Israel’s nuclear capability has been an open secret for decades, so when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert inadvertently admitted this week in Germany the existence of his country’s nuclear arsenal, the world shouldn’t have been surprised.

We now know that Britain helped Israel’s nuclear program in the late 1950s, France provided extra help some time later and the US has given diplomatic cover ever since.

Israeli whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu – with whom I irregularly communicate and have discovered a determined but dispirited man who simply wants to leave Israel for good and start a new life in any country that will take him, something Israel refuses to allow – told ABC Radio’s AM yesterday that Olmert’s admission vindicated his brave decision 20 years ago to expose Israel’s covert nuclear program.

Olmert’s gaffe resulted in calls for his resignation. The Israeli Foreign Ministry has denied that Olmert meant what he said, and demanded the world focus on Iran’s supposed nuclear threat. Of course, this controversy is really about Iran, not the Jewish state (though the hypocrisy is not lost on many).

Israeli daily Haaretz has editorialised that the world must not stand silent while Israel is threatened by the Islamic regime:

It is too early to say the world is remaining silent in the face of the threat to destroy Israel, but it is not too early to say that the world is apathetic and yawning… What is on the table now is Israel’s war of survival against an open threat to destroy it. In the face of this increasingly clear possibility, everyone must unite, including those who believe, justly, that the Israeli occupation of the territories must end quickly and that the Palestinians’ suffering undermines Israel’s security rather than bolstering it.

A recent poll found Israelis split on the issue of whether military action should be taken against Iran. Although the Bush administration is bogged down in Iraq, I’ve long feared, like Seymour Hersh, that a military strike against Iran becomes more likely the worse Iraq descends. It may be the mother of all distractions or because as Bush has said, “saving Iran is going to be [my] legacy”.

The rhetoric against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is gathering strength. Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has claimed that the Iranian leader is more dangerous than Hitler. Local Zionist lobby AIJAC urges military action against Iran, despite urging similar behaviour against Iraq for the same reasons in 2003 and not stopping to ponder the consequences of that cheerleading.

Throughout this period, little attention is being paid to the IAEA (whose views on Iraq have been vindicated.) The body has found some issues of Iranian non-compliance, but no evidence of nuclear weapons facilities.

Also forgotten in the current debate is the gross hypocrisy of the world allowing Israel to maintain a nuclear arsenal but no other Middle Eastern nation (a point made by yesterday’s SMH editorial). A nuclear-free region is clearly the goal, but it seems Israel wants to maintain its exclusionary position yet again.

Peter Fray

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