Obama Plays Nuclear Hardball With Israel
By Mark H. Gaffney
The US government has declassified a 1987 report documenting Israel’s secret nuclear weapons program.
I have been a critic of President Obama, but one has to admire the timing of the release which I suspect was ordered by the White House. Next month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to speak before Congress, at the behest of House speaker Boehner, and the topic of Netanyahu’s address reportedly will be Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program. The fact that neither Speaker Boehner nor the Israeli government first cleared the speech with the White House has become controversial, and for good reason. Several prominent members of Congress, among them Senator Leahy, have already indicated they will boycott the speech, which will be a transparent attempt at an end run around the president.
Israeli PM Netanyahu is a smooth talker, but he is in no position to lecture Iran or any other state about nuclear weapons. The just-declassified report shows up Netanyahu for what he is, a liar.
All sixteen US intelligence agencies agree there is no hard evidence that Iran is attempting to develop nuclear weapons. As a signatory of the nuclear non proliferation treaty, Iran’s nuclear power program is fully safeguarded by IAEA inspections. Israel by contrast is a rogue state that secretly developed nukes while thumbing its nose at the world. Israel has long refused to sign the NPT. The declassified 1987 report indicates that from the 1980s on the US was well-informed about Israel’s hidden nuclear agenda. Israel’s nuke program is evidently a carbon copy of the US program.
We know that Israel smuggled nuclear technology (triggers, known as krytrons) out of the US, highjacked a ship on the high seas loaded with uranium ore, deceived US inspectors, and much more, all the while lying about its true intentions. It also appears that Israel provided the IAEA with phony documents about Iran’s nuclear program.
Timing is everything in politics.
With the report now public, Obama will be in a stronger position to apply pressure on Israel to sign the NPT and open its nuclear sites to IAEA inspectors; or face the prospect of losing US economic and military aid. Why?
Because US law (Symington amendment of the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act) bars the US from giving aid to nations that engage in clandestine nuclear weapons proliferation. For many years, the US chose to ignore the law. But now that Netanyahu plainly intends to stir up trouble for Obama in Congress over Iran, the president has apparently decided to take off the kid gloves. If Obama follows through, and I hope he does, it will the smartest policy move of his presidency. The president deserves all the support that we the people can give him on this issue.
The timing of the 1987 report was no coincidence either. No doubt it was occasioned by a three-page expose that appeared in the London Sunday Times in 1986, based on evidence provided by an Israeli whistleblower named Mordechai Vanunu.
The stunning Times expose featured inside photos and details about Israel’s top-secret plutonium separation plant buried 80 feet below the Negev desert. For years, Israel had claimed that its Dimona nuclear plant was peacefully generating electricity. But Vanunu showed this was a deception.
For his courage Vanunu suffered a fate worse than death. Kidnapped by Israeli agents, he was taken back to Israel in chains and convicted of treason in a kangaroo court. The man of conscience spent 18 years in Ashkelon prison, 11 of them in solitary confinement, during which time he endured terrible abuse by his Israeli handlers. Though Vanunu was released in 2004, he remains under house arrest in Israel to this day; a shocking example of double jeopardy.
I want to personally thank Mordechai Vanunu for the incredible courage he has shown over many years, which now finally appears on the verge of bearing positive fruit. Never doubt that one brave man can change the world. Vanunu did. He will be remembered for his strength in the service of truth, while Netanyahu may well become notorious as the dissembler who destroyed Israel’s credibility.Φ
Mark H. Gaffney is the author of Dimona: the Third Temple (1989), a pioneering study of Israel’s nuclear weapons program. This piece first appeared in CounterPunch,org.