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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

 State Information Service(SIS)
Ministry of Information (MOI)
  Arab Republic of Egypt

Letter from Cairo

June 28 - July 1, 1998

Israel's Nuclear Edge Blunted

    Nowhere is the word "security " as overused, not to say abused, as it is in the political discourse of Israel, which is arguably more obsessed with security than any other country in the world. The obsession is particularly pronounced in the case of its present government, whose leader invokes Israel's security requirements to justify exposing the entire Middle East peace process to total collapse However, in the light of the new factor introduced to the security equation by the nuclear blasts set off in the Indian sub-continent ;last month, it is to be questioned whether Netanyahu can continue to pin his stonewalling tactics on security concerns.

    Nuclear weapons. Contrary to conventional weapons, are meant to serve in a deterrent capacity, not to be used in actual combat. For while it is possible to use conventional weapons without causing irreversible harm to the human race, the same is not true when it comes to nuclear weapons, whose radioactive effects can adversely affect the ecosystem for millions of years to come. The two atomic bombs America dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki just before the end of World War I killed some 300 thousand Japanese instantly: the overkill capacity of thermonuclear weapons today, particularly the hydrogen bomb, is hundreds of thousands of times greater than those early prototypes.

    Because of their highly destructive and polluting effects, nuclear weapons are in many cases not tested or exploded. Nevertheless, they are extremely effective as political if not military weapons, being decisive in determining the balance of power in international confrontation.

    In the past Israel was the only Middle Eastern country known to possess a nuclear arsenal. Today, the possibility of other countries in the region acquiring nuclear capability cannot be discounted. If Pakistan, which is not a member of the developed group of nations, succeeded in setting off six nuclear devices, there is nothing to say that other countries in the region cannot do the same. And, in the absence of test, there is no way to monitor the situation, especially in a global setup no longer constrained by the nuclear balance of terror which prevailed during the Cold War. Can Israel afford to ignore this dangerous development? Can it afford to remain silent about its nuclear capability? In other words, can it afford to allow a regional nuclear race to escalate unabated?

    With the greater dissemination of nuclear technology, access to its military use is becoming less and less difficult. At the same time, There are greater constraints on mounting air raids against nuclear facilities in foreign countries the way Israel did with Iraq's nuclear reactor some twenty years ago. This is all the more true in A Middle East where the frame of reference is supposed to be a regional peace process not sustained confrontation. All of which makes it more difficult for Israel to avoid negotiations on the nuclear issue throughout the region. In the wake of the Indian and Pakistani blast, this faces Israel with a dilemma: Can it continue to keep its nuclear capability under wraps, or should it declare it openly.

    According to two members of the Knesset, Labor Party Deputy Raffi Eyloul and well--known Arab-Israeli Deputy Abdel-Wahab Darawsha, Israel exploded a neutron device in the Gulf of Aqaba on 28 May this year. Known as the clean bomb because it dose not release long-acting radioactive fission product, the neutron bomb can do serious damage on the battlefield, causing death or serious injury to exposed individuals without producing the radioactive fallout that endangers people or structures miles away. If news of the Israeli test, which Eyloul attributes to a reliable source in the United States, is true, it attests to Israel's concern with the new nuclear balance of power in the region.

    It could be argued that Pakistan's becoming nuclear does not automatically mean that other regional powers will become nuclear. Defining the Pakistani bomb as an 'Islamic bomb' might be reflecting the wish of a number of Islamic states in the region, but would Pakistan run the security risk of allowing its nuclear know-how to spread to other states? The only certainty, as illustrated by the way the Indian and Pakistani tests caught everyone by surprise, is that nobody can predict if or when this or that regional power will turn nuclear Now that moderately developed states have demonstrated the ability to become nuclear. This can only exacerbate Israel's obsession with security and tempt it to take preemptive measures to prevent regional parties from developing nuclear capability.

    Such issues raise another delicate question: from a Third World perspective, should the Indian and Pakistani nuclear blasts be regarded as a positive or a negative development? Have they improved or damaged the negotiating position of Third World countries, taking into account the fact that nuclear proliferation can only expose our planet to still greater dangers of self annihilation?

    Of course, this last argument is the one used by the members of the nuclear club to prevent other states from turning nuclear at a time they refuse to consider relinquishing their own nuclear arsenals. However, the Security Council, who turns a blind eye to the unauthorized entry into their club by a limited number of states, including, of course, Israel. As far as the Western powers are concerned, Israel's so-called "secret" nuclear capability should not only be tolerated but seen as legitimate self- defense by a country whose very existence is "threatened" Such unspoken assumptions cannot be tolerated, and that is why the blasts in the Indian sub-continent cannot be regarded as only negative. They have helped burst the bubble, as it were, and are forcing all powers to come out openly with their nuclear capabilities. The ambivalence that have kept nuclear apartheid alive for so long will sooner or later turn out to be a liability for all concerned.

By: Mohammad Sid-Ahmad
Al Ahram Weekly

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