BBC spotlights Israels WMDs

In a recent 50-minute television documentary entitled, “Israel’s Secret Weapons,” the British Broadcasting Corp.’s World Service points its finger at Israel’s nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons of mass destruction.

The BBC documentary opens with four questions: (1) Which country in the Middle East has undeclared nuclear weapons? (2) Which country in the Middle East has undeclared biological and chemical capabilities? (3) Which country has no outside inspections? (4) Which country jailed its nuclear whistleblower for 18 years?

The program has created a storm of controversy.

The fourth question concerns the fate of the whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu, who has been imprisoned for 17 years, 11 of them in solitary confinement, for having warned the world about Israel’s production of atomic weapons. Vanunu, a former technician employed at the Dimona atomic research reactor in the early 1980s, told a London Sunday Times reporter about the secret production of nuclear weapons in several subterranean levels of that reactor. The detailed report was published in October 1986.

Vanunu was subsequently kidnapped in Rome by the Israeli secret intelligence agency, Mossad, and shipped to Israel, where he was put on trial for treason and convicted. He’s been in prison ever since.

The documentary gave extensive answers to all four opening questions, solidly documenting Israel’s production and stockpiling of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.

What was the reaction to this broadcast by the government, by the rulers of this democratic State of Israel?

The Government Press Office (GPO), a department of the Prime Minister’s Office, immediately barred BBC correspondents accredited in Israel from contacts with all government ministers and officials, and banned them from official press conferences (except those of the prime minister).

Daniel Seaman, the head of the GPO, alleges that the broadcast helped demonize Israel and encourages anti-Semitic elements. This is something, he said, that a democratic state like Israel cannot tolerate. The Foreign Press Association in Israel protested this step, seeing in it a dangerous infringement on the freedom of the press, as well as a “slippery slope that can lead to the illegitimate attempts to exert pressure on news organizations or journalists whose reporting is deemed unfavorable to the government’s policy.”

Meanwhile, among the Israeli public at large, the BBC’s television ratings have increased.

While Israel’s ownership of WMDs is a well known matter of record, official Israel still regards the subject as taboo. The government keeps such matters under a seal of secrecy, rejects international inspection, and speaks only of an unnamed “deterrent factor against aspirations by Arab regimes to eliminate Israel and exterminate the Jewish citizens.”

The anger of the Israeli authorities was particularly inflamed by the documentary’s suggestion of a parallel between Israel’s WMDs and the (to date unfound) WMDs of Iraq. Former Prime Minister Shimon Peres, when asked why the U.S. administration, so up in arms and waging a war because of the alleged existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, keeps mum on such weapons in the hands of Israel, Peres, obviously furious, answered, “How dare you compare the dictatorial regime of the mass killer Saddam Hussein with the democratic regime in Israel?”

Other persons interviewed in the BBC documentary include leading Israeli activists of the Committee for Freedom for Vanunu and the Committee for a Nuclear Free Zone in the Middle East.

The program’s host also interviewed some of the more than 100 former workers at the Dimona nuclear weapon production line who have contracted cancerous diseases from having been exposed to radioactivity, and who are fighting to receive compensation for it, so far without success.

There is also some very impressive footage showing Arab Knesset deputy Issam Mahoul of the (communist-led) HADASH Front, raising three years ago for the first time (and, so it happens, the last time) in the history of the parliament the matter of Israel’s weapons of mass destruction.

“Mordechai Vanunu is not the problem or the issue,” Mahoul said. “The problem is the policy of the government that has turned the territory of a relatively small country into a poisonous waste bin which could make us all disappear into a nuclear cloud.”

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org