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"In my home there are few publications that we actually get hard copies of, but [Arms Control Today] is one and it's the only one my husband and I fight over who gets to read it first."

– Suzanne DiMaggio
Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
Israel

Israel, Neighbors Mull Nuclear Power Programs

Miles A. Pomper

Soon after the United States and India concluded negotiations on a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement, Israeli officials announced in August that they too may be seeking U.S. help in furthering a civilian nuclear power program. The move comes at a time when Israel is pressuring the international community to clamp down on Iran’s nuclear program and as several other Middle Eastern states have declared their interest in civilian nuclear power programs.

Officials at Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission and Ministry of National Infrastructure confirmed Aug. 1 that the government would be conducting a preliminary feasibility study on constructing a nuclear power reactor. If built, the 1,200-1,500-megawatt reactor at Shivta, in the Negev desert near Egypt, would be the first power reactor to be built in the country. It would meet as much as one-tenth of Israel’s electricity demand, according to the Aug. 16 edition of Nucleonics Week. The publication reported that Israel would be looking to a U.S. vendor to supply the reactor.

Israeli officials said they would subject any new reactor to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, which aim to prevent the diversion of fissile material from peaceful uses to military ones. An Israeli research reactor at Soreq is already subject to facility-specific safeguards.

Nonetheless, Israel has a widely acknowledged nuclear weapons program using plutonium from an unsafeguarded reactor at Dimona in the Negev desert but has never publicly confirmed that it possesses a nuclear weapons arsenal. Like India and Pakistan, Israel has not signed the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which would bar it from possessing nuclear arms as a non-nuclear-weapon state.

If Israel moves forward with its plans, it could pose a dilemma for the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). The voluntary group, in which nuclear suppliers seek to coordinate their export controls on nuclear transfers to non-nuclear-weapon states, must give its consent to rule changes to allow the pending U.S.-Indian deal to go forward. The United States has proposed a one-time India-specific exception to NSG rules prohibiting nuclear trade with non-nuclear-weapon states that do not subject all of their nuclear facilities to IAEA safeguards (see page 22 ).

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns reiterated that approach at a July 27 briefing on the U.S.-Indian deal. “I can assure you that the United States is not going to suggest a similar deal with any other country in the world,” Burns said. Current Pakistani and former senior Israeli officials have argued that cooperation with NPT outliers should not be decided on a country-by-country basis but by a set of common criteria.

Israel is not the only Middle Eastern state indicating an interest in advancing a civil nuclear power program. About a dozen nations in the region have declared their interest in such programs in the past year.

“The rules governing the nuclear issue have changed in the entire region,” Jordan’s King Abdullah II told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in January.

Some states have hinted at the need to develop a hedge against Iran’s nuclear program. Officials have also cited environmental and economic reasons, saying they need a source of power other than fossil fuels for peaceful purposes such as electricity generation and desalination.

Among the leaders are Egypt and Turkey. Officials in Egypt, which abandoned a previous nuclear program after the 1986 Chernobyl accident, have proposed building a 1,000-megawatt reactor on its Mediterranean coast in the next decade with plans for more. Turkey wants to build at least a pair of power reactors along its Mediterranean or Black Sea coasts within the next five to six years.

In addition, Libya, which abandoned a fledgling nuclear weapons program in December 2003, has signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with France under which Paris would provide a reactor to power a Libyan desalination plant (see below). Algeria and Russia signed a nuclear development agreement in January 2007 as the North African nation, which has operated two research reactors for well more than a decade, aims to produce nuclear power. More controversially, Iran has also offered to share nuclear expertise with Algeria.

At the end of 2006, Saudi Arabia and the five other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates [UAE]) commissioned a year-long joint study on “the use of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.” Russian President Vladimir Putin has discussed nuclear cooperation with Riyadh, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy has agreed to help the UAE launch its own nuclear program.

Not to be left out, Jordan’s Abdullah discussed the possibility of purchasing Canadian reactors with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in July. In March, Jordanian Energy Minister Khaled Sharida said Amman wants to build its first reactor by 2015.

Morocco, Tunisia, and Syria have also indicated interest in peaceful nuclear power programs.

It is not clear how many of these proposals will come to fruition. Previous plans to build such plants in the region never went forward due to lack of financing or because of drops in the price of oil.

Soon after the United States and India concluded negotiations on a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement, Israeli officials announced in August that they too may be seeking U.S. help in furthering a civilian nuclear power program. The move comes at a time when Israel is pressuring the international community to clamp down on Iran’s nuclear program and as several other Middle Eastern states have declared their interest in civilian nuclear power programs. By Miles A. Pomper (Continue)

Iran Allegedly Skirts Hezbollah Arms Ban

C. I. Bosley

A year after the United Nations imposed a ban on arms sales to Hezbollah in the wake of its 2006 clash with Israel, the Shiite group in southern Lebanon is rearming. Iran and Syria have been implicated in the weapons buildup.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a report June 28 on implementation of last year’s UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which calls for a permanent cease-fire between Israel and Lebanon, implements an arms embargo on Hezbollah, and requires disarmament of the group, which the United States and some other Western countries have designated a terrorist organization. The 34-day war began last year when Israel launched a July military offensive into southern Lebanon after Hezbollah militants there abducted two Israeli soldiers. (See ACT, October 2006. )

In his report, Ban furnished details of extensive armaments smuggling across the Syria-Lebanon border to Hezbollah, as well as to Palestinian militants. Israel asserts these transfers occur weekly. One such incident occurred June 5, when Lebanese troops in the Bekaa Valley seized a truckload of rockets and mortars destined for Hezbollah. Ban termed the clandestine weapons shipments “of great concern” and in “clear violation” of Resolution 1701.

In a separate report, a UN team of experts tasked with assessing the situation along the Lebanese border concluded June 26 that Lebanese border guards demonstrated a “worrying lack of performance.” The Security Council had commissioned this fact-finding mission, citing “mounting information” on breaches of the arms embargo.

Although the Lebanese army deployed last fall more than 8,000 troops to guard the 250-kilometer boundary with Syria, the UN team determined that Lebanese security forces lacked adequate resources to accomplish their objective. Moreover, the experts faulted border guards for instances of “corruption.” Still, in recent months Hezbollah has publicly protested the seizure of its munitions by Lebanese authorities.

The majority faction of the Lebanese parliament issued a January statement contending that “forces directly affiliated with Syrian intelligence” were transporting weapons into Lebanon. Syria’s government denies any involvement, but an Israeli official told Arms Control Today Aug. 3 that Hezbollah is “feverishly receiving major supplies” from Syria.

The Israeli government claims that Iran is the source of many of the weapons transferred through Syria to Hezbollah. During the 2006 war, ordnance with Farsi lettering was discovered in southern Lebanon. In May, Turkish officials interdicted two shipments of Iranian weapons en route to Damascus, confiscating 300 rockets hidden underneath construction materials.

Iran’s ties to Hezbollah are long-standing. The organization was co-founded by Ali Akbar Mohtashemi Pour, then Tehran’s ambassador to Damascus. Arms Control Today asked Iran’s Mission to the UN about these links, but it declined to comment for this story.

Should Israel’s allegations prove accurate, both Tehran and Damascus would be acting in violation not only of Resolution 1701 but also Resolution 1747. That resolution, implemented in response to Iran’s failure to address the International Atomic Energy Agency’s concerns over its nuclear program, prohibits all Iranian weapons exports as well as all trafficking in Iranian weapons by third parties.

Ban has urged Iran and Syria to do more to prevent the weapons smuggling. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner also called for an increase in international pressure on those two countries.

Hezbollah contends it has replenished its stockpiles. Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s head, asserted July 28 that his group again possesses “rockets that can hit any area” in what he termed “occupied Palestine,” meaning Israel. (See ACT, October 2006. )

Hezbollah’s Mohtashemi Pour maintained in an August interview with the Iranian newspaper Sharq that in recent months “the Islamic Republic has made available long-range Zelzal-2 missiles” to Hezbollah. Israel contends that it had destroyed all of Hezbollah’s Zelzal rockets during the first night of the 2006 war.

 

A year after the United Nations imposed a ban on arms sales to Hezbollah in the wake of its 2006 clash with Israel, the Shiite group in southern Lebanon is rearming. Iran and Syria have been implicated in the weapons buildup. (Continue)

The Untold Nuclear Dimension of the Six-Day War

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Press Release

For Immediate Release: June 5, 2007
Press Contacts: Miles Pomper, Editor, Arms Control Today (202) 463-8270 x108

(Washington, D.C.): As the world prepares to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Arab-Israeli or Six-Day War, this month’s issue of Arms Control Today reveals the previously hidden role that the war played in pushing Israel to become a nuclear weapons power.

Avner Cohen, the foremost expert on Israel’s nuclear weapons history and author of the landmark book Israel and the Bomb, writes that in the stressful days leading up to the conflict, Israel, which already had developed the relevant technology, made the fateful leap to assemble complete nuclear weapons.

Cohen writes that “as far as can be determined, these improvised activities were not a response to any specific political or military request that came from the top, surely not in a response to any specific operational need. These steps were taken because it would have been inconceivable not to take them. The nuclear project was at a historical junction, and it was simply unthinkable for its leaders that, at such a national dire moment, when Israel was facing existential threats, they would sit idle and do nothing.”

Cohen also suggests that the Israeli example may have implications for how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program. “New evidence indicates that prior to that war, Israeli leaders were still unsure about their ultimate goals for the program and deeply concerned about world reaction if they were to move forward…. It is likely that Iran today, like Israel before the 1967 war, has taken important technological steps toward a nuclear weapons capability but has delayed making the essential political decision to move forward with such arms,” he writes. “Creative diplomacy may still be able to prevent Tehran from going nuclear.”

Additional information on the Israel's nuclear weapons can be found on ACA’s web site at <http://www.armscontrol.org/country/Israel/>.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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As the world prepares to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Arab-Israeli or Six-Day War, this month’s issue of Arms Control Today reveals the previously hidden role that the war played in pushing Israel to become a nuclear weapons power. (Continue)

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Crossing the Threshold: The Untold Nuclear Dimension of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and Its Contemporary Lessons

Avner Cohen

Forty years ago, war dramatically transformed the Middle East. Six memorable days, known by Israelis as the Six-Day War and by Arabs and others as the 1967 War, redrew the landscape of the Arab-Israeli conflict in fundamental ways. In those six days, Israel defeated three Arab armies, gained territory three times its original size, and became the dominant military power in the region. From a nation that perceived itself as fighting for its own survival, Israel became an occupier.

In recent years, new historical research has taught us more about the war and its profound impact on the psyche of Israelis and Arabs alike.[1] Yet, one important aspect of the war and the crisis that preceded it has remained obscure and largely untold: the nuclear dimension of the war. On this issue, both sides still seem to bond together by layers of taboo, silence, and secrecy.

Some bits and pieces of additional historical information have emerged in recent years that permit a more comprehensive and daring reconstruction of the nuclear aspect of the 1967 war, at least on the Israeli side. This new evidence indicates that prior to that war, Israeli leaders were still unsure about their ultimate goals for the program and deeply concerned about world reaction if they were to move forward. The May 1967 crisis, however, also was a critical turning point in Israel’s nuclear history. It was then, in a crash and improvised initiative, that Israel assembled nuclear devices to be ready for the unthinkable.

This narrative not only allows us to understand the past better, but also it may suggest insights into the dynamics of nuclear proliferation, including possible implications for Iran’s nuclear program. It is likely that Iran today, like Israel before the 1967 war, has taken important technological steps toward a nuclear weapons capability but has delayed making the essential political decision to move forward with such arms. Creative diplomacy may still be able to prevent Tehran from going nuclear.

In the year prior to the 1967 war, Israel was moving fast toward wrapping up separate research and development efforts on fissile material production and weapons design and nearing a complete nuclear option. This convergence brought the Israeli nuclear project to a major junction that required a new set of political decisions. For all previous nuclear proliferators, this phase had ended with a full-yield nuclear test. Such a test not only demonstrated technical capability but also indicated that the state has made a nuclear commitment; testing was a membership claim to the nuclear club, a way to acknowledge the state’s new international status and remove political ambiguity.

Israel was in a position to conduct a full-yield nuclear test in the second half of 1966, had its leaders so chosen. Had Israel conducted a test that year, even a so-called peaceful nuclear explosion, it could have declared itself the world’s sixth nuclear state, and subsequently, it could have joined the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as a declared nuclear-weapon state. As a matter of international law, there was nothing illegal about following that path; China and France had just tested a few years earlier. Israel’s strategic situation and unique relationship with the United States, however, made it fundamentally different from previous proliferators. Because of these considerations, Israel’s political leadership was profoundly hesitant about the degree of its nuclear intentions and commitment.

One thing was clear: Prime Minister Levi Eshkol ruled out conducting a nuclear test on political grounds. “Do you think that the world would congratulate us for our achievement?” Eshkol used to ask sarcastically of those people around him who entertained the idea of a test. He had good reasons to reject a test outright.

First, Eshkol knew that a nuclear test would be a blatant violation of Israel’s “nonintroduction” commitment, the pledge that Israel would not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East. This formula had been used orally in 1962 by Israel’s first leader, David Ben-Gurion, and then a year later by Deputy Minister of Defense Shimon Peres, who used it in a response to a query from President John F. Kennedy. Eshkol, in a memorandum of understanding he signed with the United States in March 1965, made it a key pillar in U.S.-Israeli security relations. Israel left the exact meaning of “nuclear introduction” vague, and the United States did not press then for clarifications; but in those days, nonintroduction meant, at the minimum, nontesting, nonpossession, and nonproduction of nuclear weapons.[2]

In addition, Eshkol was aware that the superpowers were leading negotiations on a global treaty aimed at preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Conducting a nuclear test would not only be a catastrophe for U.S.-Israeli bilateral relations, relations that Eshkol had invested so much political capital to cultivate, but also an act of defiance against the entire world community.

Furthermore, the nonintroduction pledge meant more than a pledge to the United States. It reflected an Israeli consensus on the nation’s nuclear program. In the eyes of Eshkol’s closest political allies, in particular Ministers Yisrael Galili and Yigal Allon, both of whom had strong views on the nuclear issue, the nonintroduction pledge was not viewed as a concession to the United States but a genuine Israeli strategic interest, that Israel’s own ultimate interest lay in opposing the introduction of nuclear weapons to the Middle East. They thought that Israel should keep ahead of the Arab countries in nuclear research but should avoid initiating any move that would nuclearize the region.

Then, of course, there was the Egyptian factor. Eshkol knew that an Israeli test would be disastrous from a regional point of view. It would surely bring to an end all the friendly probes he was trying to initiate to the Arab world. In fact, it could well provoke Egypt into an all-out war, as Egyptian leader and Arab nationalist Gamal Abdul Nasser had publicly threatened in early 1966 and as many Israelis feared.

Putting the test issue aside, Israel needed to figure out its response to a set of complicated issues involving the future of its nuclear project:

• What should be the strategic role of the nation’s nuclear option for the post-research and development period? What should be Israel’s real desire: to possess nuclear weapons secretly or to obtain the political assets that nuclear weapons could buy?

• Could the nuclear program be used as a bargaining chip in a larger political deal, either with the United States or Egypt? Should Israel pursue such a bargain?

• What does Israel actually mean when it commits itself to nonintroduction of nuclear weapons? Was this a genuine Israeli interest or just a convenient formula to deflect U.S. pressure?

• How should Israel operationalize its nuclear option? Should it include weaponization and deployment?

• Should Israel move the Dimona nuclear infrastructure to a mode of production? Would that be compatible with the declaratory stance of nonintroduction?

• What should be the future of the missile project?

In 1966-1967, Israel had no clear-cut answers to these questions. Ben-Gurion had left those long-term issues unsettled for years, even untouched; now the project was approaching the threshold point, and they had to be addressed. The challenge was to find the right balance between the two opposite horns of the state’s nuclear dilemma, between technological resolve and political caution. In a way, it was a moment of truth for the national nuclear project.

Of course, the project’s leaders pushed for moving forward. For them, it was almost inconceivable to bring the project to a pause at such a critical junction. The very ethos of the project, as they understood it, was that the nuclear option meant an operational capability available for the existential moment of last resort. Freezing the program in a nondeployable mode was unthinkable. Israel must retain a real nuclear option, not something virtual and amorphous.

New historical evidence suggests that Eshkol and some of his political and military associates saw things differently. While Eshkol generally did not intervene in the project’s development work, there are indications that he was cautious, hesitant, and even ambivalent about its future. During 1965-1967, Eshkol, along with the leadership of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), increasingly worried about the potential Egyptian reaction to the completion of the Dimona complex, especially if the Egyptians concluded that Israel was indeed getting the bomb. Israel was especially concerned about a scenario of an Egyptian surprise aerial attack on the facilities. In “Eshkol, Give the Order!,” a new study based on exclusive IDF archival material, Israeli historian Ami Gluska revealed how deeply engraved those concerns were among the IDF leadership.[3] Specifically, they were concerned that Dimona’s lack of international “legitimacy” would tempt Egypt to attack it while making it difficult for Israel to respond. In a top-level meeting in 1965, IDF Chief of Staff General Yitzhak Rabin expressed this very concern: “If Egypt bombs Dimona, and we want to wage a war, we could be issued an ultimatum from the entire world.”[4]

Although Nasser’s threats of “preventive war” were not perceived as practical in the eyes of Israeli senior intelligence officers, an attack aimed solely at Dimona was something else. It was viewed as a realistic threat.[5] In late 1966, Rabin cited concerns over a possible Egyptian attack on Dimona to explain why Israel should limit its military actions against Syria. “There is one vital object in the south,” Rabin reminded his colleagues, “which is an ideal object for a limited attack, and of which Egypt may have the support of the entire world.”[6]

Those concerns were most critical in shaping the fundamental Israeli perceptions and responses when Egypt massed troops on the Sinai peninsula in May 1967.[7] One could not understand the gravity with which Israel viewed this move without taking into account Israeli apprehensions that the Dimona nuclear complex may have been the motivation for the crisis and that Egypt was planning to attack it.[8] There were high-altitude reconnaissance flights over Dimona on May 17 and May 26 that the Israeli air force was unable to intercept, and those flights had dramatic effects on Israeli perceptions of the situation. [9] Indeed, Egypt may have been very close to launching an aerial attack on Dimona on May 26 or May 27, but it was called off by Nasser on a few hours’ notice.[10]

There are other indications of Israeli apprehensions on the nuclear issue. In the year and a half prior to the Six-Day War, Mossad Chief General Meir Amit promoted the establishment of a direct, secret channel with Egypt. It started as a humanitarian effort—releasing Israeli imprisoned spies—but Amit was pushing to turn the probe into a channel for diplomacy aimed at transforming relations between the two states. Although the nuclear issue was not the trigger that led to the Ikaros initiative (the Mossad code name for that probe) in 1966, there is little doubt that it was a stimulating factor in Amit’s overall interest. By 1966, Amit knew that Israel was fast approaching the nuclear threshold and understood the grave implications of a nuclearized Middle East. He was troubled that the advent of Israel’s nuclear capability could lead potentially to war or to the Soviet Union enfolding Egypt in its nuclear umbrella.

Amit recognized that the period from 1966 to 1968 was a critical time, perhaps the last chance for Israel to reach out to Egyptian leaders on the nuclear issue before the situation became irreversible. The Ikaros initiative could have been put to the test when Amit was invited for a secret visit to Cairo, including a possible meeting with Nasser, but the Eshkol government was afraid to take the risk. Amit continued with efforts to keep Ikaros alive until the 1967 war but without much success.[11]

Another indication of Israel’s nervousness on the nuclear issue came from a different direction. In December 1966, a major industrial accident occurred in one of the “hottest” areas in the Dimona complex. An employee was killed, and a sensitive working area was contaminated. It took weeks of cleanup to decontaminate the area. The accident left Israel’s nuclear chiefs shaken, including Eshkol. Three months later, in a cable to Washington, U.S. Ambassador Walworth Barbour reported that he never saw Eshkol so uncertain about the future of the nuclear project, suggesting that it was time for innovative diplomacy on the nuclear issue. In correspondence in March 1967, Barbour dismissed U.S. intelligence reports that asserted Israel was only weeks from the bomb and noted that Dimona was “not running at full blast.”[12]

The final evidence is extracted from an interview I conducted in 1996 with Dr. Floyd Culler, the team leader of most of the U.S. annual visits at Dimona in the mid- to late 1960s. In that interview, Culler revealed that, at the end of his last visit at Dimona in April 1967, Professor Amos de-Shalit, the official Israeli host, took him aside to raise with him some “nonconventional” ideas how to prevent nuclearization in the Middle East. Culler refused to tell me what exactly those ideas were but noted that he wrote a special report on the topic to the Department of State. De-Shalit presented his ideas as “private,” but Culler took it as if de-Shalit had launched a balloon trial on behalf of Eshkol.[13]

The general picture from the bits and pieces of evidence is that Israel was quickly reaching the threshold point, but its political leadership was still unsure whether doing so would really serve its true interests. I believe Eshkol was open to political solutions that would have allowed him not to do so.

Then came the crisis of May 1967, which dramatically changed the nuclear situation in the Middle East. As the likelihood of war intensified and some Israelis contemplated the need to have temporary burial sites for thousands, even tens of thousands, of Israeli causalities in case of an Egyptian attack, Israel did something it never had done previously. Israeli teams assembled virtually all the components, including the handful of nuclear cores it had, into improvised but operational explosive devices. Preliminary contingency plans were even drawn up for how such improvised devices could be used in a manner that would demonstrate nuclear capability short of a military use. An unpopulated site was even chosen. The idea behind it was highly indicative of Israel’s anxious state of mind in those days of May and June 1967. If all else failed and Israel’s national existence would be in peril, the state would still have its doomsday capability.

Given that the capability was real, there was an inevitable need to contemplate the circumstances under which it could be used or, more accurately, the circumstances under which decision makers would be willing to consider using it. Clearly, such contingencies were incompatible with IDF plans for war that were based on aerial preemption followed by an Israeli armor attack deep into the Sinai. Efforts to rationalize atomic use illustrated the eeriness involved in thinking about the unthinkable. They involved doomsday scenarios of a colossal failure of the IDF and a decisive strategic surprise by Egypt, say, massive use of missiles tipped with chemical warheads against Israeli cities.

As far as can be determined, these improvised activities were not a response to any specific political or military request that came from the top, surely not in a response to any specific operational need. These steps were taken because it would have been inconceivable not to take them. The nuclear project was at a historical junction, and it was simply unthinkable for its leaders that, at such a national dire moment, when Israel was facing existential threats, they would sit idle and do nothing. If the capability could be made available, it must be made available.

In the minds of the project’s leaders, the actual assembly of all the components into one system was momentous because it signified that Israel had became a nuclear power.[14] From their perspective, it was also an irreversible moment. They could not conceive a future Israeli prime minister who would give up this capability for any political assets, except perhaps a real peace. Indeed, while Eshkol may have kept open the option to sign the NPT until mid-1968, he never did do. His successor, Prime Minister Golda Meir, ultimately decided not to join the treaty and Israel’s retention of these weapons was firmly established.[15]

The Israeli nuclear situation in 1966-1967 is intriguing because of the apparent tension between technology and politics, between technical capability and political commitment. Judging by technology, Israel was reaching the nuclear threshold and appeared to have made a commitment to possess nuclear weapons.

Yet, this was not the case. Politically, Israel in 1966-1967 was still far from making a firm political commitment to nuclear weapons, let alone on nuclear strategy. Not only was Eshkol reluctant to take the nuclear plunge, but he was apparently leaning to keep the option open yet not necessarily to go beyond it. At that time, Eshkol probably thought that the country would eventually sign the NPT and position itself on the non-nuclear side of the threshold rather than on the nuclear side. Israel was ambivalent, hesitant, and sitting on the fence on the nuclear issue; the Israeli nuclear case was still undetermined. I would even make the counterfactual suggestion that had the 1967 war not broken, and the NPT had been presented for signature in that year and not a year later, Israel would have signed the NPT and opted for a substantial nuclear infrastructure, including nuclear power, but not pursued actual nuclear weapons. Technology is important and provides options to policymakers, but in itself, it does not determine the course of action.

This account is at odds with the realist picture of the dynamics of nuclear proliferation. Realists often refer to Israel as the purest case of nuclear proliferation, a case of a state determined to go nuclear because of security reasons, a case where soft issues such as prestige, domestic, or bureaucratic politics play a very limited role. The realist picture tends to view the state in deterministic and monolithic terms.

As the Israeli case shows, this realist picture is no more than a poor caricature of the real world of nuclear proliferation. The reality of nuclear proliferation is inherently fluid, tentative, fuzzy, and ultimately undeterministic in its nature. Key proliferation decisions are never solid commitments. It takes states many years, often a decade and longer, to establish full nuclear weapons capability. Given the time frame and complexity of the proliferation reality, decisions tend to be tentative, hesitant, and reversible.

Moreover, states can even complete the research and development phase without forming such clarity, as the Israeli case in 1966-1967 illustrates. By that time, Israel still had no clue how far it would be able to go, how far the world would allow it to go, or how far it would like to go for its own sake. After Israel crossed the nuclear threshold, however, after the dramatic events in late May 1967, the situation changed. At that point, it became much more difficult, perhaps close to impossible, for Israel to roll back what it had achieved.

I would dare to suggest that these historical lessons may be of some relevance even when we consider the current Iranian nuclear situation. It would be a mistake to think about Iran’s nuclear ambitions as irreversible.

One can reasonably make the case that Iran’s nuclear project today is at a similar juncture to Israel in 1963-1964 as it started to operate the Dimona reactor. Iran is commonly believed to be two to three years away from the ability to produce weapons-grade fissile material on an industrial scale, a threshold that Israel crossed sometime in 1966. If Israel in a world without the NPT and without political and economic sanctions was hesitant about its nuclear future, Iran today should be viewed with an even stronger sense of uncertainty and indeterminism.

Notwithstanding the obvious domestic differences between Israeli democracy and Iranian theocracy, Iran’s governing system is more similar to Israel than Iraq was under Saddam Hussein in terms if its national decision-making process. In Iran, significant decisions cannot be made by a sheer dictate without some degree of public support or without considerable consensus within the national elite.[16] Although there is a great and visible popular support in Iran for the notion that it has the right to full industrial enrichment, there is no public support for producing nuclear weapons, nor for leaving the NPT. Furthermore, hurtful sanctions could make more Iranians realize that they would pay a price for defying world opinion on the nuclear issue.

Nothing is inevitable at this point about the Iranian bomb, and it would be a grave mistake to perceive it as such. At the same time, the West must be resolute not to allow Iran to establish “facts on the ground” as a perceived negotiating tactic for, as the Israeli case shows, once established, such capabilities are difficult if not impossible to reverse.


Avner Cohen is a senior research scholar with the Center of Security and International Studies at the University of Maryland and author of Israel and the Bomb (1998), from which some of the material in this article is derived. His new book, Israel’s Last Taboo, will be published in 2008 by Columbia University Press.


ENDNOTES

1. Michael B. Oren, Six Days of War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002); Tom Segev, 1967: Israel, the War and the Year That Transformed the Middle East (New York: Henry Holt, 2007).

2. Indeed, in his speech in the Knesset in May 1966, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol confirmed that interpretation when he stated plainly that Israel had no nuclear weapons.

3. Ami Gluska, Eshkol, Give the Order! (Tel Aviv: Ministry of Defense, 2004) (in Hebrew).

4. Ibid., p. 71. IDF Chief of Staff General Yitzhak Rabin’s statement sounds off-course to contemporary readers, but it reveals how Israelis thought about the nuclear project in those days. Ironically, Israel took the initiative 16 years later and attacked the Iraqi Osiraq reactor, which was under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.

5. There was even some vague concern as to possible Soviet reaction to the discovery that Israel was approaching the nuclear threshold. In retrospect, it appears that Israel should have been even more concerned about Soviet reaction to Dimona. In a new book, Israeli researchers Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez make a circumstantial case that the Soviets instigated the false reports that led to the Six-Day War as part of a larger plot aimed at Israel’s nuclear program. Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez, Foxbats Over Dimona (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007).

6. Gluska, Eshkol, Give the Order!, p. 71.

7. Ibid., pp. 70-71, 73, 225, 227-230, 234, 244, 245, 250-251, 253, and 285.

8. Gluska, Eshkol, Give the Order!, pp. 300-301 and 495, n. 17. In Foxbats Over Dimona, Ginor and Remez make a claim that those reconnaissance flights were made by Soviet MiG-25s (Foxbats) flown by Soviet pilots.

9. Gluska, Eshkol, Give the Order!, pp. 227-230, 300-303, and 495, n. 17. The second flight, on May 26, was reported to Israeli decision makers as they were attending a special cabinet meeting. During a consultation between Eshkol and Rabin, following the first report, Rabin told Eshkol that Israeli intelligence intercepted “a strange and worrisome transmission indicating possible coordination between interceptors and bombers.” The high-altitude flight was initially interpreted as a possible prelude to a full aerial attack on Dimona. Decades later, a participant in that cabinet meeting revealed the sense of shock among the ministers when they were notified that “a squadron” of Egyptian aircraft was flying over Dimona.

10. Egyptian Chief of Staff General Muhammad Fawzi alluded to an Egyptian aerial attack in his memoirs. See William B. Quandt, Peace Process (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1993), p. 512, n. 38; Gluska, Eshkol, Give the Order!, pp. 288-289 and 492-493, nn. 51-52.

11. Meir Amit, Head to Head: A Personal View of Great Events and Clandestine Operations (Or Yehuda: Hed Artzi, 2000) (in Hebrew); Ronen Bergmann, “Peace, Try After: How Peace Was Missed on the Eve of the Six Day War,” Yediot Achronot, June 6, 2005 (interview with Meir Amit).

12. Walworth Barbour letter to Rodger Davies, March 9, 1967, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-68, Vol. XVIII, p. 391.

13. Floyd Culler, interviews and correspondence with author, May-June 1996. Culler declined in 1996 to specify the details of the de-Shalit message but suggested that I talk to him again a few years later. Culler died in late 2004.

14. One of them recalls, as he told me decades later, that he proposed after the war to seize the moment and to conduct a test with one of those cores. His proposal was never seriously considered. “It was a total taboo to them,” he recalled years later. It shows the strength of nuclear caution at the political level, but one can only speculate the outcome had that proposal been accepted.

15. Avner Cohen and William Burr, “Israel Crosses the Threshold,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 62, No. 3 (May/June 2006), pp. 22-30.

16. Michael Herzog, “Iranian Public Opinion on the Nuclear Program: A Potential Asset for the International Community,” Policy Focus, No. 56 (Washington, D.C.: Washington Institute for Near East Policy, June 2006).

Forty years ago, war dramatically transformed the Middle East. Six memorable days, known by Israelis as the Six-Day War and by Arabs and others as the 1967 War, redrew the landscape of the Arab-Israeli conflict in fundamental ways. In those six days, Israel defeated three Arab armies, gained territory three times its original size, and became the dominant military power in the region. From a nation that perceived itself as fighting for its own survival, Israel became an occupier. (Continue)

Israeli Cluster Munitions Use Examined

Wade Boese

The Department of State recently informed Congress that Israeli use of U.S.-origin cluster munitions in Lebanon last summer might have broken U.S. export rules. Washington has yet to announce if it will take any action against its close ally, but some lawmakers are proposing new U.S. cluster munitions export and use policies.

Responding to an attack by Lebanon-based Hezbollah guerrillas last July, Israel launched a military offensive into its northern neighbor. During the ensuing month-long campaign, Israel employed cluster munitions, which are weapons dropped by aircraft, shot from artillery, or launched by rockets that can scatter up to several hundred small bomblets or grenades over broad areas. The dispersed submunitions sometimes fail to explode as intended, sowing wherever they land with potentially lethal or harmful explosives.

The UN Mine Action Service recently reported that, by mid-February, some 840 cluster munitions strike areas had been identified and that an estimated one million unexploded cluster submunitions litter southern Lebanon. It also noted that 30 deaths and 186 injuries have resulted from the detonation of leftover cluster munitions and other ordnance.

The United States launched an investigation last fall into whether Israel may have used U.S.-supplied cluster munitions in Lebanon contrary to a bilateral export agreement restricting their use. The regulations are secret, but they are generally understood to bar the use of cluster munitions against targets that are in populated areas or that are not strictly military. Washington initially imposed the regulations after previously suspending cluster munitions exports to Israel from 1982 to 1988 following allegations that Israeli forces improperly used such arms in attacks against Lebanese civilians.

In a classified report delivered to the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs Committees, the State Department made a preliminary finding that there “could have been some violations” of U.S. export rules during last year’s war, State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack said Jan. 29. He told reporters that he would not speculate on actions Congress or the administration might take in response because the investigation was still ongoing.

A State Department official told Arms Control Today Feb. 20 that “we are continuing to gather information.” The official added, “As we learn more, we will take action as appropriate.”

Some lawmakers are not waiting on a final investigation outcome to address the cluster munitions issue. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), and Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced legislation Feb. 14 to prohibit U.S. use, sale, or transfer of cluster munitions that have submunitions with failure rates greater than one percent. The bill also requires that cluster munitions only be used against “clearly defined military targets” and not in areas where civilians are present or normally inhabit. The president for national security reasons could waive the first restriction on failure rates, but not the second limitation.

Feinstein and Leahy proposed similar legislation last year as an amendment to the annual defense spending bill, but the Senate rejected it 70-30. Opponents argued the measure might impair U.S. military operations.

U.S. policy since the fall of 2004 has prohibited the Pentagon from procuring new cluster munitions with submunitions that have failure rates greater than one percent. The policy, however, does not forbid U.S. armed forces from using some 5.5 million older, stockpiled cluster munitions that might not meet the higher performance standard.

“The impact of unexploded cluster bombs on civilian populations has been devastating,” Feinstein said Feb. 14, citing estimates that past U.S. use of such weapons in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, and Laos has caused thousands of civilian casualties. She also noted that she had been motivated in part by “recent developments in Lebanon.”

Israeli officials contend they took every precaution to avoid civilian casualties, including warnings to noncombatants through leaflets, talks with local leaders, and phone calls to evacuate areas where Hezbollah fighters were present. Still, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) initiated a review last November of its cluster munitions use in Lebanon.

David Siegel, a spokesperson for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, told Arms Control Today Feb. 21 that the IDF inquiry was “still underway” but nearing completion. He also said Israel had provided “detailed responses” to U.S. investigators.

In the conflict’s aftermath, Siegel also said Israel had provided assistance “as extensive as possible,” including maps, coordinates, and training, to help locate and clear the cluster munitions remnants. Some UN officials and nongovernmental humanitarian and demining groups have contended that Israel has not given enough specific details to help with the cleanup.

Governments, including the United States, have donated at least $21.5 million for cleaning up and disposing of the cluster submunitions contaminating southern Lebanon. The UN Mine Action Service predicts the work might be completed by the end of this year.

Meanwhile, 46 governments agreed Feb. 23 in Oslo, Norway, to negotiate by 2008 a legally-binding treaty to ban cluster munitions that cause “unacceptable harm to civilians.” Participating countries, which currently do not include Israel or the United States, will meet again in May in Lima, Peru.

Israel Looks to Bolster Arms Capabilities

Wade Boese

After absorbing thousands of rocket and missile attacks this summer, Israel is keener than ever to expand its missile defenses. As international tensions with Iran mount, Israel also is moving to boost its offensive military capabilities with the purchase of two new submarines.

Reacting to the July 12 kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah militants, Israel launched a four-week offensive to root out and eliminate members of the radical Shiite group in southern Lebanon. As Israeli air strikes pounded targets across southern Lebanon and its ground forces poured across the border, Hezbollah unleashed a torrent of rocket attacks against northern Israeli cities.

By the time hostilities ended Aug. 14, 3,970 rockets and missiles had struck inside Israel, according to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The projectiles killed 43 Israeli civilians and forced more than a million people to seek protection in shelters, the ministry reported.

Israel possesses two operational anti-missile systems: the joint U.S.-Israeli Arrow and the U.S.-manufactured Patriot Advanced Capability-2 (PAC-2). Although both systems were activated during the recent conflict, no interceptors were fired because the incoming rockets were of a shorter range capability than the two missile defenses are designed to counter.

An estimated 80 percent of the rockets that struck Israel were 122-millimeter Katyushas with ranges of 20 kilometers or less and flight times of roughly one to two minutes. Hezbollah also fired 220-millimeter and 302-millimeter rockets but did not apparently launch many Fajr-type missiles, with ranges of 40 to 70 kilometers, or a single one of its longest-range missiles, the Zelzal, which has an estimated range of up to 200 kilometers. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) claimed that it succeeded in destroying some of these more potent missiles before they could be fired.

Prior to the recent conflict, the Israeli government had estimated that Hezbollah had stockpiled up to 12,000 rockets and missiles primarily from its patrons in Iran and Syria. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs asserted in an Aug. 15 statement that “most of the missiles [that] hit Israeli cities were manufactured by Iran.”

To prevent Hezbollah from importing additional arms, UN Security Council Resolution 1701, approved Aug. 11, calls on countries to prevent arms shipments into Lebanon except to the Lebanese government. The resolution also reiterates a demand from Resolution 1559 two years ago that Lebanon disband and disarm all militias inside its borders.

On Sept. 12, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan reported to the Security Council that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had provided personal assurances that his country, a key conduit for arms into Lebanon, would “undertake all necessary measures” to implement the arms embargo. The Lebanese government also pledged to deploy more troops along its border with Syria to prevent arms flows into Lebanon and requested that the United Nations help step up maritime patrols along the 200 kilometers of Lebanese coastline. France, Greece, Italy, and the United Kingdom have pledged to provide forces for this mission.

Still, Israel harbors doubts about the potential effectiveness of the embargo, particularly because it blames Lebanon for failing to disarm Hezbollah over the past two years. The group “would never have obtained the missiles and military equipment at its disposal had the Lebanese government not allowed this weaponry to reach Lebanon,” according to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Hezbollah remains defiant. In a Sept. 22 speech, Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah claimed the group still possessed 20,000 rockets and that “no army in the world” could disarm it, according to several press reports.

Consequently, Israel is looking to secure itself, in part, by augmenting its missile defense capabilities to intercept shorter-range rockets. Earlier this year, Israel started moving in this direction by selecting Raytheon Corp. and Israel’s Rafael Corp. to develop the Short Range Ballistic Missile Defense (SRBMD). This program is supposed to produce an interceptor missile that is faster and has a greater range than the PAC-2.

Yet, the system will be geared toward destroying projectiles with greater ranges than the Katyushas, leaving Israel vulnerable to attacks by these and similar shorter-range rockets. To address this void, Israel is evaluating a series of weapons concepts, including lasers, with the goal of selecting an option by the end of this year.

The United States and Israel previously explored a joint laser system, the Mobile Tactical High Energy Laser, for the Katyusha-type threat, but Washington terminated the program in September 2005. Dan O’Boyle, a spokesman for Army missile defense programs at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, told Arms Control Today Sept. 20 that the program was cancelled because of “higher priority funding requirements and pressing financial obligations to support our deployed soldiers.”

In general, Israel relies on U.S. funding to pursue its anti-missile projects. For example, the United States has provided roughly $1.5 billion since 1988 to the Arrow program. Israel keeps its missile defense funding secret.

With U.S. help, Israel is also aiming to improve the Arrow. Israel wants to expand the interceptor’s range, enable it to conduct intercepts at a higher altitude, and possibly shift it to a kinetic, or hit-to-kill, capability. Current Arrow interceptors employ a conventional explosive warhead.

Israel’s motivation for pursuing these upgrades is to stay ahead of what it views as Iran’s efforts to enhance its ballistic missile arsenal and develop nuclear weapons. Iran’s Shahab-3 is estimated to be capable of striking Israel. (See ACT, November 2004. )

The recent conflict with Hezbollah, which Israel considers an Iranian proxy, appears to have sharpened Israel’s concerns about Iran. “I think the Iranian threat is now also clearer,” Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told reporters Sept. 13 in Washington.

In a move aimed at bolstering its military capabilities vis-à-vis Iran, Israel in July signed a contract to purchase two Dolphin submarines from Germany. The deal came to light in August.

Israel already has three earlier versions of the diesel-electric-powered vessels, which allegedly have been outfitted to carry nuclear-armed missiles. (See ACT, November 2003. ) Although generally suspected of building up an inventory of nuclear weapons numbering in the tens to low hundreds, Israel adheres to a policy of nuclear ambiguity, only saying that it will not be the first country to “introduce” nuclear arms into the region. The German government has said the submarines are not designed to deliver nuclear weapons.

 

 

After absorbing thousands of rocket and missile attacks this summer, Israel is keener than ever to expand its missile defenses. As international tensions with Iran mount, Israel also is moving to boost its offensive military capabilities with the purchase of two new submarines. (Continue)

Cluster Munitions Under New Scrutiny

Wade Boese

Israeli military forces and Hezbollah militants ceased fighting in southern Lebanon Aug. 14, but unexploded Israeli ordnance there is still wounding and killing people. The casualties have raised questions about Israel’s use of cluster munitions and underscored some long-standing concerns about whether these arms constitute legitimate weapons.

Primarily intended to counter troop and armor concentrations, cluster munitions are bombs, shells, or rockets that can scatter up to hundreds of smaller submunitions over a relatively broad area. As with all bombs, these smaller bomblets can fail to detonate as intended, remaining unexploded and potentially lethal.

Israel used cluster munitions during its month-long invasion of Lebanon to destroy and evict Hezbollah militants based there. Israel launched the offensive in response to the July 12 cross-border raid and capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah, a radical Shiite organization backed by Syria and Iran. The United States identifies Hezbollah as a terrorist group.

The fierce fighting, which also involved nearly 4,000 Hezbollah rocket attacks against Israel, resulted in at least 1,187 deaths in Lebanon, 43 Israeli civilian deaths, and 117 Israeli military deaths, according to a Sept. 12 report by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) estimated a day before the ceasefire took effect that it had killed at least 530 people it identified as “terrorists.” Two days later, the IDF reported that it had conducted some 7,000 aerial strikes and 2,500 naval bombardments against targets in Lebanon.

As of Sept. 13, the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) reported that 482 separate cluster bomb sites had been found in Lebanon, including in residential areas. UNMAS estimated that it would take up to 15 months to clear southern Lebanon of residual cluster bomblets, some of which have been identified as being of U.S. origin.

The unexploded ordnance, also referred to as explosive remnants of war (ERW), is exacting a human toll. A Sept. 18 UNMAS report attributed 79 injuries and 14 deaths to ERW. Leftover cluster munitions inflicted all the casualties, except for five of the injuries.

On Aug. 30, UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland blasted Israel’s use of cluster munitions, which he said “have affected large areas, lots of homes, lots of farmland, lots of commercial businesses and shops.” He condemned as “shocking” and “completely immoral” the fact that an estimated 90 percent of the cluster munitions attacks occurred in the last 72 hours of fighting. “Either a terribly wrong decision was made or…one bombed first and started thinking afterwards,” he said.

Department of State spokesperson Patricia Peterson told Arms Control Today Sept. 14 that the department was “seeking more information on Israel’s alleged improper use” of U.S.-supplied cluster munitions against non-military targets. She said the department takes such allegations “very seriously.” Between 1982 and 1988, Washington suspended cluster bomb exports to Israel because of its possible inappropriate use of such weapons in Lebanon.

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs repeatedly characterized Israeli military attacks as restrained and seeking to minimize civilian casualties. In an Aug. 15 statement, the ministry further accused Hezbollah of deliberately deploying and stockpiling its weapons in residential areas. “Had [Hezbollah] chosen to set up its arsenal away from populated areas, no civilians would have been hurt when Israel did what it obviously had to do,” the ministry stated.

Israel also argued that there is no prohibition against the use of cluster munitions. U.S. forces, for instance, employed cluster munitions during the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions.

Some U.S. lawmakers are not happy with current U.S. cluster munitions policy and would like to see stricter rules. In September, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) proposed an amendment to the fiscal year 2007 defense appropriations bill to bar the acquisition, use, or transfer of cluster munitions unless it was ensured that they “will not be used in or near any concentrated population of civilians.”

Feinstein and Leahy argued that cluster munitions too frequently kill indiscriminately and cause casualties long after conflicts end. “This is particularly and sadly true of children because bomblets are no bigger than a D battery and in some cases resemble a tennis ball,” Feinstein asserted Sept. 5. Leahy noted the following day that because of the “massive numbers of cluster munitions” used by the United States in Iraq, “civilians paid the price and continue to pay the price.”

Senators Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Joseph Biden (D-Del.) argued against the measure Sept. 6. Calling the amendment “not acceptable,” Stevens said it “could severely hinder aviation and artillery capabilities and reduce the commander’s capability to wage war successfully.” The amendment was defeated 70-30.

Meanwhile, some governments are seeking to outlaw cluster munitions. Austria, the Holy See, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, and Sweden are seeking negotiations to ban cluster munitions as part of the 1981 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). This framework agreement has five protocols that regulate or ban indiscriminate or “excessively injurious” arms.

Several CCW states-parties are already instituting their own measures to limit cluster munitions. Belgium has banned them, Norway has enacted a moratorium on use, and Germany has stopped procurement of new cluster munitions with plans to explore phasing existing systems out by 2015.

Still, prospects for adding a CCW cluster munitions protocol appear slim as decisions by the agreement’s 100 states-parties are made by consensus. A U.S. government official told Arms Control Today Sept. 14 that “none of the major countries are willing to proceed” toward a legally binding cluster munitions instrument. The official said current humanitarian law and an existing ERW protocol are sufficient in Washington’s view.

The CCW adopted its ERW protocol in 2003, and more than 20 countries have ratified the measure, which is set to enter into force Nov. 12. President George W. Bush submitted the protocol in June to the Senate for its advice and consent to ratification, but lawmakers have yet to act. U.S. negotiators of the protocol previously told Arms Control Today that its obligations match existing U.S. practices. (See ACT, January/February 2004. )

The protocol establishes that the country occupying the territory where unexploded ordnance exists after a conflict ends is responsible for its cleanup. However, it calls on countries that leave behind unexploded or abandoned munitions to provide, “where feasible,” technical, financial, and material assistance to mark and clear the ERW. Israel is a CCW state-party, but it has not ratified the ERW protocol.

In his Sept. 12 report, Annan noted that although “IDF has provided some maps to [UN peacekeeping forces] regarding cluster strikes, they are not specific enough to be of use to operators on the ground.” The secretary-general stated that he “expected” Israel to provide more detailed information in the future.

The U.S. government is transferring up to $3.65 million in emergency funding to help mark and clear unexploded ordnance in Lebanon, according to a Sept. 26 update from the State Department’s office of weapons removal and abatement. Pending congressional approval, up to another $7 million might be shifted to this mission. Since 1998, Washington has provided $17 million for ERW and landmine clearance activities in Lebanon.

 

 

Israeli military forces and Hezbollah militants ceased fighting in southern Lebanon Aug. 14, but unexploded Israeli ordnance there is still wounding and killing people...

U.S., Israel Reach China Arms Deal

Miles A. Pomper

The United States and Israel announced Aug. 16 that they had signed a memorandum of understanding to ease disputes over past Israeli arms sales to China and to govern future arms trade between Israel and some foreign countries. The action comes as Congress is putting additional pressure on Israel and the European Union to abjure arms trade with Beijing.

In signing the classified agreement, the Department of Defense and the Israeli Ministry of Defense hope to ease tensions that arose over a planned Israeli sale to Beijing of spare parts for Harpy Drone unmanned aerial vehicles. U.S. officials feared the upgrades could help China target U.S. and Taiwanese command-and-control facilities and forces during a possible future conflict.

In response, the United States suspended cooperation with Israel on a number of long-range military development projects, including cooperation with the Israeli Air Force on developing a new combat aircraft through the Joint Strike Fighter project. (See ACT, July/August 2005.)

The United States has considerable leverage over Israel as U.S. defense technology is often incorporated in Israeli weapons and the United States provides Israel with billions of dollars in military aid annually.

A joint Pentagon-Israeli Defense Ministry statement said the understanding is “designed to remedy problems of the past that seriously affected the technology security relationship between their defense establishments and which begins to restore confidence in the technology security area.” A first step, said a nongovernmental expert in Washington familiar with the issue, will be terminating the Harpy Drone deal. Israel will have to compensate China for the cancellation but is still negotiating the terms of that package.

The memorandum lays out broad parameters for the rules governing future Israeli arms sales to sensitive countries, particularly China, but specifics will have to be ironed out over the next few months. The joint U.S.-Israeli statement said that, “in the coming months, additional steps will be taken to restore confidence fully.”

Among those steps will be Israel’s adherence to, but not formal membership in, some elements of the Wassenaar Arrangement, a decade-old voluntary export control regime whose 34 members exchange information on transfers of conventional weapons and dual-use goods and technologies. In particular, Pentagon officials said that their Israeli counterparts had offered to implement controls on dual-use sensors and lasers that would conform to Wassenaar guidelines.

U.S. and Israeli officials are still negotiating how tightly Israel will adhere to other elements of the Wassenaar regime. Under the agreement, Israel is supposed to pass legislation and implement organizational changes that will bring it closer to compliance with Wassenaar’s strictures. Israel is also expected to follow transparent procedures similar to Wassenaar and has agreed to consult closely with the United States about potential sales.

Still, Israeli officials did not pledge to notify the United States in advance of exports or obtain U.S. approval for such sales.

“It doesn’t create any veto power for the United States,” said Pentagon spokesperson Major Paul Swiergosz.

On the other hand, U.S. officials forced Israel to agree that U.S.-Israeli long-range development projects would only be restored gradually over a number of months, as Israel implemented aspects of the deal.

“We simply want to ensure that technology that is being shared would not go for other purposes,” Swiergosz said. “Full cooperation will be restored once confidence is built up.”

The dispute reflects mounting U.S. concerns over China. In recent years, U.S. officials have watched warily as China upgraded its military. Beijing has reportedly been increasing its spending at double-digit rates and importing major weapons systems, mostly from Russia, as well as improving its own weapons manufacturing capabilities. But China’s military still lags far behind U.S. forces technologically. Intent on preserving their strategic edge, U.S. officials and Congress have pressured the EU and Israel not to permit arms sales to China.

Only a few months ago, the EU appeared on the verge of ending its embargo on arms sales to China. The ban was originally imposed in reaction to the Chinese government’s ruthless 1989 crackdown on peaceful demonstrators at Tiananmen Square.

Some EU member states argued that the embargo was an unnecessary obstacle to better relations with Beijing. Such sales, they contended, would be constrained by its voluntary 1998 Code of Conduct on Arms Exports that sets out criteria, such as a potential arms buyer’s human rights record, that are supposed to be taken into consideration before any export occurs. (See ACT, January/February 2005.)

However, efforts to lift the embargo have slowed. European officials were taken aback when China adopted a law March 14 that authorizes the use of force against Taiwan, should that country assert its independence. (See ACT, April 2005.)

The United States has also applied considerable pressure. Congress, in particular, has threatened retaliation if arms deals with China go forward.

In May the House passed fiscal year 2006 Defense Department authorization legislation requiring the Pentagon not to procure any goods or services for five years from any firms that transfer arms to China.

And in July, the House passed a fiscal year 2006 State Department authorization bill that would threaten sanctions against EU firms and others that provide China with weapons or dual-use items banned under international export control agreements. The Senate has yet to complete action on companion legislation for either bill.

In an attempt at compromise, EU officials, such as nonproliferation chief Annalisa Giannella, say they are ready to adopt more stringent rules on arms exports (see "Between Noble Goals and Sobering Reality: An Interview With EU Nonproliferation Chief Annalisa Giannella"). The compromise would strengthen the code of conduct and convert it into a legally binding document.

 

 

News Analysis: Israeli Officials See Few Prospects for Arms Control

Miles A. Pomper

Muslim governments often point to the willingness of the United States to tolerate Israel’s nuclear weapons program as evidence of a double standard. Most prominently, Iran has said that efforts to prevent it from building the capacity to enrich uranium are unfair in light of Israel’s assumed capabilities.

Similarly, part of Egypt’s motive in holding up the deliberations of a May international conference to review the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) was an attempt to focus attention on Israel’s program (See ACT, July/August 2005).

But in a series of recent interviews in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Israeli officials told Arms Control Today that their counterparts in Egypt and Iran often seem more intent on scoring diplomatic points than making concrete progress on arms control measures. They blame a lack of reciprocity from other states and a lack of interest from the United States for their failure to move forward on other arms control efforts, such as ratifying the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) or signing the Biological Weapons Convention.

As a result, there is little support in Israeli political circles for altering the policy of maintaining a substantial but secretive nuclear program. Nor is there a willingness to make concessions, such as permitting international inspections of Israel’s controversial Dimona reactor, even if they might aid a solution to the crisis over Iran’s program.

Israeli officials say that their current policy has served them well for almost four decades. They argue that, until there is a comprehensive Middle East peace, they need to maintain a nuclear hedge to protect them against such threats as existing Syrian chemical weapons, possible Iranian nuclear arms, and potential nuclear weapons programs in Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

“Once it will be clear that Israel and the six million Jews in Israel are secured, like people in Holland feel secure today, then Israel will be ready to discuss an arms control regime or arrangement in the Middle East,” said Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the Knesset (Parliament) Foreign and Defense Committee. “Unfortunately, I don’t see this forthcoming in the near future.”

Instead, Israeli officials are sounding alarm bells about the potential threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program. Although they vary in their assessments of Iranian capabilities and intentions, they agree that Israel cannot tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran. They contend that Tehran, equipped with such weapons, would step up its support for anti-Israel terrorism, encourage other regional states to develop a similar capacity, and shatter the nuclear nonproliferation regime.

To forestall this possibility, Israeli officials are largely supportive (if skeptical) of current talks in which the European Union is seeking to convince Iran to forswear enriching uranium. But they are also pushing U.S. policymakers to consider sanctions and ultimately the use of military force if those talks fail.

U.S. officials such as Vice President Dick Cheney have invoked the threat of an Israeli attack if Iran proceeds to develop nuclear weapons, but Israeli officials are more guarded, warning that the high diplomatic and military costs and potentially limited military benefits of such an operation mean that it should only be considered as a last resort.

Israel’s Nuclear Program

Israel’s nuclear program was developed in the 1950s and 1960s when Israeli leaders feared they would lose a conventional arms race with their Arab neighbors. Time has proved those concerns to be unfounded. Boosted by billions of dollars in U.S. aid, Israel’s forces now far outclass those of other countries in the Middle East.

Moreover, current and former Israeli officials acknowledge that Israel’s strategic environment has changed substantially in the last few years, largely for the better.

“As far as the situation on the ground, we’ve never had it so good,” said Efraim Halevy, who formerly headed Israel’s National Security Council and the Mossad, Israel’s equivalent of the CIA.

The threat from one of Israel’s long-term strategic adversaries, Iraq, has been lifted, while an emerging problem in Libya has been defused. The removal of Syrian troops from Lebanon has weakened the danger from another of Israel’s long-term enemies, while the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq has more deeply tied the interests of Israel’s closest ally to the region.

Yet, even though not fully acknowledged in public, nuclear weapons are still viewed as the ultimate security policy in a country whose very existence has long been threatened.

“We don’t build our strength against the concrete contemporary ability of the Arabs today. We should maintain the superiority in a way which will give a prompt answer if something in the region is changed,” said Ephraim Sneh, a former deputy defense minister and current chairman of the Knesset Subcommittee on Security Perception. “At the moment that we are no more the strongest power between Baku and Casablanca, we would not exist.”

Under its policy of nuclear ambiguity, Israel does not publicly acknowledge or deny the existence of its nuclear weapons program. Instead, it sticks by its long-held promise that “it will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East.” Most Israeli officials privately characterize that as a pledge not to publicize or test already existing nuclear weapons capacity.

Israel is one of only three countries not to have signed the NPT; the other two, India and Pakistan, have tested nuclear weapons. Israel is believed to possess between 75 and 200 nuclear weapons.

Yet, Israeli officials dispute any parallels between their program and Iran’s nuclear efforts. They say that their stockpile is purely defensive. Meanwhile, they claim that while an Iranian arsenal might serve a deterrent purpose, it would also allow Iran to threaten Israel or at least provide Tehran with a nuclear umbrella under which it could step up aid to terrorist groups such as Hezbollah on Israel’s northern border and Islamic Jihad and Hamas in the Palestinian territories.

And they say that Israel’s small size and population compared to Muslim countries mean that its nuclear deterrent will not be effective against such a threat.

As evidence, they point frequently to a 2001 speech by Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the runner-up in Iran’s June presidential elections: “If one day, the Islamic world is also equipped with weapons like those that Israel possesses now, then the imperialists’ strategy will reach a standstill because the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything,” Rafsanjani said. “However, it will only harm the Islamic world.”

And Israeli officials point out that Rafsanjani was the moderate in the race and fear that the winner, Tehran Mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will take an even tougher stand toward them.

Rather than attempt any direct diplomatic means of ending the threat, however, Israeli officials have sought to use their relationship with the United States and European countries as leverage in the dispute. In particular, they have pushed Western countries to impose sanctions on Iran’s oil and gas industries either directly or through the United Nations.

In the United States, pro-Israel groups are pushing legislation in Congress that would tighten current sanctions intended to punish countries that invest in Iran and that would seek to build a democratic opposition to the clerical regime in Tehran. A majority of House members have signed on as co-sponsors of a bill introduced by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).

Most Israeli officials support the EU talks with Iran as a possible means of slowing Iran’s nuclear timetable. Most also believe, however, that such talks are unlikely to prove fruitful and will certainly only be successful if Iran is convinced that the alternative is very costly.

“If the Iranians tend to believe that the Western world is not going to allow them to become nuclear, they might give up in advance,” Steinitz said, “because why suffer isolation, sanctions, a blockade, and maybe even the threat of aerial bombardments or something like that. Why suffer through those things if you’re going to fail anyway?”

Other Regional Issues

Israel’s tensions with other countries in the region are less acute but still substantial. Israeli officials fear they could worsen if Iran obtains nuclear weapons, with Egypt, Syria, and Saudi Arabia often cited as countries that could follow suit.

Yet, Israeli officials say that they cannot hold arms control talks with countries such as Syria that do not recognize Israel’s right to exist.

“How do you construct some kind of regional arms control mechanism with a state that says you shouldn’t exist? Who do you deal with?” asked one senior Israeli official.

Egypt and Israel, on the other hand, have had more than two decades of peace. Yet, the two still have had a great deal of difficulty making progress on arms control issues.

Egyptian officials say that arms control measures should move in tandem with the peace process rather than follow it.

In a June 16 interview with Arms Control Today, Maged Abdelaziz, the permanent representative of Egypt to the United Nations, said other countries cannot be asked to give up all of their weapons before Israel gives up its nuclear weapons. There has to be a “balanced implementation of commitments,” he said.

But Israeli officials say that their neighbors have resisted arms control discussions unless Israel first pledges to give up its nuclear weapons.

For example, they blamed Egypt for pulling out from a planned late-January forum that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei had agreed on last year. The meeting would have discussed nuclear-weapon-free zones and the possible relevance of creating such a zone in the Middle East. They noted that the Egyptian decision came as ElBaradei was chiding Egypt for failing to disclose small-scale facilities, materials, and experiments to the IAEA. (See ACT, March 2005.)

Likewise, they say that the failure of previous Israeli arms control initiatives to win reciprocal gestures from their neighbors has discouraged further moves. For example, after signing the CWC in 1993, Israeli officials have opted not to ratify it because Syria is believed to have substantial holdings of chemical weapons and has not signed the treaty.

In other areas, the Bush administration’s lack of support for some multilateral arms control treaties has apparently prompted the Israelis not to support or move forward on some agreements.

For example, Israel signed the CTBT in 1996 and had been considering ratifying the agreement if certain details about the treaty’s on-site inspection provisions could be ironed out. Particularly, Israel sought assurance that verification measures would not allow foreign inspectors access to Israeli national security facilities beyond those required to carry out their mission. Israeli officials say a norm against testing is in their national interest because it might help prevent other countries from matching Israel’s arsenal.

But Israel’s eagerness to ratify the treaty has changed since the Bush administration made clear that it would not seek Senate ratification of the CTBT. Israel’s stated policy has not changed, but senior Israeli officials and outside experts say Israel will not risk upsetting its allies in Washington by ratifying the CTBT while the current administration is in office.

Likewise, Israel in 1998 reluctantly allowed negotiations to begin on a proposed fissile material cutoff treaty that would seek to end the production of highly enriched uranium or plutonium for military purposes. Israeli officials have never been thrilled with the proposed agreement for fear it would require them to end their policy of nuclear ambiguity, particularly in regard to the Dimona reactor.

Now they claim to be concerned that it would also benefit Iran by helping to enshrine the civilian production of such materials as a legal right, a position that Iran has embraced in relation to the NPT and that U.S. and Israeli officials have rejected. The Iranian challenge has also meant that the Bush administration’s push against requiring verification provisions in the accord has not been greeted warmly in Israel.

Frustrated by regional and multilateral arms control discussions, Israeli officials say they are trying to take steps on their own to contribute to nonproliferation efforts, in particular by embracing the rules of international export control regimes as domestic law. These include the Nuclear Suppliers Group; the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR); and the Australia Group, which governs materials that could be used in the production of chemical and biological weapons.

Israel has been blocked from joining the regimes per se because most want members to have ratified related multilateral treaties. For example, MTCR members want candidates to have ratified the NPT. Israeli officials say they do not want to apply to the regimes and be rejected, for fear of generating a backlash. “We are not going to do it unless we are sure the answer will be positive,” said one Israeli official.

 

U.S., Israel Seek to Cut Deal On China Arms Sales

Miles A. Pomper

Under pressure from the Bush administration and Congress to cut off arms shipments to China, Israel hopes to iron out an agreement this summer with the United States on how future potential sales to Beijing will be considered.

Israeli government officials and a nongovernmental expert in Washington familiar with the issue said the two sides were seeking to fashion a memorandum of understanding that would make such sales more transparent by defining “rules of the road.” The United States has considerable leverage over Israel as U.S. defense technology is often incorporated in Israeli weapons.

“I believe that very soon we are going to agree on a procedure with regard to Israeli exports to China,” Yuval Steinitz, chairman of the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) Foreign and Defense Committee told Arms Control Today in a June 8 interview.

Still, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice acknowledged June 16 that some outstanding issues remain. “We have had some difficult discussions with the Israelis about this,” Rice told reporters.

The nongovernmental expert said that the differences involved exactly how much Israel would defer to the United States on such sales and whether the agreement would be limited to Israeli sales to China or extended to Israeli sales to other countries. Israel is pushing for a limited agreement, while the United States would prefer a broader pact.

At the same time, a version of the fiscal year 2006 defense authorization bill approved by the House May 25 requires the secretary of defense not to procure any goods or services for five years from any firms that transfer arms to China, a provision that could affect Israel’s defense sector, which is one of its largest industries. U.S. officials have been pushing in recent months to prevent U.S. allies from selling high-tech weapons to China, which might be used against the United States or Taiwan in a future military conflict. Under U.S. pressure, the European Union has delayed plans to lift its arms embargo on Beijing. (See ACT, April 2005.)

“Israel has a responsibility to be sensitive” to U.S. concern about China, “particularly given the close defense cooperation between Israel and the United States,” Rice said during a visit to Israel June 19. The United States provides billions of dollars of military aid to Israel each year.

The recent dispute stems in part from Israel’s planned sale to China of spare parts for a fleet of as many as 100 Harpy Killer unmanned drones. The drone sale was singled out in a 2004 report from the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, which said that the unmanned aerial vehicles could “detect, attack, and destroy radar emitters,” posing a significant threat to command-and-control facilities on Taiwan and to U.S. operational forces in the region. U.S. officials fear that Israel planned to help China upgrade the systems and not just supply spare parts. In particular, they fear the addition of sensors that might be able to detect radar sites even when they are turned off.

The Israeli newspaper Ha`aretz reported June 26 that under the proposed memorandum, the Israeli government will not return the drone components to China and expects to pay compensation.

Ha`aretz reported June 13 that Washington has demanded that Israel provide details of more than 60 recent security deals with China. It claimed that, in the interim, the United States has suspended cooperation with the Israeli Air Force on developing a new fighter through the Joint Strike Fighter project and on other high-tech military equipment used by ground troops, out of concern that China could then obtain the technology.

Independent analysts and government officials say that Israeli arms sales to China have fallen off since July 2000, when the United States persuaded Israel to cancel the sale to China of the Phalcon, an advanced, airborne early warning system. A senior Israeli government official said that incident “sensitized” Israel to U.S. security concerns about Beijing and that it has subsequently been cautious about such sales.

By contrast, Israeli officials contend that U.S. complaints elsewhere often reflect the desire of U.S. defense firms to prevent competition from other suppliers.

As an example, they point to India, where the United States is considering selling a version of the Patriot missile defense system but has prevented Israel from selling the Arrow, a similar joint U.S.-Israeli system.

U.S. officials argue that they oppose sales of the Arrow because they would violate the provisions of the Missile Technology Control Regime, whose 34 members are supposed to restrict exports of missile systems and technologies capable of delivering a 500 kilogram payload at least 300 kilometers. U.S. officials say the Arrow system exceeds this threshold while the Patriot does not.

But Israeli officials seethe. “It is one of the great absurdities of U.S.-Israeli relations. We developed this system together, we produced together, we can earn together, we can gain together,” former Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh, a leading Labor Party voice on defense policy, told Arms Control Today in a June 8 interview. “This is the best operational anti-missile defense in the world, and we are not allowed to export it?”

 

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