At his first presidential press conference, Helen Thomas asked President Obama if he knew of any Middle East nation that had nuclear weapons. He knew the answer but he dodged the question.
When it comes to the issue of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, there is an elephant in the room that nobody wants to acknowledge and that elephant is Israel's large nuclear bomb arsenal. First we went after non-existent nuclear weapons in Iraq and now we are consumed with the possibility that Iran might develop nuclear weapons in the future. But what nobody wants to talk about is the fact that Israel has had a secret nuclear weapons program for over 30 years that has produced well over 200 nuclear bombs. Ever since Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli nuclear technician, confirmed the existence of Israel’s nuclear weapons program with his photographs of the secret underground bomb facility that were published in the London Sunday Times in 1986, the world has known that Israel has been making nuclear bombs but has pretended that they do not exist. If we truly want to stop the nuclear arms race in the Middle East, we must require that Israel open its nuclear weapons program to inspection. Israel is not a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and refuses to officially confirm or deny having a nuclear arsenal, or to having developed nuclear weapons, or even to having a nuclear weapons program. If we want Iran to renounce nuclear weapons, we must also get Israel to stop building bombs in secret and begin dismantling its large nuclear arsenal. Our goal must be a nuclear free Middle East and this must include Israel.
I talked with Mordechai Vanunu in Jerusalem in March, 2005 and here are my notes from that interview:
"I worked from 1976 to 1985 at the Israeli secret underground nuclear weapons production facility at the Dimona nuclear plant in the Negev desert. During my time there, I was involved in processing plutonium for 10 nuclear bombs per year. I realized that my country had already processed enough plutonium for 200 nuclear weapons. I became really afraid when we started processing Lithium 6 which is only used for the hydrogen bomb. I felt that I had to prevent a nuclear holocaust in the Middle East so I took 60 pictures of the underground nuclear weapons processing plant some 75 meters under the Dimona plant. I resigned my post and left Israel in 1986. I first went to Australia and then made a connection with the Times in London. After a group of nuclear scientists verified my photos as proving Israeli nuclear weapons production, my story was published in England. A few months later, I was kidnapped by the Israelis in Rome and sent secretly by ship to Israel where I was subjected to a closed military trial without counsel. I was sentenced to 18 years in prison. I spent 12 years in solitary confinement.
Now I am trapped inside Israel and I’m being threatened with more prison time for speaking to people like you. I want to leave Israel and come to America where I can live as a free human being.”
( Vanunu was released from prison in April 2004 but was prohibited from leaving Israel. The Israeli government continues to keep him in Israel against his will. He was again imprisoned for 6 months in 2007 for speaking to journalists and foreigners.)
It is time to deal openly with Israel's nuclear weapons. We need to recognize that the epicenter of the nuclear arms race in the Middle East is located at Israel’s secret bomb factory 250 feet underground at the Dimona nuclear plant in the Negev desert. The U.S. must join with the international community in opening Israel's nuclear weapons program to inspection and monitoring. The only way to secure a nuclear free Middle East is to have every nation in the region play by the same book of rules.