The Israeli authorities are determined not to let any visitor who would declare his desire to come to the West Bank enter the country this Friday. In a statement made yesterday, PM Netanyahu’s office called the planned attempt by hundreds of activists to conduct a solidarity visit in the Palestinian Territories “an effort to undermine Israel’s right to exist”
As we have reported here on Sunday, A coalition of organizations has made public its intention to have hundreds of international activists land at Ben-Gurion airport this Friday, July 8th, and openly admit their intention to visit the Palestinian Territories. The campaign has been named “Welcome to Palestine.”
Israel controls all entries and exits to the Palestinian Territories. Until now, visitors coming in solidarity with the Palestinians–and even non-political visitors–had to conceal their destination when questioned at the airport, or risk immediate deportation. A couple of years ago, American scholar Noam Chomsky was denied entry to Israel at the Jordanian border, after declaring his intention to give a lecture at Ramallah’s Bir Zeit University.
Though the intention of the international activists to visit the West Bank has been known for sometime, it was only picked up by the Hebrew media in the last couple of days. Citing security officials, Israeli papers have reported on special deployment of police forces at Ben-Gurion international airport to take place from Thursday.
A police source told the daily Maariv that an effort will be made to locate the activists before they board their flights to Israel. “Those who will try to disturb public order will be dealt with,” a spokesperson for the Foreign Office told the site Walla.co.il.
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office has released a statement declaring that the arrival of the protesters “is a continuation of the efforts to undermine Israel’s right to exist.” Netanyahu ordered the Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharomowitz (Israel Beitenu) to handle the preparation of all security agencies to the arrival of the activists. Aharonowitz will conduct a joint session of senior police officials tomorrow, the Army Radio reported.
The local media has labeled the event as “the air flotilla.”
The Israeli warning doesn’t seem to deter the activists from coming, though it is nor clear how many of them did buy tickets to Tel Aviv, and how many of those will be able to pass through the security questionings at the gate and board their flights.
In an article at the British Guardian, Sam Bahour, a coordinators of the Right to Enter campaign, called Israel’s threat to deny visitors entry to Palestine “disturbing” and “shocking”:
…more than 300 international activists plan to arrive in Tel Aviv during the week of 8 July at the invitation of 30 Palestinian civil society organisations, to participate in an initiative named “Welcome to Palestine”. Delegations from France, Great Britain, Belgium, Sweden, Germany, the USA, Japan and several African countries are expected.
Upon arrival at Ben Gurion airport, the invited guests, all from countries that have diplomatic relations with Israel, will make no secret of their intent to go to the occupied Palestinian territory. This nonviolent act, a civil society tsunami of sorts, only comes after Israel’s restriction of movement and access to and from Palestine for Palestinians and foreigners has exhausted all established channels that carry the responsibility to uphold international law first and their domestic laws second.
Israeli anti-occupation activists are planning to conduct their “welcoming party” at the arrival hall of TLV airport.
Akiva Eldar, an expert on the peace process, avid supporter of the two-states solution and author of “Lords of the Land,” a history of the Israeli settlement project, harshly criticizes the White House’s envoy to the Middle East, Dennis Ross, for backing the demands of an extreme rightwing Israeli government.
In an Haaretz article, Eldar also advises to Palestinians to continue their UN bid, and if it fails, dismantle the Palestinian Authority and let Israel face the consequences of direct control over the West Bank’s Palestinians. I think this piece is important, because it shows that following the Palestinians, the Israeli left might be also losing its faith in the American-sponsored never-ending, nowhere-going “peace process.”
For years he [Ross] has been nurturing the myth that if the United States would only meet his exact specifications, the Israeli right would offer the Arabs extensive concessions.
During the years he headed the American peace team, Israeli settlement construction ramped up. Now Ross, the former chairman of the Jewish People Policy Institute, is trying to convince the Palestinians to give up on bringing Palestinian independence for a vote in the United Nations in September and recognize the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people – in other words, as his country, though he was born in San Francisco, more than that of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who was born in Safed.
If Obama really intended to justify his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize, he would not have left the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the hands of this whiz at the never-ending management of the conflict.
Professor Aeyal Gross (who occasionally writes op-eds for this site) posted on his Facebook page a quote I found worth sharing.
First, some context: In 1978, Taufic Ayoub, a Palestinian who had his land near Ramallah confiscated by the IDF “for security reasons,” learned of the intention to establish on his property not a military camp, but a civilian settlement for Jews.
These were the early days of the settlement project, and it wasn’t that clear where things were heading. So Ayoub (and other land owners) filed a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court, claiming that land that was taken for temporary military purpose by the occupation authorities could not be used for permanent civilian projects.
“I was bothered by the question whether the term ‘permanent’ settlement indicates an intention to deny the land forever, but I have reached the conclusion that the adjective ‘permanent’ should be seen as a relative concept.”
“Ben-Porat sums up the entire legal pretext for the occupation in 141 Hebrew characters,” wrote Prof. Gross. “I guess that today she would have agreed to settle for 140, for Twitter.”
@joakim_bouaziz @jdtwitch and solidarity with the Palestinians. Crude and frustrating as it is a boycott is the only way I can do anything.
If you follow Pearson’s Tweeter feed, you won’t be surprised by his position; he seems to be more well-informed and political than others in his field. Following the exchange, Pearson promised to explain his positions regarding Israel/Palestine in more detail. Last month, he published this article on Groove magazine (which led to another Twitter debate over Israel, this time with DJ Kirk Degiorgio). Pearson even cites Haaretz’s journalist Gidon Levy:
Groove Column: on not DJing in Israel (April 2011)
by Ewan Pearson on Sunday, 08 May 2011 at 14:33
A funny old day on Twitter. A quick message applauding Beatport’s donation of a day’s profits towards Japan’s relief effort is re-tweeted a hundred times. Simultaneously, I am arguing with friends about the ethics of DJing in Israel. When the earth buckles and the seas surge victims quickly have our sympathy. But with political disasters it’s much trickier to find a consensus. Some kinds of solidarity are easier than others.
I have always quietly turned gigs in Israel down, appalled by the accounts I’ve read of the Occupation, the mistreatment of its Palestinian population and recently the blockade on Gaza. The systematic manner in which one set of citizens is being de-humanised parallels the South African Apartheid era when I first heard music and political protest linked and became aware of musicians refusing to travel in order to draw attention to a political situation.
But music transcends politics doesn’t it? Not at all. If music is of and about the world it has to engage it. Musicians are not ambassadors with carte blanche to go where we like as we’re spreading an implicit message of love. Too damn easy. Sometimes we have to say tougher and less palatable stuff, in this case that the actions of a purportedly democratic government in the name of a decent people are doing them massive harm, and the rest of us too as we sit idly by.
Art and politics at their best are about imagining yourself in someone else’s place, trying to feel what someone in quite different circumstances is experiencing. This is where solidarity comes from. I have more in common with a left-leaning cosmopolitan raver in Tel Aviv than a Palestinian in the occupied territories, but to go there and DJ is to say the status quo is fine, that it’s OK to forget about what’s happening for a moment. To paraphrase Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, it’s buying an alcoholic friend a bottle of scotch when you should be phoning AA.
House music’s most famous political message – that one day the oppressed will be emancipated and find the Promised Land – is derived from the Torah, from the laments of Jews exiled in Egypt and Babylon. Today it seems more appropriate to the plight of their Palestinian brothers and sisters. Until that’s no longer the case, I have to write stuff like this over playing records, smiling and telling everyone “It’s Alright”.
A couple of weeks ago, Pearson posted this article on his website, adding this paragraph, in which he expressed his full support of the BDS movement.
Above is the original text that was published in Groove magazine this month. I avoided referring to the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement; the campaign since 2005 to boycott cultural and academic exchange with Israel while the occupation and discrimination against Palestinians continues. This was a mistake. By doing so I suggested that the decision to go to Israel or not should be a matter of individual conscience, made on a personal basis in isolation. It isn’t and it shouldn’t be. The fact is that over 170 Palestinian civil organisations have joined together to call for this boycott as one of a number of non-violent methods of putting pressure on the the Israeli government and they have been joined in the campaign by many individuals, groups, unions, churches and peace advocates around the world. It is not about me deciding whether I should go to Israel or not, but rather whether I am going to listen to the wishes of the Palestinian people at a time when not nearly enough others are doing so. I hope it goes without saying that I long dearly for a time when this is no longer the case.
If you would like to read more about the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign then you can do so here:
The army has taken control over the village of Awarta, which lies near the settlement of Itamar, where 5 members of the Fogel family were murdered. According to reports, hundreds of Palestinians have been arrested, some beaten; all young men were forced to give DNA samples; settlers have built an outpost on the village’s land, which is now guarded by the Israeli army
Army roadblock inside Awarta
Ever since the terrible murder of five members of the Fogel family in the settlement of Itamar, the nearby village of Awarta is going through what is officially a murder investigation, but looks more like a form of collective punishment—some would say organized revenge — led by the IDF and Israel’s Internal Security Service (Shin Beit).
The events have been going on since March 12, when thousands of soldiers entered the village and began house-to-house searches, accompanied by dogs and Shin Bet interrogators.
Hundreds of Awarta’s 6,000 residents were arrested and questioned. According to locals, the soldiers have taken over four houses in the village and turned them into an improvised interrogation facility. Several of the Palestinians said they were beaten by the soldiers and by their interrogators.
According to reports, all the village’s men between the ages of 15 and 40 were forced to give fingerprints and DNA samples.
A door which was forced by soldiers, in Awarta
15 families have reported of damage to their homes. In several cases, Palestinians claimed that large sums of money – between 500 and 5,000 shekels – disappeared from their houses after the soldiers left. In other cases, doors were broken and furniture damaged during the searches.
Settlers have passed through the village, thrown stones on homes and broken car windows and mirrors. Settlers from nearby Itamar have also taken over private agricultural land owned by the village’s farmers and established on it a new outpost, consisting of four mobile homes and guarded by the army.
A view from Awarta. to the right: the hill now occupied by settlers
On Thursday, Palestinian news agency Maan reported that another 100 of the village’s women had been arrested and interrogated.
Awarta has been under curfew from the previous Saturday until Wednesday, and human right activists have not been allowed entrance into the village. Once the curfew was lifted, activists from the Israeli NGO “Checkpoint-Watch” managed to get to Awarta and report some of the events in the village.
At the time of writing, dozens of the village’s people are still under arrest. Their exact number is unknown.
Broken window in a house in Awarta
I have contacted the IDF spokesperson unit this morning (Sunday) with a series of questions regarding the mass arrests, forced DNA sampling, searches and other activities against the people of Awarta. Late afternoon, I received the following reply:
Since the Itamar murder investigation is still under way, theses issues are still being checked [which "issues"?]. IDF soldiers are present at the outpost due to the high tension in the region.
UPDATE: Maan has reportedthat the army has raided Awarta again yesterday. Nine Palestinians were detained, including three members of the same family, a father, a mother and their daughter.
UPDATE II: Haaretz is quoting[Hebrew] security officials who claim that a breakthrough with the Itamar murder investigation is expected “soon”, following the Army’s activities in Awarta.
Advocacy groups for Israel and government spokesmen often claim that even under the military occupation, the West Bank is governed by the rule of law. Some people say that Palestinians are not confronted by Israeli soldiers and that they are free to “run their own business” under the governing of the Palestinian Authority.
As events in Awarta prove, this is no more than propaganda. When it matters to Israel, IDF soldiers do whatever they want, wherever they want. Palestinians have no basic legal rights. No Miranda, no Habeas Corpus. When the army decides, it can detain thousands of people and invade hundreds of homes, like it is doing in Awarta right now. No warrant is needed, no specific suspicion against someone is necessary (so far, there hasn’t been one public charge against a resident of Awarta). If Palestinians are beaten, or if their property is destroyed or looted, there is nobody they can turn to.
There have been at least four murder cases of Palestinians from the region by settlers from Itamar in recent years. In the last case, the perpetrator was released on bail and didn’t show up for trial. In the one before, the settler who shot a 24 year-old Palestinian farmer in front of witnesses was never tracked down. Itamar wasn’t placed under curfew, nor were dozen of men rounded up by the police (in criminal cases the settlers are under jurisdiction of civilian authorities, not the army).
This is the occupation’s rule of law. One law for Jews, another for Palestinians.
Earlier this week, an Israeli security company named Hashmira has announced it will stop supplying equipment to the West Bank. Hashmira is owned by Danish giant G4S, which was under considerable pressure due to its projects in Israel. This was another success for the boycott campaign, which seems to gain momentum, especially when it targets activities directly involved in the occupation.
The Boycott is extremely controversial in Israel. While there is some tolerance, especially on the left, for the boycott of the settlements, supporting the BDS is a political taboo. Furthermore, a new Knesset bill would make it illegal for Israelis to support all kind of political boycotts against the occupation.
I would like to bring here things said by Jewish Voice for Peace’s Rebecca Vilkomerson during J Street’s panel on BDS. Rebecca makes some very good points, especially with regards to the nature of the boycott as a none-violent, grassroots action (Bernard Avishai, who also spoke at the J street Panel, makes the case against BDS here).
I want to take a moment to make sure we all are clear about what BDS is. BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. It’s a Palestinian led, globally active, non-violent movement in support of equality and freedom for the Palestinian people.
As Kathleen mentioned, I lived in Israel from 2006 to 2009. My husband and children are Israeli, so obviously I am deeply invested in what will happen in Israel. I actually learned about BDS largely through Israeli activists and friends, who had increasingly come to support it, especially in the wake of the Gaza War. I find it to be the most hopeful strategy that we can engage in — a way to act on principles of equality and human dignity that I value as a Jew and as a human being.
In the last month or so, three events, in particular, have reinforced this for me.
1) The Palestine Papers revealed that the “peace process,” which has been going on for 19 years now, is bankrupt. The U.S. is not an honest broker, Israel is not willing to compromise, and the PA is too weak to fight for Palestinian rights, willing to make enormous concessions –which still were not considered enough by Israel. Throughout this almost 20 year process the settlements have grown enormously, creating de facto bantustans that make a two state solution hard to imagine.
2) The U.S. vetoed a resolution at the U.N. which was an exact reflection of its own foreign policy. The U.S. is simply unwilling to use any of the many tools it has at its disposal to force Israel to stop violating international law, to stop violating human rights, and to stop violating U.S. policies. Obama stood in Cairo and said that settlements must end—and yet he has proven that in this case he believes only in words, not action.
Frankly, we need to be realistic about the current power dynamics. The strategy of relying on governments –our government—to bring about change on its own has shown itself to be completely ineffective.
3) In contrast: the Arab uprisings. Many of us watched in awe as Egyptians took to the streets in their millions, to non-violently call for freedom, democracy, and dignity. Now from Bahrain, to Libya, and Yemen, thousands more are doing the same. Last night, Mona Eltahawy’s call for solidarity for Arab struggles for freedom and dignity got a standing ovation. The Palestinian BDS movement is part and parcel of the Arab Spring sweeping the region, and deserves the same respect.
So on the one hand we have government-driven processes that have shown themselves to be corrupt and hypocritical, and on the other we have a movement rooted in civil society, in principles of non-violence, which draws on the long and noble history of BDS efforts against apartheid, for civil rights, for many other righteous struggles. These are the tools of our heroes—Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Cesar Chavez.
BDS is an opportunity for each of us, personally, to act on our values. To express, directly, our support for freedom, democracy and dignity. It can create—is creating—the pressure that will eventually be much more successful than current lobbying tactics have been to create a true change in U.S. foreign policy, to create the conditions for negotiations that are between equals.
I want to highlight just one company that is being targeted in a global boycott campaign as an illustration.
Veolia is a French company, one of the largest in the world, which manages transportation systems, waste systems, and water treatment around the world (including here in D.C., where it manages the bus lines). It operates a land fill in the West Bank (using Palestinian land and resources to serve the settlements), runs bus service to the settlements on road 443, which was built on Palestinian land but is only open to Israelis, and had a contract to build and manage the light rail to connect West Jerusalem to the settlements around it, effectively annexing Palestinian territory.
Veolia has been the target of a boycott and divestment campaign worldwide , and as a result Veolia has lost literally billions of dollars in new contracts. In June, 2009, Veolia announced that it was withdrawing from its contract to build the rail, though it is still managing its implementation, and continues to lose contracts because of it.
The campaign against Veolia is a great example of why BDS is so exciting and so effective:
It educates people about the way corporations are implicated in the settlement project and in building and expanding the infrastructure of occupation
It enables people to take action once they understand what is happening—Veolia is in local communities all over the country, collecting garbage, operating buses and trains, and all over the country people are organizing campaigns in their own cities and campuses to build the pressure on Veolia to stop profiting from the Occupation.
This is just one example. One of the strengths of the BDS movement is that it is both loose and broad, all sorts of campaigns and targets fit within it, depending upon local priorities and conditions.
BDS movement is inspired by a call that was put out by Palestinian civil society in 2005, but it is a very diverse movement of acts of nonviolent resistance occurring every day in ways big and small.
Some just do it quietly by bypassing settlement goods at the store-which is common in Israel among my friends and family, and I would guess in this room. Israeli artists boycott performances in Ariel, and U.S. artists, like Steven Sondheim, Tony Kushner, and Mandy Patinkin, support them. Some picket in front of stores, or ask artists not to play in Israel, or like JVP, focus only on companies that profit from the Occupation.
We have groups in Israel like Boycott from Within, that have been supporting the full Palestinian call, and groups like Peace Now that ask supporters not to invest in the occupied territories.. Here in the U.S., Meretz USA, recently put out a statement supporting BDS in the occupied territories.
It really varies and not everyone agrees on every campaign. But we all have in common a belief that Israel must abide by international law, must be a true democracy for all of its citizens, and cannot continue to subjugate another people. That stand for democracy and freedom is what motivates the BDS movement, just as it motivated the movement for civil rights in the U.S. in the 1960s, and what we are seeing today in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.
One of the beautiful things about watching those movements unfold has been watching people under dictatorial regimes who suddenly found the courage to take their governments, and their lives, back. The BDS movement strives to fulfill these same basic human needs and in the same spirit of non-violence. After years violent attacks on civilians that were rightfully condemned, how could we not respect and encourage these non-violent means, that bring together Palestinian, Israeli, and international activists in common cause?
It is very encouraging to have this conversation in a Jewish space. It’s great that J Street has rejected the attempts of right wing groups to split progressive Jews from one another, and is not following the lead of groups like Hillel (and Ameinu, if I want to be brutal!), that are creating political litmus tests for inclusion in the Jewish community. Its exciting to be able to sit together and have this discussion about tactics—there should be room for all of our approaches.
But is also of utmost importance to recognize that to have this conversation only in this space is not enough. Many of us in this room have been to Bilin or Sheikh Jarrah. These places are inspiring, because though led by Palestinians, as is appropriate since it is the Palestinian’s struggle to be free, they are joint Palestinian-Israeli efforts. In those places you can imagine a future in Palestine and Israel where all people are free to be full citizens, and where life is richer for everyone for it.
One of the strengths of BDS is that it actually requires conversation and coordination. So as a next step, I would put out a plea and a challenge that we not have this conversation only among Jews, but respect the agency of Palestinians in this struggle. They are the ones most affected, they are the initiators of the call, and they need to be able to represent themselves in this debate.
Party’s Secretary-General: “we feel closer to the settlers than to the far left”
Labor members at Alon Moreh settlement (photo: Yesha Council)
Last week, members of the Labor party, including the party’s Secretary-General Hilik Bar and several advisers to Knesset Members and ministers, went on a visit to the West Bank. Labor members visited the Barkan industrial park, the Ariel academic center and several settlements in the area of Nablus, east of Israel’s security barrier and well outside what is sometimes referred to as “the settlements blocks”. The tour was hosted by the head of the Yesha Council (the settlers’ representative body), Danny Dayan.
Rightwing journalist Hagai Huberman, who covered the visit for the Yesha Council, later posted the above picture on Mysay.co.il site. It shows Labor member in Alon Moreh (near Nablus), one of the birthplaces of the settlements movement. This is also from Mr. Huberman’s report:
Hilik Bar, the new secretary general of the Labor Party, surprised his hosts by saying: “Judea and Samaria is the land of our fathers and the Bible, and the Labor Party and its members are not disconnected from what this region represents, historically and religiously. We should all stay true to the legacy of the nation’s Fathers and Mothers, and pass it on from generation to generation. Labor belongs to the center and not to the far left […] we feel closer to the settlements’ people here than to the far left.”
While Mr. Bar’s hosts might have been surprised by these remarks, those who know Labor have given up hope on this party a long time ago. Labor, it should be reminded, never evacuated a single settlement. In fact, the colonization of the West Bank started on the party’s watch back in the seventies, and a decade ago, under Ehud Barak’s short lived government, the settlements prospered in ways Binyamin Netanyahu could only dream of. Mr. Bar – a former adviser to Labor’s strongman Binyamin “Fuad” Ben-Eliezer – is right: in visiting the West Bank’s settlements, he simply follows the party’s line.
But clearly, the Palestinians are to blame for negotiations’ failure
Even before the administration’s peace effort collapsed, speakers for Israel were pulling the old “Arab Rejectionism” card to defend Jerusalem’s decision to prefer settlements over talks. Prime Minister Netanyahu wanted a Palestinian state, they explained, but Abu Mazen refused to negotiate.
One thing you can’t take from Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is his ability to say things as they really are. The Israeli government cannot even come up with a peace offer, heexplainedyesterday, let alone implement one:
“In the current political situation, I don’t think it’s possible to find a common denominator between [Shas chairman] Eli Yishai and [Labor chairman] Ehud Barak or between me and [dovish Likud minister] Dan Meridor, or even within Likud, between [ministers] Benny Begin and Michael Eitan,” [Lieberman] explained. “In the existing political circumstances, it’s not possible to present a diplomatic plan for a final-status agreement, because the coalition will simply no longer exist.”
Aluf Benn, Haaretz’s diplomatic correspondent, had this weekend an analysis piece on the possibility the Palestinian Authority will ask a UN recognition of a unilateral declaration of independence.
Benn urged the Israeli government not to automatically object such a move. Israel, he writes, would be better off taking part in shaping a Security Council resolution than in just opposing one. As Ami Kaufman notes, given Israel’s mistrust towards international institutions, it’s a very surprising idea.
Equally interesting is a paragraph in Benn’s piece on Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent diplomatic moves (my italic):
Netanyahu rejected Obama’s request for a two-month extension of the settlement freeze; the president had wanted quiet on the Middle East front while he concentrated on the midterm elections. For his part, Netanyahu explained that he needed to show “credibility and steadfastness” at home, and indeed the incentives promised by the U.S. president in exchange for the extension did not sway the prime minister. One can surmise that Netanyahu did not want to help Obama ahead of the U.S. elections, and thus annoy the president’s Republican rivals. Netanyahu needs the support of GOP politicians to thwart the pressure coming from the White House.
On Dr. Avner Cohen’s new book, “The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel’s Bargain with the Bomb”
My featured story about Dr. Avner Cohen’s new book on Israel’s nuclear policy was published today in Haaretz. In his book, Dr. Cohen discusses the opacity policy – the Israeli-American understanding the Israel “shall not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East” – and concludes that currently the costs of this policy outweigh its benefits. Israel, argues Cohen, should be more open about its nuclear program.
What’s interesting in Dr. Cohen book is his determination to examine the nuclear policy not only as an issue of international relation, war and peace, but to also to consider its impact on Israeli democracy, freedom of speech, government accountability and decision making processes.
Reading the book and listening to Dr. Cohen can make one grasps how nuclear weapons affect out existence as human being and as citizens in many ways which we never imagined. The fact that our leaders have the ability to destroy the entire region, if not the world, is not only a security or military issue, but also something that changes the nature of democracy and society’s balance of power.
One of the advantages of opacity is that it enables people not to think about these matters. But suppression is never a good idea, not for individuals and surly not for nations. In the long run, secrecy is not the way to address fundamental questions.
An issue that wasn’t mentioned on the English edition of my interview with Dr. Cohen – but did exist in the original Hebrew version – is the connection between Israel’s nuclear project and the peace process. Dr. Cohen believes that the present of nuclear weapons made Israelis somewhat arrogant and reluctant to agree to diplomatic offers – such as the Saudi peace plan from 2002 – that they would have gladly welcomed a few decades ago.
At the same time, Cohen raises what seems as a contradicting argument, but one that he views as the other side of the same coin: that opacity, meaning the fact that those weapons are never discussed, makes Israelis feel more threatened and weak than they really are. Israelis are ignorant of the affect the “Dimona Project” has on their history and politics, Cohen says.
To illustrate this poinhe brings in his book a couple of historical episodes when, according to his sources, Israeli leaders felt so threatened that they considered demonstrating the state’s nuclear capabilities.
Because of issues involving the military censorship, In the Haaretz article I cited these episodes from Cohen’s book without discussing them.
The first story concerns the development of a nuclear device and a military plan to use it in the days leading to the 67′ war:
“At a time when Israel was preparing temporary burial sites for thousands of soldiers, it was unthinkable that the leaders of the nuclear project would sit idle,” writes Cohen in his book.
“Prime Minister Eshkol was not in a position to stop them, and he must have authorized special emergency activity. In the few days before the war, Israel did something it had never done before. In an intensive crash effort, Israeli teams improvised the assembly of the nation’s first nuclear explosive devices. As Israeli scientists and technicians were ‘tickling the dragon’s tail,’ meaning assembling the first nuclear cores for those devices, only a few of them were even aware that there was a military contingency plan in the works. As Israeli leaders contemplated the worst scenarios – in particular, the failure of the Israeli air force to destroy the Arab air forces, and/or the extensive use by Egypt of chemical weapons against Israeli cities – authority was given for preliminary contingency planning for ‘demonstrating’ Israel’s nuclear capability.
“The idea was to create the technical possibility of demonstrating Israel’s nuclear capability over some remote desert area as a political signal, not to actually use the devices militarily. Israel wanted to be in a position to send a signal to Egypt and to the superpowers that if all else failed and Israel’s existence was in peril, Israel would have a doomsday capability to inflict great harm on Egypt. The final step in the assembly process, arming the devices, was never taken … These were the most dramatic moments for those involved, especially the project’s leaders. It was seen as the moment when Israel actually became a nuclear power. From their perspective, it was also an irreversible moment.”
The second story happened during the 1973 war:
The toughest test of the policy of nuclear ambiguity occurred in 1973, just four years after its principles were agreed upon by Meir and Nixon. According to Cohen, Defense Minister Dayan apparently requested during the first days of the Yom Kippur War to carry out a “nuclear demonstration,” and he summoned IAEC (Israel Atomic Energy Commission, the agency in charge of the nuclear project) director general Freier to a meeting of the war cabinet.
“Dayan feared that Israel was approaching a point of no return, and he evidently wanted the United States to take notice that Israel had reached that point,” Cohen writes in his book. “According to one person’s testimony [Arnon 'Sini' Azaryahu, a confidante of Israel Galili, who waited for Galili outside the conference room, and heard the report of events immediately after the meeting ended], at the end of the war cabinet meeting in the late morning of October 9, a day after the IDF had failed miserably in its first counterattack in the Egyptian frontier, Dayan suggested discussing some options involving a nuclear demonstration. On hand was Shalheveth Freier, the IAEC’s director general, who was waiting to provide a briefing. As soon as Dayan made his suggestion, Ministers Allon and Galili told the prime minister that such discussion was premature and uncalled for. The prime minister agreed with them, and Freier did not address the forum.”
In the book’s section on the Yom Kippur War, Cohen relies on the testimony of Prof. Yuval Ne’eman, an adviser to the defense minister in this period and a veteran researcher of the nuclear project, and confirms estimates published in foreign sources that during the 1973 war, Israel took steps whose implication was that its level of nuclear preparedness was upgraded.
“It also appeared that on two or three occasions during the war,” writes Cohen, “a ‘strategic alert’ (a euphemism for nuclear alert ) was declared, twice in the first week of the war and the third time on October 17 or 18, in response to a state of alert of Soviet SCUD missiles in Egypt. It is believed that those states of alert involved certain readiness ‘dispositions’ such as mobilizing the Jericho missiles from their shelters, fueling them, and other related activities.”
Finally, I want to point readers to an interesting observation Dr. Cohen makes regarding Israel’s nuclear ambiguity. Iran, Cohen says, is actually following Israel’s footsteps with its own version of opacity:
“The bitter irony is that right now, ambiguity serves the interests of Israel’s rival in the Middle East. Iran is creating its own version of ambiguity: not the concealment of its project, but rather ambiguity with regard to the distinction separating possession and non-possession of nuclear weapons. It reiterates that it has no intention of building a bomb, but that it has the right to enrich uranium, and even come close to developing [nuclear] weapons – while still remaining true to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It is straddling the line, and in my opinion, Iran wants to, and can, remain for some time with the status of a state that might or might not have the bomb. Iran is a state of ambiguity.”