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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 1998, pages 48, 92

Special Report

Israeli Finger on the Nuclear Trigger Could Turn the Next Israeli-Arab War Into a Conflagration

By Victor Ostrovsky

It is the finger of a Libyan colonel or an Iranian ayatollah, on the nuclear trigger, that causes western leaders their worst nightmares. At the same time the historical fact that Israel has been on the verge of using such a weapon does not seem to bother them at the least.

For example, during the Yom-Kippur war in October, 1973, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan wanted to nuke Damascus on two occasions, once when the war was not going well and then again when the Golan was retaken and Dayan wanted to teach the Syrians a lesson they would not soon forget. A veto by Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir saved the day.

The fact that instead of affirming possession of the ultimate weapon Israel has resorted to a “winking denial” raises special concern.

The point of obtaining a nuclear device is its deterrent capabilities. Therefore, keeping it a secret defeats its purpose. However, the Israeli government’s long-term stance of officially denying that it has the weapons while letting the world assume that it has hundreds of them (not to mention a sophisticated delivery system such as the “ANAK” missile) puts the entire world in jeopardy.

Most observers believe that Israeli officials reason that an admission that they have nuclear weapons would force the United States to take action against Israel similar to the actions it took against India and Pakistan after they detonated their nuclear devices earlier this year.

That belief, however, is false. Israel was denying that it has the ultimate weapon long before the United States passed a law forcing the president to cut off U.S. aid to countries with nuclear weapons development programs.

A second point Israeli officials and their supporters argue is that Israel developed these weapons for defense purposes only, and that admitting their existence would start a nuclear race in the region and cause further nuclear weapons proliferation in the world. False again. Since it allows rumors of its nuclear weapons capability to persist, Israel already is the catalyst for an arms race in the region.

As for the proliferation of such weapons, it was Israel that provided a nuclear program to South Africa which that country dismantled after the fall of its apartheid government. Israel also transferred technology and expert advice to India for its nuclear weapons program. (An Israeli businessman who was well connected to Mossad was the intermediary who sold the Canadian CanDo reactor to India.)

In doing so, Israel in effect forced Pakistan to build a bomb to counter the Indian threat and, therefore, in a roundabout way, was responsible for the first so-called “Islamic bomb.”

So why has Israel kept its nuclear weapons arsenal a secret for so long? There are only two possible reasons for such a move:

  1. Israel expected to use the weapons as a first strike device and by denying their existence hoped to maintain the element of surprise.

  2. Admitting the existence of such weapons would force Israel to accept a territorial compromise with Syria over the Golan Heights, because the nuclear umbrella would eliminate the strategic value of the territory it holds.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres said in a May 8, 1998 interview1 that the purpose of developing nuclear weapons was to bring Israel to Oslo, not Hiroshima. But Peres failed to point out that there could arise in Israel a leader who might use such a weapon at a lower threshold than Peres would have agreed to. And since there was no public discussion of the matter—as officially it did not exist—he was in effect handing the doomsday machine he had created into the hands of whomever was elected Israeli prime minister.

That is a scary thought for those familiar with Israeli history. For example, former Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, one of the country’s founding fathers, called Menachem Begin, who later also became an Israeli prime minister, a “Hitler” and Peres himself accused Binyamin Netanyahu of fixing the elections, not to mention inciting right-wing extremists to assassinate Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Yet Netanyahu now is the one whose finger is on the nuclear trigger. And to the surprise of many of his Labor Party colleagues, Peres is now kowtowing to Netanyahu as a result of infighting within the Israeli Labor Party. (The enemy of my enemy is my friend, and Peres’s new enemy is Labor Party leader Ehud Barak.)

As things stand today, the fact that Israel has nuclear weapons is probably the greatest danger to world peace. If there should be another war in the Middle East—and as things appear today one is coming unless Israel can come to terms with Syria—most Israelis will regard it as one that could have been prevented.

If this becomes the prevailing attitude, large numbers of Israeli reserve officers and soldiers will find ways to avoid taking part. In several surveys that the Israeli military has itself conducted over the past few years, it has found that the majority of its reserve forces prefer to find ways not to serve. That phenomenon is a new one in the state of Israel, and is cause for great alarm.

As things stand today the military is making its best efforts not to send reserve soldiers into Lebanon or into the occupied territories, mainly because the government is afraid the soldiers will refuse orders to serve there (as many already routinely do, preferring to serve the time in jail instead). The structure of the Israeli military is such that the regular army, with career officers and noncoms and conscript rank and file, is there to blunt an initial attack while allowing the reserves time to mobilize and move into action to push the enemy back.

Should the Syrians decide on a limited land grab on the Golan (as predicted by Israeli military intelligence in the event of a permanent halt in the peace process), and should the secondary defense line crumble due to the unwillingness of the Israeli populace to fight, Israeli leaders might fear that the country is about to be overrun, as they did in 1973. In that case the use of weapons of last resort might appear plausible, or even essential.

As the whiskers of the nuclear cat are slowly allowed to emerge from the proverbial bag, the Israeli government will be looking for a pretext to prove that Israel was not the first to introduce weapons of mass destruction into the region. It is for this reason that Iran is dragged into the picture.

Netanyahu and his cronies are attempting—quite successfully I might add—to demonstrate to the world that Iran is developing nuclear weapons for the sole purpose of destroying the state of Israel. As Iran is an extremist Islamic state which officially proclaims its hatred toward the U.S. and Israel, one might believe that what Netanyahu is telling us is true.

The facts, however, are quite different. In fact, Israel is one of Iran’s lesser worries. With the inexperienced nearby Muslim states emerging from Soviet bondage, an all but mad regime in Afghanistan next door, and traditionally hostile Iraq on Iran’s other side, Iran is not to get weapons of mass destruction to free Jerusalem, but rather to protect itself and its vast oil fields from the hands of its greedy new neighbors. The only relevance of such Iranian weapons to Israel would be to demonstrate that Iran would have the capability to retaliate in case of a first strike by Israel against Iran.


1 Interestingly, in the interview Peres made no attempt to deny that Israel has developed nuclear weapons. Such an admission is an act for which Mordechai Vanunu is spending 18 year in an Israeli prison.

Victor Ostrovsky, a former Mossad case officer, has written two books about his experiences, By Way of Deception: The Making and Unmaking of a Mossad Officer and The Other Side of Deception: A Rogue Agent Exposes the Mossad’s Secret Agenda.