By Ramzy Baroud
As Western countries float the theory that Russia could escalate its conflict with Ukraine to a nuclear war, many of these governments continue to turn a blind eye to Israel’s nuclear weapons capabilities. Luckily, many countries around the world do not subscribe to this endemic Western hypocrisy.
The UN’s Conference on the Establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction was held between Nov. 14 and Nov. 18. It had the sole purpose of creating new standards of accountability that, as should have always been the case, apply equally to all Middle Eastern countries.
The debate regarding nuclear weapons in the Middle East could not be any more pertinent or urgent. International observers rightly note that the period following the Russia-Ukraine war is likely to accelerate the quest for nuclear weapons throughout the world. Considering the seemingly perpetual state of conflict in the Middle East, the region is likely to witness nuclear rivalry as well.
For years, Arab and other countries attempted to raise the issue that accountability regarding the development and acquisition of nuclear weapons cannot be confined to states that are perceived to be enemies of Israel and the West.
The latest of these efforts was a UN resolution that called on Israel to dispose of its nuclear weapons and to place its nuclear facilities under the monitoring of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The resolution, which was drafted by Egypt with the support of other Arab countries, passed with an initial vote of 152-5. Unsurprisingly, among the five countries that voted against the draft were the US, Canada and, of course, Israel itself.
Blind American and Canadian support of Tel Aviv notwithstanding, what compels Washington and Ottawa to vote against a draft entitled, “The risk of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East?” Keeping in mind the successive right-wing extremist governments that have ruled over Israel for many years, the US must understand that it is a real possibility its ally will use nuclear weapons under the guise of fending off an “existential threat.”
Since its inception, Israel has resorted to and utilized the phrase “existential threat” countless times. Various Arab governments, later Iran and even individual Palestinian resistance movements were accused of endangering Israel’s very existence. Even the nonviolent Palestinian civil society-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement was in 2015 accused by then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of being an existential threat to Israel. Netanyahu claimed that the boycott movement was “not connected to our actions; it is connected to our very existence.”
This should worry everyone, not just in the Middle East, but the whole world. A country with such hyped sensitivity about imagined existential threats should not be allowed to acquire the kind of weapons that could destroy the entire region several times over.
Some may argue that Israel’s nuclear arsenal is intrinsically linked to real fears resulting from its historical conflict with the Arabs. However, this is not the case. As soon as Israel finalized its ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their historic homeland — and long before any serious Arab or Palestinian resistance was carried out in response — Israel was already on the lookout for nuclear weapons.
As early as 1949, the Israeli army found uranium deposits in the Negev desert, leading to the establishment, in 1952, of the very secretive Israel Atomic Energy Commission. In 1955, the US government sold Israel a nuclear research reactor. But that was not enough. Eager to become a full nuclear power, Tel Aviv resorted to France in 1957. Paris became a major partner in Israel’s sinister nuclear activities when it helped the Israeli government construct a clandestine nuclear reactor near Dimona in the Negev.
The father of the Israeli nuclear program at the time was none other than Shimon Peres, who, ironically, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994. The Dimona Nuclear Reactor is now named the Shimon Peres Negev Nuclear Research Center.
With no international monitoring whatsoever, and thus with zero legal accountability, Israel’s nuclear quest continues to this day. In 1963, Israel purchased 100 tons of uranium ore from Argentina and, during the October 1973 Israel-Arab war, Israel “came close to making a nuclear preemptive strike,” according to a 2002 United Press International article written by Richard Sale.
Israel is believed to have “enough fissionable material to fabricate 60-300 nuclear weapons,” according to former US Army officer Edwin S. Cochran.
Estimates vary, but the facts regarding Israel’s weapons of mass destruction are hardly contested. Israel itself practices what is known as “deliberate ambiguity,” sending a message to its enemies of its lethal power without revealing anything that may hold it accountable to international inspection.
What we know about Israel’s nuclear weapons has been made possible partly because of the bravery of former technician Mordechai Vanunu, a whistleblower who was held in solitary confinement for a decade due to his courage in exposing the country’s darkest secrets.
Israel continues to refuse to sign the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which is endorsed by 191 countries.
Israeli leaders adhere to what is known as the Begin doctrine, in reference to Menachem Begin, the right-wing Israeli prime minister who ordered the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, resulting in the killing of thousands. The doctrine is formulated around the idea that, while Israel gives itself the right to own nuclear weapons, its enemies in the Middle East must not be allowed to do the same. This continues to direct Israeli actions to this day.
The US support for Israel is not confined to ensuring the latter has the “military edge” over its neighbors in terms of traditional weapons, but also to ensure Israel remains the region’s only superpower, even if that entails escaping international accountability for the development of WMDs.
The efforts of Arab and other countries at the UN General Assembly to create a Middle East free of nuclear weapons are welcome. It behooves everyone, Washington included, to join the rest of the world in finally forcing Israel to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which would be a first, critical step toward long-delayed accountability.