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Attention Turns to Israel's Nukes

The end of Mordechai Vanunu's prison torment arrives at a portentous moment for the cause of nuclear disarmament.

Last fall, Libya's renunciation of its nuclear arms program and Iran's agreement to international nuclear inspections refocused attention on the unambiguous nuclear threat centered between Tripoli and Teheran, in Tel Aviv: Israel's veiled Bomb. Muhammad al-Baradai, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said pointedly that Israel as well as its neighbors must eliminate all nuclear weapons from the region.

This was before the public confession and presidential pardon of Pakistani proliferator and revered father of the Pakistani Bomb, Abdul Qadeer Khan, revealed more of the failures of past nuclear nonproliferation efforts.

      HIROSHIMA 2003 - photo by Shinji Noma

In a recent NY Times editorial, al-Baradai amplified his demand: "We must abandon the unworkable notion that it is morally reprehensible for some countries to pursue weapons of mass destruction yet morally acceptable for others to rely on them for security - and indeed to continue to refine their capacities and postulate plans for their use," he wrote. Only disarmament by the declared nuclear powers - as promised in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (which Israel has not signed) - could assure humanity that terrorists will not eventually acquire these weapons.

Yet inside Israel at the end of 2003, nukes still rule. Over half of the public polled on the question oppose Israel's nuclear disarmament, and only one in four expressed willingness to eliminate nuclear weapons as part of a regional disarmament regime.

Nonetheless, real and present nuclear dangers stalk even advocates of Israel's bomb. Housing and Construction Minister Effi Eitam, an extreme right-wing politician, says he is having sleepless nights worrying about the ability of the nuclear reactor in Dimona (known to sit along the Syrian-African Rift Valley fault line) to withstand a serious earthquake. He has ordered a report on the matter for the government.

Professor Uzi Even, a physicist with recognized authority on the subject who worked early on at Dimona, recently repeated his call to shut down the old reactor, and warned that radioactive waste is badly stored.

Even also told his radio interviewer that Mordechai Vanunu never harmed Israel's security, and there is no justification for any restrictions on the man after he has served his sentence.


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