In its August 2005 number, Le Monde diplomatique briefly reviews two books by researchers who have studied Israel's nuclear program and policies, matters that ought to be of heightened interest at a time of international crisis over Iran's nuclear program.  --  Joseph Algazy concludes his review by remarking:  "In the end, what is striking in both Avner Cohen's book and Yoel Cohen's is the complicity and hypocrisy of the government of the United States as well as of the countries of the European Union with respect to Israel's nuclear activity." ...

[Translated from Le Monde diplomatique]

Secrecy strategy

By Joseph Algazy

Le Monde diplomatique (Paris)
August 2005
No. 617
Page 27

Two Israeli researchers, Avner Cohen and Yoel Cohen, have each just published a book about "nuclear vagueness" considered as a strategic element of Israeli policy. Each emphasizes that his book was, before being published, "treated" by censorship and that they are required, as is habitual in that country, to swear that certain assertions are based on foreign sources.

Avner Cohen's principal thesis [Note 1: The Last Taboo: The Secrecy of Israel's Nuclear Situation and What Must Be Done about It (in Hebrew), Kinneret, Zmora-Bitan, Dvir, Or Yehouda, Israel, 2005, 334 pages, 78 shekels] is the existence of a "holy trinity" of Israeli nuclear policy: vagueness as official policy, censorship as coercive power, and taboo as social attitude. Not only has this "holy trinity" reinforced secrecy on the question, but it has legitimated the absence of all public debate. From the moment at which Israel had recourse to lying in order to defend its nuclear secrets from foreign countries, it did the same with its citizens, including members of the Knesset and even the government. >{? Avner Cohen justly notes: Israel is presently the only one of the eight states with nuclear weapons that maintains maximum vagueness about its capacity. Paradoxically, even the revelations in the Sunday Times [Note 2: October 5, 1986] almost twenty years ago by Mordechai Vanunu, a former Dimona technician, about Israel's military nuclear program, changed nothing.

In the first part of his book, Avner Cohen meticulously analyzes the system used by the Israeli establishment to maintain this vagueness, abroad as well as domestically. In doing so he tells of the difficulties that he personally encountered for having tried in vain in the 1990s to inform Israeli public opinion about the results of his research into Israel's nuclear program. After having published, in the United States, in 1998, a book entitled Israel and the Bomb [Note 3: New York, Columbia University Press, 1998, 470 pages, $70 (paperback edition, 1999, 478 pages, $21.95)] he was threatened with arrest, and for several years did not dare return home. When he went back, in 2001, he was subjected to long interrogations: some security agencies accused him of "serious espionage."

According to Avner Cohen, the "big symbol" of the great Israeli taboo is the Dimona nuclear reactor. As for its "little symbol" -- the Ness Ziona biological institute -- the author discusses this very delicately in the last part of his work. He evokes in particular the Marcus Klingberg affair. This professor, who worked there, was arrested in 1983, tried in camera, and condemned to twenty years in prison for high treason and serious espionage for the Soviet Union. His arrest, trial, conviction, and even his existence were, for about ten years, kept completely secret. Gravely ill, Klingberg was released from prison in 1998, but subjected to a harsh system of restrictions, including being confined to his home. After having live under high surveillance, he was finally able to leave the country at the beginning of 2003 and move to France. Avner Cohen concludes this chapter by declaring that in Israel a "chemical-biological vagueness" is to be added to "nuclear vagueness."

For his part, Yoel Cohen devotes the principal part of his book [Note 4: Yoel Cohen, The Whistleblower of Dimona: Israel, Vanunu, and the Bomb (in Hebrew), Babel Editions, Tel Aviv, 2005, 416 pages, 98 shekels (NOTE: A volume with this title was published in English by Holmes & Meier in 2003)] to the Vanunu affair. Arrested and convicted to eighteen years in prison for having furnished information about Dimona, Mordechai Vanunu was freed after serving out his entire term on April 21, 2004. The book includes an interview with him and, for the first time, cites long passages from the protocols of his trial -- including testimony from high Israeli security service officials and from Shimon Peres, the former prime minister. The Labor Party leader is considered both in Israel and abroad as the "father of the Israeli nuclear program." To a question on whether Vanunu's revelations had not strengthened Israel's dissuasive capacity, he is said to have replied in a press briefing: "I don't know -- at least on the record . . ."

Tel Aviv has never acknowledged the facts set forth by the Dimona technician, in particular his kidnapping by his country's secret service and transfer by the military to Israel. It is the case that the Italian investigating magistrate Dominici Sicca concluded in June 1998 after an investigation that Vanunu had in reality collaborated with the Mossad in order to make public Israel's nuclear capacity. Vanunu categorically denies this allegation. To Yoel Cohen, he answered: "The bomb does not dissuade. They [the Israeli authorities] are holding it in order not to make peace."

In the end, what is striking in both Avner Cohen's book and Yoel Cohen's is the complicity and hypocrisy of the government of the United States as well as of the countries of the European Union with respect to Israel's nuclear activity.

Translated by Mark K. Jensen
Associate Professor of French
Department of Languages and Literatures
Pacific Lutheran University
Tacoma, WA 98447-0003
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