The Elephants in the Room: Israel’s Weapons of Mass Destruction

November 13th, 2013 - by admin

David Morrison / David – 2013-11-13 02:10:26

(November 7, 2013) — Israel is not a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention. It signed the Convention in 1993 when it opened for signature, but it has never ratified it.

Now that Syria has become a party to the Convention, Israel is one of only six states in the world that are not. They are: Angola, Egypt, Israel, Myanmar, North Korea and South Sudan [1].
As a matter of fact, Israel isn’t a party to any of the three “weapons of mass destruction” treaties, that is, the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) [2] and the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) [3], in addition to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) — and it is the only state in the Middle East that isn’t a party to any of them.

Almost all states in the Middle East (including Iran) are party to all three, the exceptions being:

NPT Israel
BWC Israel, Egypt, Syria
CWC Israel, Egypt

What is more, Israel is the only state in the world (apart from South Sudan, which only came into existence in 2011) that isn’t a party to any of these treaties. Since it also holds the world record for being in breach of Security Council resolutions that require action by it and it alone, unkind people might say that it deserves the title of a rogue state.

(North Korea isn’t party to either the BWC or the CWC. Having joined the NPT as a ‘non-nuclear-weapon’ state in 1985, it withdrew in 2003, but its withdrawal has not been formally accepted and the UN still lists it as a party [2].)

Mainstream Media Carried Very Little
The mainstream media carried very little about this during the controversy about Syria’s chemical weapons, when one might have thought that Israel should have been asked to explain why it was refusing to become a party to the CWC, while being enthusiastic about its Syrian neighbour doing so. Could it be that it didn’t want to give up its chemical weapons?

Fox News did run a story called Syria deal shines light on suspected Israeli chemical weapons program on 16 September 2013 [4], in which a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Paul Hirschson, is quoted as saying that “Israel could not ratify the treaty in such an uncertain environment.” He continued:
“These things are regional and we’re not going to go out there on our own.”

That is close to an admission that Israel does possess chemical weapons — which will only be given up when all other regional players have given up theirs. Syria has done so. Presumably, the Israeli spokesman had Egypt in mind. Like Israel, it is suspected of having chemical weapons (and of using them during its intervention in the civil war in Yemen in the 1960s). Like Syria, Egypt has linked its refusal to join the CWC to Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons and refusal to join the NPT.

(The Fox News article also quoted from former Israeli Defense Minister, and Labour Party leader, Amir Peretz, on the issue. He said the international community’s attitude toward Israel is “different” from Syria, because “it’s clear to everyone that Israel is a democratic, responsible regime” — that has invaded every one of its neighbours, in its short life, and has occupied large tracts of territory not its own for nearly half a century, and annexed East Jerusalem and a bit of Syria, he might have added.)

Has Israel Got
Chemical and Biological Weapons Too?

Nobody seriously doubts that Israel has an arsenal of nuclear weapons, perhaps as many as 400 of them, though it refuses to confirm or deny this. But does it also possess chemical weapons? There are strong suspicions that it does and that it has biological weapons as well. See, for example, Israel’s Weapons of Mass Destruction: An Overview (2008) by Professor Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic & International Studies [5], which was published in 2008.

Recently, on 9 September 2013, Foreign Policy magazine published an article entitled Does Israel Have Chemical Weapons Too? [6]. This quoted from a 1983 CIA intelligence estimate which said that Israel had a “probable chemical weapon nerve agent production facility and a storage facility… at the Dimona Sensitive Storage Area in the Negev Desert”. It continued:

“several indicators lead us to believe that they have available to them at least persistent and nonpersistent nerve agents, a mustard agent, and several riot-control agents, matched with suitable delivery systems.”

Of course, none of this constitutes conclusive proof that Israel had a chemical arsenal in the 1980s let alone now. Nor does conclusive proof exist that it possesses biological weapons. But, given its distinction as the only state in the world (apart from South Sudan) that isn’t a party to any of the three “weapons of mass destruction” treaties, one might expect a little more media attention to the matter.

Monumental Double Standard
For more than two decades, Israeli political leaders have claimed that Iran is developing nuclear weapons and demanded that the world put a stop to it, otherwise Israel would have to take military action to do so. As long ago as 1992, the present Prime Minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, predicted that Iran was 3 to 5 years from being able to produce a nuclear weapon — and that the threat had to be “uprooted by an international front headed by the US” [7].

While insisting that Iran must not have nuclear weapons, Israel has continued to enhance its own nuclear weapons systems. This is a double standard of monumental proportions. But, in all this time, the mainstream media have rarely drawn attention to the fact that Israel has a nuclear arsenal, let alone challenged Israeli leaders to justify the application of this double standard.

The two exceptions to the latter that I am aware of were both on the BBC Today programme recently, the first on 14 June 2013 [8] (and that was down to Jack Straw) and the second on 26 September 2013. See my article The BBC spreads untruths about Iran’s nuclear activities [9] for transcripts of these.

Mainstream journalists know that Israel has nuclear weapons and it is clearly newsworthy that Israel is applying a monumental double standard by demanding that Iran must not acquire what Israel itself already possesses in large numbers. So why is the question rarely put? Presumably, because mainstream journalists are simply too craven to put it for fear of the consequences from their employer or from Israel itself.

Since it is Israeli policy neither to confirm nor to deny that it has nuclear weapons, it is impossible for Israeli spokesmen to answer such a question if it were put.

1969 Nixon/Meir Deal
The same is true of US spokesmen, since it is also US policy neither to confirm nor deny that Israel has nuclear weapons.

The US took a vow of silence on this issue over 40 years ago: to be precise, on 26 September 1969, when President Nixon made a secret, unwritten, agreement with Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meir, in a one-to-one meeting in the Oval Office in the White House. Since then, the phrase “Israel’s nuclear weapons” has rarely if ever come out of the mouth of a US spokesman.

Under the Nixon/Meir deal, the US agreed not to acknowledge publicly that Israel possessed nuclear weapons, while knowing full well that it did. In return, Israel undertook to maintain a low profile about its nuclear weapons: there was to be no acknowledgment of their existence, and no testing which would reveal their existence. That way, the US would not be forced to take a public position for or against Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons.

(For the fascinating story of how this came to be US policy, see Israel crosses the threshold by Avner Cohen and William Burr, published in the May-June 2006 issue of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists [10]).

US Refuses to Discuss Israel’s Nuclear Weapons
In accordance with the Nixon/Meir deal, the US has refused ever since to acknowledge that Israel possesses nuclear weapons. This leads to the absurd situation in which US discussion of nuclear matters has to proceed without Israel’s nuclear weapons being mentioned.

Thus, for example, in his speech in Prague on 5 April 2009, when he announced “America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons” [11], Israel’s nuclear arsenal was off limits. This led to an amusing exchange at a press briefing onboard Air Force One en route to Prague between a journalist and a White House briefer, Denis McDonough (now Obama’s Chief of Staff). The dialogue included the following [12]:

Q: Have you included Israel in the discussion [about a world without nuclear weapons]?
MR. McDONOUGH: Pardon me?
Q:Have you included Israel in the discussion?
MR. McDONOUGH: Look, I think what you’ll see tomorrow is a very comprehensive speech.

It is rare for journalists to ask the US administration awkward questions about Israel’s nuclear arsenal. However, at the President’s press conference on 13 April 2010 after the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, Scott Wilson of the Washington Post asked:

“You have spoken often about the need to bring US policy in line with its treaty obligations internationally to eliminate the perception of hypocrisy that some of the world sees toward the United States and its allies. In that spirit and in that venue, will you call on Israel to declare its nuclear program and sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty? And if not, why wouldn’t other countries see that as an incentive not to sign on to the treaty that you say is important to strengthen?” [13]

President Obama replied:
“… as far as Israel goes, I’m not going to comment on their program.”

That’s the Nixon/Meir deal in action 40 years after it was done.

Israel stood outside the international non-proliferation regime. Iran was one of the original signatories to the NPT on 1 July 1968 as a ‘non-nuclear-weapon’ state, forbidden under Article II of the Treaty to acquire nuclear weapons. After the Islamic revolution in 1979, when the Islamic Republic reviewed all its international treaty commitments, the new rulers continued its adherence to the Treaty.

Over the past 20 years, there has been a continuous stream of accusations from Israel, the US and others that Iran was engaged in nuclear weapons development, contrary to its NPT commitments, but there has been little in the way of hard evidence to that effect. Even its detractors agree that it hasn’t got any nuclear weapons today, let alone an operational nuclear weapons system.

In their book, Going to Tehran: Why the US Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran published earlier this year, Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett (who both served on the US National Security Council in the first Bush administration until 2003) put it this way:

“American, Israeli and other Western intelligence services have claimed since the early 1990s that Iran is three to five years away from acquiring nuclear weapons; at times, Israel has offered more alarmist figures. But twenty years into this resetting forecast, no Western agency has come remotely close to producing hard evidence that Iran is trying to fabricate weapons.

In Russia, which has its own extensive intelligence and nuclear weapons communities and close contacts with the Iranian nuclear program, high-level officials say publicly that Iran is not seeking to build nuclear weapons — a judgment echoed privately by Russian officials knowledgeable about both nuclear weapons and Iran’s nuclear programme. Mohamed ElBaradei, who served as director general of the IAEA from 1997 to 2009 … has said on multiple occasions that there is no evidence that Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons.” p81-2

Unlike Iran, for more than 40 years, Israel has stood outside the international non-proliferation regime, refusing to join the NPT so that it could be free to develop nuclear weapons. Today, it has the ability to deliver them by aircraft, ballistic missile and submarine-launched cruise missiles (using submarines supplied at knockdown prices by Germany [14]). It is in a position to wipe off the map every capital in the Middle East (and probably much further afield). It is guilty of nuclear proliferation on a grand scale.

It introduced nuclear weapons into the Middle East. Without this, the Middle East would be a nuclear weapons free zone today.

Yet, it is Iran that has been treated as a pariah state and subjected to fierce economic sanctions by the US/EU and their allies, while Israel is showered with largesse by the US/EU. It receives over $3 billion a year in military aid from the US, more than any other state in the world, even though its GDP per capita is on a par with that of the EU. And, since 2000, it has enjoyed privileged access to the EU market for its exports. Not only that, Germany has subsidised the enhancement of Israel nuclear weapons systems by supplying it with submarines.

Iran and other Israeli Neighbours Can Withdraw from NPT
Clearly, Iran made the wrong choice in 1968 by signing the NPT. Had it taken the same route as Israel and refused to sign, it would have been free to engage in any nuclear activities it liked in secret, including activities for military purposes, without breaking any obligations under the NPT.

In fact, given Israel has acquired a nuclear arsenal since Iran signed the NPT in 1968, under Article IX of the NPT, Iran would be well within its rights to withdraw from the Treaty and remove the constraints upon it due to NPT membership (and so would every one of Israel’s neighbours). Article IX says:
“Each Party shall in exercising its national sovereignty have the right to withdraw from the Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty, have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country. It shall give notice of such withdrawal to all other Parties to the Treaty and to the United Nations Security Council three months in advance. Such notice shall include a statement of the extraordinary events it regards as having jeopardized its supreme interests.” [15]

By any objective standard, Iran (and other neighbours of Israel) has good grounds for withdrawing, because of the build up over the past 40 years of an Israeli nuclear arsenal directed at them. There could hardly be a better example of “extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty”, which “have jeopardized [their] supreme interests”.

Thanks to Germany, Israel Has Second-Strike Capability
A further point: the impression is often given, not least by the Israeli leadership, that Iran’s possession of even one nuclear weapon would put Israel’s existence as a state in jeopardy. But, once account is taken of Israel’s possession of a nuclear arsenal, this proposition loses its force, especially since, thanks to German generosity with submarines, it is impossible for any aggressor to destroy Israel’s nuclear weapons systems in a first strike. Thanks to Germany, Israel has second-strike capability

The plain fact is that if Iran were ever foolish enough to make a nuclear strike on Israel, it is absolutely certain that Israel would retaliate in kind and overwhelmingly and, as a result, many Iranian cities would be razed to the ground. The rulers of Iran know that to be the case and are not suicidal.

The Israeli leadership is well aware of this. In February 2010, when he was Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barack said:
“I don’t think the Iranians, even if they got the bomb, [would] drop it in the neighbourhood. They fully understand what might follow. They are radical but not totally crazy. They have a quite sophisticated decision making process, and they understand reality.” [16]

What he is saying — obliquely, since he doesn’t want to state openly that Israel possesses nuclear weapons — is that Iran would not make a nuclear strike against Israel if it had the capacity to do so, because its leadership is fully aware of the awful consequences.

NPT Signatories agree to Middle East WMD-Free-zone
The 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference (attended by all parties to the NPT and therefore excluding Israel) passed a resolution calling for the creation of WMD free zone in the Middle East — to be precise, “an effectively verifiable Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical and biological, and their delivery systems” [17]. It also called for all states in the region to accede to the NPT as soon as possible. This resolution was co-sponsored by the US, UK and Russia.

Nuclear weapons free zones have come into existence in other areas of the world since the late 60s (for example, in Latin America & the Caribbean and in Africa), where states in the area have agreed to ban the use, development, or deployment of nuclear weapons.

The creation of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East had been the subject of resolutions in international fora since the mid 70s, when evidence began to emerge that Israel was developing nuclear weapons.

In December 1974, for example, the UN General Assembly passed resolution 3263 (XXIX) [18], proposed by Iran and Egypt, calling for the establishment of such a zone and for all states in the region to adhere to the NPT. The resolution was adopted almost unanimously, with only Israel (and Burma) abstaining.

Security Council Resolution 687, the resolution passed at the end of the Gulf War in April 1991, which demanded the destruction of Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction”, also called on UN member states “to work towards the establishment in the Middle East of a zone free of such weapons.” [19].

NPT Signatories Agree to Conference on Middle East WMD Free Zone
The 1995 NPT resolution calling for a WMD free zone in the Middle East was reaffirmed at the next NPT Review Conference in 2000. However, needless to say, there was no progress whatsoever on its implementation.

In December 2003, when Syria was a member of the Security Council, it introduced a resolution reiterating the clause from the Iraq disarmament resolution calling for a WMD free zone in the Middle East, but the US threatened to veto it and it was never voted on [20].

The 2005 NPT Review Conference failed to agree a final consensus declaration, a sticking point being the lack of progress on implementing the 1995 resolution. The US had refused to put its name to any text which involved taking additional measures to induce Israel to give up its nuclear weapons and accede to the NPT.

The Obama administration was anxious to avoid a similar outcome at the 2010 NPT Review Conference. This time, a coalition of the 118 states in the Non-Aligned Movement, led by Egypt, lobbied strongly for progress on this (and other) issues. In order to achieve a final consensus declaration, the US had to agree to “a process leading to full implementation of the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East”, to quote from the conference final document [21] (p30).

Specifically, in a resolution on the Middle East, the Conference agreed that

“The Secretary-General of the United Nations and the co-sponsors of the 1995 Resolution [the US, UK and Russia], in consultation with the States of the region, will convene a conference in 2012, to be attended by all States of the Middle East, on the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction, on the basis of arrangements freely arrived at by the States of the region, and with the full support and engagement of the nuclear-weapon States. The 2012 Conference shall take as its terms of reference the 1995 Resolution;”

The resolution also specifically stated that Israel should accede to the NPT as a “non-nuclear weapon” state (ie that it should give up its nuclear weapons) and place all its nuclear facilities under comprehensive IAEA safeguards (p29/30). Iran’s nuclear activities weren’t mentioned in the resolution. Surprisingly, the US put its name to this, since it effectively calls for Israel to give up its nuclear weapons.

US Postpones Conference
The proposed conference, which was supposed to be held in 2012, has yet to take place. At one point it was scheduled to be held in Finland in December 2012, with Finnish Undersecretary of State Jaakko Laajava as the facilitator. But, the US called it off at the last moment, a statement issued by the State Department on 23 November 2012 saying:
“As a co-sponsor of the proposed conference on a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction (MEWMDFZ), envisioned in the 2010 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference Final Document, the United States regrets to announce that the conference cannot be convened because of present conditions in the Middle East and the fact that states in the region have not reached agreement on acceptable conditions for a conference.” [22]

At that time, one state in the Middle East was refusing to attend. No marks for guessing that the odd man out was Israel. At the time of writing (7 November 2013), the conference has not been rescheduled.

US Accords Israel Veto over Holding Conference
It wasn’t a surprise that the US called the conference off because Israel didn’t want to attend, because immediately after the US had put its name to the consensus declaration on 28 May 2010, President Obama’s National Security Advisor, General James Jones, stated that the US had “serious reservations” about the proposal for the conference [23]. He went on:
“The United States has long supported such a zone, although our view is that a comprehensive and durable peace in the region and full compliance by all regional states with their arms control and nonproliferation obligations are essential precursors for its establishment.”

So, as far as the US is concerned, it is OK for Israel to keep its nuclear weapons until there is a comprehensive peace settlement in the Middle East

General Jones continued:
“As a co-sponsor charged with enabling this conference, the United States will ensure that a conference will only take place if and when all countries feel confident that they can attend. Because of [the] gratuitous way that Israel has been singled out, the prospect for a conference in 2012 that involves all key states in the region is now in doubt and will remain so until all are assured that it can operate in a[n] unbiased and constructive way.”

So, within hours of the 189 signatories of the NPT, including the US, agreeing to the conference being held, the US unilaterally accorded Israel a veto over whether the conference would be held.

Lest there be any doubt about this, listen to this from President Obama, meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu in Washington a couple of months later on 6 July 2010:
“The President emphasized that the conference will only take place if all countries feel confident that they can attend, and that any efforts to single out Israel will make the prospects of convening such a conference unlikely.” [24]

Israel Gas to Be Singled Out
General Jones’ assertion that it is gratuitous to single out Israel when talking about a WMD free zone in the Middle East is beyond absurdity.

Israel is the only state in the Middle East that isn’t a party to any of the three WMD treaties. Israel is the only state in the Middle East that possesses nuclear weapons is Israel (and they are the only weapons which merit the name “weapons mass destruction”).

Egypt and Syria (and Israel) may possess other forms, but it generally believed that their pursuit of them was driven by Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons. The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) organisation says of Egypt:
“Cairo continues to lead efforts to establish a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone (WMDFZ) in the Middle East and to criticize Israel’s alleged nuclear weapons program, linking its refusal to participate in further arms control agreements such as the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) to Israel’s nonparticipation in the NPT.” [25]

And of Syria:
“The country’s primary motivation for pursuing unconventional weapons and ballistic missiles appears to be the perceived Israeli threat, as Israel has superior conventional military capabilities and is widely believed to possess nuclear weapons.” [26]

So, unless Israel is singled out for WMD elimination, there will never be a WMD free zone in the Middle East.

US Accords Israel Veto over Creation of Middle East WMD Free Zone
However, it is clear that the US is not going to be singling out Israel any time soon. When he met Prime Minister Netanyahu on 6 July 2010:
“The President told the Prime Minister he recognizes that Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat or possible combination of threats, and that only Israel can determine its security needs.” [24]

In that, the Obama administration accepts that Israel has a right to nuclear weapons for deterrence purposes — and the right to decide when, if ever, it no longer needs nuclear weapons for deterrence purposes. That accords Israel a veto over the creation over a WMD free zone in the Middle East — and over the achievement of “a world without nuclear weapons”, which he embarked on rhetorically in Prague in April 2009.

If the US were to apply that principle universally, then every state in the world would have a right to nuclear weapons, if it believed that their possession was necessary to deter aggression. However, it’s likely that the US will restrict the application of this principle to very special friends.