Nuclear-Free Mideast

By George S. Hishmeh – Washington, D.C.
 
Americans of all walks of life have lately been mesmerized by the drama launched by WikiLeaks, an anti-secrecy group, which published on its website a major portion of  92,000 classified and embarrassing U.S. documents said to be in its possession, on the Afghan war, now in its ninth year, the longest American military intervention.
 
The documents claimed that Pakistan, or actually its spy agency known as Inter-Services Intelligence, had been arming, training and funding the Taliban for years.
 
Whatever these revelations would precipitate remains to be seen. But it is interesting to note that the focus of the American (and international) attention dwarfs another “amazing” but little noticed  revelation last May when the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) partially declassified another secret document held behind closed doors for 32 years “in spite of the best efforts of researchers to dislodge it.” 
 
Notwithstanding the “tantalizing” title of the revealed document, “Nuclear Diversion in the U.S.? 13 Years of Contradiction and Confusion,” Grant F. Smith, director of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy (IRmep), asserted that the “quest for more information about the U.S.-Israel nuclear relationship is far from over.” 
 
IRmep followed up with holding a panel discussion on this sensitive issue publicly and boldly under the heading, “Israel’s Nuclear Arsenal: Espionage, Opacity and Future,” at, out of all places, the impressive International Spy Museum in Washington, where Smith detailed “how coerced ‘ambiguity’ about Israel’s nuclear weapons undermines accountability here in the United States.” Disappointingly, IRmep’s panel discussion received little press attention here or in the Arab world despite the shocking details which merit full exposure.
 
A week later, the Brookings Institution invited (coincidentally?) Andrew J. Shapiro, the assistant secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, to detail the Obama administration’s generous approach to “preserving Israel’s qualitative military edge.”
 
Smith acknowledged at the outset that “few Americans are aware of how heavily Israel relied on weapons stolen and smuggled from the United States in the past.” and proceeded to identify how many American Jewish leaders were involved in the scam, and sometimes with help from some past American presidents.
 
The 62-page GAO investigation and correspondence, according to Smith, “confirms the United States refus(al) to mount credible investigations that would enable warranted prosecutions of the perpetrators.” To cite but one example, the report reveals that the “opaque” relationship started when the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC), established in 1957, had then received “more than 22 tons of taxpayer-funded, highly enriched Uranium-235, the key material used for manufacturing nuclear weapons.” It turned out that David Lowenthal, then head of Israeli intelligence, had helped in launching NUMEC.  Its co-founder was Dr. Leonard P. Pepkowitz, who later moved to the famed Los Alamos (National) Laboratory in New Mexico.
 
In the early 1960s, the Atomic Energy Commission, according to the GAO report, began documenting suspicious lapses in NUMEC’s security, inexplicably lax record-keeping and the ongoing presence of large numbers of Israelis at the plant. In 1965, NUMEC could not account for another 220 pounds of highly enriched uranium, and a year later the FBI began monitoring NUMEC’s management and Israeli visitors.  A senior CIA official, Carl Duckett, reported Smith, came to the conclusion that “NUMEC material had been diverted by the Israelis and used in fabricating weapons.”
 
Smith protested that “few perpetrators of highly illegal conventional and nuclear smuggling activities for Israel have never faced any meaningful consequences.” He added that “the drive to extend the cover-up has now extended beyond the CIA and FBI right into the U.S. Senate” where, for example,  Senator Arlen Specter had tried but failed, to clear Zalman Shapiro, a former head of NUMEC.
 
Anyhow, today’s worst kept secret is that Israel is now recognized as the world’s sixth nuclear power despite all this opaque rhetoric, possessing anywhere between 100 to 400 nuclear bombs.  (Former President Jimmy Carter believes that Israel has at least 150 nuclear weapons, the first time a current or former American president had publicly acknowledged Israel’s nuclear arsenal)  
 
John Mearsheimer, the respected co-author of  “The Israeli lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” a New York Times best-seller, argued at IRmep’s seminar that “the fact that Israel has nuclear weapons is making it very difficult for the United States to stem the tide on proliferation and to move to a nuclear-free Middle East.
 
This should give Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is being unfairly dragged into direct talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a reluctant peacemaker, an opportunity to get Israel to agree to a nuclear-free Middle East as part of a final Palestinian-Israeli settlement.

– George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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