The United States, United Kingdom, Russia, China, France and Germany (known as the P5+1) have a meeting scheduled in Geneva on October 15 and 16 to hear new, concrete proposals from Iran designed to assure the peaceful nature of its nuclear program. In return, Iran would get some relief from economic sanctions, reports Walter Pincus in the Washington Post. He then wonders, â€œBehind closed doors, do the P5+1 acknowledge Israel has nuclear weapons?â€
Victor Gilinsky and Henry Sokolski in the New York Times similarly note: â€œWhile the world endlessly discusses Iranâ€™s nuclear capabilities and the likelihood that it will succeed in developing an atomic arsenal, hardly anyone in the United States ever mentions Israelâ€™s nuclear weapons. Obama, like his predecessors, pretends that he doesnâ€™t know anything about them.â€
If this October 15 meeting would bring up the subject of Israelâ€™s leaking nuclear reactor and Israelâ€™s stockpile of atomic weapons, it will be a happy birthday for Mordechai Vanunu, who lives under permanent house arrest in Israel. He turns 59 on October 13.
Vanunu, a former Israeli nuclear technician, worked from 1977-1985 at the Negev Nuclear Research Center near Dimona, an Israeli facility that develops and manufactures nuclear weapons. Just before he was fired (for advocating Palestinian rights), Vanunu secretly took 57 photographs of the Dimona facility in 1985.
On October 5, 1986, the British newspaper The Sunday Times ran the story with photos on its front page under the headline: â€œRevealed: the secrets of Israelâ€™s nuclear arsenal.â€ In this interview with Peter Hounam, Vanunu gave detailed descriptions of lithium-6 separation required for the production of tritium, an essential ingredient of fusion-boosted fission bombs. Vanunu described the plutonium processing used, giving a production rate of about 30 kg per year, and stated that Israel used about 4 kg per weapon. From this information it was estimated that Israel had sufficient plutonium for about 150 nuclear weapons.
With the help of a female secret agent, the Mossad kidnapped Vanunu, who was subsequently imprisoned for 18 years in Israel, 11 years of which he spent in solitary confinement. But it was too late to stop the press. The world now already knew that Israel possesses nuclear weapons.
Upon his release in 2004, Vanunu immediately began speaking to the media despite being ordered by Shin Bet not to talk to any foreigners. He has been re-arrested several times since then. Vanunu continues to call for Israelâ€™s nuclear disarmament, and for its dismantlement as a Jewish state.
In July 2004 he warned the London-based Arabic-language newspaper Al Hayat that the Dimona reactor endangers millions with its radioactive pollution. Vanunu advised the Jordanian government to prepare for possible leaks from the reactor, since the reactor operates mainly when â€œthe wind blows toward Jordan.â€
But by then, this was already old news. On February 6, 2000 the London Sunday Times had quoted Professor Uzi Even, formerly a senior scientist at the reactor, saying, â€œThe Dimona reactor is old and dangerous; It should be closed.â€ Another scientist, who was not named, stated that the structure of the reactor has been damaged as the result of radiation and is now â€œvulnerable and dangerous.â€ Furthermore, Dimonaâ€™s buried nuclear waste has resulted in skyrocketing cancer rates in Palestinian and Bedouin villages near Southern Hebron and Negev. The leaking reactor in Dimona has now been active without any foreign inspection for 50 years.
However, closing Dimona wouldnâ€™t stop Israeli nukes, said Dr. Daniel Rohrlich, a research physicist at Tel Aviv University.
â€œIn August, 1998, Israel joined an international initiative to cut off production of nuclear materials, i.e., plutonium and enriched uranium… But Israel only pretended to join… One day, a treaty to cut off production of fissionable materials will be ready for signing, and Israel will have to decide whether or not to go along. Signing a cutoff treaty would oblige Israel to demonstrate that it does not produce fissionable materials. If Israel is unwilling to open the Dimona reactor to international inspection, it has another option: to close and dismantle the reactor once and for all.
â€œIt does not need the reactor. Israel already has enough fissionable material for hundreds of nuclear bombs. Over the decades, the reactor has produced hundreds of kilograms of plutonium. A cutoff would not affect this supply. Since the half-life of plutonium is 24,000 years, this plutonium would remain at Israelâ€™s disposal for thousands of years,â€ said Rohrlich.
Walter Pincus reports in the Washington Post, â€œBack in the 1960s, Israel apparently hid the nuclear weapons program being carried on at its Negev Nuclear Research Center (NNRC) at Dimona. It deceived not only the international community but also its close U.S. ally. It repeatedly pledged â€œit would not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the area.â€
In early 1966, at the time of a U.S. sale of F-4 fighter-bombers to Israel, the Johnson administration insisted that Israel reaffirm that pledge. â€œForeign Minister Abba Eban told Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara that Israel did not intend to build nuclear weapons, â€˜so we will not use your aircraft to carry weapons we havenâ€™t got and hope we will never have,â€™â€ according to the State Departmentâ€™s Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964â€“1968, Volume XVIII.
â€œAmerica is locked into covering up Israeli nuclear bombs because of a 1969 agreement between President Richard M. Nixon and Israelâ€™s prime minister, Golda Meir,â€ write Victor Gilinsky and Henry Sokolski in the New York Times.
â€œIf Washington wants negotiations over weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East to work â€” or even just to avoid making America appear ridiculous â€” Mr. Obama should begin by being candid. He cannot expect the countries participating in a conference to take America seriously if the White House continues to pretend that we donâ€™t know whether Israel has nuclear weapons, or for that matter whether Egypt and Israel have chemical or biological ones.â€
So why is Israel so hesitant to admit its capabilities, which have long been public?
By not acknowledging possession of nuclear weapons, Israel avoids a US legal prohibition on funding countries which proliferate weapons of mass destruction. Open possession of nuclear weapon capabilities would prevent Israel from receiving over $2 billion each year in military and other aid from United Statesâ€™ taxpayers.