Hearing the whistle before the smoke begins to rise

By Yousef Munayyer

It turns out that weapons of mass destruction are a threat we should be worried about from abroad. Just not from Iraq. In fact, the truth is the biggest proliferation scandal to date has just recently been uncovered, and it originates in Pakistan. Abdul Qadeer Khan, or AQ Khan as some are calling him, confessed to sharing atomic secrets that he attained while working on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program.

Khan is considered the ‘father of the bomb’ in Pakistan and is revered by many Muslims across the globe for helping to bring such a power to a Muslim nation. This put Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in a very tight spot. Could he, the secularist military leader of Pakistan who has recently been the target of two assassination attempts by radical fundamentalist Muslim groups, punish the ‘father of the Muslim bomb’? Of course not, and he chose to pardon him completely. Any other alternative would have been politically and perhaps literally suicide.

Pakistan had just become America’s best friend in the region after 9-11 and these events will surely put that relationship to the test since Khan was found to have shared secrets with Libya, Iran and North Korea. Not exactly our choice bedfellows, not this decade at least.

When it comes to proliferation, the talking heads in the defense department are caught off guard. All of a sudden the pre-emptive-strike-if-they’re-not-with-us-they’re-against-us nonsense does not work. They find no other way to deal with this than containment, appeasement and (gasp!) international law. That’s right: Washington is beginning to talk about treaties and international agreements again. For the past few years, I would have believed they cut those terms out of the white house dictionary. I figured that would make some room for all the other words the president has notoriously made up.

Still we have to be serious about this threat. In doing this, we have to analyze global proliferation and think diplomatically. “Speaking softly” is key, because when you are dealing with other nuclear powers, they all have “big sticks.”

The big question will become actually implementing a policy to deal with these issues and to do so we cannot ignore the nation in the Middle East with the largest nuclear arsenal: Israel.

Not many people associate Israel with nuclear power because many facts still remain unclear. This is partially due to the fact that the Israeli government has never acknowledged, or for that matter denied, possessing weapons of mass destruction. Also, a recent amendment to the National Security Act bans high resolution imaging from non-government satellites over Israeli soil. Why is it that Israel is specified as a place that shouldn’t be seen from the sky? Why does our government want to create this blind spot on the map of proliferation?

What is known is that sometime around 1958, with French assistance, Israel began developing the “Dimona Reactor,” a nuclear facility with a heavy water reactor capable to reaching high enough levels of power to produce weapons grade uranium. The facility in the Negev desert was kept highly secret, and it took the CIA about three years to figure out what was going on. At that point, the Eisenhower administration passed on to the Kennedy administration all that it knew about the facilities and the CIA took some heat for the blunder.

Then in 1986, a former Israeli nuclear technician named Mordechi Vanunu revealed to the London Times that the facility was much more active than initial projections estimated and that Israel has a dangerous nuclear arsenal. It is unclear why Vanunu revealed this information; maybe he just needed to get this off his chest. Still I think it’s appropriate to take a moment to think about Vanunu, who was captured and taken to Israel to serve a prison term in solitary confinement, because he may be the last person employed by the Israeli government to have a conscience.

Israel easily has delivery capabilities with Jericho missiles that can carry warheads over 1,200 miles. This poses an immediate threat to surrounding capitols like Damascus, Cairo and Tehran.

The Library of Congress Federal Research Division reported that in 1988 Israel has somewhere between 100- 200 bombs. The same report also notes that 100 kilograms of enriched Uranium was found to be missing from an Apollo, Pa. facility and evidence of a conspiracy with Israel was noted. It further reports that 200 tons, yes TONS, of ore disappeared from a vessel in the Mediterranean in 1968 and was likely diverted to Israel.

U.N. resolution 687 at the end of Gulf War I, which was a basis for sanctions and resolution 1441, which was used by President Bush as approval for Gulf War II recalls “the objective of the establishment of a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the region of the MIDDLE EAST.”

Iran’s WMD threat is growing, but we cannot expect them to halt their programs if Israeli nukes are pointed at their major cities.

Bush wants to talk tough on proliferation and banning weapons, but if he is going to be serious about it he has to be ready to attack the Israeli WMD problem. The U.S. may trust Israel, but it is time to verify.

Yousef Munayyer is a Collegian columnist.