings. Those understandings persist till today, and the US no longer presses Israel to sign the NPT. In return, Israel is committed to maintaining a low-profile nuclear posture-no testing, no declaration, no acknowledgement.17
All states in the Middle East have signed the NPT except Israel. The UN General Assembly and IAEA have adopted 13 resolutions since 1987 appealing to Israel to join the treaty, which have been ignored by Israel. This is also part of Israel’s strategy of ambiguity; signing the NPT would mean opening Israel’s nuclear sites to IAEA inspections, and the ambiguity would be lost. Israel’s refusal to sign the NPT has hampered regional arms negotiations and negotiations for a nuclear weapons free zone in Middle East. Other states in the region resent the fact that despite possessing the nukes, Israel stubbornly refuses to acknowledge them openly.
Israel also has a strong commitment to preserving its nuclear monopoly by preventing other states in the region from developing nuclear weapons capability, as was evidenced by Israel’s 1981 raid on Iraq’s Osirak nuclear installation. The danger in this policy lies in the fact that Israel is willing to use any means to prevent other states in the region from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Israel’s unofficial stance regarding its nuclear weapons has been that they were developed for deterrence purposes, to ensure the survival of the small state, and that they are weapons of ‘last resort’. However, Israel’s nuclear weapons capability goes far beyond any conceivable ‘deterrence’ requirements.
Israel has long practiced a strategy of pre-emption, following the US lead post 9/11, dangerous turn in its policy can be seen from the statement of Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesman that ‘Israel views every state that is harbouring terrorist organisations who are attacking innocent citizens of the state of Israel as legitimate targets out of self defence’18 — a clear echo of the US president Bush’s doctrine of pre-emption. What needs to be understood is that Israel is widening its scope of use of force — conventional or nuclear.
Nuclear Capability of Other States in the Region
Coming to the other states in the region it is important to briefly take a stock of their nuclear capabilities for comperative purposes.
As far as Syria’s nuclear weapons ambitions are concerned, there is little evidence that point to much activity. Syria lacks the infrastructure and financial ability to pursue an indigenous nuclear weapons programme. Syria’s only nuclear reactor, a 30 megawatt research reactor in Dayr al-Jajar, is under IAEA inspection safeguards. Russia has agreed to supply Syria with one light water reactor, which will also be subject to IAEA safeguards.19 However, it is believed to possess chemical weapons and possibly biological weapons. The US, with the help of European Union, has mounted pressure on Syria to give up its alleged weapons of mass destruction and terrorism in the wake of Libya’s decision to do so. Syria denies possessing any WMDs. Arab League chief, Amr Musa, said in an interview recently that without proof it was wrong to assume Syria had nuclear weapons, stating: ‘There is just one country with WMDs in the Middle East —Israel. And in that case, perhaps in the near future, other countries will try — and it is their right — to protect themselves against such weapons’.20 It is important to mention here that Syria is also a candidate for Bush’s ‘axis of evil’ states, as stated by US Undersecretary of State, John Bolton. The US accuses Syria of supporting terrorism and harbouring Palestinian groups that it classes as terrorists — groups that are regarded by much of the Arab world as freedom fighters.21
Egypt’s nuclear programme seems to have been limited to research for power generation purposes since it began in the late 1950s. Its Inshas Nuclear Research Center hosts a Soviet-supplied 2 megawatt research reactor and an Argentine-supplied 22 megawatt light water research reactor. In the 1970s, there was some consideration given to pursuing nuclear weapons capability, however, this goal seems to have been abandoned. More recently, Egypt has publicly supported a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East.22 It has repeatedly expressed concern about Israel’s nuclear weapons capability stating that it is a threat to the peace, stability and security of the region.
Iraq, a prime target of Bush’s ‘axis of evil’, was always suspected of having an active, clandestine nuclear weapons programme. In 1975, Iraq commissioned the construction of a French nuclear reactor located in Tuwaitha. Western sources believed that despite the destruction of the reactor by Israel in 1981, the facility continued to enrich uranium and pursue other nuclear weapons efforts, and by the 1991 Gulf War, the Iraqi programme had advanced to the point of having completed a prototype design of a nuclear bomb. After its defeat in the war, Iraq was subjected to United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) and IAEA inspections to uncover and destroy its nuclear capabilities.23 In his 1996 report to the UN Secretary General, Hans Blix, declared that ‘All quantities of special nuclear material [highly enriched uranium or plutonium] found in Iraq have been removed and the industrial infrastructure which Iraq had set up to produce and weaponise special nuclear material has been destroyed.’ Despite the absence of UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and IAEA inspectors on the ground from 1999 to November 2002, no credible evidence emerged through renewed inspections indicating that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear programme.24 On March 7, 2003, IAEA Director General Mohamad ElBaradei reported to the UN Security Council that ‘After three months of intrusive inspection, we have to date found no evidence or plausible indications of the revival of a nuclear weapon programme in Iraq.’25 Despite this report, the US and Britain forces went ahead and invaded Iraq in March 2003, and overthrew the Saddam regime. After the war, the US deployed its own experts and refused to allow the UN inspectors to return. However, eleven months of rigorous searching has found no evidence of WMD in Iraq. The chief US weapons inspector in Iraq, David Kay, who resigned in January, 2004, has said that there are no weapons of mass destruction stockpiles in Iraq, and that ‘I don’t think they exist.’26 The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, an American think-tank, published a comprehensive report on Iraq’s WMD in January 2004, and has come to the conclusion that the Bush administration officials systematically misrepresented the threat from Iraq’s WMD and ballistic missile programmes. There was no evidence conclusive enough to justify a war. This not only poses serious consequences for the US and British governments, but also leads one to question the real factors and motives behind their so-called war on terrorism. The important this is that Iraq’s WMD do not exist now, if they ever did, and with the US weapons inspectors working day and night to detect and dismantle any weapons related facilities, it is unlikely that war-wracked Iraq will be able to develop nuclear weapons in the foreseeable future.
Iran began a nuclear power programme in mid-1970s, as well as a nuclear weapons research programme. Iran possesses five research reactors, and two partially constructed power reactors at Bushehr. There have been longstanding US concerns about Iran’s intentions to develop nuclear weapons, which have escalated in the last two years. Some concern has focused on the provision of expertise by Russia for the Bushehr nuclear reactor project, and possible Russo-Iran cooperation in laser uranium enrichment technology.27 US concerns over Iran’s nuclear programme escalated in mid-2002, when American intelligence learned of the existence of two secret nuclear facilities, a uranium enrichment facility at Natanz and a heavy water production plant near Arak, facilities that should have been declared to the IAEA.28 The Bush administration openly accuses Iran of working on a clandestine nuclear weapons programme while European governments, especially Britain, France and Germany, have exerted diplomatic efforts to persuade Iran to suspend uranium enrichment and sign the additional protocol to the NPT in exchange for civil nuclear technology transfer. An IAEA report issued in November 2003 reveals that although for the past 18 years Iran has secretly developed technologies for producing weapon-usable highly enriched uranium and plutonium, no evidence exists of a current weapons project in Iran. Iran has been cooperating with the IAEA and has opened its sites for inspection. Iran, already a member of NPT, signed an additional protocol to the treaty on December 18, 2003, thus allowing snap inspections of its nuclear facilities by the IAEA experts. There have been some concerns by Western diplomats that Iran has continued to acquire machinery used to enrich uranium despite a promise to suspend all uranium enrichment activities. However, the IAEA has not expressed any such concerns. Iran has made it clear that it is using its nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, and import of machinery is not a breach of additional protocol.
Iran also figures in Bush’s ‘axis of evil’ states and has been accused of sponsoring terrorism. Israel has been actively working with all available means to scuttle Iran’s alleged plans to produce nuclear weapons. The Israeli media state that Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, has taken personal charge of the official efforts to prevent Iran from making a nuclear bomb. Within days of Iran signing the protocol, Israel threatened to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities, in an attack similar to the kind it had carried out on Iraq’s Osirak facility in 1981. This can be taken as a serious threat as it is perfectly in line with Israel’s strategy of pre-emption and its policy of denying the nuclear option to other states in the region.
There have always been some suspicions of Libya’s pursuit of nuclear capability. Its only significant nuclear facility is the complex at Taruja. More recently, after the 1998 lifting of the UN sanctions against Libya, Russia has renewed its interest in aiding Libya to renovate the Taruja complex. In December 2003, Libya announced its pledge to eliminate all elements of its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programmes, declare all nuclear activities to the IAEA, and to limit the range of Libyan missiles to no greater than 300 km. The announcement came after nine months of secret negotiations with the US and Britain.29 During the visit of the IAEA head, Mohamed ElBaradei, a week after Libya’s denunciation of WMDs, Tripoli pledged to allow snap inspections of suspect nuclear sites, as it had already signed the additional protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Since then Libya has fully cooperated with the IAEA inspections, and no weaponising activities have been detected so far. Dismantling of its weapons related facilities has already begun. The US is actively involved in the dismantling process and components of Libya’s nuclear weapons and missile programmes have been airlifted to the US as part of the dismantling process. Suspicions that Libya might not come through its promises have been quelled. In fact, the US has praised Libya’s cooperation and has urged other countries such a Syria to follow Libya’s example. Libya also ratified CTBT and CWC in January 2004.
After examining the nuclear capabilities of these five states, the conclusion drawn is that none of these countries possess nuclear weapons. Especially with Iraq, Iran and Libya taken out of the nuclear equation in the Middle East, Israel is left as the only nuclear player in the region. This has profound implications for the region.
Implications for the Region
Israel’s nuclear capability has to be understood within the framework of its intentions, and its superiority in conventional and non-conventional weapons over all its potential adversaries. It has been argued by supporters of the Israeli bomb that it is a ‘weapon of last resort,’ to be used only to avoid annihilation. That might have been the case at the time of the creation of the Israeli state, when its survival was the prime concern, threatened by larger, more powerful neighbours. However, with the build up of its conventional capabilities since, and the possession of a sophisticated nuclear arsenal has made the ‘defencive’ weapons into ‘offensive’ ones. Today, the Israeli nuclear arsenal is inextricably linked to and integrated with the overall Israeli military and political strategy of dominating and subjugating its Arab neighbours by consolidating its territorial control.
Nuclear weapons have now become an instrument for Israel’s hegemonic designs. Israel has made countless veiled nuclear threats against the Arab nations. One chilling example comes from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s statement that ‘Arabs may have the oil, but we have the matches.’30 Israel Shahak, an Israeli human rights activist and author of a book on Israel’s nuclear and foreign policies, states: ‘The wish for peace, so often assumed as the Israeli aim, is not in my view a principle of Israeli policy, while the wish to extend Israeli domination and influence is.’ and further that ‘Israel is preparing for a war, nuclear if need be, for the sake of averting domestic change not to its liking, if it occurs in some or any Middle Eastern states... Israel clearly prepares itself to seek overtly a hegemony over the entire Middle East… without hesitating to use for the purpose all means available, including nuclear ones.’31
Israel uses its nuclear arsenal not just in the context of ‘deterrence’ or for use in a direct war, but in other more subtle, but no less important ways. For example, the possession of weapons of mass destruction can be a powerful lever to maintain the status quo, or to influence events to Israel’s perceived advantage. In Israeli strategic jargon, this concept is called ‘nonconventional compellence’ and is exemplified by a quote from Shimon Peres; ‘acquiring a superior weapons system (read nuclear) would mean the possibility of using it for compellent purposes – that is forcing the other side to accept Israeli political demands…’ 32
Possessing a nuclear monopoly allows Israel to act with impunity even in the face of worldwide opposition. A case in point is the invasion of Lebanon and destruction of Beirut in 1982, planned by Ariel Sharon, which resulted in 20,000 deaths, mostly civilian. Despite the destruction of a neighbouring Arab state, not to mention the damage to the Syrian Air Force, Israel was able to carry on the war for months, partially due to its nuclear threat.33 Israel still occupies the Golan Heights which it seized from Syria in 1967. In October 2003, Israeli forces bombed an alleged training camp for Palestinian resistance fighters near Damascus.34 It again launched an attack on a Hezbollah training camp in Southern Lebanon in January 2004. Moreover, it is embroiled in conflict with the Palestinians for over half a century.
The Israeli nuclear arsenal has profound implications for the future of peace efforts in the Middle East. Although Israel has signed peace accords with Egypt and Jordan, it will never let any comprehensive plans for peace succeed in the Middle East because that would remove its pretext to maintain such a large nuclear arsenal. It is clear from Israel Shahak’s comment that ‘Israel has no interest in peace except that which is dictated on its own terms, and has absolutely no intention of negotiating in good faith to curtail its nuclear programme or discuss seriously a nuclear-free Middle East,’35 According to Seymour Hersh, ‘the size and sophistication of Israel’s nuclear arsenal allows men such as Ariel Sharon to dream of redrawing the map of the Middle East aided by the implicit threat of nuclear force.’36
Israel possesses nuclear warheads, reliable land, air and sea-based delivery systems which enable it to target all the countries in the region, and thus remains a constant threat to the stability and security of the other states in the region. Israel can, if it wished, destroy any country in the region, leaving the region vulnerable to its aggressive intentions. Possessing a sophisticated Anti-Ballistic Missile System, and a second strike capability means that Israel would remain invulnerable to attacks from outside. Admittedly, this whole scenario provides deterrence to any aggression against Israel, but at the same time leaves other states open to the threat from and dependent on the goodwill of Israel.
Israel has a long history of conflict with its neighbours, with whom it has fought mostly pre-emptive or aggressive wars in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973. In 1956 and 1967 it attacked Egypt and occupied parts of the Sinai desert. Out of the several wars fought with the Arabs, Israel deployed nuclear weapons in at least two wars – the Six-Day War in 1967 and in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. It has even developed tactical nuclear weapons, artillery shells and possibly nuclear mines, and it might be tempted to use them in a war. Moreover, it is involved in an intractable long-drawn conflict with the Palestinians within the occupied territory. Given Israel’s conflict-ridden relations with its neighbours, the use of nuclear weapons is a distinct possibility in a future Middle Eastern war. According to Shahak, ‘In Israeli terminology, the launching of missiles on to Israeli territory is regarded as ‘non-conventional’ regardless of whether they are equipped with explosives or poison gas,’37 which would require a non-conventional response.
The threat of Israel’s nuclear arsenal is a potential incentive for other states in the region to seek weapons of mass destruction of their own. Iran has sought a nuclear capability, and chemical and biological weapons. The same, it seems, is the case for Libya. Syria has often been accused of possessing chemical and biological weapons. Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were the focus of world attention for a long time. So long as Israel is in possession of such a large and sophisticated nuclear arsenal, Arab countries in the region will feel threatened, and will try to find a deterrent of their own.
The fact that Iraq, Iran and Syria have been condemned by the US for seeking weapons of mass destruction, while looking the other way when it comes to Israel’s nuclear arsenal exposes US double standards. Iraq has suffered a war and regime change at the hands of US and Britain because of its alleged weapons of mass destruction which were never found. Iran has been pressurised to open its nuclear sites to inspections. Syria’s alleged chemical and biological weapons are being eyed with concern and are considered a threat. But Israel’s nuclear weapons, which are enough to destroy the whole region several times over, are never brought up by the US. Despite early evidence of development of Israeli nuclear weapons through CIA reports, no serious effort was made to deter Israel. On the contrary, over the years US has actively aided Israel to build its nuclear capability. This heightens the insecurity and threat perception of the Middle Eastern states.
Israel’s nuclear weapons assume a greater significance when seen in the context of ‘war on terrorism’ and Bush’s ‘axis of evil’ theory. Although Israel has long practiced a strategy of pre-emption, an ominous assertive turn in its policy can be seen from the statement of Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesman that ‘Israel views every state that is harbouring terrorist organisations who are attacking innocent citizens of the state of Israel as legitimate targets out of self defence’.38 This is a clear echo of the US president Bush’s post-9/11 doctrine of pre-emption, which envisions pre-emptive military strikes against hostile states and terrorist organisations armed with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons if it perceives that they plan to use them against the US. The strategies of the two countries seem to be in perfect harmony, so much so that Israelis consider themselves actively and irrevocably locked into the same battle against the ‘axis of evil’ and ‘terrorists’ as the Americans.
Examples of this strategy can be seen from the bombing of presumed ‘terrorist bases’ in Syria by the Israeli Air Force in October 2003 and the attack on the Hezbollah camp in Southern Lebanon in January 2004. Regarding the threat of destruction of Iran’s nuclear facilities by Israel, the comments of Gordon Thomas, a journalist and Middle Eastern analyst, are of particular interest: ‘The US has now secretly cooperated more than ever with the Sharon regime in Israel to prepare for an attack which if successful will destroy Iranian facilities that could be used to produce nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them...US Harpoon missiles armed with nuclear warheads are now aimed by Israeli fleet of Dolphin-class submarines against Iran’s nuclear facilities. The decision to launch them is entirely in the hands of Israel’s prime minister, Ariel Sharon. Just as he gave Washington only a short warning that he was going to attack an alleged terrorist camp deep inside Syria,..’39
If Israel’s military and nuclear might can be used to pursue the US agenda, then the states in the region really have something to fear from the US president Bush’s State of the Union Address on January 21, 2004. He again reiterated his pledge that ‘America is committed to keeping the world’s most dangerous weapons out of the hands of the world’s most dangerous regimes...The United States and our allies are determined: We refuse to live in the shadow of this ultimate danger’. His comments regarding the Middle East bode ill for the states of the region; ‘As long as the Middle East remains a place of tyranny, despair, and anger, it will continue to produce men and movements that threaten the safety of America and our friends. So America is pursuing a forward strategy of freedom in the greater Middle East. We will challenge the enemies of reform, confront the allies of terror, and expect a higher standard from our friends’.40 Israel and US being long time allies, with US providing billons of dollars in military aid annually and actively aiding Israel’s nuclear capability, this is a distinct possibility. Moreover, if both countries have the same agenda, what could be better !
Iraq, Iran and now Syria are considered a threat by Israel because of their alleged WMD and link to ‘terrorism’. One member of the axis of evil, Iraq, has been taken out, the second member, Iran, has nuclear-tipped missiles pointed at it, and Syria is being threatened. Is it a coincidence that US and Israeli threat perceptions and policies coincide? They mean business threatening Iran with nukes; who is to stop them making another Iraq out of Iran?
This overt US-Israel collaboration in the post-9/11 war on terrorism holds ominous implications for the Muslim states in the Middle East. Apart from the wider implication of Israel serving as a frontline state in the US ‘war on terrorism’, it gives legitimacy to Israeli acts of aggression against its neighbours in the name of pre-emption for ‘self-defence’. It means that any state can be labelled a terrorist state, and Israeli action against it would be aided and abetted by the US and legitimised in front of the world. One can almost see Sharon’s dream of a ‘Greater Israel’ becoming a reality.
Israel’s monopoly of nuclear weapons in the Middle East allows it to act with impunity and aggression. As well as posing an overwhelming direct threat to the security and sovereignty of the states in the region, Israel’s nuclear bomb is an instrument of coercion and a tool for its hegemonic designs that have evolved with the passage of time. Israel’s neighbours are held hostage to its nuclear blackmail. Peace in the Middle East is likely to remain elusive as Israel will scuttle any attempts to achieve comprehensive peace in the region, because it will lose the raison de etre for its nuclear might. There can be no peace or stability in the Middle East as long as Israel unilaterally possesses nuclear weapons, while all the other countries in the region are being stripped of their defencive deterrence, leaving them vulnerable to the overwhelming threat from Israel.
MS. Ghazala Yasmin is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad.
1. Air Marshal Sir Timothy Garden, ‘Israel’s nuclear strategy’, www.tgarden.co.uk/writings/candet/cd18.html
2. ‘Nuclear Weapons’, www.fas.org/nuke/guide/israel/nuke/
3. John Steinback, ‘Israeli Weapons of Mass Destruction: A Threat to Peace’, Centre for Research on Globalisation, March 2, 2002, http://globalresearch.ca/articles/STE203A.html
4. ‘Nuclear stockpiles’, http://www.nuclearfiles.org/kinuclearweapons/stockpile.htm
5. Anthony H. Cordesman and Arleigh A. Burke, ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction in Middle East’, April 15, 2003, p. 43, http://www.iraqwatch.org/perspectives/csis-middleeast_wmd-041503.pdf
6. ‘Nuclear Weapons’, www.fas.org/nuke/guide/israel/nuke/
7. ‘Nuclear stockpiles’, http://www.nuclearfiles.org/kinuclearweapons/stockpile.htm
8. ‘NTI Country Overview: Israel’, http://.nti.org/e_research/e1_israel_1.html
9. ‘CDI Delivery Systems’, www.cdi.org/issues/nukef&f/database/isnukes. html
10. ‘Israel’s Aerospace & Defence Industry’, Jane’s Special Report, 2001, p.41.
11. ‘CDI Delivery Systems’, www.cdi.org/issues/nukef&f/database/isnukes.html
12. Thomas R. Stauffer, ‘Israel expands its nuclear threat thanks to German ‘donation’ of Dolphin Subs’, December 2003, http://www.wrmea.com/ archives/December_2003/ 0312012.html
13. Anthony H. Cordesman and Arleigh A. Burke, ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction in Middle East’, April 15, 2003, p. 40, http://www.iraqwatch.org/perspectives/csis-middleeast_wmd-041503.pdf
14. ‘US says it supplied Israel with nuclear missiles for subs’, Taipei Times, October 13, 2003.
16. ‘Strategic Doctrine’, http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/israel/doctrine/index. html
17. ‘And Then There Was One’, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Vol. 54, No. 5, September/October, 1998.
18. ‘US Says it Supplied Israel With Nuclear Missiles For Subs’, Taipei Times, October 13, 2003.
19. Gitty M. Amini, ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East’, Centre for Non Proliferation Studies, February 13, 2003, http://www.nti.org/e_research/e3_24a.html.
20. ‘Syria Has No WMDs – Arab League’, Al Jazeera, January 7, 2004.
21. Frank Gardner, ‘Who is Who in the ‘Axis of Evil’’, BBC News, December 20, 2003.
22. Gitty M. Amini, ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East’, Centre for Non Proliferation Studies, February 13, 2003, http://www.nti.org/e_ research/e3_24a.html
24. ‘NTI country overview: Iraq Profile’, http://www.nti.org/e_research/ profiles/Iraq/Nuclear/#fn19
25. Mohamad ElBaradei, ‘Statement to the UN Security Council’, March 7, 2003.
26. ‘Kay: No Evidence Iraq Stockpiled WMDs’, CNN World News, January 26, 2004.
27. Sharon Squassoni, ‘Iran’s Nuclear Program: Recent Developments’, CRS Report for Congress, August 15, 2003, http://www.fas.org/spp/ starwars/crs/RS21592.pdf
28. ‘NTI country profile: Iran’, http://www.nti.org/e_research/ profiles/Iran/
29. William Branigin, ‘Libya to Give Up Weapons Program’ Washington Post, December 19, 2003.
30. Mark Gaffney, Dimona, The Third Temple: The Story Behind the Vanunu Revelation, Brattleboro, Amana Books, VT, 1989, p.163.
31. Israel Shahak, Open Secrets: Israeli Nuclear and Foreign Policies, Pluto Press, London, 1997, p.2.
32. John Steinback, ‘Israeli Weapons of Mass Destruction: A Threat to Peace’, Centre for Research on Globalisation, March 2, 2002, http://globalresearch.ca/articles/STE203A.html
34. ‘Syria Has No WMDs – Arab League’, Al Jazeera, January 7, 2004.
35. Israel Shahak, op.cit., p.150.
36. Seymour Hersh, The Samson Option: Israel’s Nuclear Arsenal and American Foreign Policy, Random House, New York, 1991, p. 319.
37. Ibid. pp. 39-40.
38. ‘US Says it Supplied Israel With Nuclear Missiles For Subs’, Taipei Times, October 13, 2003.
39. Gordon Thomas, ‘Target Iran: It’s a Semi-Secret Joint US-Israel Operation’, October 30, 2003, http://globalresearch.ca/articles/THO311A.html
40. ‘State of the Union Address: Full Text’, BBC News, January 21, 2004.