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The worst kept secret in the world… or Olmert and the Israeli Nuclear bomb. December 16, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Israel, Middle East.

Amazing news this week in the Guardian and assorted media outlets. Ehud Olmert, embattled Prime Minister of Israel (TM), announced during an interview with German news station N24 that “Without accepting your suggestion [ that Israel has nuclear weapons] . . . Iran threatens openly and explicitly to erase Israel from the map. Can you tell me that their wish for atomic weapons is the same thing as with America, France, Israel and Russia?” (this taken from the Irish Times report). It’s not exactly the clearest statement of facts, but implicitly the second part of the statement appears to indicate at least some hint of commonality between America, France, etc, etc…

But wait, was this the same event as reported in the Guardian, or even the same sentence construction, where it is reported that: He told Germany’s Sat.1 channel on Monday evening: “Iran, openly, explicitly and publicly, threatens to wipe Israel off the map. Can you say that this is the same level, when they are aspiring to have nuclear weapons, as America, France, Israel and Russia?”

The Jerusalem Post uses the second configuration, so perhaps it’s fair enough to accept it as is. Either way, it seems a clumsy and off hand phrase – exactly how it would be if it had slipped out in an interview. But hold on, this is the Prime Minister of Israel. Of all people on the planet he’s the last to allow strategic Israeli national security information to slip out in an interview – isn’t he?

Let’s assume for the sake of argument, and in the absence of a definitive wording that the reports are essentially correct. As the Irish Times put’s it, it’s unclear whether Olmert’s ‘admission’ was a slip of the tongue or a calculated ploy. The political and historical ramifications of the context are remarkable really when one stops to think about it. Here is the Prime Minister of the Jewish State, more or less admitting in Germany (Germany!) that Israel is in possession of weapons of mass destruction. Hmmm…

Naturally the Israeli opposition are blowing up a storm accusing Olmert of erasing a corner stone of Israeli national security. To be honest it’s hard to feel too exercised about it one way or another. My assumption, and I’m presuming it’s the assumption of regional governments, is that Israel has got such weapons, and has had them for some time (1968 to be precise if we are to believe CIA analyses), 200 weapons, if truth be told, which is an enormous cache. If there is a regional arms race it’s been a long time coming, and it hasn’t exactly been rapid. And realistically (and how I hate that term), there’s little that can be done about this. Still, putting national security aside there is one very practical reason why Israeli’s might feel less than delighted at Olmert’s (non) frankness. As the Guardian notes Israel evades “a US ban on funding countries that proliferate weapons of mass destruction. It can thus enjoy more than $2bn (£1.02bn) a year in military and other aid from Washington”.

Incidentally, one of the particularly silly ideas of the further left is that there is a monolithic front of the US, the UK and Israel. This is a perfect example of how that isn’t true, that state sovereignty (or let’s use the old fashioned term nationalism) still trumps capital at the end of the day. The Israeli nuclear weapons program appears to be very much a home-grown operation, and clearly plays a similar role in the Israeli psyche as it does in that of Pakistan – one which engenders nationalistic pride, with of course the added bonus of security. Or more importantly it provides an even firmer guarantee of Israeli security than US support, and perhaps even provides Israel with a negotiating tool with the US, again in exactly the same way that Pakistan has now leverage due to it’s weapons with the White House (indeed is it too fanciful to see these weapons being used as a means of vetoing US intentions in the area where they conflict with Israeli national interests?). And on that topic for a moment or two… the Guardian also reported on how the Saudi’s have threatened to arm Sunni groups in Iraq unless the US stays in place. And why wouldn’t they? The catastrophe on their northern border promises nothing but pain for them, even if their own brand of Wahhabi extremism is in part responsible for some of the more appalling aspects of the violence. Still it places Bush in a remarkable quandry. World opinion, and that of his own bien-pensants, is at one in the belief that a US withdrawal is necessary. Yet regional actors take the opposite line. I may be wrong, but I’d predict that Iran also could be none-too-pleased at an early US withdrawal (and incidentally this mirrors to some degree the thinking of Irish Eagle on this topic where he argues that the growing regional aspect of the problem works to US interests since it inevitably concentrates the mind of these regional players – okay, granted, that’s a counsel of despair…). And can I recommend Timothy Garton-Ash and his latest piece in the Guardian on Iraq which essentially excoriates Bush. It’s also worth noting that despite his centre left/liberal position he was consistently opposed to the war from the beginning.

Still, to return to the central point, perhaps Mordechai Vanunu, who might reflect wryly and reasonably on the fact that Olmert does not appear to be heading towads 18 years of incarceration for his statements, has the most level headed approach to this, actually welcoming Olmert’s partial admission when he says: “Obviously, I don’t welcome the atomic bomb but this openness could lead at last to some realpolitik – and maybe to some real peace”.


1. Pidge - December 17, 2006

You’d have to wonder why Vanunu was given such harsh treatment, if there was nothing to hide.

John Simpson’s interview with Olmert after the comment was made was even more telling. He asked if Israel had nuclear weapons and Olmert replied something along the lines of Israel not introducing nuclear weapons to the region. Simpson pointed out that you could do this by having a nuclear weapon which needs a single screw. Olmert simply repeated the evasive phrase.

It was all a bit wink wink, nod nod.


2. WorldbyStorm - December 17, 2006

I wonder was the harsh treatment of Vanunu due to the centrality of defense to Israel? Simply put this wasn’t just a whistleblower, or even betrayal, say along ideological grounds, but was perceived as a direct existential threat to the state. And yet, as you say it is wink wink, nod nod and to no great purpose – other than the aid.


3. JC Skinner - December 18, 2006

If Iran is wrth invading due to an alleged potential nuclear capacity, then why haven’t America invaded Israel?
This is an example of the core hypocrisy underlying US and British policy in the Middle East.


4. Pidge - December 18, 2006

It’s not really hypocritical, JC, unless of course, the US are objecting purely to anyone having nuclear weapons. They could (even somewhat legitimately, in my view) be against a country they regard as racist, aggressive and hostile to their interests.


5. Pidge - December 18, 2006

(Oh, add allies to interests, if you would. Blast this lack of editing!)


6. JC Skinner - December 19, 2006

Clearly that’s not what they’re doing, Pidge, otherwise the sub-continent and Israel would be enjoying the benefits of US-led regime change right now.
But that is what they said they were doing in Iraq, and what they are making the case for with Iran, so hence, it’s hypocritical.


7. WorldbyStorm - December 19, 2006

I think it’s possible to propose that the US might not be entirely hypocritical in suggesting that further proliferation of weapons was a bad thing, despite both it’s own stocks of same and those held by it’s allies. Indeed the whole NPT was based on just this assumption that the key issue wasn’t to berate those powers who already had such weapons, but instead to ensure that they reduced their arsenals (which did occur to some extent with the end of the Cold War – and its notable that Blair has himself suggested that Trident might be replaced with a smaller nuclear deterrant) and that further spread of nuclear weapons capability was eliminated as best as was possible.

Even now it’s fairly clear that nuclear weapons programmes demand state actors (which is sort of a pun).


8. Eagle - December 20, 2006


I love that bit about the Saudis, as if there isn’t already a back channel funding the Sunni insurgents in Iraq. Those people have some nerve.


The US administration has said – OFTEN – that they are committed to preventing ‘the world’s most dangerous regimes’ from acquiring ‘the world’s most dangerous weapons’. Now, you may differ from US policy as to which are the ‘world’s most dangerous regimes’, but that doesn’t make US policy hypocritical. Depending on your views the policy may be wrong, but it’s not hypocritical.


9. JC Skinner - December 20, 2006

Eagle, there is ‘differing’ and there is flying in the face of the meaning of a term.
Obviously the US themselves are probably the world’s most dangerous regime, and they aren’t going to disarm themselves. But their position is utterly hypocritical and solely based on dubious political judgement.
Nuclear weapons have in recent times proliferated to Pakistan (whose North West territory is now virtually run by the Taliban), to India (who threaten war almost continually with their neighbour) and to Israel (who have provoked a regional war as recently as this summer).
Iran, on the other hand, have failed to threaten absolutely anyone, and haven’t fought anyone since their defensive war against Saddam two decades ago.
So to claim to be against nuclear proliferation while stockpiling your own massive nuclear arms, and while permitting selected and dangerous allies to do likewise, is by definition hypocritical.
Of course it is.


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