05/13/2010, 00.00
ISRAEL – UNITED NATIONS

Israel’s nuclear arsenal to be discussed at next IAEA meeting

UN agency wants to discuss Israel’s position at its June meeting. Israel has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty because it would be forced to open its nuclear sites to outside inspectors. Israeli expert says that such a position is wrong, that Israel should be transparent. US archives declassify a Kissinger memo to Nixon that gives the green light to Israel’s nuclear programme.

Tel Aviv (AsiaNews) – Israel is again in the sights of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog for its secret nuclear arsenal. Israel has never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and now the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) wants its position discussed at a meeting in June.

For months, Western nations have targeted Iran. According to Tehran, its nuclear programme has a peaceful purpose but the West sees it as hiding a push to build a nuclear bomb. Yet Israel is the only country in the Middle East thought to have atomic weapons. Western sources believe the Jewish State has a nuclear arsenal at its Dimona plant (pictured) in the Negev desert, and may have done for 40 years, but its size remains a mystery.

Nuclear expert Avner Cohen says Israel is in all likelihood the Middle East's sole, if undeclared, nuclear power. “The current estimate, in part based on US intelligence, is that Israel probably has a modest arsenal of 80 to 100 weapons, but it's all speculation,” he said.

Professor Cohen believes Israel has a unique right to have the nuclear bomb to prevent a second holocaust. However, he is opposed to Israel’s policy of secrecy, especially as it relates to an eventual peace deal for the whole Middle East. “I think that if you want to deal with Iran you need to have this norm of acknowledgement and of transparency,” he said.

In the meantime, Arab nations have renewed a push for a Middle East free of nuclear weapons. They say they want Israel to sign the NPT, something Iran has done but Israel has not because to do so would force it to open its nuclear plant for inspection.

In fact, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not participate in the recent Washington conference on nuclear proliferation sponsored by US President Barack Obama because of possible questions raised by Egypt and Turkey concerning Israel’s nuclear programme.

Israel is opposed to signing the NPT because it would have to open its sites to outside experts. For Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, his country's position is correct.

“There's no reason to change it and on this issue we are operating in coordination, I say with the necessary precautions, with close coordination with the United States," Barack said.

In recent days, the United States declassified a memorandum from former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to President Richard Nixon giving the green light to Israel’s nuclear programme.

Indeed, “while we might ideally like to halt actual Israeli possession,” the memo said, “what we really want at a minimum may be just to keep Israeli possession from becoming an established international fact.

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