Thursday, May 17, 2007 05/17/07-Nuclear Arsenals

In today's encore excerpt--in the 1950s, Israel becomes one of a now-growing list of countries that have made an unauthorized, clandestine entry into the world of nuclear armaments:

"The Israeli program is nearly as old as the state itself. [David] Ben-Gurion authorized it in 1952. ... [Benjamin Netanyahu] told me that if the survival of the country was at stake, the Israelis would use it and worry about the consequences later. ...

"In the 1950s, with French assistance, the Israelis had begun to construct a large reactor in the Negev and a facility for processing the fuel rods needed to make plutonium. Then, in 1959, De Gaulle became president of France and said French assistance could continue only if Ben-Gurion gave public assurance that the reactor would be used solely for peaceful purposes. This he did, while knowing full well that the reactor was going to be used to make plutonium for nuclear weapons. The reactor was completed in 1963. During this time the Israelis and the Americans engaged in a kind of theater of the absurd. The Americans demanded inspections and the Israelis came up with one ingenious maneuver after another to avoid them. For example, the Americans were informed that the nuclear complex at Dimona was a textile factory. ... What brought an end to this farce was the testimony of an immigrant Moroccan Jew named Mordechai Vanunu.

"In 1977 ... Vanunu got a job as a manager in the graveyard shift at the nuclear plant. ... Vanunu's clearance gave him access to all levels of secure sites at the plant. ... He went to London with his story of Israel's nuclear program and photographs to back it up. These were published in the London Sunday Times and created a sensation. Vanunu was lured to Rome by a young woman, an Israeli agent, and kidnapped by the Mossad [Israel's intelligence agency]; he was taken back to Israel where he spent seventeen years in prison, partly in harsh solitary confinement. He is now living under tight security in Israel. It was clear from what he revealed. ... that Israel ... has a very considerable and varied nuclear arsenal."

Jeremy Bernstein, "The Secrets of the Bomb", The New York Review of Books, May 25, 2006, pp. 42-3.


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