When Israel Would Give Up Its Nukes

From the Archives:  There is just one scenario in which Israel would relinquish its nuclear weapons and it seems further from reality than ever, wrote Joe Lauria on May 4, 2015.

By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News
May 4, 2015

[In the five years since this article was written, the idea of a single Palestinian-Israeli state with an Arab majority today seems impossible, with Israel now openly advocating annexation of West Bank settler colonies. However, international opposition to Israel has also grown in the past five years, on display against Israel’s latest assault on Palestinians.]

Israel last week sent its first observer in 20 years to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference, which is held every five years at U.N. headquarters in New York. Israel, which is not a NPT member and has never confirmed that it possesses nuclear weapons, also has taken part in five rounds of negotiations in Geneva on establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East.

However, the veil fell away for the world’s worst kept secret when the U.S. Defense Department recently released a document making it clear that Israel indeed has the bomb. A 1987 Pentagon document declassified in February unequivocally declares that Israel’s nuclear weapons program was then at the stage the U.S. had reached between 1955 and 1960. It also says Israel had the potential to develop hydrogen weapons.

A photograph of a control room at Israel's Dimona nuclear weapons plant in the 1980s. (Photograph taken by nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu, who was later kidnapped and imprisoned by Israel as punishment for revealing its secret nuclear arsenal.)

A photograph of a control room at Israel’s Dimona nuclear weapons plant in the 1980s. (Photograph taken by nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu, who was later kidnapped and imprisoned by Israel as punishment for revealing its secret nuclear arsenal.)

The document was released just days before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made his highly controversial March 3 speech to a joint session of Congress in which he argued why Iran had to be stopped from getting the bomb. As the only nuclear power in the region, Israel has an unequaled strategic advantage.

There doesn’t appear to be any scenario in which Israel would willingly give up its nuclear arsenal to fulfill a 1995 Security Council resolution calling for a nuclear-free Middle East. Or is there?

The only country to ever voluntarily relinquish its nuclear weapons is apartheid South Africa. President F.W. de Klerk gave written instructions to that effect in February 1991 (the same month Nelson Mandela was released from prison). When he announced in March 1993 that Pretoria’s six, airplane-borne weapons had been dismantled, De Klerk said it was done to improve South Africa’s international relations. (It was also the first time South Africa had ever confirmed that it had the bomb).

De Klerk’s reason has not been entirely accepted by experts. Speculation has led to various theories. One was that with the Soviet Union gone, South Africa no longer needed its nuclear deterrent. Another was that it no longer needed the bomb as a means of blackmailing the U.S. to come to its defense.

One credible theory is that Pretoria saw the writing on the wall: apartheid was doomed and South Africa would soon be led by a black government. The apartheid rulers concluded that it would be better to ditch the bomb altogether rather than letting it fall into the hands of the African National Congress and possibly shared with other African governments.

A former South African diplomat was quoted as saying Pretoria was “motivated by concern that it didn’t want any undeclared nuclear material or infrastructure falling into the hands of Nelson Mandela.”

De Klerk had already scrapped apartheid laws and released Mandela by the time the bombs were dismantled. When he announced that the nukes had been destroyed, de Klerk said, “This country will never be able to get the nuclear device again, to build one again, because of the absolute network of inspection and prevention which being a member of the NPT casts on any country.”

Israeli Admissions of Apartheid

The parallels between South Africa and Israel are on the rise. After Netanyahu renounced his support for a Palestinian state in the heat of the final days of his re-election campaign (only to try to reverse it immediately afterward), both the United States and the United Nations strongly implied that the alternative would be an apartheid Israel.

“A two-state solution is the only way for the next Israeli Government to secure Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,” said Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, on March 18, the day after Netanyahu’s re-election. U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said the same day that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “firmly believes” that a two-state solution and an end to the settlements is “the only way forward for Israel to remain a democratic State.”

Not quite believing my ears, I asked Haq if what he meant was that the alternative was an apartheid Israel. “I’ve said what I said,” he responded.

While many critics of Israel say it is already running a de-facto apartheid system in its rule over 4 million Palestinians without rights, legal apartheid would come with annexation of the West Bank and Gaza. That appears to be the reason annexation has been resisted. But the longer a two-state solution remains a dream, the more a one-state solution becomes possible.

No less than two former Israeli prime ministers have said so. “As long as in this territory west of the Jordan River there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic. If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state,” said Ehud Barak in 2010.

Three years earlier, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said, “If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished.”

A former Israeli Ambassador to South Africa, Alon Liel, put it even more bluntly. “In the situation that exists today, until a Palestinian state is created, we are actually one state. This joint state, in the hope that the status quo is temporary, is an apartheid state.”

Without full Palestinian suffrage, Israel is increasingly facing a hostile international reaction. Israel fears the budding boycott, divestment and sanctions movement could grow to the scale of sanctions that pressed Pretoria to end apartheid.

A one-state solution, in which all Palestinians would have a vote, would almost certainly mean the election of a Palestinian government to rule both Arabs and Israelis, much as a black South African government rules blacks and whites. Despite its violent past, South African has shown how the communities could coexist.

It seems nearly inconceivable today that Israel would become a single state with a Palestinian Arab government. But it was once inconceivable that South Africa would be led by a black government. If that day of a peaceful transition to a single, democratic state to replace Israel should come, is it conceivable that Israeli leaders would allow their nuclear arsenal to be controlled by an Arab government?

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former UN correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and numerous other newspapers. He was an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times of London and began his professional career as a stringer for The New York Times.  He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @unjoe  

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4 comments for “When Israel Would Give Up Its Nukes

  1. Tony
    May 19, 2021 at 12:09

    And what on earth is Britain doing with nuclear weapons?

    The decision to build atomic weapons was taken in late 1946/early 1947, basically because the Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin had just had a very difficult meeting with US Secretary of State James Byrnes. Up until that point, the Attlee government had been leaning against their development.

    The United States is wrong to supply nuclear missiles and other nuclear technology to Britain.

    Citizens of the United States will, I hope, urge their elected representatives in Congress to hold hearings into the assistance that the United States gives to Britain. Not long ago, it was revealed that the British government had been lobbying the House Armed Services Committee to press ahead with a new nuclear warhead, the W93!

    If we are to achieve the necessity of a world without nuclear weapons, then this assistance needs to come to an end.

  2. robert e williamson jr
    May 17, 2021 at 19:59

    I have repeatedly be-moaned the fact that the U.S. governments failure to hold anyone responsible for the theft of Special Nuclear Materials, i.e. highly enriched Uranium 235, from the NUMEC site is, besides being an outrage, a failure of our government to to act in the best interest of it’s citizens.

    If any0ne wishes the truth about this it is easy to find plenty of information to lead them to the truth.

    Ugliness should define the mood Americans who approve of the Israeli actions against Palestinians in Gaze or anywhere else are the one who have blood on their hands.

    One would think and should be expected to think the silence on Israeli nukes should be explained immediately if not sooner. Same as the government needs to justify sending billions of$$$$$ of aid to a country whose actions are purely an affront to purported American values.

    Truth is Israel has been whittling away fiercely at U.S. sovereignty this entire time.

    None of this makes any sense to me and for good reason. With the U.S. claimed by Israels #1 to be our #1 ally since around 194- what ever , they only needed for the U.S. to station troops there. Same as the U.S. has done everywhere else.

    I’ve said it before and I say it again, none of this has made any sense since day one unless the U.S. got blackmailed by Israeli interests.

    That our government has endured Israeli insults, spying and meddling in American affairs for 70 years is unacceptable. Israel has stolen more than

    One need look no further that the USAEC to find the truth. Read history in Roger J. Mattson’s book, STEALING THE ATOMIC BOMB how denial and deception armed israel.

    And for the record, for our government to do nothing is a failing of said government.

    No Palestinian home land, no Israel.

    Just exactly where is all this American pride and the suppose d exceptionalism that goes with it. There is no honor in being bullied by a bunch of right wing nut cases.

    FYI Israel wants to whole enchilada. No peace without justice.

    Thanks CN

  3. Eric
    May 17, 2021 at 19:17

    “A one-state solution, in which all Palestinians would have a vote, would almost certainly mean the election of a Palestinian government to rule both Arabs and Israelis, much as a black South African government rules blacks and whites.”

    A rosy-eyed misreading? In South Africa, blacks outnumbered whites by about six to one, so a democratic government had to be black-dominated. Israelis and Palestinians are close to equal in numbers, so the outcome of a democratic election is hard to predict.

    Depending on the form of government, coalitions would be needed to rule. This would likely be a good thing, as coalitions would have to cross ethnic lines and be at least partly based on values and program.

    • Consortiumnews.com
      May 18, 2021 at 06:21


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