by Hillel Schenker
The dolphin is supposed to be among the most intelligent of mammals. That was the “cute” euphemistic name chosen for the most expensive investment in Israeli naval history. Three advanced Dolphin submarines commissioned from the German government will cost about $1 billion. According to reports in the foreign press, Dolphin-class submarines can carry Cruise missiles, and Israel may use the new subs to build a “second strike” capacity: the ability to hit back in case of a nuclear attack. The arrival of the first Dolphin sub, paid for by Germany, which was celebrated in the Israeli media with colorful human interest stories and distorted censored imagery on Israeli TV, may have brought the Middle East a step closer to the nuclear edge.
Since the 1991 second Gulf war, when 39 Iraqi Scud missiles were fired in the general direction of Tel Aviv, Haifa and the Negev (Dimona?), Israeli security experts have believed that long-range ICBMs (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles) with the possibility of bearing non-conventional warheads are the primary existential threat to Israeli security. Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz recently declared that “Syria’s ground-to-ground Scud missiles are the greatest potential threat to Israeli security” (Yediot Aharonot, August 2, 1999). Others focus on potential threats emanating from Iran, Iraq or Pakistan, whose nuclear capacity was graphically demonstrated over a year ago.
Israel’s Nuclear Option
Everyone in the region assumes that Israel has a nuclear potential, with estimates varying from 100 to 200 nuclear warheads. Israel’s official position is that it “will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East.” Professor Shai Feldman, head of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, used to argue that Israel publicly declare its nuclear capacity, so that it could afford to trade territory for peace, backed by a nuclear deterrent. Today he says that it is no longer necessary to change the policy, because in the wake of Mordechai Vanunu’s revelations and various public statements by government and security officials, Israel’s nuclear option is “three-quarters public.”
In December 1998, the Jaffee Center published the results of a survey that indicated that 92 percent of Israelis believe that Israel should continue to develop its nuclear arsenal, up from 72 percent a decade earlier (i.e., before the Gulf war). Over 70 percent also accepted the idea that nuclear arms should be used in retaliation for a non-conventional weapons attack against Israel.
Such public opinion surveys are seriously flawed, because they are based solely on the current monopolistic reality, where Israel is the only factor in the Middle East with a presumed nuclear capacity.
However, the idea of a possible second-strike capacity is really playing with apocalyptic fire. Some months ago, we commemorated the 54th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, which incapacitated two cities at the immediate cost of over 100,000 lives with relatively primitive nuclear weapons. Today, it is estimated that two medium-sized nuclear weapons detonated over metropolitan Tel Aviv, and one over Haifa, would destroy Israel’s industrial potential. So of what value is a second-strike capacity, other than what is known as Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), i.e., the guaranteed destruction of Baghdad, Teheran, Damascus, Cairo, and Islamabad as well, with an estimated 12 well-placed nukes.
Israeli authorities have denied that the Dolphin subs will be equipped with a second-strike capacity, while Professor Ephraim Inbar, head of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, told the German press that Israel’s neighboring states have no cause for concern about the Dolphin “as long as they support peace” (Yediot Aharanot, July 30, 1999).
But Meir Steiglitz, one of Israel’s most respected commentators, warns that if the Dolphin becomes the third pillar of Israel’s presumed nuclear delivery system, alongside the Jericho missiles and advanced long-range bombers, it would have severe repercussions. “It is virtually certain that if the Dolphins become operational” (with a second-strike capacity — H.S.), “the Egyptians will respond with great anger. Such a development would not only endanger the peace process, it would also cause Egypt to rethink its current abandonment of a potential nuclear option,” with all of the potentially extreme repercussions (Yediot Aharonot, July 27, 1999).
Freeing the Region of Nuclear Arms
During the first stages of Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s new government, he has focused his initial (still-unclear) moves on the Palestinian and Syrian-Lebanese tracks, so it is clearly premature to evaluate his attitude towards regional security and the non-conventional weapons arms race. Egypt, the primary spokesperson for the general Arab position concerning the frozen multilateral negotiation frameworks, says that the multilateral talks will not be resumed until “substantial progress” will be made on the bilateral Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Syrian tracks. The arms control talks originally broke down in 1995 because of Egypt’s insistence that the nuclear issue be placed on the agenda, while Israel insisted that the subject be postponed until after the achievement of comprehensive peace.
Israel’s policy-makers sometimes tend to forget that they are not operating in a vacuum. For example, noted military commentator Ze’ev Schiff wrote in Ha’aretz (July 2, 1999) that the international “chemical clock is ticking.” On May 4, 2002 which will be five years since the international Chemical Weapons Convention went into effect, sanctions will be expanded against all nations that will not have signed or ratified the treaty, and many chemicals vital for civilian use will become outlawed from trade with countries that will have refrained from joining the treaty. While 124 nations have already signed and ratified the treaty, Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Libya are among those that have not, while Israel and North Korea are among those that have signed but not ratified the treaty.
The international community is also far from indifferent to the threat of nuclear proliferation. As we near the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference, which will take place under UN auspices in the year 2000, foreign ministers David Andrews of Ireland and Anna Lindh of Sweden have declared that “all NPT member states have made a commitment to the goal of abolition of nuclear weapons.” Speaking also on behalf of Brazil, Egypt, Mexico, New Zealand and South Africa, the New Agenda Coalition for a Nuclear Free World, they noted that “only Cuba, India, Israel and Pakistan remain outside the nonproliferation treaty. The international community demands no less than their prompt accession to the treaty as it stands” (International Herald Tribune, May 20, 1999).
The Middle East is teetering between an accelerated non-conventional weapons arms race and moves towards a regional security arrangement. What will it be — MAD or a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (NWFZ)?
While a NWFZ will probably only be finalized within the context of a comprehensive peace treaty, it is critical to move forward towards both goals simultaneously. At the international Hague Appeal for Peace Conference in May 1999, Bahig Nassar of Egypt, head of the Cairo-based Arab Coordinating Center for NGOs, said that Egypt’s insistence that Israel sign the NPT was not meant as a threat, but was being posed within the context of the peace process. Since Israeli public opinion considers the nuclear card to be the ultimate existential deterrent, it would be very helpful if concerned Egyptians and other members of the international anti-nuclear community would present the case for non-conventional weapons arms control and a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone directly to the Israeli people.
The Hague Appeal for Peace
In May 1999, believing that peace is too important to leave to the politicians alone, hundreds of individuals and organizations representing civil society throughout the world joined together to initiate The Hague Appeal for Peace Conference on the eve of the new millennium. The goal was to create a peace and justice agenda for the 21st century.
“We are gathered together, representatives of governments, or international organizations, Nobel laureates, but above all mere mortal citizens, for a shared responsibility,” said Cora Weiss, president of the conference and one of the driving forces behind the initiative. “As long as $789 billion a year is spent on the military, while only $13 billion is spent on basic health and nutrition, as long as three-fifths of the world’s 4.4 billion people live on less than $1 a day, we will continue to have violence and war.”
Among the themes emphasized at the conference were:
• The need to adhere to, reinforce and implement international law;
• The need to redefine security in terms of human and ecological needs rather than solely in terms of national sovereignty and borders;
• The need for early warning about brewing crises and the importance of peace initiatives before crises get out of control;
• The need to further democratize the United Nations and other multilateral institutions;
• The importance of “soft power” paths for conflict resolution, utilizing negotiation, coalition building and New Diplomacy methods of settling disputes rather than “hard power” dictates of major powers, militaries and economic conglomerates;
• The need to develop effective and speedy methods of humanitarian intervention, according to the UN Charter, when civilians are threatened with genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and extreme natural disasters;
• The need to reallocate resources to ensure funding for peace activities, while reducing the arms trade and military budgets.
Among the major initiatives launched at the conference were:
• Nuclear Weapons Convention — the launching of an international campaign to conclude a convention to abolish nuclear weapons as mandated by Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the International Court of Justice;
• International Action Network on Small Arms — the launching of a global network of NGOs dedicated to preventing the proliferation and unlawful use of small arms, whether in the Third World or in the inner cities and suburban schools of the U.S.A.;
• Stopping the Use of Child Soldiers — it is estimated that more than 300,000 children under 18 are currently participating in armed conflicts throughout the world. To combat this travesty, an international coalition was formed in May 1998 to end the military recruitment and use as soldiers of all children under 18 years of age. The Hague Conference was used as a platform for consciousness-raising and organization around this issue;
• International Campaign to Ban Landmines — building upon one of the first successes of the New Diplomacy, the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty, a campaign was launched for the universalization, ratification and implementation of the treaty;
• Global Ratification Campaign for the International Criminal Court — building upon the signing of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, a campaign was launched to reach the 60 national ratifications necessary to activate a permanent court for bringing to justice individuals accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity;
• Global Campaign for Peace Education — since systematic education for peace in the schools and universities is a key to promoting support for non-violent conflict resolution, human rights and cultural diversity, the Hague Conference called for a campaign to support the United Nations Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World, scheduled to start in the year 2000.
More information about the Hague Appeal for Peace agenda can be found at .
The final word belongs to Nobel Peace Prize laureate Prof. Joseph Rotblat, who, after working on the Manhattan Project, became a thoughtful, passionate and outspoken opponent of nuclear weapons. “Remember your humanity,” he says, a phrase that captures the essential spirit of the 1999 Hague Appeal for Peace.