What nobody told the Minister
Above: London Vigil for Mordechai Vanunu.
Seated in the cell with Vanunu figure is
nuclear scientist Prof.Joseph Rotblat
Left: Tony Benn "wasn't told". Did Harold Wilson know?
AS the British government backs Bush in warning Iran against nuclear weapons, and connives at Ehud Olmert's bloody election stunt in Jericho, reporters have dug out some hitherto secret history on how Britain helped Israel become the first and, so far sole, nuclear power in the Middle East. And whether or not they were kept in the picture, Labour's late prime minister Harold Wilson and his ministers are right in the frame now.
In 1960 an American U2 flight took pictures of the Israeli nuclear reactor and reprocessing plant at Dimona. It has been known for some time that the French government helped build the nuclear complex, which Israel had officially described as a desalination project, or a "textile plant" - anything but what it was. The main men behind the nuclear arms policy were David Ben Gurion and his deputy defence minister Shimon Peres, who went on to collect a Nobel peace prize, and having failed to recapture the Israeli Labour leadership is now no.2 for Ehud Olmert.
A research team at BBC Newsnight has unearthed top-secret files which show how Britain helped Israel get the atomic bomb. "We can reveal that while Harold Wilson was prime minister the UK supplied Israel with small quantities of plutonium despite a warning from British intelligence that it might "make a material contribution to an Israeli weapons programme". This, by enabling Israel to study the properties of plutonium before its own supplies came on line, could have taken months off the time it needed to make a weapon. Britain also sold Israel a whole range of other exotic chemicals, including uranium-235, beryllium and lithium-6, which are used in atom bombs and even hydrogen bombs".
During Harold Macmillan's Tory government Britain supplied the heavy water that allowed Israel to start up plutonium production at Dimona - enough heavy water to enable Israel to make "six nuclear weapons a year".according to British intelligence analysts. After the heavy water story was revealed on Newsnight last August, the British government assured the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that all Britain did was sell some heavy water back to Norway. But using the Freedom of Information Act, Newsnight reporters have obtained previously secret papers which show that Norway was a mere cover for the Israel deal, and that Britain made hundreds of other secret shipments of nuclear materials to Israel in the 1950s and 1960s.
Tony Benn is nowadays a favourite star of Left-wing and anti-war platforms, who seems to improve with age, but as Mr.Anthony Wedgwood-Benn he became Wilson's technology minister in 1966, when the plutonium deal was going through. Nuclear power was part of Benn's brief, but he insists nobody told him, or his predecessor Frank Cousins, about the materials shipped to Israel. "I'm not only surprised," he told reporters "I'm shocked." As Transport and General Workers' Union general secretary Frank Cousins had led Labour's turn to nuclear disarmament in 1960.
Benn says he always suspected civil servants of doing deals behind his back, "it never occurred to me they would authorise something so totally against the policy of the government". In August 1960, photographs of the mysterious site at Dimona reached the Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) in Whitehall. An analyst called Peter Kelly saw immediately that they showed a secret nuclear reactor. "Today Kelly, physically frail but mentally acute, lives in retirement on the south coast, and as he leafs through the 'UK Eyes Only' reports he wrote about Israel for MI5 and MI6, he smiles. 'I was quite perceptive,' he says. Kelly recognised that the Dimona reactor was a French design, and he very soon discovered where the heavy water needed to operate it had come from.
(Britain's dirty secret, Meirion Jones, New Statesman, Monday 13th March 2006)
"When we explain that the government has told the IAEA that Britain thought it was selling the heavy water to Norway he laughs heartily.What really happened was this: Britain had bought the heavy water from Norsk Hydro in Norway for its nuclear weapons programme, but found it was surplus to requirements and decided to sell. An arrangement was indeed made with a Norwegian company, Noratom, but crucially the papers show that Noratom was not the true buyer: the firm agreed to broker a deal with Israel in return for a 2 per cent commission. Israel paid the top price - Â£1m - to avoid having to give guarantees that the material would not be used to make nuclear weapons, but the papers leave no doubt that Britain knew all along that Israel wanted the heavy water 'to produce plutonium'. Kelly discovered that a charade was played out, with British and Israeli delegations sitting in adjacent rooms while Noratom ferried contracts between them to maintain the fiction that Britain had not done the deal with Israel. The transaction was signed off for the Foreign Office by Donald Cape, whose job it was to make sure we didn't export materials that would help other countries get the atom bomb. He felt it would be 'overzealous' to demand safeguards to prevent Israel using the chemical in weapons production. Cape is 82 now, tall, clear-headed and living in Surrey. He told us the deal was done because 'nobody suspected the Israelis hoped to manufacture nuclear weapons', but his own declassified letters from March 1959 suggest otherwise.
"They show, for example, that the Foreign Office knew Israel had pulled out of a deal to buy uranium from South Africa when Pretoria asked for safeguards to prevent it being used for making nuclear weapons. It also knew the CIA was warning that "the Israelis must be expected to try and establish a nuclear weapons programme". Just weeks later, however, Britain started shipping heavy water direct to Israel: the first shipment left in June 1959 and the second in June 1960. There was another problem: the Americans. There was no US-Israeli alliance in those days and Washington was determined to prevent nuclear weapons proliferation. If Britain told the Americans about the Israeli deal they would stop it. Donald Cape decided on discretion: "I would rather not tell the Americans." When Newsnight told Robert McNamara - John F Ken-nedy's defence secretary - about this he was amazed. "The fact Israel was trying to develop a nuclear bomb should not have come as a surprise, but that Britain should have supplied it with heavy water was indeed a surprise to me," he said.
Kelly's reports for the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) on "secret atomic activities in Israel" show that Britain's defence and espionage establishment had no doubt about what was going on in Israel. Kelly wrote of underground galleries at the Dimona complex; there were such galleries. He correctly described the French role in the project. He identified the importance of the heavy water: with 20 tons of this material, he estimated, Israel could have a reactor capable of producing 'significant quantities of plutonium. British intelligence also knew about the reprocessing facility at Dimona and stated: 'The separation of plutonium can only mean that Israel intends to produce nuclear weapons.'
Kelly says his views were challenged by other officials, notably Michael Israel Michaels, a senior official at the Science ministry under Lord Hailsham during the Macmillan government, who went on to serve at the Technology ministry under Benn. He was also Britain's representative at the IAEA. In 1961 Michaels was invited to Israel by the Israeli nuclear chief Ernst David Bergmann, and given VIP treatment. He met not only Bergmann but Shimon Peres, and Ben-Gurion.Michaelss report gave Israel the all-clear, and he handed it to Hailsham at an important moment, two days before Ben-Gurion met Macmillan at Downing Street.
In 1962 the Dimona reactor started operating (thanks to the heavy water Britain had delivered). Israel managed to convince the United States that the Dimona plant was only for peaceful purposes. But at the beginning of 1966, the UK Atomic Energy Authority made what it called a "pretty harmless request" to export ten milligrams of plutonium to Israel. The Ministry of Defence strongly objected, with Defence Intelligence (Kelly's department) arguing that the sale might have "significant military value". The Foreign Office duly blocked it, ruling: "It is HMG's policy not to do anything which would assist Israel in the production of nuclear weapons." But eventually the Foreign Office backed down and the sale went ahead.
Tony Benn believes Michaels lied to him about what was going on. Michaels is dead now, but after he retired from the IAEA in 1971 the Israelis found him a job in London.
In November 1959 someone at the Foreign Office allowed through the export of a small quantity of uranium-235 to Israel, although it was a core nuclear explosive material. In 1966 UKAEA supplied Israel with 1.25 grams of almost pure lithium-6. When combined with deuterium, this material provides the fusion fuel for hydrogen bombs. Britain also supplied two tons of unenriched lithium, from which lithium-6 is extracted - enough for several hydrogen bombs. Deuterium, incidentally, is normally extracted from heavy water, which, of course, Britain had already shipped to Israel. Throughout this period, Defence Intelligence repeatedly complained that Israel was the only country getting nuclear export licences "on the basis of the meaningless phrase 'scientific and research purposes'".
"The Department of Trade tried to exempt Israeli deals completely on the grounds that these were government-to-government transactions, but DIS was outraged, saying such deals were meant only for 'people like most of ourNATOo partners who can be trusted . . . Israel however is a very different kettle of fish.' In August 1966 the Israeli armed forces ordered advanced radiation dosimeters. The Foreign Office said yes and overruled the strong objections of the British MoD that they were obviously for use by troops. DIS wanted to know why Israel was always given special treatment, adding: 'We feel quite strongly about all this'.
"Tony Benn wonders whether these deals could have gone ahead without the knowledge of the British prime ministers of the time, Macmillan, Sir Alec Douglas-Home and Wilson. The evidence is unclear. The newly declassified papers show that in 1958 a member of the board of UKAEA said he was going to refer the heavy-water deal to the authority's executive, which reported directly to Macmillan, but there is no record that this happened. We know that Lord Hailsham learned about the heavy-water deal after it had gone through and concluded that Israel was 'preparing for a weapons programme'.Benn's initial reaction to whether Wilson knew about the atomic exports to Israel was that it was "inconceivable". Then he hesitated, observing, 'Harold was sympathetic to Israel', but concluded that no, he probably did not know. Benn believes that the exports were probably pushed through by civil servants working with the nuclear industry.
There was no plausible civilian use for heavy water, plutonium, U235, highly enriched lithium and many of the other materials shipped to Israel. The heavy water allowed Israel to fire up Dimona and produce the plutonium that still sits in Israel's missile warheads today. The small sample of plutonium could have shaved months off the development time of the Israeli atomic bomb in the run-up to the Six Day War. In a letter this year to Sir Menzies Campbell, the Foreign Office minister Kim Howells has quietly conceded Britain knew the heavy water was going to Israel. He has yet to find time to tell the IAEA that, or indeed to tell it about the plutonium or the uranium-235 or the enriched lithium. Howells and his boss, Jack Straw, are too busy telling the IAEA about the dangers of nuclear proliferation in another corner of the Middle East."
Yuval Ne'eman goes out West
IN 1958, the year that nuclear disarmamers set out on their first march to the Aldermaston nuclear weapons establishment, an Israeli engineer officer called Yuval Ne'eman arrived in London to study at Imperial College. He took a doctorate in particle physics under Professor Abdus Salam, a Pakistan-born Nobel-prize winning physicist.
Ne'eman doubled as an official at the Israeli embassy, but when he missed some lectures he was able to catch up by borrowing a fellow-student's notes and photo-copying them - not an easily accessible technology in those days. His fellow-students were even more impressed when he arrived and unloaded crates of drink from an embassy car for an end-of-term party.
In those days, as now, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament had many Jewish supporters, and among the faith groups there was a Jewish CND group led by Reverend Saul Amias. Blue-shirted members of Habonim, the Labour Zionist youth movement, stopped off en-route to an Easter weekend activity near Reading to join the Aldermaston marchers. Later some of us rejoined the march as it entered London. As the news began to come out that Israel too was developing nuclear weapons, it became a more "difficult" even "divisive" issue. At the movement's Winter conference in the Lake District in 1961 myself and a distant cousin from Huddersfield led a commission reporting against Israel's nuclear policy. But when an Israeli embassy attache came to speak at the movement's Eder Farm in Sussex, we didn't know about his interesting sideline. It was Yuval Ne'eman.
In 1966, British forces were fighting Nasserist and left-wing guerrillas in southern Arabia. Though this probably wasn't the only reason, the Foreign Office may well have decided that giving Israel the confidence and if necessary means to go to war on Egypt in 1967 was not a bad idea. As for Wilson, "sympathetic to Israel" is an understatement.
Mordechai Vanunu's revelations were still a long time in the future, though in 1981, four years before Vanunu's daring trip to speak to the British press, Prof.Moshe Machover spoke to a small meeting in the University of London Union about Israeli nuclear weapons, calling for a campaign for a nuke-free Middle East. (As all too often happens, at least half those who bothered to attend were more interested in deriding others' lack of "theoretical" purity, and the Left missed an opportunity to get ahead of the game).
Since then Yuval Ne'eman has served as chairman of the Israel Space Agency and the Atomic Energy Commission, and as Israel's Minister of Energy and Minister of Science and Development. Under his IDF cap, he served as Director of Planning, Deputy Director of Military Intelligence, and Chief Defence Scientist. In the academic world, Dr. Ne'eman has been President of the Tel Aviv University, where he founded the Department of Physics and Astronomy and the School of Engineering. In the United States, he founded the Center for Particle Theory at the University of Texas at Austin and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Dr. Ne'eman has been a recipient of many major academic and humanitarian prizes and recognitions.
This year he has acquired a new post.
Source: HiEnergy Technologies, Inc.
Yuval Ne'eman, Israel's Preeminent Scientific Leader, Joins Advisory Board Of HiEnergy Technologies
Wednesday January 4, 9:00 am ET
IRVINE, Calif., Jan. 4 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ --
HiEnergy Technologies, Inc. (OTC Bulletin Board: HIET - News) announced today that Yuval Ne'eman, world renowned nuclear particle physicist and a mastermind of Israel's military strategy and nuclear R&D program, has joined the Scientific Advisory Board of HiEnergy Technologies. HiEnergy Technologies is the homeland security industry leader in neutron-based diagnostic technology and creator of the world's first "Atometry" explosive detection devices.
As an advisor, Dr. Ne'eman will periodically assess HiEnergy's counter-terrorism technologies and their effectiveness to Israel's security. His conclusions and proposals will be communicated on a strictly confidential basis through consultations in Israel and the U.S.