Reuters/ Straight Times – 2004-04-28 11:06:36
ASHKELON (April 21, 2004) Reuters — ‘Die, atomic spy!’ ‘They should have put you up a chimney like the Jews at Auschwitz!’ Hundreds of Israelis went ballistic as Mordechai Vanunu emerged from prison voicing no regrets for exposing the Jewish state’s nuclear secrets.
The heckling mounted against cheers by Vanunu fans who had flocked in from all over the world, reaching a crescendo as the 49-year-old former technician flashed them a V-for-victory sign.
And though the hubbub in Ashkelon died down after Mr Vanunu was whisked away in a car, supporters fear it could foreshadow a very real threat to him as a free man on Israel’s streets. ‘To judge by the mood here and the country in general, I’d say his life is at risk,’ said Mr Issam Mahoul, an Israeli Arab lawmaker.
Israel ‘May Have 300 Nuclear Warheads’
VIENNA (April 21, 2004) — Israel continues to produce atomic weapons and may already have as many as 300 warheads, experts said as Israel on Wednesday released a man imprisoned for 18 years for leaking nuclear secrets.
Mr Friedrich Steinhaeusler, a former employee of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) who specialised in nuclear trafficking, said he believes Israel continues to produce nuclear weapons.
Steinhaeusler is now a professor of physics at the University of Salzburg. He said the best estimate of Israel’s weapon cache was 150, but added that the figure had not been verified. With air-, sea- and land-based launching systems, Israel has the Middle East ‘under control’, he said.
Israel neither denies nor confirms that it has nuclear weapons.
At the end of last year, Israel had enough nuclear material to make 100 to 200 weapons, said David Albright, a former Iraq nuclear inspector who runs the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security.
Even the low-end estimate ‘is huge’ for a country in such a volatile region, Mr Albright said. ‘Israel tends to view any restrictions on its nuclear weapons production very negatively,’ he said.
Noting the uncertainty about Israel’s weapon cache, Mr Avner Cohen, an expert on Israel and nuclear weapons at the Center for International and Security Studies in Maryland, said: ‘There are all kind of estimates, from the upper teens on the lower side to over 300 on the higher side.’
Mr John Simpson, director of the Mountbatten Center of International Studies at Britain’s University of Southampton, estimated the number of weapons Israel holds at no more than 200.
Simpson said his estimate was based on the presumed output of plutonium by a reactor in Dimona, and on the number of tunnels in cliffs from which the weapons could be deployed.
The lack of debate within Israel about the country’s nuclear weapons has created uncertainty about what the purpose of the arsenal is, Mr Simpson added. ‘It is not clear that these issues have been thought through,’ he said.
The release of Mr Mordechai Vanunu on Wednesday, jailed since 1986 for leaking details and pictures of Israel’s alleged nuclear weapons programme, could be the focus point for a debate, said Mr Uzi Even, a former employee of Israel’s nuclear research centre in Dimona and now a professor at the University of Tel Aviv.
IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky declined to comment on Israel, saying his agency has no jurisdiction there. The Vienna agency has said it has no power to look into Israel’s nuclear program because Israel is not party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. IAEA director-general Mohamed El-Baradei has repeatedly called for talks to establish a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.
Bush Says N-armed Iran ‘Intolerable’
WASHINGTON — A nuclear-armed Iran will pose an intolerable threat to peace in the Middle East and a mortal danger to Israel, US President George W. Bush said, adding that any such threat would be ‘dealt with’ by the United States and its allies.
In strongly worded remarks before an audience of newspaper editors and publishers on Wednesday, Mr Bush pressed the secretive leadership of the Islamic republic to heed US and European demands not to pursue a nuclear weapons programme.
‘It would be intolerable to peace and stability in the Middle East if they get a nuclear weapon, particularly since their stated objective is the destruction of Israel,’ he said in answer to a question about international cooperation against militant attacks.
‘The development of a nuclear weapon in Iran is intolerable. And a programme is intolerable. Otherwise they will be dealt with, starting through the UN.’
The US accuses Iran of pursuing a nuclear weapons programme, but Teheran says its nuclear ambitions are confined to generating electricity. Washington hardliners have been pressing for sanctions by the United Nations against the Islamic state.
French President Jacques Chirac joined in to urge Iran to cooperate ‘in a constructive way’ with European countries and the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Iran last year was severely reprimanded by the IAEA for failing to reveal a full account of its nuclear activities, including its research into second-generation P2 centrifuges that are capable of enriching uranium to weapons grade.
But last December, Teheran bowed to international pressure by signing up to an additional protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, allowing a tougher IAEA probe.
(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)