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Nuclear Israel

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Nuclear North Korea, nuclear Iraq, nuclear Iran – of these our media has been full for the last year or more, though they either don’t exist or hardly yet exist. North Korea now probably has a couple of crude nuclear weapons, which it may still be incapable of delivering. But nuclear Israel, little endangered Israel? It’s hard even to get your head around the concept, though that country has either the fifth or sixth largest nuclear arsenal in the world.

Nuclear Israel is certainly not a concept you’re likely to run across in the American press very often, which is why a major Sunday news story in the Los Angeles Times was so out of the ordinary. Douglas Frantz, a reporter who has covered Middle Eastern nuclear issues for the Times — he did an in-depth investigation of the potential Iranian bomb this summer — just dropped a small nuclear bombshell, reporting (Israel Adds Fuel to Nuclear Dispute):

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

(Tip to the Justice Dept. and the FBI: it’s those “senior administration officials” again — outing Israel rather than Valerie Plame and evidently with permission this time. “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.” Though we can’t know who leaked this information, it’s at least plausible to assume, given normal American governmental silence on Israel’s nuclear arsenal, that this represents a signal of some importance from at least part of the Bush administration to Iran, the other countries of the Middle East, and Ariel Sharon.)

In the wake of the air attack Sharon ordered on Syrian territory, the escalating threats over Yasir Arafat, the bombing of Maxim’s restaurant in Haifa, the announcement of further planned settlement building in the occupied territories, uneasiness on the Lebanese border, endless back and forth on the nature of Iran’s nuclear program, and the full-scale collapse of the “road map” to peace (which now sounds remarkably like an oxymoron), the “leaked” news that Israeli nuclear subs are patrolling the Eastern Mediterranean is in itself an important — and frightening — note of escalation in the region and yet another sign that the Bush policy of “proliferation wars” has only loosed an unpredictable cycle of wmd escalation on the world.

As Peter Beaumont and Conal Uquhart of the British Observer put the matter (Israel deploys nuclear arms in submarines):

“The unprecedented disclosure [about the nuclear subs] came as Israel announced that states ‘harbouring terrorists’ are legitimate targets, responding to Syria’s declaration of its right to self-defence should Israel bomb its territory again The disclosure is certain to complicate UN-led efforts to persuade Iran to make a full disclosure of its nuclear programme. It will also complicate the Bush administration’s efforts to reach out to moderate Arab states when they are pressing for an equal disclosure of Israel’s nuclear weapons programme.”

(Tip to the Justice Dept. and the FBI: it’s those “senior administration officials” again — outing Israel rather than Valerie Plame and evidently with permission this time. “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.” Though we can’t know who leaked this information, it’s at least plausible to assume, given normal American governmental silence on Israel’s nuclear arsenal, that this represents a signal of some importance from at least part of the Bush administration to Iran, the other countries of the Middle East, and Ariel Sharon.)

In the wake of the air attack Sharon ordered on Syrian territory, the escalating threats over Yasir Arafat, the bombing of Maxim’s restaurant in Haifa, the announcement of further planned settlement building in the occupied territories, uneasiness on the Lebanese border, endless back and forth on the nature of Iran’s nuclear program, and the full-scale collapse of the “road map” to peace (which now sounds remarkably like an oxymoron), the “leaked” news that Israeli nuclear subs are patrolling the Eastern Mediterranean is in itself an important — and frightening — note of escalation in the region and yet another sign that the Bush policy of “proliferation wars” has only loosed an unpredictable cycle of wmd escalation on the world.

As Peter Beaumont and Conal Uquhart of the British Observer put the matter (Israel deploys nuclear arms in submarines):

“The unprecedented disclosure [about the nuclear subs] came as Israel announced that states ‘harbouring terrorists’ are legitimate targets, responding to Syria’s declaration of its right to self-defence should Israel bomb its territory again The disclosure is certain to complicate UN-led efforts to persuade Iran to make a full disclosure of its nuclear programme. It will also complicate the Bush administration’s efforts to reach out to moderate Arab states when they are pressing for an equal disclosure of Israel’s nuclear weapons programme.”

Israel, with a nuclear arsenal larger at this point than India’s or Pakistan’s (three countries, by the way, that have never signed the nuclear nonproliferation treaty), has traditionally blacked out all information on its massive nuclear program. As Frantz comments, “Though Israel is a democracy, debating the nuclear program is taboo A military censor guards Israel’s nuclear secrets.” And this “taboo” has largely extended to American reporting on the subject. The one man who revealed to the world something of the nature and extent of the Israeli nuclear program, Mordechai Vanunu, remains in jail some eighteen years later, a prisoner of conscience evidently unbroken and due for release next spring. (I include below a fine column on this whistle-blower extraordinaire by Renato Redentor Constantino that appeared in the Philippine newspaper Today. I find it a moving thought that I can bring you a piece from the Philippines about a long-imprisoned Israeli who blew the whistle on his country’s secret nuclear program, something you would be unlikely to find here. This has to be the better side of globalization.)

Here’s the irony, if you read the Frantz piece, which you should, you’ll find that, before the Israelis consigned their nuclear program to total silence, this was what they were saying:

“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.”

When it comes to explanations, does that ring any modern bells? (Hint: think Iran today.)

It’s worth remembering then that the elephant at the Middle East’s nuclear party has been supported, both actively and by silent assent, for decades by the United States. Even on the most recent nuclear leak, Nathan Guttman of Ha’aretz writes (Report: IDF planning to attack nuclear sites in Iran):

“Israeli sources said Saturday that U.S. officials have never raised questions about a possibility of Israel converting American-made [submarine] missiles for nuclear use. User instructions that have accompanied the supply of missiles such as the Harpoon have not included restrictions banning any such conversion, say the Israeli sources.”

In addition, according to a piece in Israeli Insider (first found at the valuable www.warincontext.org site), the German weekly Der Spiegel reported this weekend that (Ellis Shuman, Israel preparing strike to take out Iranian nuclear sites):

“a special unit of the [Israeli intelligence service] Mossad received an order two months ago to prepare a detailed plan to destroy Iran’s nuclear sites. The Mossad believes Iran has reached an advanced stage in its nuclear program and is capable of producing enriched uranium, a vital ingredient of nuclear bombs. The report said that three of Iran’s nuclear sites were totally unknown to the outside world.

“The Mossad’s plan is now ready and has been delivered to the Israeli Air Force, which will carry out the strike, Der Spiegel said The paper quoted an unnamed IAF pilot who said the operation, which would be far more complicated than Israel’s strike at Iraq’s nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981, would be ‘complex, but feasible.'”

The Insider adds:

“Unnamed American officials were quoted by Army Radio as saying that the United States had no plans to launch an attack against Iran at this stage, but it was impossible to know what the ‘crazy’ Israelis would do.”

The Middle East makes no sense if you don’t understand that, while Iraq, Iran, and who knows what other countries either were or are scrabbling for single digit nuclear weapons, Israel already has a sophisticated arsenal of perhaps 200 of them, the missiles to deliver them, and now an offshore capability as well. The thought of Ariel Sharon in control of such weaponry makes me shudder.

In a recent analysis of the global nuclear club and various wannabes, Paul Rogers of the openDemocracy website offers the following summary of Israel’s nuclear situation before the most recent news broke (Iran and North Korea: the next targets):

“Israel is a country that is often quietly forgotten when nuclear weapons are discussed. It first developed these in the 1960s with French help, and had a limited capability by the time of the Yom Kippur/Ramadan war of October 1973. It has since built up substantial nuclear forces including aircraft-delivered free-fall bombs and up to 100 warheads carried by variants of the Jericho land-based ballistic missile with a range of up to 1,800 kilometres. The total arsenal is likely to by around 200 warheads, including fusion (H-bomb) weapons. Israel may also have tactical artillery shells and may be developing a warhead for use on a submarine-launched cruise missile.”

In fact, all across the now famed “arc of instability,” the situation is growing ever more complex. Nuclear-armed India with its right-wing Hindu nationalist government has been moving ever closer to an unstated military/diplomatic alliance with Israel (again with the quiet encouragement of the Americans as well as a pairing up of the Israeli and Indian lobbies in Washington). Were these two countries considered by the Bush administration “rogue” nations, this would certainly qualify as an “axis of something” in the making.

Nuclear-armed India, of course, faces nuclear-armed Pakistan across a completely militarized, itchy-trigger-finger border, and Pakistan, which has recently been openly testing its latest missiles, seems to be giving Iran a hand with its nuclear program. We are, in essence, helping to create our own nuclear house of cards, or nuclear dominoes. This is not a carefully “balanced” region within which nuclear deterrence is an especially bright concept, but an over-armed, increasingly unbalanced one.

Throw into the mix that what we are watching now, from a nuclear Mediterranean to the Palestinian occupied territories to Syria and Iran, is a Bush administration pre-2004 election tilt of tilts — a flashing green light for Ariel Sharon that bodes ill for any future worth the bother. I’m sure that part of this involves a powerful hope among the neocon partisans of a suddenly beleaguered administration that Sharon’s Israel might, if not polish off, then continue what we’ve already started in Iraq. A significant wing of this administration wants Sharon to drive or fly that “road map” directly through Damascus and Teheran on the way – or so the dream has long gone – to Jerusalem.

This is mainstream scary stuff. As Robert Malley, former special adviser to the president for Arab-Israeli affairs, 1998-2001, just put it in an op-ed in the Washington Post (Without a Road Map, No Rules, Just Fear):

“Coming atop the vicious suicide bombing in Haifa, threats on Yasser Arafat’s life and disclosures of Iran’s accelerating nuclear program, Israel’s raid deep into Syria was just the latest symptom of an alarming trend: the systematic obliteration of virtually every rule, formal and informal, that has defined political behavior in the Middle East and of every barrier that sought to constrain it.”

Those nuclear subs cruising the Mediterranean erase but another border in this game of chicken, nuclear and otherwise. In the meantime in Israel, the Gaza strip, and the occupied territories things only grow worse and the forces of peace and any kind of reason ever weaker. There are a few hopeful signs. For instance, according to Ha’aretz (Mazal Mualem, Beilin-Abed Rabbo accord infuriates right), members of the Israeli opposition and an unofficial delegation of Palestinians (reportedly closely in touch with Yasir Arafat) are about to sign a thoroughly unofficial negotiating document in Geneva suggesting that, among other terms, the Palestinian right of return to Israel be traded for Palestinian sovereignty over the Temple Mount. But convincing Israelis and Palestinians that such a deal could ever be made is another matter.

Still, it’s in such desperate and despairing moments that voices like Gideon Levy’s, David Grossman’s, Avraham Burg’s, Amira Hass’s and Rana Kabbani’s need to be nurtured. They may not be attended to right now, but they help keep hope alive until a new moment arrives – and assuredly sooner or later one will. At the moment, the level, the intensity, even sometimes the beauty of their writing may be unparalleled anywhere else on Earth.

I’ve included below Levy’s most recent piece on the ever-shrinking prison that is home to most Palestinians today. Here are samples of what the others are saying:

Burg, former Speaker of Israel’s Knesset, writes in the Guardian (We must compromise our dreams)

“I am mad with anger. I see my dreams and the dreams of my Jewish and Arab friends consumed in the flame of extremism. I am angry with the Palestinians, and with the terrible meanings they allow too many of their religious teachers to impose on the holy word of God. But I have sworn a vow: I will not let anger become my adviser. I will not turn revenge into policy. I will continue to believe.

“And here is my faith: any future agreement will be based on territorial compromise – not just a real estate deal, but a spiritual decision by peoples that have decided to accept one another despite years of hostility…”

Syrian Rana Kabbani, writer and broadcaster on Middle Eastern affairs, also in the Guardian (In the lands of the Cyclopses):

“I have for years argued that violence against civilians will not get the Palestinians the statehood they desperately need. Neither will Israel survive in the long term if its only methods of diplomacy are murder, siege and occupation As Sharon builds his ghetto wall with American taxpayers’ money, Israelis would do better to ask themselves, in Robert Frost’s words, what they were walling in or walling out.

“The US and Israel have managed to make themselves more hated and despised in today’s world than ever before. They already have far more insubordination and chaos on their hands than they can possibly handle. Yet they continue to behave like the newly blinded Cyclopses, groping for more enemies to kill. Hitting Syria, as the Israelis have just done, or Iran, as the Americans keep threatening to do, is not the answer – reading the writing on the wall is: occupation never lasts.”

Novelist David Grossman in Ha’aretz addresses a recent statement by 27 Israeli military pilots that they would not carry out orders for targeted assassinations and other attacks on civilians in the occupied territories. He is pleading with the Israeli public to attend to what they are saying (Listen to the pilots):

“The bottom line of the pilots’ message is that if the Palestinians are currently capable of carrying out painful attacks on Israel and Israeli citizens, the war that is raging is still, ultimately, a war between a military power and a civilian population. And in a war of this sort, Israel must impose limitations on itself of both a practical and a moral nature.

“The pilots are reminding the Israelis that even if the aim of the military action is to hit a murderer who is to die, when a state orders its pilots to drop a 1-ton bomb into a residential neighborhood in the most densely populated place in the world to a significant extent, employs the methods of a terror organization A state is not entitled to act in the same manner as a terror organization. It is worth remembering this even today, when our blood is boiling after the brutal terror attack in Haifa.”

Amira Hass, Ha’aretz journalist and the only Israeli Jewish reporter living in Palestinian Ramallah, tries, as she has done before, to explain to Israelis that the existence of the suicide bomber is deeply connected not to Islam but to the occupation itself. One should hardly have to say such a thing, but she, of course, abhors the bombings (Explaining the occupation to the occupier):

“How to explain to the tanks and planes what a little boy’s fear is like – not the fear of 10 or 100 but hundreds of thousands, not once a month or every other week, but daily, for three years, and what happens to a daughter and grandmother whose loved ones, civilians, are killed in front of their eyes, not by the dozens but the hundreds. How to explain to Israelis, who get only the most partial of reports about the horrors of the military occupation, that the Palestinians also suffer daily from horrific scenes, indeed, from the very first day of the renewed clashes, when they were still only throwing rocks and not blowing up in our cities?

“Yes, the suicide bombers feel they represent their society. That’s their strength. They represent their society’s sense that it’s no use living under the occupation, with the terrible weakness against the Israeli military power, the impotence as they watch their land vandalized and degraded, the rage over the stupidity of the Palestinian leadership.”

A note on another kind of Israeli proliferation:

Proliferation isn’t a concept that should be reserved only for the spread of weapons of mass destruction. You loose an idea on the world, especially, it seems, a terrible one and it has a tendency to spread in all sorts of unexpected directions. The government of Israel has long meted out collective punishments to the Palestinians whose lands it occupies. Among other things, it visits, you might say, the sins of the children upon their parents by destroying the homes of any suicide bomber.

Now, news arrives from Iraq via Independent journalist Patrick Cockburn that (US soldiers bulldoze farmers’ crops):

“US soldiers driving bulldozers, with jazz blaring from loudspeakers, have uprooted ancient groves of date palms as well as orange and lemon trees in central Iraq as part of a new policy of collective punishment of farmers who do not give information about guerrillas attacking US troops.

“The stumps of palm trees, some 70 years old, protrude from the brown earth scoured by the bulldozers beside the road at Dhuluaya, a small town 50 miles north of Baghdad. Local women were yesterday busily bundling together the branches of the uprooted orange and lemon trees and carrying then back to their homes for firewood Asked how much his lost orchard was worth, Nusayef Jassim said in a distraught voice: ‘It is as if someone cut off my hands and you asked me how much my hands were worth.'”

Juan Cole of www.juancole.com comments:

“Collective punishment is strictly forbidden to Occupying Powers under the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. To be fair, it is possible that the US military is clearing the orchards for tactical reasons. Use of local flora for cover is common in low-grade guerrilla wars of the sort going on in Iraq In any case, a lot of families depend on the orchards for their livelihood; and the US eventually needs to find ways to get these people on its side. Destroying their livelihood is likely to produce permanent resentments. And, if it is in fact being done as a form of collective punishment, then it is illegal.”

Riverbend, the “girl blogger” of the Baghdad Burning weblog, offers a beautiful evocation of the place of the palm tree in Iraqi culture:

“In Iraq, there are over 300 different types of dates- each with its own name, texture and flavor Every bit of a palm is an investment. The fronds and leaves are dried and used to make beautiful, pale-yellow baskets, brooms, mats, bags, hats, wall hangings and even used for roofing. The fronds are often composed of thick, heavy wood at their ends and are used to make lovely, seemingly-delicate furniture- similar to the bamboo chairs and tables of the Far East. The low-quality dates and the date pits are used as animal feed for cows and sheep. Some of the date pits are the source of a sort of ‘date oil’ that can be used for cooking. The palm itself, should it be cut down, is used as firewood, or for building.”

And then at the end of her piece she adds:

“which reminds me of another line from an article [in the Washington Post] brought to my attention yesterday’A dozen years after Saddam Hussein ordered the vast marshes of southeastern Iraq drained, transforming idyllic wetlands into a barren moonscape to eliminate a hiding place for Shiite Muslim political opponents’

“Déjà vu, perhaps? Or maybe the orchards differ from the marshlands in that Saddam wasn’t playing jazz when he dried up the marshlands”

Arnold ascendant:

I thought, in the wake of Mike Davis’s piece on the California recall at this site (The Day of the Locust), I might offer just a taste of other interpretations of how Conan the Barbarian groped his way to the governorship of California – and what that may mean for American politics, such as it is:

Susan Faludi, author of Stiffed, wrote in the British Guardian of the gender politics behind the California election (Arnie the Humiliator):

“At a time of deep economic and international insecurity, the easy power of the bully boy is a siren call to the American male populace, as evidenced by Bush’s continuing allure to the very men whose interests are least served by his policies. The locker-room game works as long as only men get to play, and only as long as they agree to play by certain rules. One rule is that sensuality is verboten, but aggressive jocularity is not. Humiliating women in a ‘playful’ way can signal a rejection of ‘the feminine’ and a reinforcement of male bonding.

“In US politics [h]arassment is deemed more acceptable if it’s not about sex but is part of a power dynamic between the boys. The gender gap is really between those afraid of bullying and those afraid of intimacy. Women will forgive a politician’s lapse if it at least seems motivated by a susceptibility to desire or emotion. Men afraid of sensuality will forgive the same act (and actor) as long as the behaviour can be laughed off as winner-takes-all sport.”

Siddharth Srivastava suggests in the Asia Times that India, with a strong tradition of turning Bollywood stars into politicians, might offer the new governor a cautionary tale or two – undoubtedly with full-scale musical numbers thrown in (India offers Arnie a point or two):

“As Arnold Schwarzenegger embarks on his new career as governor of California, he could do well to study India, where more film stars strut their political stuff than perhaps anywhere else in the world Actors, like anybody else, have the right to stand for elections, and like anybody else they need to perform or they will be shunted out. No doubt they have an initial advantage, but honeymoons have a horrible habit of ending all too soon.”

Conservative columnist George Will, horrified over the new “Schwarzenegger conservatives” (“now, there is an oxymoron for these times”), wrote in a recent column (A Conservative Travesty):

“California’s recall — a riot of millionaires masquerading as a “revolt of the people” — began with a rich conservative Republican congressman, who could think of no other way he might become governor, financing the gathering of the necessary signatures The odor of what some so-called conservatives were indispensable to producing will eventually arouse them from their swoons over Arnold Schwarzenegger. Then they can inventory the damage they have done by seizing an office that just 11 months ago they proved incapable of winning in a proper election under ideal conditions

“In 2004 President Bush will not campaign in a California seething with resentment of spending cuts and attempted tax increases advocated by a hugely unpopular Democratic governor. Instead, Bush will campaign in a California in which the Republican governor will be illustrating the axiom that today only a Republican governor can substantially raise taxes.”

Like Will, former Republican strategist turned Bush family critic, Kevin Phillips suggested in this Sunday’s Los Angeles Times opinion section that the star of the 1990 film Total Recall and its recent sequel might not actually be bringing good news to Republicans in Washington – or perhaps Democrats either (Voters’ Frustration May Drift Bush’s Way):

“If Californians were frustrated enough to single out Davis, odds are that something nationally important is beginning to stir In Washington, neither party can be happy. A year from now, Schwarzenegger could be as much a liability for the Republicans in the 2004 election year as Davis was for the Democrats this year. Democratic senators, representatives and presidential wannabes, in turn, cannot be thrilled with how their California indictment of the Republican administration has been so soulless as to be trumped by the star of such movies as ‘Conan the Barbarian’ and ‘Terminator 3.’

“Bush could have a more subtle predicament. If Schwarzenegger can’t develop a good ‘outsider’ posture in blaming entrenched California Democrats for the probable 2004 stalemate in Sacramento, he could become the patsy – walking proof that it’s not safe to elect an inexperienced, blustering chief executive who likes to play Texas Ranger, top gun or terminator.”

And Chris Scheer of AlterNet in a piece in which he recounts his attempt to explain the election to his young son suggests that there’s really nothing new under the American sun here (No, California is not falling into the sea):

“In fact, going down the line, there is actually nothing shocking about last night’s results. We are just relearning the same old lessons: Americans are – stop me if you’ve heard this before – disconnected from the democratic process and so frustrated with feeling powerless to ‘be heard’ that they are increasingly resorting to clumsy, angry acts of rebellion against anything that can be considered the status quo

“For those who think Arnold will be a less-than-one-term guffaw, guess again. His victory is not a fluke, a result of “a perfect storm” as NPR’s national political analyst said this morningWe have known the guy was coming for a few years, just like the next Terminator sequel, and the fact that it didn’t surprise anybody hasn’t hurt sales.

“For now, Arnold is not Hitler-groping, steroid-pumping gazillionaire but a winner. Americans – and this will be my final sweeping generalization for the day, I promise – love a winner, and for now, Arnold is not a guy who has to figure out how to balance the budget or try to find a good cigar bar in California’s version of Squaresville, he is simply a megalomaniac, charismatic, not-so-bright-you-couldn’t-have-a-beer-with-him, self-made man with a huge smile.

“So call us crazy, world, tell us it was all a circus, shout that the sky is falling. Hey, we’re California – we don’t care at all what you think, frankly. But know that the problems this exposes are both far bigger and more mundane than whether an action figure should be governor.”

Me, I think I’ll catch the sequel and then make up my mind what’s going on. Tom

Anniversary of a whistle blower
By Renato Redentor Constantino
Today
September 30, 2003

Last September 30 was a day that marked many things.

It marked a day in 1955 when the rebel without a cause, James Dean, died from a car crash.

It marked the day when the magnificent Muhammad Ali collided with Smokin’ Joe Frazier for the third time. The Thrilla in Manila. September 30, 1975. Ali would survive the mighty Frazier’s threshing-blade punches and retain his heavyweight title via a 14th round TKO and claim the huge golden trophy donated by Ferdinand Marcos. The dictator was still one of America’s golden boys then.

Many things happened on September 30. On that day in 1946, 22 Nazi leaders were found guilty of war crimes in a trial which established “as a matter of international law that planning and launching an aggressive war was a criminal act.”

To read more Constantino click here

A prison that keeps getting smaller
By Gideon Levy
Ha’aretz
October 12, 2003

Last Wednesday, Hoda Shadub, a woman of about 50,
wanted to go home after having eye surgery at an
East Jerusalem hospital. She waited for hours at
the Hawara checkpoint, which blocks access to her
city, Nablus, but the soldiers refused to let her
through. According to the new orders, they said,
only ambulances could pass. The Physicians for
Human Rights association had to intervene to get
an ambulance for Shadub, who finally got home –
exhausted and embittered.

No one can seriously claim that
security reasons are behind the
decision to keep an ailing
Palestinian woman from getting
home. Nor can anyone find a
connection between a murderous
terrorist attack in Haifa and
the return of an innocent
resident to her hometown.

To read more Levy click here