Inspecting Nuclear Israel: Part One
By Bob Feldman
CounterPunch, October 14, 2002
"In the near term, there is little risk that Iraq's now dormant nuclear program could lead to the production of nuclear arms or that Iraq could obtain nuclear weapons material clandestinely, because such material does not appear to be available for sale."
THE UNDECLARED BOMB by Leonard Spector in 1988
"Israel has `hundreds' of tactical and strategic nuclear weapons, including more than 100 nuclear artillery shells, nuclear landmines in the Golan Heights and hundreds of low-yield neutron warheads."
THE NEW YORK TIMES on Oct. 20, 1991
Like the transnational oil companies and the government of Kuwait Inc., Nuclear Israel seems to have a special influence in U.S. political life. One reason for Nuclear Israel's special influence is because its political allies in the United States are willing to spend a lot of money to fund the political campaigns of influential members of the U.S. Congress.
According to the 1990 book, STEALTH PACS: HOW ISRAEL'S AMERICAN LOBBY SEEKS TO CONTROL U.S. MIDDLE EAST POLICY by Richard Curtis, "the ability to spend more on elections than any other special interest in the United States while remaining virtually invisible to the public, and to evade with impunity the letter and the spirit of the law limiting contributions to congressional candidates, are only two of the `special' qualities of pro-Israel PACS [political action committees]." Seventy-eight pro-Nuclear Israel PACS donated more than $5.7 million to 477 candidates for the U.S. Congress, for instance, during the 1988 U.S. election campaign.
Nuclear Israel produces nuclear bombs on Middle East soil. At its Negev Nuclear Research Center in Dimona, the Israeli government continues to increase the size of its nuclear weapons arsenal. In his book, THE SAMSON OPTION: ISRAEL'S NUCLEAR ARSENAL AND AMERICAN FOREIGN POLICY, Seymour Hersh estimates that the Israeli government possessed 300 nuclear warheads in 1992.
THE DIMONA NUCLEAR FACTORY
According to ISRAEL'S NUCLEAR ARSENAL by Peter Pry, "Dimona's corner of the Negev is ideal for hiding atomic bombs" because it is "protected from Jordan by the Dead Sea and the rough country of the eastern desert, and over 250 miles distant from the nearest Syrian military bases."
At the Negev Nuclear Research Center, the Israeli government's nuclear bombs are produced in "the windowless, two-story concrete building" next to the Dimona nuclear reactor, according to TRIPLE CROSS by Louis Toscano, the former United Press International Jerusalem Bureau Chief. The roof of the Dimona Nuclear Bomb Factory, which is called Machon 2, is "topped with an elevator tower" and its walls are "several feet thick," according to the same book. Of the Negev Nuclear Research Center's 2,700 workers, only 150 are allowed to enter the Holy Land's Machon 2 nuclear bomb factory.
These 150 scientists and technicians build their nuclear bombs "in laboratories and work shops on six levels under the desert floor" and Machon 2 is "essentially a giant reprocessing plant" where plutonioum is produced and "then fashioned into nuclear weapons," according to TRIPLE CROSS. After the Machon 2 work on the nuclear bombs is completed, the bomb components are moved in convoys of unmarked cars to "a secret military airfield near Haifa," where the spheres are "fitted with triggering devices and other technology needed to turn them into nuclear weapons," according to the same book. Some of the Israeli government's nuclear warheads are then used in nuclear-armed Jerich II missiles which are deployed in hardened bunkers or silos by Nuclear Israel, according to THE UNDECLARED BOMB by Leonard Spector, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
SECRECY AND THE DIMONA NUCLEAR BOMB FACTORY
Perhaps because most people in the world believe that the Holy Land should be a nuclear-free zone, the Israeli government set up its Dimona Nuclear Bomb Factory operation covertly and continues to be secretive about its nuclear war preparations. According to the Oct. 20, 1991 issue of THE NEW YORK TIMES, "journalists working in Israel are not allowed to publish anything substantial on Israel's nuclear program."
The book NONE WILL SURVIVE US: THE STORY OF THE ISRAELI A-BOMB by Ami Dor-On and Eli Teicher, for instance, which was scheduled to be published in 1980 by the two Israeli journalists, "was banned from publication by Israeli government censors" and Dor-On and Teicher were "allegedly threatened with prison sentences of 15 years to life if they defy the ban," according to ISRAEL'S NUCLEAR ARSENAL.
In 1952, the Ben-Gurion government of Israel "secretly founded the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission [IAEC] and placed it under the supervision of the Defense Ministry," according to ISRAEL'S NUCLEAR ARSENAL. "The architect of both the bomb factory at Dimona and the 30-year effort to keep it secret," former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, was then director-general of the Israeli Defense Ministry and he persuaded the then-Prime Minister Ben-Gurioon "to pursue the nuclear option," according to Louis Toscano's TRIPLE CROSS book.
In the Fall of 1956, according to THE UNDECLARED BOMB, "France secretly agreed to supply Israel with a sizeable plutonium-producing reactor to be built at Dimona." The agreement between the French and Israeli government to construct the Dimona nuclear reactor was signed on Sept. 17, 1956; on Oct. 10, 1956, "further details" were "set forth in a classified accord," and in November 1956, the French government made a "secret pledge to help Israel develop nuclear arms," according to THE UNDECLARED BOMB.
Following the secret French-Israeli government agreements of 1956, "hundreds of French technicians flooded the Negev to construct the facility, including a plutonium processing plant underground to elude American and Soviet spy satellites," and "by 1967 Israel had enough plutonium on hand to build its first bomb," according to TRIPLE CROSS. The same book also notes that "to explain the feverish construction activity in the Negev, Ben-Gurion announced Israel was building a textile plant" and after the U.S. government discovered that what was actually being built at Dimona was a nuclear reactor, "Peres claimed the power produced at Dimona would be used to desalinate billions of gallons of sea water for the irrigation of the Negev." On Dec. 21, 1960, when Israeli Prime Minister Ben-Gurion publicly acknowledged that a nuclear reactor--not a textile factory--was being built at Dimona, he had also "declared that the facility would be used exclusively for peaceful research and training," according to THE UNDECLARED BOMB.
Within Nuclear Israel, there was some internal opposition to the Israeli government's decision to produce weapons of mass destruction in the Holy Land. According to TRIPLE CROSS, "seven of the eight members of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission resigned in protest over the decision to build weapons, but the reasons were never made public." And in 1961, two of these former IAEC members helped form the Committee for the De-Nuclearization of the Israeli-Arab Conflict, which was opposed to Israel developing nuclear weapons.
To assure the U.S. government that no nuclear bombs were being produced at the Israeli government's Dimona Nuclear Bomb Factory, israeli Prime Minister Ben-Gurion "agreed to permit regular inspections of the plant by American experts, but he secretly ordered severe restrictions on the inspectors' access," according to TRIPLE CROSS. The ISRAEL'S NUCLEAR ARSENAL book notes that the 1969 U.S. inspection team "complained in writing that because the Israelis made their earlier inspection hurried and limited and did not permit them to move freely, they could not guarantee that there was no weapons-related work being done at Dimona." And according to TRIPLE CROSS, on one second-floor corridor at the Machon 2 nuclear bomb factory are two elevators "that dropped into the heart of the weapons plant," but the entrance to the corridor where the elevator doors are located "had been routinely bricked up when American inspectors were shown the building."
After 1969, even the previously limited U.S. inspections of the Dimona Nuclear Bomb Factory were no longer allowed by the Israeli government. And in November, 1976, thirteen U.S. Senators who were on a Middle East fact-finding tour were not allowed to examine the Dimona Nuclear Bomb Factory. According to TRIPLE CROSS, taped to a wall in Machon 2 in 1977 was "a newspaper clipping about the senators' attempted visit and the government's denial that any weapons were being built at Dimona."
Bob Feldman lives in New York.
This article originally appeared in Downtown magazine in 1992.
Feldman can be reached at: [email protected]