Let’s tell all about Israel nukes
December 24, 1999
IN a New York strongbox I keep a collection of pistols. One is a traced silver colt, given to me by the wife of the president of Mexico.
Others are rare or, in their dark way, beautiful pieces of engineering. I once took pleasure in owning them but, as I saw violence senselessly increasing in the city, I hid them away.
I never look at them, I am not proud of owning them and I am bitterly aware of all the evil that has been done by firearms in private hands. But I cannot bring myself to have them destroyed. Israel must feel the same way about her nuclear arms.
The government barely admits, of course, to possessing such weapons of mass slaughter. Last year Shimon Peres, the former prime minister, remarked that Israel had ”built a nuclear option not in order to have a Hiroshima but an Oslo”.
These non-existent weapons were for peace, not massacre. And that was as near as anyone came to an admission.
But the warheads exist, about 200 of them according to reliable estimates. The world had suspected since the late Sixties, but proof was wanting until October 5, 1986, when the Sunday Times published descriptions of the atomic weapons programme from Mordechai Vanunu, a former technician in the bomb factory at Dimona.
Vanunu was forcibly transported to Israel, where he is still in prison. More than three decades ago, following the Six-Day War, Menachem Begin and Moshe Dayan learned that the Soviet empire had nuclear missiles trained on Israeli cities.
US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger declared that America would not launch into World War Three to protect the occupied territories. A national nuclear power programme was already running – Israel secretly decided to stockpile fully-primed missiles, ready for launch.
Seymour Hersh’s book The Samson Option explains the wholly defensive motivation behind the policy. It was a kind of self-protection-through-suicide, the same desperate thinking that drove Samson to kill the Philistines by tearing down the roof on them – and himself.
The missiles are sited in the Judean foothills, which would probably be the last part of the country to fall to invaders. If Israelis faced utter annihilation, if we had no future but to be ”pushed into the sea”, we would tear down the roof of the world.
That deterrent is now a provocation, an excuse for our enemies to taunt and mock us. As I discussed in this column a few weeks ago, Saddam Hussein tried to use Israel’s N-power to pull other Arab countries into his warped worldview.
By firing Scuds at our cities, he hoped to provoke a nuclear response. Atomic missiles could not harm the cowering dictator in his bunker – and he cared nothing for the thousands of Iraqi women and children who would die horribly. If anyone doubts his callousness, look at his response to the UN Security Council’s tentative olive branch last week.
The world offered to lift sanctions if Iraq could prove, during a 120-day inspection, there were no hidden chemical, nuclear or bio-war arsenals. Saddam sneered at the offer. Sanctions suit him – they keep his people too weak for rebellion.
Nuclear warheads are no deterrent against psychopaths and they are no defence against monomaniacs. The Afghan-based terrorist Osama bin Laden is widely believed to have obtained at least one portable nuclear bomb – a so-called suitcase device, in a deal for heroin with the Russian mafia. An atomic blast in Tel Aviv would delight Bin Laden’s allies, and a forest of nuclear-tipped missiles in Judea could not prevent it.
There is a third disadvantage to our secret programme – it hands excuses to others. India armed herself, hinting that Israel had provided technical support. Pakistan can also demonstrate nuclear capability, claiming that with atomic enemies on either side a nuclear deterrent is essential. Now the US has opted out of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, giving itself the legal option to start testing the next generation of A-bombs. Congressmen argued that, with the proliferation of nuclear nations, America had to get back in the lab to maintain superiority.
Israel built those missiles for peace. Now the most useful tactic would be to drop them onto the peace talk table as bargaining chips. We should declare our hand. Half the world has already peeked – Russian and French satellite shots of Israeli silos are said to be so detailed that every leaf on the bushes is visible.
So let’s come out and say it: Israel has so many missiles, of this and that type, with the destructive ability to wipe out this, and this, and this continent. No one, least of all our enemies, would doubt the heroism of such a gesture. It could set the scene for some long strides towards peace. By bartering away our bombs, Israel could make both the Middle East and the whole planet a safer place.
And that, after all, is the purpose they were built for.
Uri Geller’s novels Dead Cold and Ella are published by Headline at £5.99. Mind Medicine is published by Element at £20.
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