Since 2002 when the Bush government and the US media found a new bone of contention with Iran and its nuclear program, attacking Iran has been on the table by both Bush and Obama administrations as well as various Israeli governments. Lately the surge of articles in an assortment of US papers asking Obama to give the green light to Israel to attack Iran not to mention the introduction of House Resolution 1553, has given this issue an added urgency that must be addressed.
Although peace or political activists, left or right, are willing to write to the papers and occasionally call their political representatives, too few of them are prepared to challenge what is the core of the problem, “Israel’s Samson Option threats” or even to make a nuclear free Middle East a central demand.
In this posting, I intend to address this issue and explain the history of what in Arab and Muslim Vernacular has been called Western double standard about “The Zionist Atomic Bombs”
Let us begin with a brief history or time line of Israel’s secret nuclear program
1949: French and Israel atomic researchers start to exchange information. Israeli Defense Force Science Corps begins two-year geological survey of the Negev desert in search of recoverable Uranium.
1952: Israeli Atomic Energy Commission is created. Its chairman, Ernst David Bergmann of Israel’s Weizman Institute of Science, “the father of Israel’s bomb,” has been promoting nuclear armed missiles for Israel since arriving after World War II. Newly elected President Eisenhower will refuse to sell arms to Israel during his two terms, ending in 1960. France sells them to Israel from 1955 to 1967.
1953: Israeli researchers perfect a process for extracting Uranium, and developing a new method of producing heavy water, which is a key ingredient in the process. Hundreds of millions of dollars will be raised to build Israel’s nuclear bomb over the next twenty years, mostly from American Jews; effort is led by Abraham Feinberg who financially backs both Presidents Truman and Johnson, as well as presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson. (John F. Kennedy accepts his money but is incensed by the pro-Israel lobbying.)
1955: Under Atoms for Peace program, overseen by pro-Israel Lewis Stauss who was head of America’s Atomic Energy Commission, U.S. helps fund a small Israeli nuclear research reactor. Strauss learned about Dimona and its purpose before the U.S. government but did not inform the U.S. government.
1956: France and Israel formally and secretly agree to build a nuclear reactor in the Negev desert. Britain, France and Israel invade Egypt (Suez Canal crisis) and the Soviet Union threatens to use rockets against them if they do not desist, leading to a cease-fire. U.S. begins U-2 spy flights over targets world-wide, including Israel.
1957: France and Israel sign a revised agreement calling for France to build a 24 MWt reactor; unwritten was the agreement to build a plutonium reprocessing plant.
1958: Israel breaks ground at Dimona, with assistance of French scientists and contractors, and U-2 spy planes provide evidence Israelis are building nuclear plant there.
1960: Israeli scientists witness first French atomic explosion in South Pacific. French President Charles De Gaulle threatens to cut off reactor fuel if Israel doesn’t accept international inspections, but eventually accepts Israel’s assertions Dimona is only for peaceful purposes and work continues. United States intelligence leaks to the press that Israel is building a secret nuclear facility that will eventually produce a nuclear bomb. Israel admits this to its Parliament and world but claims it is only for peaceful purposes.
1961: President Kennedy makes the man who leaked Israel’s bomb to the press head of the CIA. Kennedy is very opposed to Israel having the bomb and tells Israeli Prime Minister Ben-Gurion so in many letters and in meeting in New York about the purpose of Dimona. Ben-Gurion tells him its purpose is peaceful and refuses to allow international inspections. Israel launches its first rocket.
1962: Ben-Gurion allows inspections by American inspectors only in return for sales of Hawk surface-to-air missiles. Israel builds a fake control room and bricks off parts of buildings to hide from inspectors the true size and purpose of the reactor (three times bigger than admitted) and that it was connected to a plutonium reprocessing plant; this feint continues during seven such inspections until they end in 1969. Reactor at Dimona goes into operation.
1963: Kennedy refuses to sign any security arrangement with Israel. After Kennedy assassination brings the very pro-Israel Lyndon Johnson to power.
1964: Dimona plutonium processing plant goes online. In first official visit by an Israeli Prime Minister (Eshkol) to Washington, Johnson promises Israel offensive fighter jets and other weapons if it refrains from producing nuclear weapons. Israel’s Eshkol eventually agrees to Johnson’s terms and holds off on producing the bomb for a few years. China explodes first nuclear bomb.
1965: Israel performs its first plutonium extraction, and France assists Israel in developing its Jericho missiles.
1966: U.S. begins fighter jet and arms shipments to Israel. Johnson discourages further reports on Israel nuclear situation from U.S. embassy in Israel. Israel refuses money for nuclear desalination plant which is tied to international inspections of Dimona.
1967: Six Day War when Israel preemptively attacks an Egyptian military buildup in the Sinai Peninsula. Israel attacks USS Liberty surveillance vessel, killing 34 sailors; (see BBC allegation below that Israelis wanted to instigate a U.S. nuclear attack on Cairo). Soviet Union supports Arabs militarily, sends ships to the region and breaks diplomatic ties with Israel. Americans unofficially inform Israel that the Soviet Union has put four Israeli cities on its nuclear target list.
1968: Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, believing Israel cannot depend on the U.S. to defend it, unilaterally orders full production of nuclear weapons, averaging four to twelve per year, depending on size. Israel illicitly imports two hundred tons of uranium.
1969: President Richard Nixon takes office and fully supports Israel’s nuclear weapons, as does his National Security chief Henry Kissinger. Ends American inspections at Dimona and shares some nuclear targeting information about the Soviet Union. CIA tries to inform President Johnson about Dimona, but he brushes off information, signs Nonproliferation Treaty, and sends Israel advanced Phantom fighter jets.
1973: Israelis catch Soviet spy ring in high levels of Israeli government and make it clear to Soviets they have produced “suitcase nukes” they could sneak into Russia. Egypt and Syria attack unprepared Israeli forces in Sinai and Golan Heights on the Jewish fast in Yom Kippur War. Israel goes on nuclear alert and begins to ready nuclear weapons for actual use, forcing the U.S. to airlift them weapons and to start redeploying nuclear armed ships and airplanes. When Soviets started talking about sending in Russian troops, Israel again goes on nuclear alert. Washington pressures Israel to accept a cease-fire.
1974: Defense Minister Dayan visits South Africa to discuss testing a nuclear weapon there.
1975: Israel receives nuclear-capable Lance missiles from the United States, even as U.S. remains in official denial about Israel having nuclear weapons.
1976: South Africa’s Prime Minister visits Israel to sign several nuclear and other agreements.
1977: Menachem Begin’s right-wing expansionist Likud Party takes power in Israel and is determined to reshape Middle East to suit Israel’s needs, including through using the nuclear threat. Commits to nuclear targeting of even more cities in the Soviet Union. President Carter does not take on the issue, despite conducting Camp David peace talks between Egypt and Israel.
1979: President Carter provides Israel ability to see American spy satellite photos for defense purposes only, but Israelis manage to get them for preemptive strikes against Middle East and Russia. Israel and South Africa explode first nuclear bomb in South Indian Ocean but appointed U.S. committee refuses to conclude it was a nuclear explosion.
1981: Israel, using U.S. spy satellite photos, sends F-16s to bomb and destroy Iraqi nuclear reactor under construction at Osirak. U.S. strictly limits further access to spy photos. Defense Minister Ariel Sharon recruits American Navy employee Jonathan Pollard as a spy to obtain satellite photos plus massive amounts of other classified information about Israel’s enemies, some of which Israel turns over to the Soviet Union to try to win over its adversary. Ariel Sharon talks President Reagan into a formal Israel-U.S. military alliance against the Soviet Union but Defense Chief Weinberger delays and sabotages it.
1982: Under Ariel Sharon’s military leadership, Israel invades Lebanon to attack Palestinian militants as first part of plan to drive Palestinians into Jordan, using the threat of nuclear weapons to intimidate any adversaries. However, despite destroying Beirut and killing more than ten thousand Arabs and 500 Israelis, Sharon’s efforts in Lebanon fail. Israel eventually withdraws and Sharon loses his position. Shortly after, an Israeli commission found, in effect, that Sharon was indirectly responsible for the Sabra and Shatila massacre.
1985: Jonathan Pollard captured leaving office with stolen papers. Eventually sentenced to life in prison.
1986: Mordechai Vanunu, a disaffected Dimona technician who left with photographs and other evidence of nuclear weapons production, publishes details in the London Sunday Times newspaper; reveals Israel has over 100 nuclear weapons. Israel starts disinformation campaign then lures him to Italy where he is kidnapped, taken to Israel and imprisoned for 18 years.
1987: Israel test-fires a Jericho 2 missile capable of carrying a nuclear weapon. UN General Assembly and the IAEA General Conference passes first of more than a dozen resolutions calling on Israel to join the Nonproliferation Treaty.
1988: Israel launches its first spy satellite into orbit.
1991: U.S. convinces Israel to refrain from attacking Iraq with nuclear weapons, even if Iraq uses chemical or biological weapons against it, but Israel’s nuclear weapons remain on alert.
1999: US Department of Energy document ranks Israel sixth among countries with nuclear weapons.
2000/2001: Knesset debates Israel’s nuclear weapons program for first time. Germany sells Israel three state-of-the-art 800-class Dolphin submarines and Israel tests first submarine-launched missile in the area of the Indian Ocean. Ariel Sharon is elected Prime Minister of Israel, still intending to use nuclear weapons to bully other nations and remake the Middle East for the benefit of Israel. Right wing Israelis begin freely talking about attacking other nations, including with nuclear weapons.
2001: Bush inflames Arabs by clearly taking sides with Israel’s expansionist aims, part of the reason for the September 11 attacks against the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. He obsesses about attacking Iraq, not defending America against known Al Qa’eda terrorists. Starts planning war against Iraq after September 11 attacks, including option of using nuclear weapons.
2002: George Bush gives Israel the go-ahead to use nuclear weapons against Iraq if Saddam attacks Israel before the American invasion of Iraq. Pentagon Office of Special Plans uses information from Iraqi dissidents (cultivated by the US) and Israel’s Mossad to convince Americans that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction that are an imminent threat against America. Israel launches Ofek-5 satellite with a powerful new inter-continental missile.
2003: Israel repeatedly demands sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program and threatens to bomb Iran’s operating nuclear power plant, despite Iran’s threats to retaliate hard against Israel. Arab and other nations repeatedly ask that Israel’s nuclear facilities come under international inspections. So does the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohammed el-Baradei. United Nations General Assembly passes resolution that Israel join the nonproliferation treaty by a vote of 164-4. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon tells Israeli newspaper that Israel will not dismantle its “special measures” because the U.S. will not remain in the Middle East forever.
2004: Israel buys two more German submarines for delivering nuclear tipped cruise missiles, making a total of five. Mordechai Vanunu’s prison term ends in 2004 but Israel keeps putting him in prison and or under house arrest for trying to speak to others outside the country on nuclear issues and for wanting to leave Israel permanently.