Should Israel end nuclear ambiguity?
After Obama urges Israel to join Non-Proliferation Treaty, Israeli experts disagree on best course of action. 'If we had taken this step, we wouldn't be dragged into it now,' Prof. Uzi Even says. Meanwhile, Dr. Efraim Escolai says there's no reason to change policy
Moments before the conclusion of the Washington nuclear security conference, US President Barack Obama stressed that every county in the world should sign the international Non-Proliferation Treaty, including Israel. Israel has signed the treaty, but its signature has yet to be ratified. But now, following Obama's remarks, should Israel put an end to its policy of ambiguity and unveil its nuclear reactors? Or is the demand for exposure actually a demand to strip Israel of its alleged nuclear weapons?
"I have been arguing adamantly for 10 years now that we should join the treaty," said former MK Professor Uzi Even, who conducted his military service as a nuclear scientist at the Dimona reactor. "If we had taken this step we may have avoided being dragged into it now, and we would have prevented much damage."
According to Even, the policy of ambiguity has turned the Dimona reactor into a danger. "The policy prevents the supply of necessary materials and goods for the development of our nuclear capabilities, and prevents the proper training of scientists. It prevents us from building a nuclear reactor in Israel instead of the one in Dimona, which has long ago passed the age in which it should have been shut down."
He added, "The fear of exposure stems from the fact that many in Israel think removing the ambiguity means disarming from what we allegedly have acquired, but this is not true. India and Pakistan, for example, started out with ambiguity like us, and they very quickly became recognized, and this did not stop them from continuing to develop."
Reality has changed
Professor Eyal Zisser, head of the Middle East studies department at Tel Aviv University, said Israel should prepare to lift the ambiguity for two reasons, "The ambiguity was relevant in the past, as a tool between Israel and the US, when the situation was based on understandings that this perception is satisfactory and that the US could live with it."
The second reason, Zisser said, is the situation in the Middle East. "The perception of ambiguity is good when no one here comes close to nuclear capabilities, and up until the 1990s, Israel had no interest in discussing the nuclear issue, because it was irrelevant. There were only limited Iraqi and Syrian plans, not an international campaign, this is a classic situation for ambiguity."
Now, he said, the situation has changed, particularly in light of the Iranian race to nuclear capabilities. He said Israel should consider what is most effective in terms of the balance of terror and the Israeli and American public opinion. "the US is no longer satisfied with the ambiguity, and Obama wants to push one point to win another, related to the peace process.
"In addition, in the Middle East, we may find ourselves facing a nuclear Iran within years, and we must consider lifting the ambiguity in the face of an Iranian threat, thus creating a clear balance of terror."
Don't change winning team
On the other hand, Dr. Efraim Escolai, of the Institute for National Security Studies, said the ambiguity is here to stay. "Calls for all countries to join the NPT are nothing new, this has been going on for decades and occasionally surfaces, but this is not what will change stability in the region and Israel's nuclear policy."
Escolai, who has a rich history in the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission, and the International Atomic Energy Agency, says you don't 'change a winning team. "I see no reason for the ambiguity to be lifted for a baseless cause. Let's ask whoever wants to change the situation, why should we change the policy? Is there a good reason to do so? Why change the policy that has served us well throughout the years?"
Escoali, who also had a part in talks on a treaty to prevent nuclear experiments in Israel, added, "There should be no dealing with speculations on this matter, we must not shake up the situation, since it is a stable situation." He said the notion that Israel can continue its nuclear development while under supervision must be rejected.
Public debate important
Professor Yair Evron, an expert on the distribution of nuclear arms, also objects to lifting Israel's policy of ambiguity and said that a desire to nullify Israel's nuclear capabilities hides behind the international calls to join the NPT.
Evron warned that, "It won't end well. Since 1970 the Americans have been interested in Israel eliminating its nuclear capabilities. As in the past, and in the future, in order for Israel to continue being a factor in the region, it must continue with its strategy of ambiguity. Its elimination will lead to heavy pressure to nullify its capabilities."
However, Evron admits that the reality has changed and that Israel should adapt. "The ambiguity doesn't have to prevent researchers or journalists from discussing the issue. On the contrary, the public debate is important, so that the common citizen may know what the nuclear issue is and what it can be used for to lessen concerns."