Julian Borger on Israel’s Nuclear ArsenalPosted: February 3, 2014
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?