Nuclear Ambiguity or Hypocrisy?

Last week, Mohamad ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), paid a visit to Israel. The visit was prompted mostly by the charge of duplicity that is often levied against the agency by the indigenous people of the Middle East, who perceive the IAEA as one among many instruments in the US-Israeli (USraeli) arsenal of colonial domination.

This charge against the IAEA is not without justification. The IAEA played a major role in the continuation of the USraeli instigated UN sanctions against Iraq, sanctions which ultimately destroyed the country and made it more vulnerable to outside aggression. Also, as I have written previously for CounterPunch, in the past few years the IAEA has been under severe pressure by USrael to repeat for Iran what it did in the case of Iraq: namely, to bring about UN imposed sanctions against Iran by reporting it to the UN Security Council for non-compliance of its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) agreement. So far, the IAEA has not been able to provide the “smoking gun” that USrael needs to move on Iran. That is, despite numerous “sightings of illegal nuclear activities” in Iran by USraelis and their US-Iraq based “good terrorist” organization (MKO), various visits by the IAEA to the Iranian nuclear facilities, and more intrusive inspections, the IAEA has been unable to prove that Iranian nuclear activity has a military dimension or that Iran has an active policy of developing nuclear weapons. Yet, even though there has been no “smoking gun,” the IAEA, under the weight of USrael, is exerting greater pressure on Iran to stop even the kind of nuclear research and development that the country is entitled to and are legally allowed under the NPT.

At the same time, the IAEA has treated Israel-which regularly violates international laws with impunity, which has never joined the NPT, which has pursued illegal nuclear research and development, which is believed to have hundreds of warheads, which is occupying Palestinian and Syrian lands, which is committing sociocide against the Palestinians, which is continuously threatening the people of the region and even carrying out some of its threats-with kid gloves. It is this kind of hypocrisy that prompted the IAEA to send ElBaradei to Israel. The main aim of ElBaradei’s visit was to change the perception of the agency and make it look more like a fair-minded, strong and independent international body. The result of the trip, however, was anything but what was intended. Indeed, ElBaradei’s visit, if not tragic, turned out to be a farce from beginning to end. Given that this unique trip made no national headlines and was hardly mentioned in the news media, I will chronicle below a sample of reports surrounding the IAEA visit to Israel as they appeared on various websites of news agencies.



BBC (June 27, 2004): Mr. ElBaradei is scheduled to travel to Israel next month to discuss making the Middle East a nuclear-free zone. He said everyone knew that Israel had a nuclear capability – even if Israel has always refused to admit it. “We need . . . to rid the Middle East of all weapons of mass destruction,” he told Reuters news agency on a visit to Russia. “Israel agrees with that, but they say it has to be… after peace agreements. My proposal is may be we need to start to have a parallel dialogue on security at the same time when we’re working on the peace process.” Mr. ElBaradei said he would like Israel, along with other Middle East countries, to open up nuclear facilities to inspections by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency. But he would not be insisting Israel admits to having nuclear weapons, when he visits the country in early July. “I think everybody takes it as a given that Israel has a nuclear capability, if not nuclear weapons,” he said. “So whether they would like to come in the open, whether they maintain. . . ambiguity, it’s for them to decide.” Israel has a policy of “strategic ambiguity” – neither admitting nor denying it has nuclear weapons – but analysts believe it has more than 100 nuclear weapons. Its Arab neighbors have frequently accused the international community of double standards for requiring them to be free of nuclear weapons while doing little, in their eyes, about Israel. Mr. ElBaradei said it was “not sustainable in any region or even globally to have some [people] rely on nuclear weapons and others being told they should not have nuclear weapons.”

Jerusalem Post (June 27) – A senior Israeli diplomatic official responded to El-Baradei’s statement by saying that Israel “has no intention of changing its policy.” . . One government official said that when El-Baradei visits, he will be told politely that while Iran is continuing in its attempts to gain a nuclear capability, and soon after Libya developed a weapons of mass destruction capability under the nose of the international community, “it is not exactly the time to play around with your deterrence.”

Voice of America (June 27): White House spokesman Scott McClellan says Iran’s decision to resume building centrifuges can only heighten international concerns about its nuclear program. . . For the Bush administration, those concerns are that Iran’s nuclear ambitions extend beyond peaceful energy purposes. “We have been – the United States – most certain about our views that the Iranians are trying to acquire military uses for nuclear power, maybe even nuclear weapons,” said National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, speaking on the U.S. television program Fox News Sunday. “And that is why we have been the leaders in working with the IAEA, working with the Europeans to try and make certain that the Iranians know that they really only have two choices: one is to cooperate; the other is to face isolation.”

Associated Press (July 2): Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told the White House on Friday that Iran was trying to develop longer-range missiles that could pose a threat to European nations. Shalom took his concerns to Condoleezza Rice, the president’s national security adviser, and then told reporters: “We cannot allow the Iranians to move forward in their efforts to develop nuclear weapons.” . . Shalom also said Iran was involved in terror attacks, saying, “They are trying to recruit more volunteers to carry out suicide attacks against Israelis and against Western countries.”

BBC (July 7): Mr. ElBaradei is in Israel as part of a push for a nuclear-free Middle East. Hours before his arrival, Mr. Sharon said Israel would continue with its policy of neither confirming nor denying it has nuclear weapons. Iran, which unlike Israel has signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), says it wants nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. But Washington and Israel accuse Tehran of secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons. Late in 2003, the head of Israel’s intelligence service, said that the Iranian nuclear program represented the greatest ever threat to Israel. . . Mr ElBaradei was not scheduled to visit any Israeli nuclear facilities. Mr. Sharon, quoted by Israeli Army Radio, said the country did not intend to change its “no show, no tell” policy of nuclear ambiguity. “I don’t know what he [ElBaradei] is coming to see,” Mr. Sharon said. “Israel has to hold in its hand all the elements of power necessary to protect itself by itself. “Our policy of ambiguity on nuclear arms has proved its worth, and it will continue,” Mr. Sharon added, without elaborating. . . Israel’s deterrent is probably the most sophisticated, our correspondent says. It can be delivered by long-range ballistic missiles or advanced warplanes. Some reports suggest that Israel is even developing a submarine launched missile that might carry a nuclear warhead.

Reuters (July 7): Israel, pressed to consider a nuclear weapons-free Middle East, stressed its fear that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons and might use them against it, the visiting head of the UN nuclear watchdog said on Wednesday. “They (the Israelis) were expressing concern about Iran,” International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei told reporters after meeting Israel’s nuclear energy commission director, other officials and a former head of the Mossad secret service. . . ElBaradei said his attempts to promote the idea of a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East ran up against Israeli concern about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and about the hostility to Israel of some states in the region. “The majority of the countries in the Middle East feel that there is this security imbalance in the Middle East, this double standard,” ElBaradei said of the assumption that Israel has atomic weapons and other Middle East states do not. “Here the Israelis are saying you cannot even discuss that because we cannot lower our security threshold before we have a comprehensive peace where we are fully accepted as part and parcel of the region,” he said. . . ElBaradei has said repeatedly that “the jury is still out” on whether Iran is seeking the bomb. Uzi Arad, director of Israel’s Institute of Policy and Strategy and an ex-senior Mossad official, disagreed, saying it was time the IAEA stated openly that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. “Anyone who suggests differently is under illusions,” Arad told reporters. “At which point will the IAEA state the obvious (about Iran)?” ElBaradei will meet Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom on Thursday and analysts said Iran was likely to come up in those talks.

Agence France Presse (July 8): Israel held fast to its policy of ambiguity about whether it has nuclear weapons and its refusal to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as UN nuclear chief Mohamed ElBaradei concluded a visit. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief ElBaradei had come to Israel Tuesday urging the Jewish state to “clarify” whether it has nuclear weapons and to join the non-proliferation regime which his agency is mandated to verify. But speaking after ElBaradei met with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, a senior Israeli nuclear official said Thursday that there would be no change in the government’s longstanding “strategic ambiguity” policy. . . ElBaradei said Sharon had “affirmed to me that Israel’s policy continues to be that, in the context of peace in the Middle East, Israel would be looking favorably to the establishment of” such a zone “. . . But Sharon did not set a time-frame for Israel to back off on its refusal to discuss such security issues while it is still facing attacks from Palestinian groups and hostility from Iran, ElBaradei said. The UN nuclear chief said “a dialogue on security issues could be envisaged as part of the roadmap which has, as phase two, a discussion of arms control issues in an arms control subcommittee to be established under the roadmap. “Meanwhile, ElBaradei said that while Israel rejected joining the NPT, officials had told him the Jewish state was ready to sign an agreement on export controls on nuclear technology sales.

Agence France Presse (July 8): ElBaradei was taken on a flight over Israel by a senior air force official Wednesday, in which he was told the Jewish state was vulnerable as it had “no defensive depth because a plane can fly from one border to the other in three-and-a-half minutes.” During the flight, the IAEA chief saw from afar the Dimona plant, where Israel is believed to make the material for its nuclear warheads, but Israeli officials said he had made no request to visit it.

Reuters (July 9): A leading Iranian cleric on Friday criticized the head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog for allowing Israel to divert attention away from its presumed nuclear arsenal by focusing talks on Iran’s nuclear program. International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei ended a three-day visit to Israel on Thursday during which the Jewish state continued to refuse to admit or deny it has nuclear weapons under a policy of “strategic ambiguity”. International experts calculate Israel has 100 to 200 warheads, based on estimates of plutonium produced at its Dimona desert reactor. During the talks, Israeli officials concentrated not on the presumed arsenal that makes Israel the region’s only nuclear power, but worries that arch-foe Iran was developing an atom bomb and might one day use it on Israel. “The Zionists have many warheads, and Mr. ElBaradei goes there and instead of asking them to correct their behavior they sit and discuss Iran,” Ayatollah Mohammed Emami-Kashani said during a Friday prayers sermon in Tehran. “These are diverting attention from Israel to Iran which is only pursuing technological aims,” he said in comments broadcast live on state radio.



The very short visit of the IAEA chief ElBaradei to Israel ended on July 8. Even though he tried to put the best face on his trip and make the IAEA look like an impartial, powerful and independent agency, the chief left Israel empty handed, humiliated and with his tail between his legs. This is the lesson that the rest of the world learned from the chief’s comical trip to Israel: if you want to develop and hang on to your nuclear weapons you must do the following:

1) Find yourself a very strong partner, a kind of Godfather, whose aggressive and gangster-like behavior and interests match yours, someone who will protect your criminal activities at all costs and against all charges.

2) Never join any international agreements, such as the NPT, and never admit to having nuclear weapons.

3) If the IAEA chief ever shows up, say “I don’t know what he is coming to see” and, of course, show him nothing.

4) If he dares to ask questions about your nuclear weapons, change the subject by attacking another country and say that that country supports the victims of your colonial aggression (oops, sorry, I meant supports the “terrorists”).

5) While you are at it, throw in the argument that the country in question has missiles that threaten Europe (remember the Iraqi missiles that could be launched in 45 minutes and reach Europe?)

6) If you are asked to join the family of civilized nations who have joined the NPT, or if the chief says please, at least slow down your nuclear weapons development policy, say that you will consider it only at the end of a non-existent “roadmap to peace.”

7) Finally, if you really, really want to make the chief feel like he got something out of his useless trip, put him on a plane, take him up a few thousand feet, and show him your nuclear power plant below!

SASAN FAYAZMANESH is a professor of economics at Fresno State University.

Sasan Fayazmanesh is Professor Emeritus of Economics at California State University, Fresno, and is the author of Containing Iran: Obama’s Policy of “Tough Diplomacy.” He can be reached at: