Issue 269 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published December 2002 Copyright © Socialist Review
Top of the league for weapons of mass destruction is the US, says Sabby Sagall, and the biggest danger in the Middle East is Israel
Which country has actually used nuclear weapons?
A history exam paper might contain the following question: which Middle East country expelled the majority of the original inhabitants, has attacked neighbouring states three times in the last 50 years, accumulated a considerable arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and flouted countless UN resolutions? If you put Iraq the answer would be wrong. The right answer would be Israel.
In 1947 the UN Partition Plan allocated 55 percent of historical Palestine to a Jewish state, whereas the Palestinians, who outnumbered the Jews by two to one, were granted 45 percent. Not content with this gross imbalance, the Zionists drove out 700,000 Palestinians by force of arms, taking over their cities, their villages and their land--an additional 23 percent of territory. The first and largest wave of refugees were forcibly expelled between April and May 1948, the state of Israel being declared on 15 May. It was on this date that five Arab armies invaded Palestine. According to Zionist mythology, a Jewish David was pitted against an Arab Goliath who it defeated in a heroic struggle. The truth is the Arab armies were no match for the more numerous, better armed and trained Zionist armies. By the end of 1948 the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians was complete.
In 1956 Israel, in collusion with Britain and France, attacked Egypt in an attempt to topple Nasser, the nationalist leader who aspired to unite the Arab world and liberate it from colonial domination. The previous year he had attacked British interests by nationalising the Suez Canal and was supporting the Algerian National Liberation Front in its struggle against French colonial-settler rule. He was being armed by the Soviet bloc, and Israeli leaders conspired to have a showdown before the military balance shifted in Egypt's favour. Also, in August 1955, fedayeen (self sacrificers) recruited from Palestinian refugees in Gaza and trained by Egyptian officers began carrying out a series of attacks inside Israel. Nasser had reversed his previous policy of restraint following the vicious Gaza raid that February when Israeli forces led by Ariel Sharon killed 37 Egyptian soldiers. At the end of 1955 Israeli forces launched further attacks on Egypt and Syria in an attempt to provoke them into full-scale war. The strategy failed and in October 1956 Israel attacked Egypt though, contrary to the official version, there is no evidence that it faced any serious threat from Nasser at that time.
The Palestinians would not accept their fate. In 1964 the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) was founded under Egyptian auspices, its aim to reclaim the Palestinian homeland from the Zionists. In May 1967 Israel threatened Syria with action unless it ceased supporting Palestinian guerrillas operating against Israel. In addition Nasser closed the straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, a move intended to impress Arab public opinion rather than provoke war. But in June, Israel launched a massive lightning attack on Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq. Within six days it had won a spectacular victory, capturing the Palestinian territories under Jordan's control, the Golan Heights from Syria and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt. Israel made it unambiguously clear that it would rather go to war than compromise with the Palestinians by granting their rights as demanded under successive UN resolutions.
In 1973, following Egypt's surprise attack on Israeli forces occupying Sinai, the Israeli cabinet ordered the arming and targeting of its nuclear arsenal (consisting then of some 25 bombs) for use in the event of military collapse. And in 1982, on the pretext of punishing the PLO for the attempted assassination of the Israeli ambassador to the UK, Israel launched a ferocious attack on Lebanon where the PLO had taken refuge. During the siege of Beirut, Israeli forces killed some 20,000 civilians in a series of brutal aerial, naval and ground raids. Sharon, then defence minister, supervised the massacre of up to 2,000 Palestinian civilians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla by the Falangists, the right wing Lebanese Christian militia.
|David Ben Gurion makes the 1948 declaration of Israeli statehood in Tel Aviv|
Which country has actually used nuclear weapons? The right answer is of course the US. It is true that during the Iraq-Iran war of 1980-88 Saddam used mustard and nerve gas against Iranian troops. And in 1988 Saddam attacked the Kurds of Halabja with chemical weapons, killing perhaps 5,000 civilians. But he wasn't the first to use such weapons against ordinary Iraqis. When the tribesmen of the Euphrates rose up against British rule in 1920, the British army used gas shells in a brutal suppression of the rebellion, killing nearly 9,000 people.
But overshadowing even these atrocities is the actual use of atom bombs by the US against the Japanese civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, the only occasions on which nuclear weapons have been used. According to President Truman, these bombs were dropped 'to shorten the agony of war, in order to save the lives of thousands...of young Americans'. Some 70,000 US soldiers had died capturing the two Japanese islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. However, by August the Japanese navy and air force had been virtually driven from the seas and the skies. Forty percent of the built-up areas of 66 Japanese cities was obliterated. According to US Strategic Bombing Survey No 4, 'Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped.' The US government knew that the Japanese government was suing for peace through its Moscow ambassador. And according to US Secretary of State Byrnes, 'The unconditional surrender terms of the Allies was about the only thing in the way of termination.' The real issue for the American government was Russia's promise at the Yalta conference in February to enter the war against Japan three months after Germany's defeat. However, by August Russian assistance was no longer needed and the US had decided they wanted to keep the Russians out of the Far East. Byrnes admitted he was 'most anxious to get the Japanese affair over with before the Russians get in... Once in there...it would not be easy to get them out.' Russia was due to enter the war on 8 August so the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on the 6th, killing 80,000 on impact. Russia duly declared war on Japan on the 8th and the US dropped the second bomb on Nagasaki on the 9th, killing 40,000 on impact. On the 10th, Japan offered to surrender, with final terms agreed on the 14th. It was clear that the US government was prepared to irradiate hundreds of thousands of ordinary Japanese--with lethal consequences for subsequent generations--in order to pursue its aims in the opening phase of the Cold War.
The people of the Middle East, especially the Kurds and the Iraqis themselves, no doubt have good reason to fear Saddam Hussein. But the historical record shows that they have even more reason to fear Israel and the United States.
In the mid-1950s Israel embarked on a secret programme of nuclear weapons production with the assistance of France. This was despite Israeli leader Shimon Peres's promise that Israel would not be the first to introduce atomic weapons into the Middle East. Now some claim that Iraq embarked on its programme of nuclear weapons development in the early 1970s. If so, it could be argued that this was in response to that of Israel. In 1968 a ship containing a consignment of enriched uranium left a French port for a Middle Eastern destination. It was generally accepted that it was bound for Israel. However, others believe that prior to 1981 there is no evidence that Iraq embarked on a nuclear research and development programme specifically for weapons production as opposed to civil use. The key event was Israel's bombing of the Osirak nuclear reactor in June 1981. Now, Osirak was under regular inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency and no evidence has been adduced proving that it was producing illicit weapons-grade uranium and plutonium before 1981. Unscom and the IAEA have scrutinised Iraqi records and found that such a covert programme only dates from 1982. Hence, on this view, it was Israel's humiliation of Iraq in the destruction of Osirak that goaded it to attempt to achieve nuclear parity with Israel. In a speech in June 1981, a few weeks after the destruction of Osirak, Saddam argued that to counter Israel the Arabs must have their own bomb and that the state that acquired one would be able to dominate the Arab world.
This view is backed by the International Institute of Strategic Studies' (IISS) September report on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, according to which, 'Following the Israeli raid...Iraq's nuclear weapons programme went underground. The establishment of Iraq's clandestine nuclear weapons programme dates from...May 1982.' The second theory seems more credible but either way, it was Israel's nuclear weapons production that raised the arms race in the Middle East to a new, even more dangerous, nuclear level.
Israel's possession of nuclear weapons was confirmed in 1986 when Mordechai Vanunu, a former technician at the Dimona nuclear plant, revealed that Israel had amassed a nuclear arsenal of some 200 warheads, making it the world's sixth largest nuclear power. Vanunu was kidnapped and sentenced to 18 years imprisonment, 12 of which were spent in solitary confinement. He is not due to be released before March 2004.