Julian Borger on Israel’s Nuclear Arsenal

This new piece by Julian Borger, detailing the history of clandestine and illicit means by which Israel developed its nuclear weapons stockpile is an absolute must read.  Borger subtitled the piece:

Israel has been stealing nuclear secrets and covertly making bombs since the 1950s. And western governments, including Britain and the US, turn a blind eye. But how can we expect Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions if the Israelis won’t come clean?

Good question. There’s some very damning stuff in here – a lot of information I’d never read before. Here are just a few excerpts, but you really need to read the whole thing:

Israel, unlike Iran, never signed up to the 1968 NPT so could not violate it. But it almost certainly broke a treaty banning nuclear tests, as well as countless national and international laws restricting the traffic in nuclear materials and technology.

The list of nations that secretly sold Israel the material and expertise to make nuclear warheads, or who turned a blind eye to its theft, include today’s staunchest campaigners against proliferation: the US, France, Germany, Britain and even Norway.

………..

As more and more evidence of Israel’s weapons programme emerged, the US role progressed from unwitting dupe to reluctant accomplice. In 1968 the CIA director Richard Helms told President Johnson that Israel had indeed managed to build nuclear weapons and that its air force had conducted sorties to practise dropping them.

The timing could not have been worse. The NPT, intended to prevent too many nuclear genies from escaping from their bottles, had just been drawn up and if news broke that one of the supposedly non-nuclear-weapons states had secretly made its own bomb, it would have become a dead letter that many countries, especially Arab states, would refuse to sign.

The Johnson White House decided to say nothing, and the decision was formalised at a 1969 meeting between Richard Nixon and Golda Meir, at which the US president agreed to not to pressure Israel into signing the NPT, while the Israeli prime minister agreed her country would not be the first to “introduce” nuclear weapons into the Middle East and not do anything to make their existence public.

In fact, US involvement went deeper than mere silence. At a meeting in 1976 that has only recently become public knowledge, the CIA deputy director Carl Duckett informed a dozen officials from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission that the agency suspected some of the fissile fuel in Israel’s bombs was weapons-grade uranium stolen under America’s nose from a processing plant in Pennsylvania.

Not only was an alarming amount of fissile material going missing at the company, Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (Numec), but it had been visited by a veritable who’s-who of Israeli intelligence, including Rafael Eitan, described by the firm as an Israeli defence ministry “chemist”, but, in fact, a top Mossad operative who went on to head Lakam.

“It was a shock. Everyody was open-mouthed,” recalls Victor Gilinsky, who was one of the American nuclear officials briefed by Duckett. “It was one of the most glaring cases of diverted nuclear material but the consequences appeared so awful for the people involved and for the US than nobody really wanted to find out what was going on.”

The investigation was shelved and no charges were made.

A few years later, on 22 September 1979, a US satellite, Vela 6911, detected the double-flash typical of a nuclear weapon test off the coast of South Africa. Leonard Weiss, a mathematician and an expert on nuclear proliferation, was working as a Senate advisor at the time and after being briefed on the incident by US intelligence agencies and the country’s nuclear weapons laboratories, he became convinced a nuclear test, in contravention to the Limited Test Ban Treaty, had taken place.

It was only after both the Carter and then the Reagan administrations attempted to gag him on the incident and tried to whitewash it with an unconvincing panel of enquiry, that it dawned on Weiss that it was the Israelis, rather than the South Africans, who had carried out the detonation.

“I was told it would create a very serious foreign policy issue for the US, if I said it was a test. Someone had let something off that US didn’t want anyone to know about,” says Weiss.

Israeli sources told Hersh the flash picked up by the Vela satellite was actually the third of a series of Indian Ocean nuclear tests that Israel conducted in cooperation with South Africa.

Wow.  How many times have you heard Israeli officials blast Iran’s nuclear program for being clandestine and illicit? How do you translate “the pot calling the kettle black” into Hebrew?

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8 Comments on “Julian Borger on Israel’s Nuclear Arsenal”

  1. Don Bacon says:

    Jul 4, 2012
    Netanyahu Worked Inside Nuclear Smuggling Ring

    Counterespionage debriefing reveals how Israel targeted U.S.
    On June 27, 2012, the FBI partially declassified and released seven additional pages [.pdf] from a 1985–2002 investigation into how a network of front companies connected to the Israeli Ministry of Defense illegally smuggled nuclear triggers out of the U.S.* The newly released FBI files detail how Richard Kelly Smyth — who was convicted of running a U.S. front company — met with Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel during the smuggling operation. At that time, Netanyahu worked at the Israeli node of the smuggling network, Heli Trading Company. Netanyahu, who currently serves as Israel’s prime minister, recently issued a gag order that the smuggling network’s unindicted ringleader refrain from discussing “Project Pinto.”

    http://original.antiwar.com/smith-grant/2012/07/03/netanyahu-worked-inside-nuclear-smuggling-ring/

    also:
    The Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC) and the diversion of US government weapons-grade uranium to Israel
    http://www.irmep.org/ila/numec/

  2. Don Bacon says:

    Jul 4, 2012
    Netanyahu Worked Inside Nuclear Smuggling Ring

    Counterespionage debriefing reveals how Israel targeted U.S.
    On June 27, 2012, the FBI partially declassified and released seven additional pages [.pdf] from a 1985–2002 investigation into how a network of front companies connected to the Israeli Ministry of Defense illegally smuggled nuclear triggers out of the U.S.* The newly released FBI files detail how Richard Kelly Smyth — who was convicted of running a U.S. front company — met with Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel during the smuggling operation. At that time, Netanyahu worked at the Israeli node of the smuggling network, Heli Trading Company. Netanyahu, who currently serves as Israel’s prime minister, recently issued a gag order that the smuggling network’s unindicted ringleader refrain from discussing “Project Pinto.”
    http://original.antiwar.com/smith-grant/2012/07/03/netanyahu-worked-inside-nuclear-smuggling-ring/

  3. yousaf says:

    If Iran’s nuclear material accountancy errors can get Iran reported to the UNSC due to “threat to the peace…”, should IAEA/UNSC interface be updated to also refer non-NPT nuclear weapon states for greater threats to the peace due to manufacture of nuclear weapons?

    Otherwise this is a disincentive to join the NPT. And an incentive to leave.

    • Johnboy says:

      Hmmm, based on what I have read above it might also be a good idea to consider referring the USA to the UNSC for the council’s due consideration.

      After all, if the allegations are true then this was US weapons-grade shit that was being stolen, and once the USA found out about that theft it did nothing to remedy the situation nor to alert anyone else to this exceptionally dangerous blow against non-proliferation.

      So to my mind not only would Israel’s kleptomania be a good candidate for consideration as a “threat to the peace”, so would the USA’s benign non-reaction to that theft.

      Neither will happen, of course, because of… you know…. US exceptionalism ‘n’ all.

      But if the best that can be achieved is to embarrass and shame both countries over these sorts of incidents then I guess that’s better than nothing.


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