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Iran: Toward the next confrontation?


Israel has long been claiming that Iran was developing nuclear weapons. For the last ten or 15 years, we have been hearing that Iran was about to acquire "the bomb" within one year or two years or certainly within five years.

Recently however, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the world community have begun to take these claims seriously, because the IAEA found traces of high grade fissionable materials at some sites in Iran and because Iran can't explain why it needs large numbers of gas centrifuges, usually used to purify fissionable isotopes for use in nuclear bombs. Iran has until October 31 to cooperate with the IAEA inspection teams.

Meanwhile, speculation is rife that Israel will take matters into its own hands, and strike the Bushehr reactor or other sites, just as it struck the Iraqi Osirac reactor in 1981. At that time, the IAEA insisted that Iraq was not developing nuclear weapons, and many condemnted the Israeli strike. Subsequently, it was shown that Osirac was a nuclear breeder reactor that Saddam was using in his nuclear weapons program.

The articles below show the increasingly alarming rumors about Israeli intentions.

-Der Spiegel: Israel planning strike on Iranian nuclear facilities

-LA Times: Officials warn Iran that Israel has nuclear-armed submarines

German Magazine: Israel Ready To Launch Strike on
Nuclear Sites in Iran
EUP20031011000099 Hamburg Der Spiegel (Internet
Version-WWW) in German 11 Oct 03
[Prereleased unattributed report, to be published in
the 13 October hardcopy version: "Israel Plans Attack
on Iranian Nuclear Plants"]

[FBIS Translated Text]
The Israeli Government under Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon is apparently ready to eliminate Tehran's
nuclear program with specific military strikes.
According to information obtained by the news magazine
Der Spiegel, a special unit of the Mosad intelligence
service received orders two months ago to prepare
plans for attacks. On the basis of the scenarios now
presented in Jerusalem, about half a dozen of targets
are to be destroyed "at the same time and completely"
by F-16 fighter bombers -- and operation Mosad
believes is delicate but "technically achievable."
According to Israeli findings, the Iranians are in
several places in the final stages of producing
weapons-grade uranium by enriching it. Three nuclear
plants are reportedly completely unknown to the
international community. Therefore experts believe
that Tehran will not sign the Additional Protocol to
the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. In the event of
unannounced inspections by IAEA representatives,
Tehran might be faced with "embarrassing discoveries,"
and Israeli security expert told Der Spiegel.

Los Angeles Times

Israel Adds Fuel to Nuclear Dispute
Officials confirm that the nation can now launch
atomic weapons from land, sea and air. The issue
complicates efforts to rein in Iran.
By Douglas Frantz
Times Staff Writer

October 12, 2003


TEL AVIV -- Israel has modified American-supplied
cruise missiles to carry nuclear warheads on
submarines, giving the Middle East's only nuclear
power the ability to launch atomic weapons from land,
air and beneath the sea, according to senior Bush
administration and Israeli officials.

The previously undisclosed submarine capability
bolsters Israel's deterrence in the event that Iran -
an avowed enemy - develops nuclear weapons. It also
complicates efforts by the United States and the
United Nations to persuade Iran to abandon its
suspected nuclear weapons program.

Two Bush administration officials described the
missile modification and an Israeli official confirmed
it. All three spoke on condition their names not be

The Americans said they were disclosing the
information to caution Israel's enemies at a time of
heightened tensions in the region and concern over
Iran's alleged ambitions.

Iran denies developing nuclear weapons and says its
nuclear program is solely for generating electricity.
Iranian leaders are resisting more intrusive
inspections by the United Nations, setting the stage
for a showdown in coming weeks.

The U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency has
given Tehran an Oct. 31 deadline to accept full
inspections and prove it has no nuclear arms program.

Arab diplomats and U.N. officials said Israel's steady
enhancement of its secret nuclear arsenal, and U.S.
silence about it, has increased the desire of Arab
states for similar weapons.

"The presence of a nuclear program in the region that
is not under international safeguards gives other
countries the spur to develop weapons of mass
destruction," said Nabil Fahmy, Egypt's ambassador to
the United States. "Any future conflict becomes more

Late last month, Egypt joined Saudi Arabia and Syria
at the U.N. General Assembly in criticizing the U.S.
and U.N. for ignoring Israel's weapons of mass
destruction while pressuring Iran.

A senior Iranian official raised the same issue at a
nonproliferation conference in Moscow in September.

"Stability cannot be achieved in a region where
massive imbalances in military capabilities are
maintained, particularly through the possession of
nuclear weapons that allow one party to threaten its
neighbors and the region," said Ali Asghar Soltanieh.

Israel will not confirm or deny that it possesses
nuclear arms. Intelligence analysts and independent
experts have long known that the country has 100 to
200 sophisticated nuclear weapons.

Israel, India and Pakistan are the only countries with
nuclear facilities that have not signed the Nuclear
Nonproliferation Treaty, which was initiated in 1968
to stop the spread of nuclear weapons through
inspections and sanctions. India and Pakistan also
have nuclear bombs.

Iran and Arab states with civilian nuclear programs
have signed the treaty. The Arab countries have
refused to agree to tougher inspections because Israel
will not sign it, U.N. officials said.

"A big source of contention is Israel," said a senior
official trying to win acceptance of the additional
inspections. "This is a magnet for other countries to
develop nuclear weapons."

Israel and its U.S. backers regard its nuclear weapons
as a centerpiece of the country's security. The
development of the arms over several decades, with
tacit U.S. approval, has been rarely mentioned, but it
is becoming an increasingly compelling component in
discussions about lasting peace in the Middle East.

While not acknowledging the country's nuclear
capability, Israeli officials have promised they would
not "introduce" such weapons to the Middle East.
Israeli and U.S. officials said that means Israel
would not launch a first strike using the weapons.
They argue that other countries have nothing to fear
from Israel's nuclear arms, whereas Israel has
everything to fear from its neighbors.Even so,
Israel's nuclear stockpile confers military
superiority that translates into a high degree of
freedom of action, from bombing a suspected terrorist
camp in Syria last week to the destruction of an Iraqi
nuclear reactor in 1981.

"Nuclear capabilities give the owners enormous
political maneuverability which otherwise they do not
have," a senior Western security official said.

Since 1969, Washington has accepted Israel's status as
a nuclear power and not pressured it to sign the
nonproliferation treaty.

"We tolerate nuclear weapons in Israel for the same
reason we tolerate them in Britain and France," a
senior administration official said. "We don't regard
Israel as a threat."

To avoid triggering American economic and military
sanctions, U.S. intelligence agencies routinely omit
Israel from semiannual reports to Congress identifying
countries developing weapons of mass destruction. The
Clinton administration even barred the sale of the
most detailed U.S. satellite photographs of Israel in
an effort to protect that country's nuclear complex
and other targets.

The Bush administration's determination to stop Iran
from developing nuclear weapons means Israel's
worst-kept secret is likely to loom large in
negotiations with Tehran.

"You are never going to be able to address the Iranian
nuclear ambitions or the issues of Egypt's chemical
weapons and possible biological weapons program
without bringing Israel's nuclear program into the
mix," said Joseph Cirincione, director of the
nonproliferation program at the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace, a Washington-based nonprofit
organization promoting international cooperation.

Growing Vulnerability

Israel is smaller than New Jersey and its population
of 6 million is within reach of missiles from Iran and
other neighbors. As Iran and other countries in the
region improved their long-range missiles in the
1990s, Israel's land-based nuclear weapons became
vulnerable to attack.

The strategic alternative was to develop nuclear-armed
submarines, which would be almost invulnerable, said
Robert S. Norris, a nuclear historian at the Natural
Resources Defense Council in Washington.

Israel ordered three specially designed submarines
from Germany in the mid-1990s and they were delivered
in 1999 and 2000. The diesel-powered vessels have a
range of several thousand miles and can remain at sea
for up to a month.

The attempt to arm them with nuclear missiles was
first disclosed in a book published in June 2002 by
the Carnegie Endowment. The Washington Post published
an article about the effort a few days later.

Recent interviews with officials in Washington and Tel
Aviv provided the first confirmation that Israel can
now deliver nuclear weapons from beneath the sea.

The Israeli official refused to provide details, but
the U.S. officials said the warheads were designed for
American-supplied Harpoon missiles, which can be
launched from the subs and have sea-skimming cruise
guidance systems. Harpoons usually have conventional
warheads and are common in the arsenals of the United
States and other countries.

Norris said Israeli engineers would have had to reduce
the size of a nuclear weapon to fit the warhead of a
Harpoon and alter the missile guidance system to hit
land-based targets, both relatively simple tasks with
a sophisticated weapons program.

"They have been at it for more than 30 years, so this
is something within the realm of capability for
Israel's scientists and engineers," said Norris, who
added that the normal range of the missiles - 80 miles
- might have been extended as well.

The submerged submarines send missiles to the surface
in capsules fired from torpedo tubes. When a capsule
reaches the surface, its top blows off and the missile
is launched.

An Israeli government spokesman, Daniel Seaman,
confirmed that the three new submarines carried
Harpoon missiles, but he declined to specify the type
of warhead.

Israel has about 150 miles of coast on the
Mediterranean Sea and its submarines are deployed so
that at least one is in the water at all times,
ensuring that Israel can retaliate if attacked.

The Israeli government rejected requests for
interviews with officials from its atomic energy
agency and refused to answer questions on
nuclear-related matters.

The consensus in the U.S. intelligence community and
among outside experts is that Israel, with possibly
200 nuclear weapons, has the fifth- or sixth-largest
arsenal in the world.

Under the nonproliferation treaty, five countries are
permitted nuclear weapons. Britain has 185, the
smallest number among the five, according to the
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The
group estimated that Russia has 8,232 weapons; the
United States, 7,068; China, 402; and France, 348.

Israel has about double the number of India and
Pakistan. North Korea claims to have nuclear weapons,
but U.S. intelligence officials are uncertain whether
that is true. Estimates of the number have ranged from
one or two to six.

A Deal With France

Israel began building a nuclear bomb in the mid-1950s
when hostile neighbors surrounded the young country
and the Holocaust was fresh in the minds of its

A secret agreement with the French government in 1956
helped Israel build a plutonium nuclear reactor.
France and Israel were natural partners then; they had
been allies with Britain in a brief attempt to seize
the Suez Canal after Egypt nationalized it and had
shared concerns about the Soviets and unrest in North

The reactor site was in a remote corner of the Negev
desert, outside the village of Dimona.

It was a massive project, with as many as 1,500
Israeli and French workers building the reactor and an
extensive underground complex on 14 square miles.
French military aircraft secretly flew heavy water, a
key component of a plutonium reactor, from Norway to
Israel, according to the Federation of American
Scientists in Washington.

American U-2 spy planes spotted the construction soon
after it began in 1958. Israel initially said it was a
textile plant and later a metallurgical research
facility. Two years later, U.S. intelligence
identified the site as a nuclear reactor and the CIA
said it was part of a weapons program, according to
documents at the National Archives in Washington.

In December 1960, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben
Gurion told the Israeli parliament that a nuclear
reactor was under construction, but he said it was
exclusively for peaceful purposes.

It was the first and last time that an Israeli prime
minister made a public statement about Dimona,
according to "Israel and the Bomb," an authoritative
book by Avner Cohen, an Israeli American scholar.

Soon after taking office in 1961, President Kennedy
pressured Israel to allow an inspection. Ben Gurion
agreed, and an American team visited the installation
that May.

A post-visit U.S. memo said the scientists were
"satisfied that nothing was concealed from them and
that the reactor is of the scope and peaceful
character previously described to the United States."

American teams visited Dimona seven times during the
1960s and reported that they could find no evidence of
a weapons program.

In June 1967, on the eve of the Middle East War,
Israeli engineers assembled two improvised nuclear
devices, according to published accounts and an
interview with an Israeli with knowledge of the

By early 1968, Carl Duckett, then deputy director of
the CIA office of science and technology, had
concluded that Israel had nuclear weapons, according
to testimony he gave to the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission in 1974.

Duckett said his assessment was based on conversations
with Edward Teller, the father of the hydrogen bomb,
who visited Israel several times and supported its
nuclear program. Duckett said Richard Helms, CIA
director, ordered him not to circulate his

In 1969, President Nixon struck a deal with Israeli
Prime Minister Golda Meir: As long as Israel did not
go public with its program or test weapons openly, the
United States would stop its inspections and turn a
blind eye, according to Cohen's book.

The proof surfaced 17 years later. On Oct. 5, 1986,
the Sunday Times of London published an article in
which a former Dimona technician, Mordechai Vanunu,
provided a detailed look at Israel's nuclear weapons
program. His cache included diagrams and photographs
from inside the complex, which he said had produced
enough plutonium for 100 bombs since it went online in

To conceal the weapons work from U.S. inspectors, a
false wall had been built to hide elevators that
descended six stories beneath the desert floor to
facilities where plutonium was refined and bomb parts
were manufactured, Vanunu said.

Shortly before the article was published, a female
agent from Israel's intelligence service lured Vanunu
from London to Rome. He was kidnapped and smuggled
back to Israel, where he was convicted of treason in a
secret trial and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Vanunu is scheduled to be released next year. He has
been denied parole because prosecutors say he still
has secrets to tell, according to his lawyer and

Meanwhile, Israel was enhancing its ability to launch
its nuclear weapons.

The U.S. sold Israel F-15 and F-16 fighter jets, both
of which can be used to deliver nuclear bombs or
missiles. In the 1960s, the French helped Israel
develop its first generation of Jericho missiles and
the Israelis had built a longer-range Jericho II by
the mid-1980s.

The Jericho I and II are equipped with nuclear
warheads, and satellite photos indicate that many are
hidden in limestone caves southeast of Tel Aviv, near
the town of Zachariah, which is Hebrew for "God
remembers with vengeance."

The Jericho II has a range of 930 miles, which means
it could probably hit targets in Iran. The F-16 has a
range of 1,000 miles, and the F-15 can hit targets
more than 2,000 miles away.

Israel has never openly tested nuclear weapons.
Experts said the Israelis have used supercomputers,
some supplied by the U.S., to conduct simulations for
designing weapons. Components also can be tested using
conventional explosives.

"Nonnuclear tests would not be picked up by satellites
and other monitoring systems," said Gary Milhollin,
director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms
Control in Washington. "You can do a lot in secret and
without a nuclear explosion."

An Open Secret

Israel's nuclear program remains shrouded by a policy
it calls "nuclear ambiguity." The phrase means Israel
does not acknowledge its nuclear capability and suffer
the accompanying political and economic fallout, yet
it gains the benefit of deterrence because other
nations know the weapons exist.

Though Israel is a democracy, debating the nuclear
program is taboo. The Israeli Atomic Energy Commission
is one of the country's most secretive organizations.
Its budget is secret, its facilities are off limits,
and employees face harsh sanctions if they talk about
its operations. Even the name of the chief of nuclear
security was a secret until three years ago.

A military censor guards Israel's nuclear secrets.
Journalists writing about any security or defense
matters must submit articles or broadcast scripts for
pre-publication review. The censor, an army general,
can block publication or broadcast. Decisions can be
appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court, but journalists
said the government usually prevails.

Foreign journalists in Israel are subject to the
censorship law, though foreigners rarely submit
material to the censor and enforcement is less strict.
This article, for example, was not submitted to
Israeli censors.

However, some foreigners have run afoul of the

In late June, the British Broadcasting Corp. aired a
documentary examining the Israeli nuclear
establishment's history, Vanunu's imprisonment and
illnesses among former workers at the Dimona complex.

The Israeli government retaliated within days. It
stopped providing spokesmen for BBC stories and
prohibited BBC reporters from attending government
news conferences. "They are trying to demonize the
state of Israel," Seaman, the head of the press
office, said of BBC in an interview in August. "We are
not cooperating with them."

Tim English, a BBC spokesman, said the broadcaster
stood by the accuracy and fairness of its program.

Censorship extends to academics too. Cohen, the
Israeli American scholar, has written a second book
that criticizes Israel's nuclear secrecy as

In July, his Israeli publisher submitted the
manuscript to the censor in hopes of publishing it in
Hebrew. Cohen said a decision was expected soon.

"This will show how far the Israeli government is
willing to go to allow serious discussion of the
issue," he said.

Uproar in Parliament

Israel's parliament was dragged into the nuclear
debate briefly on Feb. 2, 2000. Issam Makhoul, one of
10 Israeli Arabs in parliament, got the item on the
agenda by petitioning the Supreme Court after being
rebuffed seven times.

"The entire world knows that Israel is a huge
warehouse of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons
that serves as a cornerstone of the nuclear arms race
in the Middle East," said Makhoul, whose speech was
protected by parliamentary immunity.

Several members of parliament walked out. Others
responded with angry shouts. "This is putting lives in
danger," said one member, Moshe Gafni.

Haim Ramon, a Cabinet minister, said no democratic
country invites its enemies to listen in on
discussions of nuclear arms policy. "Do you want us to
announce to Iran and Iraq exactly what we have?" he

Sitting in his cluttered office in Haifa recently,
Makhoul defended his attempt to spark a debate and
argued that the issue was more pressing now.

"The American administration decided to destroy
weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and they are
threatening Iran," he said. "They cannot continue
giving a blind eye to what is going on in Israel."

Some experts contend Israel no longer needs nuclear
weapons because Iraq is no longer a threat and
Israel's conventional forces are superior to any
combination of Arab armies. Israel's problems with
Palestinian extremists, they argue, cannot be remedied
by nuclear strikes.

"Israel has a direct interest in making sure no Muslim
state acquires the one weapon that could offset its
conventional superiority, a nuclear bomb," said
Cirincione, the nonproliferation director at the
Carnegie Endowment. "One way to do that is by putting
its own nuclear weapons on the table."

Some Arab leaders advocate declaring the Middle East a
zone free of weapons of mass destruction. The process
would be long, starting with mutual pledges to give up
weapons and the creation of a mechanism to verify

Few Israelis think this is the right time to discuss
it, because of the level of violence with the

"Israel could accept the idea after two years of
comprehensive peace in the Middle East," said Ephraim
Kam, deputy director of the Jaffee Center for
Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv. "Only then could we
consider changing our nuclear position."

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