FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Israel’s Nuclear Exceptionalism

Wither the bomb – as a legal problem. Ever since its inception as a weapon of war, atomic, and subsequently nuclear weaponry, have become the totemic reminders that sovereignty lie in their acquisition. Not having them poses insecurity; acquiring them grants the illusion of safety while pushing the globe towards greater prospects of immolation.

The Nuclear Weapons Non-Proliferation Treaty, which came into force in 1970, was the juggling result of this dilemma. The question that dogs the entire treaty is that of power: where does it lie? Non-nuclear powers are discouraged from acquiring a nuclear weapons potential, though not a civilian potential – indeed, they are encouraged to receive technology for peaceful purposes “on a non-discriminatory basis” at a cheap price.

Nuclear weapons powers, however, are merely required to pay lip service to such misty-eyed visions of a world without nuclear weapons, while happily engaging in that euphemistic word termed “modernisation”. Article Six, a vague provision at best, makes the five nuclear states “undertake to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective means relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date.” Disarmament, in the scheme of things, becomes utopia.

In other words, the NPT is a club of skewed membership with poor credentials, despite the note from the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs calling it significant for having more signatories than “any other arms limitation and disarmament agreement”.[1] Analysts like Fred Kaplan argue that the NPT did prevent the nuclear club from swelling – a prediction of 25-30 countries having such weapons is deemed a more terrifying prospect than having the addition of four or so more powers.[2] Of course, the underlying rationale of the NPT was precisely that: keeping the club exclusive.

But it has been shown over the years of its operation that the NPT is a legal creature with vast, lumbering deficiencies. The supply of technology to produce “peaceful” nuclear energy can just as well be used to create nuclear weaponry – a point emphasised by a thriving nuclear black market, and the easy means by which uranium can be enriched outside the scrutiny of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Countries like North Korea have realised such weaknesses, abrogating its commitment to the regime by employing Article 10. But the system justifies its own abuses, making non-nuclear weapons states compliant by allowing IAEA inspection.

Then come the gentleman’s club of nuclear powers – the ones who came before the others and script a tune they don’t necessarily march to. The treaty prohibits the nuclear club powers, under Article 1, from providing materials, technology and incidental material that would be used for making nuclear weapons. The nuclear weapon states are also not to “assist, encourage, or induce any non-nuclear weapon State to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, or control over such weapons or explosive devices.”

In reality, this nuclear club continues to create dispensations and mark out areas of exception. Over time, countries have received nuclear technology in violation of signatory undertakings. The supposed limitations imposed by the NPT on non-nuclear weapons states have been deemed insufficient.

But one such state takes the mantle when it comes to nuclear exceptionalism. Israel has deemed it wise not to sign the NPT, thereby evading the prying eyes of the IAEA. It prefers the state of ambiguity that surrounds its weapons, while insisting that other states not undertake a nuclear weapons program. In December, former speaker of the Knesset, Avraham Burg, decided to wade into dangerous waters by challenging this policy of ambiguity as “outdated and childish,” calling for a “regional dialogue, including with Iran”. He was met by accusations of treason by the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel.[3]

Nuclear countries have also capitalised on this position, while insisting that Israel “become a state party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”[4] As far back as January 5, 1968, National Security Advisor Walt Rostow expressed the view to President Lyndon Johnson that Israel would, eventually, sign the NPT.[5] But it was as early as 1966 that the CIA realised that Israel has acquired nuclear capability.

Technology has been supplied to Israel, despite an official position by Washington that it would be “unalterably opposed to Israel’s acquiring of nuclear weapons.”[6] That, in addition to traditional industrial espionage undertaken by the spy ring Lakam, made acquiring the nuclear weapons program a matter of course, to be undertaken even in defiance of its close ally’s position.

As a member of the nuclear club, the United States is on record as having featured in its nuclear program. Initially, it was deemed unwitting – the supply of a 5-magawatt (thermal) research reactor at Nahal Soreq; the supply of heavy water to the Dimona reactor in 1963. France, a point noted in Pierre Pean’s Les duex bombes (1982), did even more, kick-starting the Dimona project and revealing the role of French technicians behind creating a plutonium extraction plant at the same site.[7]

In a declassified report by the US Department of Defence, Critical Technology Assessment in Israel and NATO Nations (April 1987), the schizophrenic nature of US weapons policy towards Israel was revealed. It was acknowledged that Israel was “developing the kind of codes which will enable them to make hydrogen bombs. That is, codes which detail fission and fusion processes on a microscopic and macroscopic level.”[8] (The technical crew did, however, suggest Israel had some catching up to do.) Furthermore, “The SOREQ and the Dimona/Beer [sic] Sheva facilities are the equivalent of our Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore and Oak Ridge National Laboratories.” Ideas on various technologies are noted, including the use of various types of detonator codes.

Roger Mattson, formerly of the Atomic Energy Commission’s staff, found the “degree of cooperation on specialised war making devices between Israel and the US” striking. European powers, and their role behind the Israeli defence complex, are also noted.

Grant Smith, who initiated the Freedom of Information request for the report, has actively argued that the Pentagon proved coy about its knowledge and involvement with the Israeli defence industry, burying it “in violation of the Symington and Glenn amendments, costing taxpayers $86 billion” (RT, Feb 13).

As director of the Washington think tank Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy, Smith has long argued that violations have taken place of the Symington Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 prohibiting US foreign aid to countries found trafficking in nuclear enrichment equipment or technology, and the Glenn Amendment of 1977, which demanded an end of US foreign aid to countries importing nuclear reprocessing technology.

Certain breaches of the international regime on non-proliferation, in other words, are tolerated. Israel remains the grandest of security exceptions – or ambiguities – free of signing the NPT, obviating the need to deal with the IAEA, and a catalyst, and recipient, of nuclear weapons technology.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne and was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Notes

[1] http://www.un.org/disarmament/WMD/Nuclear/NPT.shtml

[2] http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/war_stories/2005/05/the_real_nuclear_option.html

[3] http://www.timesofisrael.com/avraham-burg-panned-for-breaking-nuclear-ambiguity/

[4] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/15/truth-israels-secret-nuclear-arsenal

[5] http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/israel/documents/battle/02-01.htm

[6] http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/israel/documents/battle/01-01.htm

[7] http://www.wisconsinproject.org/countries/israel/nuke.html

[8] http://www.courthousenews.com/2015/02/12/nuc%20report.pdf

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
September 19, 2019
Richard Falk
Burning Amazonia, Denying Climate Change, Devastating Syria, Starving Yemen, and Ignoring Kashmir
Charles Pierson
With Enemies Like These, Trump Doesn’t Need Friends
Lawrence Davidson
The Sorry State of the Nobel Peace Prize
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Scourge in the White House
Urvashi Sarkar
“Not a Blade of Grass Grew:” Living on the Edge of the Climate Crisis in the Sandarbans of West Bengal.
Thomas Knapp
Trump and Netanyahu: “Mutual Defense” or Just Mutual Political Back-Scratching?
Dean Baker
Is There Any Lesser Authority Than Alan Greenspan?
Gary Leupp
Warren’s Ethnic Issue Should Not Go Away
George Ochenski
Memo to Trump: Water Runs Downhill
Jeff Cohen
What George Carlin Taught Us about Media Propaganda by Omission
Stephen Martin
The Perspicacity of Mcluhan and Panopticonic Plans of the MIC
September 18, 2019
Kenneth Surin
An Excellent Study Of The Manufactured Labour “Antisemitism Crisis”
Patrick Cockburn
The Saudi Crown Prince Plans to Make Us Forget About the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi Before the US Election
W. T. Whitney
Political Struggle and Fixing Cuba’s Economy
Ron Jacobs
Support the Climate Strike, Not a Military Strike
John Kendall Hawkins
Slouching Toward “Bethlehem”
Ted Rall
Once Again in Afghanistan, the U.S. Proves It Can’t Be Trusted
William Astore
The Ultra-Costly, Underwhelming F-35 Fighter
Dave Lindorff
Why on Earth Would the US Go to War with Iran over an Attack on Saudi Oil Refineries?
Binoy Kampmark
Doctored Admissions: the University Admissions Scandal as a Global Problem
Jeremy Corbyn
Creating a Society of Hope and Inclusion: Speech to the TUC
Zhivko Illeieff
Why You Should Care About #ShutDownDC and the Global Climate Strike  
Catherine Tumber
Land Without Bread: the Green New Deal Forsakes America’s Countryside
Liam Kennedy
Boris Johnson: Elitist Defender of Britain’s Big Banks
September 17, 2019
Mario Barrera
The Southern Strategy and Donald Trump
Robert Jensen
The Danger of Inspiration in a Time of Ecological Crisis
Dean Baker
Health Care: Premiums and Taxes
Dave Lindorff
Recalling the Hundreds of Thousands of Civilian Victims of America’s Endless ‘War on Terror’
Binoy Kampmark
Oiling for War: The Houthi Attack on Abqaiq
Susie Day
You Say You Want a Revolution: a Prison Letter to Yoko Ono
Rich Gibson
Seize Solidarity House
Laura Flanders
From Voice of America to NPR: New CEO Lansing’s Glass House
Don Fitz
What is Energy Denial?
Dan Bacher
Governor Newsom Says He Will Veto Bill Blocking Trump Rollback of Endangered Fish Species Protections
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: Time to Stop Pretending and Start Over
W. Alejandro Sanchez
Inside the Syrian Peace Talks
Elliot Sperber
Mickey Mouse Networks
September 16, 2019
Sam Husseini
Biden Taking Iraq Lies to the Max
Paul Street
Joe Biden’s Answer to Slavery’s Legacy: Phonographs for the Poor
Paul Atwood
Why Mattis is No Hero
Jonathan Cook
Brexit Reveals Jeremy Corbyn to be the True Moderate
Jeff Mackler
Trump, Trade and China
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima’s Radioactive Water Crisis
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Democrats and the Climate Crisis
Michael Doliner
Hot Stuff on the Afghan Peace Deal Snafu
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail