Discussion in 'Israel and Palestine' started by Jos, Jan 7, 2012.
The Plumbat Affair
continued how israel stole yellow-cake uranium to make it's Nuclear weapons
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A Secret Place, A Secret Service
Dimona. It stands in a parched wilderness of rock and scrub. Its dome-shaped centrepiece might be taken for a basilica; closer inspection shows it to be more like a giant soccer ball. Then there are the slender chimneys, climbing to three times the height of the dome, and the squat buildings clustering round, and the fence laden with warning signs that encircles the whole area. It is a stark intrusion upon its desert surroundings which have remained largely unchanged since Biblical times. It is as though some new race had landed there, and built a colony to survive an alien environment.
It is not easy to get any view of the Dimona Centre. It is only forty miles away from the ancient and bustling town of Beersheba, but the casual visitor heading southwest on the road into the Negev Desert will be intercepted by Israeli patrols before he sights anything more than the tips of Dimonas chimneys. Polite but insistent, the soldiers will turn him back the way he has come. Even if he can avoid the patrols and somehow pass undetected through the invisible electronic barriers that crisscross the desert, he will be halted by the bristling fences that guard Dimona with stern signs ordering him away, warning also that photography is strictly prohibited.
The Centre is guarded mercilessly. In 1967 an Israeli Mirage fighter strayed into the forbidden air space above this place. An Israeli missile shot it down.
Obsessive secrecy shrouded the project from its very beginning. Construction work started in 1958 on a desert site, eight miles from a tiny settlement of Jewish pioneers called Dimona. Israel pretended she was building a textile factory and the nomadic Bedouin tribes roaming their traditional desert territory did not know any different. But as the Dimona settlement, obliged to accommodate more and more workers, grew to the size of a small town, that pretence became harder to maintain. In 1960 an agent of Egypts secret police, the Moukhabarat, reported his suspicions that the spreading industrial complex could scarcely be for the production of synthetic textiles. Egypt passed those suspicions on to the United States.
On 8 December 1960, a United States Air Force photoreconnaissance plane flew over Dimona Centre. It brought back photographs showing railway lines, high tension wires, chimneys, vast concrete workshops and, most important, the telltale soccer ball dome. The next day experts of the American Central Intelligence Agency told a secret and unannounced meeting of the Joint Congressional Committee on Atomic Energy that Israel was building a nuclear reactor.
The reaction in Washington bordered on panic. Immediately after the Congressional meeting the US Secretary of State Christian Herter summoned the Israeli ambassador Avraham Harman and confronted him with the evidence of the photographs. Herter demanded to know if Israel was planning to build nuclear weapons. The ambassador said he would consult his government.
It was twelve days before he returned with an assurance that the reactor was intended for purely peaceful purposes. On the same day, Israels Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion stood up in the Knesset, Israels parliament, and said much the same: Dimona would serve only the needs of industry, agriculture, health and science.
Even in Israel these promises rang hollow. If the reactor were intended solely for the production of energy, why all the secrecy? Why were even members of the Knesset not allowed to visit the site, or examine the budget? And why was Dimona being built by Israels Ministry of Defence? (This fact had led to the resignation of all the members of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, with the exception of the chairman.)
These questions went largely unanswered, and construction work at Dimona went on. The reactor was designed to consume uranium, and there lay the cause of the United States concern. In its natural state uranium consists of two isotopes, U-238 and U-235. The second of these is present only in minute quantities, but it is radioactive and provides the vital ingredient for nuclear weapons. Before it can used in this way it has to be separated from the U-238. This is an enormously elaborate and costly process of which only advanced industrial nations are capable.
Dimona, however, gave Israel an alternative. In the course of consuming uranium, reactors like Dimona produce Plutonium-239 as a by-product. Provided that the process is halted at the right point, P-239 can be extracted from the spent fuel with relative ease. It is not such a potent substance as U-235, but, nonetheless, it could be used to make a very effective nuclear bomb. The truth was that even if Dimona were initially intended for peaceful purposes, it would give Israel the potential to build nuclear weapons.
In the fall of 1967 the Israeli Cabinet met in Jerusalem in an air of crisis. Israel itself was still celebrating her crushing victory in the June Six Day War. But the Cabinet had to confront the fact that, however brilliant in military terms, the victory had served only to increase Israels isolation. Israel had justified her pre-emptive strike against Syria, Jordan and Egypt on the grounds that France, her main arms supplier, was about to impose an arms embargo. Since the war, France had done precisely that. An enraged General Charles de Gaulle had ordered an immediate halt of arms supplies to Israel and the first casualty had been the fifty Mirage jet fighters which her air force had ordered.
The issue before the Cabinet, however, was not simply how Israel could replace a few aeroplanes. It was rather more basic than that: how to survive. Frances decision was but one further indication, in the shifts and vagaries of international politics, that there was not one country she could rely on.
France was by no means the first ally who had once agreed to supply Israel with arms and then reneged the moment the Arabs found out. Britain, after the Suez fiasco of 1956, had reappraised her Middle East policy on arms supplies, to the benefit of the Arabs, and to Israels cost. The United States remained steadfast in her policy of supplying Israel with money but no arms, despite all the protests of the American Jewish lobby. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union was resupplying Israels enemies with most of the arms they could want.
This isolation had long been accepted as a fact of life by Israels leaders. But what sharpened the debate in the aftermath of the June war was the almost universal hostility shown by Israels allies to her conquests, and her decision to occupy large areas of Arab territory.
To some extent Israel could compensate for her lost arms supplies by developing her own arms industries, and this, following the 1967 war, she proceeded to do.*
* In this endeavour she was greatly helped by a Swiss aircraft engineer named Alfred Frauenknecht. He worked for the Swiss aircraft company, Sulzer Brothers, which manufactured the French Mirage III under license for the Swiss Air Force. In return for about $200,000 Frauenknecht stole two tons of Mirage blueprints from Sulzer during 1968 and passed them on to a Mossad agent. Frauenknecht was eventually caught and jailed for four and a half years.
But cabinet ministers such as Moshe Dayan and Shimon Peres contended that the burden of acquiring increasing amounts of conventional weapons would eventually become insupportable. They also pointed out that Israels military strategy had always been based on the belief that the Arab countries could afford to lose a war or two, whereas one Israeli defeat would be her last: If Israel continued to rely on conventional weapons, defeat one day would be inevitable. In short, the cabinet must make the monumental decision which it had so far resisted: to acquire nuclear weapons. Israel had of course given herself the option to do so, by building Dimona. Now Dayan, and others, argued that the time had come to convert that option to dedicate Dimona to the production of the ultimate deterrent.
It was not an argument some members of the Cabinet, such as Prime Minister Golda Meir, and Ygal Allon, could easily embrace. The moral principles on which the state of Israel was founded do not sit comfortably with a plan to build weapons of mass destruction. But in the end, because of the demonstrable fragility of Israels international alliances, they accepted the words of Moshe Dayan: Israel had no choice.
The decision was made, but the practical consequences were considerable. Among the problems a nation with military nuclear aspirations has to solve are those of delivery and detonation. First and foremost, however, came the problem of fuel for the reactor. To produce enough Plutonium-239 for one small bomb* would take Dimona almost a year, and consume approaching twenty tons of uranium.
*Small in a relation term: each warhead would have approximately the same explosive force as the atom bomb which killed 100,000 people in Hiroshima on 6 August 1945.
To build an effective arsenal, consisting of a dozen such weapons, would require 200 tons of uranium.
Israel had nothing like that amount of uranium available. When the reactor was completed in 1964 Israel had been supplied with some uranium by France, who had helped her, in secret, to build Dimona in the first place. By 1967 these stocks were fast running out. There was of course no longer any question of France supplying more. Nor would other countries with uranium, or access to it, risk being called Israels accomplice in acquiring the bomb.
All legitimate channels to uranium were closed. Israel could hardly steal it by force without becoming an international outlaw. Only one solution remained: to acquire uranium by stealth. Late in 1967 the Israeli cabinet gave just that assignment to Israels central bureau of intelligence and security, Mossad. It was exactly the kind of assignment Mossad relished.
Shortly after the Cabinets decision, the Israeli Embassy in London gave a small cocktail party to mark the impending return home of its military attaché, Brigadier General Zwi Zamir. When someone at the party asked Zamir what his plans were, he replied that he was going into the textile business. That was a joke in the best traditions of Mossad. In Israel textiles is often a euphemism for secret hence, Dimona was built under the guise of a textile factory. Zamir was hinting that he was returning to Israel to become the new head of Mossad.
Zamir was a former army commander, who had been given charge of his first brigade at the astonishingly young age of twenty-six. His reputation in action was for checking every detail of a plan before giving it his final approval. His meticulous, circumspect approach was reckoned to be exactly suited to the demands of modern intelligence work, and so, too, was a major aspect of his personality. Zamir was something of an introvert, and he believed that both he, and the agency he was about to take over, should maintain a very low profile. In later years Zamir was to reverse that policy, with disastrous consequences. But at the time of his appointment he was judged by the Israeli cabinet to be the ideal man to take charge of an operation that was more important than any other in Mossads short but tumultuous history.
The empire Zamir inherited was without doubt the most battle-hardened secret service in the world. Mossad was formed in 1937, when the Jewish settlers in Palestine were fighting on two fronts. On one they faced the Arabs, with whom they were competing for land. On the other were the British, who had governed Palestine under a mandate from the League of Nations since 1923 and were struggling to restrict immigration in order to maintain a balance between Arabs and Jews.
At the same time Europes Jews were at increasing hazard from the obscene race laws of Nazi Germany and the spreading cancer of anti-Semitism. Senior officers of the Haganah, the underground Jewish army, created an agency dedicated to getting Jews out of Europe and into Palestine. They named it Mossad Lealivah Beth: Mossad means Institute; Lealivah Beth, Immigration route B.
Thousand of Jews escaped from the ghettos of Europe along Mossads route B with forged papers that Mossad provided. The more difficult part of the operation lay in getting those refugees into Palestine. The Royal Navy set up blockades to prevent illegal immigrants coming in by sea, while the British Army patrolled likely landing places. Mossad manned secret radio posts to help small boats in through the blockades, and met the immigrants on the beaches to lead them to safe houses.
The outbreak of World War II brought Mossad a more ambivalent role. Illegal immigration into Palestine continued, but at the same time Mossad agents trained and fought with the British in the fight against Nazi Germany. Some were trained as parachutists and saboteurs at Britains Special Operations School near Cairo. They were dropped into occupied eastern Europe to gather intelligence a mission that was doubly risky for Jews. Later, as the war swung against Hitler, Mossad agents helped foment revolt ahead of the advancing Allied armies. The cost maws heavy: of one sizeable group of agents parachuted into Slovakia, for example, only one man survived.
Germanys defeat in 1945 allowed Mossad to resume uncomplicated hostilities with the British. Not only immigrants flowed into Palestine along Mossads routes but also arms, ammunition, and explosives. Some reached the Jewish terrorist gangs, Irgun and Stern, who harried the British at every turn. Some went to arm the Haganah, increasingly in conflict with the Arabs. Much was stockpiled for the full-scale war with the Arabs which Mossad knew to be inevitable if Israel was to achieve her statehood.
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from the OP
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