Nuclear Tensions Loom Over War Zones – OpEd

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The two ongoing military conflicts in Europe and the Middle East are pitting two nuclear powers—Russia and Israel—against a non-nuclear state (Ukraine) and a non-nuclear militant armed force (Hamas).

The military might is overwhelmingly in favor of both Russia and Israel in the two devastating battles, which may ultimately end with no winners.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was one of several officials who either implicitly or explicitly warned that the threat of nuclear war, “should not be underestimated.”

But the Israelis have not made any such threats—until 5 November.

According to a report in the New York Times, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “took the highly unusual step of suspending a far-right minister from his government who had told a Hebrew radio station that dropping a nuclear bomb on Gaza and killing everyone there was “one way” of dealing with the threat from Hamas.”

Netanyahu’s swift action apparently came amid a broad outcry over the comments made by Amichay Eliyahu, the minister of heritage from the ultranationalist Jewish Power party.

While the Jewish Power Party is a member of Netanyahu’s coalition government, Eliyahu is not a member of the war cabinet prosecuting Israel’s war on Hamas in Gaza, the Times said.

Meanwhile, either by coincidence or by design, the US Central Command, which oversees American military forces in the region, announced on 5 November that it had dispatched a nuclear-powered attack submarine to the Middle East heightening the nuclear tension in the region.

Jacqueline Cabasso, Executive Director, Western States Legal Foundation (WSLF), a non-profit, public interest organization working for peace and justice in a nuclear-free world, told IDN Israel’s nuclear weapons program has been described as the worst-kept secret in international politics.

The recent statement by far-right Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu that an atomic bomb could be “one option” to target Hamas militants, echoes social media posts following the 7 October Hamas massacre by Revital “Tally” Gotliv, a Likud party member of the Knesset advocating for forceful retaliation, including multiple references to a “Doomsday” machine.

She pointed out these statements breach the Israeli policy of “nuclear opacity” and may be the reason Eliyahu was suspended from the Cabinet by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu following international expressions of outrage from Russia, Saudi Arabia, the PLO, and across the Arab world and Latin America.

Iran condemned Eliyahu’s statement and called on the United Nations Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to take immediate action to disarm Israel’s nuclear capability.

Pakistan’s Foreign Office called Eliyahu’s statement “a wake-up call for the international community to the threat posed by Israeli aggression to regional peace, security & stability.”

Equally shocking, said Cabasso, was Eliyahu’s claim that there were “no non-combatants” in Gaza. “There is no such thing as uninvolved civilians in Gaza,” he said.

“Anyone waving a Palestinian or Hamas flag shouldn’t continue living on the face of the earth.” These sentiments recall Israeli War Minister Yoav Gallant’s deplorable reference, following the Hamas attacks on 7 October, to the people of Gaza as “human animals.”

Hamas’ cold-blooded slaughter of innocent Israeli civilians must be condemned by the international community. But two wrongs don’t make a right.

As Gandhi reportedly said, “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.” The only way to halt the carnage is an immediate ceasefire and massive humanitarian aid to the people in Gaza, declared Cabasso.

Asked for a response from UN Secretary-General António Guterres, his Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said on 6 November: “First, we saw the remarks. We also saw the fact that he was reprimanded or sanctioned by his own government. I mean, we stand against any sort of rhetoric that inflames an already inflammable situation”.

Elaborating further, Cabasso said at present, Israel is the only nuclear-armed country in the Middle East.

“While Israel could not drop an atomic bomb on Gaza without nuking itself, the furor surrounding Eliyahu’s comments underscores the urgent need for regional negotiations for the elimination of nuclear weapons in the Middle East”.

A venue, she said, already exists.

The fourth session of the Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction, open to all States in the region, will be held at United Nations Headquarters in New York, on 13-17. Tragically, as with the first three sessions, Israel and its enabler, the United States, are not expected to attend

Thalif Deen

Thalif Deen, author of the book “No Comment – and Don’t Quote Me on That,” is Editor-at-Large at the Berlin-based IDN, an ex-UN staffer and a former member of the Sri Lanka delegation to the UN General Assembly sessions. A Fulbright scholar with a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Columbia University, New York, he shared the gold medal twice (2012-2013) for excellence in UN reporting awarded by the UN Correspondents Association (UNCA).

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