Saturday, April 10, 2010

The unspoken speech

Ladies and gentlemen, representatives of the International Community!

Barack Hussein Obama, President of the United States, has initiated this conference and invited all of us here to Washington, asking us to act - in actual deeds, not just pious words – in order to bring closer the day that the world is free of nuclear weapons. Since 1945, this awesome sword is hanging over humanity's head. It is our duty to future generations to get it removed, once and for all. As the Prime Minister of Israel, I am ready and willing to do my part.

I do not think that the facts I am going to state will come as a surprise to any of you - though you might be surprised to hear me declare them officially. As is known to the whole world for decades already - though my predecessors were always careful to deny it - the State of Israel is in possession of a large quantity of nuclear weapons, as well as of missiles, aircraft and submarines with which these weapons can strike at any point in the Middle East and far beyond.

The decision to equip Israel with nuclear weapons was taken already in the early years of our country's existence, by our first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion. Its actual implementation was entrusted to Ben Gurion's young assistant Shimon Peres, currently President of Israel. With the help of France, our ally in the 1956 war against Egypt, we built the Dimona nuclear reactor. The best of young Israel's scientists were secretly recruited to build the infrastructure for nuclear weapon production. You could say that we did exactly what Iran is doing today, some fifty years after us.

In the early 1960's we had a severe clash with then U.S. President John F. Kennedy, who sought to prevent the entry of Israel into the nuclear club - a confrontation which went on for years behind the scenes and hardly got to public attention. After Kennedy's tragic death we reached a secret understanding with his successor Lyndon Johnson. The United States agreed that Israel keep on producing and stockpiling nuclear weapons, as long as it did not officially admit to it. This we called "The Ambiguity Policy", and it remained in force up to the present, between the successive governments of Israel and the US presidents and administrations.

In the 1990's we managed to add another layer in the form of submarines generously provided by the German government. These gave us a "second strike capability", i.e. the ability to fire nuclear missiles from the middle of the sea even if, God forbid, the entire state of Israel would be destroyed.

Throughout the years, simultaneously with the industrious building and expansion of our nuclear weapons, we insisted upon having a complete monopoly on possessing such weapons, and upon not allowing any of our neighbors in the Middle East to have them. In 1981 my predecessor, Prime Minister Menachem Begin, ordered the Israeli Air Force to attack and destroy the nuclear reactor built by Saddam Hussein near Baghdad. Begin regarded the destruction of the Iraqi reactor as one of the most important achievements of his term (which also helped him win the elections soon afterwards) and firmly declared that we would deal similarly with any other such attempt by our neighbors.

Indeed, only a few years ago my direct predecessor Ehud Olmert applied the Begin Doctrine in ordering the attack upon the nuclear facility built by Syria. Also after it was completely destroyed, we insisted that Syria open the ruins to international inspection - in order to find if there were any traces of uranium left there.

And of course, already for many years we strongly demand of the international community to prevent Iran from gaining even a single nuclear bomb, by sanctions and if need be with all-out war. It's not a big secret that our Air Force spends much of its time in the careful planning of bombing Iran's nuclear facilities. Such an attack would be much much more complicated than the earlier ones, The Iranians have learned from the experience of their enemy Saddam Hussein, and their nuclear facilities are scattered in many places and planted deep underground.

At the same time, we rejected out of hand any idea of an inspection of our nuclear facilities and the weapons produced there. After all, Israel is a democratic and enlightened country and therefore deserving to be treated differently than Iran. But I can understand why not everybody in the world was enthusiastic about this argument.

It's time to rethink the nuclear policy which the State of Israel has implemented for decades. Israel is not the same country it had been when Ben-Gurion decided to acquire nuclear weapons. The region and the entire world have radically changed. Ben Gurion saw Israel as a country isolated in a hostile region, facing big and powerful armies, and came to the conclusion that only nuclear weapons, the ultimate deterrent, could guarantee its long term survival. Today, and already for nearly a decade, there is on the agenda the Arab League proposal to recognize and make peace with Israel in return for evacuation of the territories occupied in 1967 and letting the Palestinians create their own state. The Arab states reconfirmed this offer to Israel, year after year – also this year, at the summit held in Libya a few weeks ago.

In this situation, nuclear weapons should no longer be seen as essential to Israel's continued existence. Especially so as, for many years already, Israel also has a superiority in conventional weapons, and no army or combination of armies in the region can match the Israeli armed forces either on the ground or in the air. We see a future of peace as possible and vital for the next generation in our country, and obviously a stable long-term peace cannot be built in a situation where we insist upon having nuclear weapons ourselves and altogether excluding our neighbors from possessing them.

This week the Presidents of the United States and Russia signed an agreement in which the two powers undertake to dismantle thirty percent of the nuclear weapons in their possession. I hereby declare that the State of Israel, the only possessor of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, will follow suit. As a gesture of good will, we also will dismantle thirty percent of our nuclear arms. Seventy percent of the weapons we have stockpiled over the past decades are more than enough of a deterrent, even were any of our neighbors to obtain nuclear arms and threaten to use them against us.

Beyond that, the goal of making the Middle East completely free of nuclear weapons – and of all other weapons of mass destruction - is acceptable and welcome to us. Making it into reality will from now on constitute a major aim of Israeli government policy. We are ready to contribute our share to an agreement committing all countries in the region, including Iran, not to develop nuclear weapons and to place all their installations under international inspection. The Middle East should be entirely free of nuclear weapons – which should include Israeli nuclear weapons, and I hope we will see the coming of that day.

Finally, I want to talk about an Israeli citizen who is not with us today, though he deserved to be. I talk of Mordechai Vanunu, the man who more than twenty years ago took a conscientious decision to alert the world and reveal what he knew about the Israeli nuclear arsenal, and who paid a harsh personal price for this decision. Even after he served his full term - eighteen years behind bars, much of them in total isolation - we had imposed severe restrictions on him, in particular forcing him to live within the borders of Israel even against his will. I hereby announce that the restrictions on Mordechai Vanunu have been removed, and that he is free to come and go, to travel as he pleases. I would not be surprised if, after all that he went through, he would want to leave Israel for good. But I hope that eventually he would decide to make his home, of his own free will, in a peaceful state of Israel which effected nuclear disarmament.

Back to reality

No, Benjamin Netanyahu will not deliver any such speech. In any case, he decided not to go to the Washington conference at all – perhaps the right decision from his point of view, considering the way that his recent visit to the American capital went. .

Maybe the next Prime Minister, or the one after that.

Meanwhile, perhaps this week is the right time to mention again the poem "I'm your spy" which Mordechai Vanunu wrote in his cell at Ashkelon Prison, in 1987.