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British program uncovers Israel’s secret nuclear plans

Al | January 3 2006

The Israeli government plans to protest a BBC national program about Israel's nuclear program. Dubbed “Israel’s secret weapons”, the program mainly focuses on the international community’s double standards in dealing with Israel’s unconventional weapons, according to an article on Israel’s Haaretz daily.

The program, to be aired next Sunday, shows that Israeli occupation forces used some form of unidentified chemical weapons on Palestinian civilians in February 2001. It also reveals Israel’s efforts to cover up its work on unconventional weapons, mainly referring to whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu, who served an 18-year prison term for disclosing classified information about the country’s nuclear program at the Dimona nuclear reactor, and the trial of Brig. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Yoav, who was convicted of showing two unpublished book manuscripts, one fictional and the other a memoir, to unauthorized people.

The world knew about Dimona in December 1960, but only in 1986 did the international community find out the real scale of Israel's work on nuclear weapons, thanks to Mordechai Vanunu, who passed classified information about nuclear work at Dimona to London’s Sunday Times. Israel has repeatedly claimed that its work at Dimona is solely used for peaceful purposes, but experts say the information provided by Vanunu show that Israel has the world's sixth-largest stockpile of nuclear weapons. (The Israeli nuclear arsenal includes chemical, biological and about 100 to 200 nuclear warheads and the capacity to deliver them.)

The producers of the BBC program wanted to meet with former workers from Dimona who previously said they suffered from cancerous tumours due to the leaking of serious radiations during their work at the reactor. It was recently revealed that a large number of the personnel who worked at Dimona had died from cancer and that the Israeli authorities denied their death was caused by the radiations leaked from the plant. But the program says the workers didn’t want to be interviewed because they feared the Shin Bet, Israel‘s security agency.

Double standards
Haaretz quoted a BBC spokesman as saying that "the program was produced against the background of developments in the Vanunu case and tries to examine the double standards of the international community, particularly the United States, with regard to Israel's unconventional weapons programs compared to those of Iraq.

When the program interviewed former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, he evaded questions about Israel’s efforts to hide its nuclear weapons program. Peres also rejected any comparison between Israel and pre-war Iraq in terms of the development of weapons of mass destruction. (The United States launched the war against Iraq in 2003 claiming that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. No such weapons were even found in Iraq.)

The BBC spokesman denied that the program was politically motivated, adding that the British Defense Ministry declined to comment on their work, but that the producers were still trying to get a comment. On the other hand, the Israeli Embassy in the United Kingdom said that "the producers did not ask the foreign ministry or the IDF Spokesman's Office for a reaction and we will respond after the program is aired."

The bold program comes after the Newsnight uncovered official documents from the British National Archives showing that Britain sold Israel 20 tonnes of deuterium or heavy water, a key substance for the production of nuclear bombs, in 1958. The documents also showed that British officials decided that it would be "over-zealous" to impose safeguards on Israel, and didn’t insist that the Jewish state use the heavy water only for peaceful purposes.

According to the report, Britain's spymasters made an assessment of Israel’s nuclear capabilities in 1960s. Newsnight obtained the top secret 'UK eyes only' report, which was only shown to the bosses of intelligence bodies such as MI6, MI5 and GCHQ, which proved that Dimona would be able to make enough plutonium to build up to six atom bombs a year. However, the British Foreign Office didn’t impose such restrictions on what the heavy water would be used for.

At the time, former U.S. President John Kennedy also cautioned Israel against developing nuclear arms and sent U.S. inspectors to visit Dimona, but Israel built a fake wall at the reactor to hide its weapons production from the American officials. Since then, no U.S. administration has ever pressured Israel to either stop its nuclear program or submit to inspections under the International Atomic Energy Agency. Nor has Israel been required to sign the NUCLEAR NON-PROLIFERATION TREATY. The apparent rationale is that: Weapons of mass destruction in the hands of an ally are simply not an urgent concern.

Egypt as well as other Middle East countries have criticized Israel for failing to get rid of its nuclear arsenal, whereas it intensifies pressure against Iran to abandon its NUCLEAR PROGRAM. The United States and Israel want to send Tehran’s nuclear file to the UN security council for possible sanctions. The Jewish state has also threatened the Islamic republic to strike its nuclear facilities. But Iran denies that its working on a covert atomic weapons program, insisting that its nuclear plans are mainly aimed at the peaceful generation of electricity.

A Pentagon-commissioned study released in mid-November suggests that the U.S. must change its approach to nuclear nonproliferation in the Middle East by starting with a country that possesses nuclear weapons -- Israel-- rather than one that lacks them -- Iran.

Whether Israel protests the BBC program or not, the fact remains the same; the world will never know the actual scale of Israel's nuclear capabilities because the Jewish state will keep its policy of ambiguity concerning its atomic work, neither admitting nor denying that it does posses nuclear weapons.

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