Journalist | Writer | Analyst
‘Why India and not Israel?” asks Avner Cohen in today’s Ha’aretz:
India’s exemption could become a precedent for a new approach to Israel’s nuclear question. For the first time, Israel is presented with an opportunity for a new, different nuclear future on both the international and regional levels. Israel is also boycotted, if not treated as a leper, over the nuclear issue, despite the fact that it has demonstrated more caution in relation to nuclear weapons than India. In contrast to New Delhi, Israel has never denigrated the non-proliferation treaty, certainly not in public, despite its refusal to sign it. As opposed to India and the U.S., Israel is a signatory to the treaty banning nuclear testing.
So why not? There are three good reasons why….
1. Unlike India, there is no compelling energy demand-related logic at work here, even in the medium or long-term, which would warrant any relaxation in Israel’s status.
2. Unlike India, Israel has been guilty of outbound nuclear weapons proliferation activity on a scale even worse than Pakistan. The Israelis closely worked with the apartheid South African regime on nuclear weapons. Beit-Hallahmi and Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi’s The Israeli Connection: Whom Israel Arms and why (I.B.Tauris, 1988) provides a useful overview of what was known in the public domain at the end of the 1980s. The Nuclear Weapons Archive also has a good account of the Israeli connection in its account of South Africa’s nuclear programme. But the U.S. Army’s Warner D. Farr has the most damning assessment of the extent of this relationship in a 1999 monograph published by the USAF Counterproliferation Center at Maxwell Air Force Base:
A bright flash in the south Indian Ocean, observed by an American satellite on 22 September 1979, is widely believed to be a South Africa-Israel joint nuclear test. It was, according to some, the third test of a neutron bomb. The first two were hidden in clouds to fool the satellite and the third was an accident—the weather cleared. Experts differ on these possible tests. Several writers report that the scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory believed it to have been a nuclear explosion while a presidential panel decided otherwise. President Carter was just entering the Iran hostage nightmare and may have easily decided not to alter 30 years of looking the other way. The explosion was almost certainly an Israeli bomb, tested at the invitation of the South Africans. It was more advanced than the “gun type” bombs developed by the South Africans. One report claims it was a test of a nuclear artillery shell. A 1997 Israeli newspaper quoted South African deputy foreign minister, Aziz Pahad, as confirming it was an Israeli test with South African logistical support. (to see the footnotes, I suggest you read Farr’s article at its original link)
There’s also the Federation of American Scientists press release on that 1979 flash detected by the Vela satellite and the eventual confirmation of the Israel-South Africa link.
3. Unlike India, any attempt to make an exception for Israel will definitely generate pressure of a break-out from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. There is no country which can credibly cite the Nuclear Suppliers Group waiver for India as an excuse to quit the treaty. But if Israel gets to have its nuclear weapons and access civilian nuclear trade, I am willing to bet there would be at least half a dozen regional states which will likely start making noises about quitting the NPT.