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The Unthinkable Looms: Nuclear-Armed Israel Is At War

Above photo: Israeli nuclear whistleblower, Mordechai Vanunu (center), meeting with Ali Kazak (left) and Bishop Riah Abu Assal in Jerusalem 2005. Ali kazak/Wikimedia Commons.

The attack on Yemen by US, Britain and other forces is a dangerous escalation of the war in the Middle East. The attack is intended to halt the Houthi support for the people of Gaza that has taken the form of attacks on Israel-bound shipping. But as the Houthis have made clear, the attacks will not end their support for the Palestinians.

The only way to stop this unfolding and escalating conflict in the Middle East, is to stop the war on Gaza: to implement an immediate and permanent ceasefire and to ensure freedom and sovereignty for Palestine, as enshrined in UN resolutions and international law.

The alternative to this course of action is the further spread of war, to Yemen, Lebanon, and even to Iran. This is the most dangerous time for more than two decades in the Middle East and it clearly raises the spectre of nuclear weapons use.

Because not only is Israel heavily armed with the most up-to-date conventional weaponry, it is also heavily armed with nuclear weapons. Its nuclear arsenal, which it refuses to formally acknowledge — its policy of “nuclear ambiguity” — comes under no international controls or inspections. Yet it has an enormous killing capacity — and Israel is the only nuclear weapons state in the Middle East.

Recent rhetoric from a number of Israeli politicians suggests a willingness to use their nuclear weapons; if the conflict were to extend to Iran, who can say that Israel would not use its nuclear weapons on non-nuclear Iran?

So what does the Israeli nuclear arsenal look like? Israel’s lack of transparency means that figures are uncertain, but the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) outlines estimates between 90 and 300 nuclear weapons. Sipri also reports that since 2021, according to commercial satellite imagery, there has been significant construction taking place at the Negev Nuclear Research Centre near Dimona, in southern Israel.

Some may remember that the great Israeli nuclear whistle-blower, Mordechai Vanunu, worked as a technician at Dimona, before revealing details of the secret Israeli nuclear programme to the British press in 1986. The purpose of the recent works isn’t known.

Sipri information indicates that Israel has air, land and sea-based delivery systems for its nuclear arsenal. Bombs can be dropped from planes, either the F-161 or the F-15 aircraft, and are likely to be stored near air force bases such as Tel Nof airbase in central Israel, or Hatzerim air base in the Negev desert.

Reportedly, when Israel sent six F-16s from Tel Nof to Britain for an exercise in 2019, a US official referred to this as Israel’s “nuclear squadron.”

Israel’s nuclear weapons can also be launched on land-based Jericho ballistic missiles. The site of these missiles is thought to be the Sdot Micha air base near Zekharia, about 25 kilometres west of Jerusalem. And Israel also operates five German-built Dolphin-class diesel-electric submarines which operate from the port of Haifa on the Mediterranean coast. Some or all of these subs may have been equipped to launch a nuclear-armed cruise missile.

By any estimate, this is a formidable array of weapons of mass destruction and it gives Israel the capacity to inflict catastrophic damage on its neighbours. Of course the impact on Israel of any regional use would be considerable too, but there is absolutely no guarantee that would deter an Israeli government from nuclear use if it considered its existence was under threat.

How such a threat would be defined is also unknown. The fact remains that nuclear-weapons possession allows Israel to act with impunity, in Gaza, and in the wider region. And that possession is also impacting on how others are willing to relate to Israel.

The questions posed in a recent issue of New Left Review, are highly relevant: “Is the US, blackmailed by the threat of a Middle Eastern Armageddon, now forced to allow Israel to pursue ‘victory’ at any price? Does Israel’s capacity for nuclear war bestow on the Israeli radical right a sense of invincibility, as well as a confidence that they can dictate the terms of peace with or without the Americans, and certainly without the Palestinians?”

And what can be done about this? Both the US and Britain helped Israel to develop its nuclear weapons, against all international law. In 2005, it was revealed from Whitehall documents discovered at the National Archives, by BBC Newsnight investigators, that Britain had secretly supplied the 20 tons of heavy water to Israel nearly half a century before, which enabled it to make nuclear weapons.

Britain has known for decades about the Israeli nuclear arsenal, clearly supporting and condoning it, while taking an outraged and aggressive approach to the possibility of nuclear proliferation by other countries. The double standards and hypocrisy displayed by successive British governments is deplorable and is absolutely to be condemned.

Britain has supported numerous resolutions from the UN general assembly and security council, calling for a nuclear weapons-free Middle East, without owning up to its role in Israeli nuclear proliferation.

Israeli nuclear weapons pose a particular risk to peace and security in the Middle East region and internationally; not surprisingly they are seen as a significant threat by neighbouring non-nuclear states, and the ongoing catastrophe in Gaza and the extending war is exactly the situation in which they are likely to be used.

There can be few clearer examples of how nuclear weapons are actually weapons of terror and weapons of impunity, as well as being weapons of mass slaughter and destruction. The war on Gaza must end; it must end with a ceasefire, and with peace and justice for the Palestinians. And it must end, to stop the unthinkable risk of a nuclear war in the Middle East.

This article first appeared in The Morning Star and in the CND magazine, Campaign.

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