Monday, December 16, 2013

Keep up the call for Nuke-free Middle East!

 DIMONA nuclear complex in Israel can't be exempt from talks

DESPITE the grumbles from Israeli prime minister Netanyahu, and rumbles from the war party in Washington, the Iranian government's agreement to curb nuclear development in exchange for reduction of sanctions, is arousing hopes for this to be a new start.

"Across the globe, headlines pronounced that a 'breakthrough agreement' had been reached in Geneva. Iran's atomic ambitions had been curbed in exchange for limited sanctions relief, thus deflating the long-standing military standoff.

"The deal hammered out between Iran and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia stipulates that Tehran will halt progress on enrichment capacity, stop developing its heavy water reactor at Arak, and open access to international weapons inspection. While this deal paves the way for Iran's reintegration into the family of Western nations, and can therefore be conceived as a real milestone, in terms of the Middle East nuclear problem, any robust agreement,however, will have to include Israel."

This was Israeli professor and peace activist Neve Gordon.speaking to Al Jazeera at the weekend. But Gordon, who teaches Politics at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev at Beersheba, not all that far from Israel's Dimona nuclear complex, knows what he is up against. 

"Within Israel, speaking about the nuclear programme in Dimona is taboo. Mysteriously, however, there is also a broad-based agreement to keep silent about it in Washington and in most European capitals. Despite claims made by independent analysts that Israel likely has around 80 warheads, and is believed to be the only state in the region that has produced separated plutonium, and possibly highly enriched uranium, the two key ingredients in nuclear weapons. Indeed, it may now have enough plutonium, including the plutonium already in weapons, for up to 200 nuclear warheads.

Creating a nuclear weapon free zone in the Middle East is actually not a new idea. Ironically, it was first proposed in the United Nations General Assembly in 1974 by no other than the major 'culprit' in the recent fray - Iran.

"So why are politicians and mainstream media outlets concentrating on Iran and its decision to embark on a nuclear programme instead of adopting a more ambitious framework that considers the steps needed to make the Middle East a zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction? To be sure, I am against Iran developing a nuclear weapon, but I am also opposed to Israel having a nuclear arsenal, which at 200 warheads, would be larger than the arsenal of Britain. There is, after all, a connection between the two and this connection needs to be spelled out, if a broader framework is to be adopted".

The call for a nuclear weapon free Middle East was raised by Israel's long imprisoned nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu from the moment he could speak out on this issue. And the demand that Israel give up its nuclear weapons as part of an agreement was raised by new Iranian president Hassan Rouhani when he addressed the UN General Assembly, well before the latest agreement.

Intriguingly, it was also reported before the Iranian agreement was announced that
Israeli, Iranian and Arab representatives attended a preliminary meeting in Switzerland.

in preparation of an international conference. The Israeli government then denied that its representatives had actually met with the Arabs and Iranians. Were the talks in Switzerland held to make it easier for President Obama to persuade the Iranians, then played down so Netanyahu could help Obama's opponents keep the talk of war against Iran going?

Whatever the dangerous game he is still playing, neither Netanyahu nor his allies, from Senators Kirk and Menendez in Washington to gambling tycoon Sheldon Adelson in Las Vegas, have succeeded in stopping the advance towards an anti-nuclear deal or the optimism this arouses.

In the British House of Commons at Westminster the following exchages took place on November 25:
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab):
The European Union, the Government and the United States are to be congratulated on this brave and bold step towards reducing tension in the middle east. Would it be right for the Government now to approach Israel and ask for a reciprocal gesture and for it to open its nuclear facilities to international inspection, in order to denuclearise the whole middle east?

Mr Hague:
Politics is the art of the possible, as I think we all know in this House, and it has turned out that this agreement is possible. The hon. Gentleman is trying to lead me into something that it would probably not be possible for us to obtain.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab):
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman, my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander), Secretary Kerry, and all others involved on achieving this exceptionally important agreement. It must be hoped that not only will it lead to Iran re-entering the international community, but that it will ameliorate oppressive aspects of its internal policies. Will the right hon. Gentleman point out to the Prime Minister of Israel, who yesterday said that nuclear weapons are the most dangerous weapons in the world—he should know because he has a stockpile of several hundred nuclear warheads and the missiles with which to deliver them—and who in addition refuses to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, that any attempt to damage or attack the agreement in any way will be unacceptable and will be opposed?

Mr Hague:
As I have said, we would strongly discourage any country from seeking to undermine the agreement, but I have not seen any sign that any country will do so in any practical way. Every country in the world understands how serious that would be. Some may disapprove of the agreement, but they know it has been made by, among others, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and that it must be given its chance. I believe it will be given its chance.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab):
Those who mocked Lady Ashton’s appointment—they certainly do not include the Foreign Secretary—may wish to apologise accordingly.
Is there not a kind of unholy alliance, certainly including Israel, but also including Saudi Arabia and possibly elements within the Iranian regime, that would want to undermine or destroy the agreement? Should we not be very much on our guard against that.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab):
I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and draw his attention to what he said about momentum in the process in the region. I obviously hope that a detailed agreement is reached within six months. Will he now turn his attention to the need for a nuclear weapons-free middle east, and the importance of reconstituting the conference, which Finland was supposed to have held, involving all countries in the region? Without an agreement on a nuclear-free middle east, somebody will develop nuclear weapons or Israel will go on being unchallenged as the only nuclear weapons state in the region. This is urgent.

Mr Hague:
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are keeping our focus on that. I pay tribute to him for keeping his focus—relentlessly—in his questions in Parliament, but we are also keeping our focus and continuing our work to bring the conference together. If we can carry our success on this agreement through to the success of a comprehensive and final settlement, it will be a big advance towards what he has been campaigning for and remove more of the excuses of other nations against such discussions. I think, therefore, that he can view this as a step forward in that regard.

Posted on November 25, 2013

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