Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Rockets From Gaza

The Rockets From Gaza

By Jerome Grossman

There are valid fears in Israel, in the rest of the Middle East, and in Western Europe that Iran could develop nuclear weapons. In fact, nuclear weapons in the possession of any nation constitute an existential threat to all humanity. Nine nations possess nuclear weapons: The United States, United Kingdom, China, India, Pakistan…..and Israel. Israel neither confirms nor denies possession, has never tested, but is believed to have between 100 and 200 nukes

However, there is a more immediate nuclear danger to Israel and the entire region: the possibility that the enemies of Israel could use non-nuclear rockets to bomb Israel's plutonium-production reactor at Dimona. The City of Dimona is situated in the Negev Desert and is the seat of Israel’s Negev Nuclear Research Center. This danger is highlighted by the hundreds of rockets now being fired at targets in Israel from Gaza, some fired by Hamas, some fired by others in Gaza in homemade style.

Israel's fears are justified by recent history. As reported by the Arms Control Association, in 1980 Iranian aircraft attempted to destroy Iraq's Osirak reactor, in 1981 Israel finished the job; in the 1980s Iraqi aircraft attacked Iran's reactors; in 1991 the US bombed an Iraqi reactor; in 1991 Iraq launched SCUD-B rockets toward Dimona but missed.

In no case did these raids on nuclear facilities cause radiological consequences. The outcome of a successful strike on Israel's reactor at the Dimona could be catastrophic, releasing the radioactive contents of the plant causing radiological damage to all life in the area.

Should Israel close Dimona, a place of symbolic significance as well as one of the nation's most valued assets, in order to avoid the radiological consequences of a military strike on Israel's plutonium-production reactor? Or should Israel rely on its capability to retaliate against an attacker if that attacker is a nation-state? But what if the attacker is an individual or small group acting on their own?

Multiple factors may drive Israel's adversaries to hit the plant: it's centrality to Israel's nuclear weapons program, revenge for Israel's strikes on neighboring states, and most dangerously, an attack to intentionally release radioactivity as a weapon of terrorism.

Buried in the protective mantle of secrecy, Israel must have already made its decision. Let us hope it is the correct one. The problem is another illustration of the greatest dilemma of our time: How to bring nuclear weapons programs under control and then to eliminate them entirely.


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