Joe Hendren

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Saturday, March 11, 2006

More evidence the UK helped Israel get the bomb

The BBC's Newsnight programme has revealed yet more damming evidence demonstrating how the British Government helped Israel develop nuclear weapons during the 1960s (hat tip NRT). Recently released papers show the British supplied to the Israelis many of the chemicals vital to the production of a bomb, including plutonium and uranium. To make matters worse, it appears relevant ministers, including technology Minister Tony Benn, were misled by public servants and were unaware of some of the transactions.

In 1966 Britain supplied Israel with 10mg of plutonium, despite strong warnings from the Ministry of Defence and the foreign Office that even such a small amount could be of significant military value, as it could be used as the basis for experiments to fast track the development of a bomb. There is also evidence that Michael Michaels, the public servant who pushed strongly for the sale, knew how useful small amounts of plutonium would be to the Israelis.

In August Newsnight revealed that the UK Government supplied heavy water shipments to Israel from June 1959. At the time officials claimed "It would be somewhat over-zealous for us to insist on safeguards" against military use. See my earlier post here.

It now appears there were hundreds of shipments of nuclear material from Britain to Israel during the 1950s and 60s.

Earlier this year I was debating Israel's nuclear status with GT (over a beer). I argued that putting pressure on Israel to disarm would strengthen the moral force of the diplomatic pressure currently being put on Iran not to develop nuclear weapons, as Iran would be less able to claim it needed nukes for defensive purposes. GT responded that Israel had possessed nuclear weapons for around 40 years and had not used them against anyone. While this is true, I replied that I suspected this probably had just as much to do with luck as intention.

Recalling this conversation as I read the latest New Statesman article - I found it particularly interesting to note the date Israel is thought to have gained a couple of working nukes. In the leadup to the Six Day War.
"They had a secret weapon - two, to be precise. In the weeks before Israel took on the Arab world in June 1967 it put together a pair of crude nuclear bombs, just in case things didn't go as planned."

As Israel's Arab enemies of June 1967 were nowhere near developing their own nuclear bombs, this suggests Israel developed its nuclear arsenal with a nuclear first strike capability in mind.

From a humanitarian perspective it is probably a good thing it was only a Six Day War. But as the world continues to grapple with the consequences of Israel's illegal land grab of 1967, perhaps talking about a "Six Day War" is somewhat of a misnomer.

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