“N. Korea – the only part of the world that can put nukes in use”
When it comes to Israel's nuclear history, how much do we really know? Speculations and rumors have long dominated this topic until now in his book “Israel and the bomb”. Dr. Avner Cohen goes where few have gone before as he researches and writes about this topic of great importance in today’s nuclear world.
RT: Dr. Cohen, thank you so much for speaking with us today. In your book you drew upon thousands of American and Israeli government documents, hundreds of interviews. Can you briefly explain what did you find in that research and what was the most shocking thing?
Avner Cohen: Well, it wasn't that shocking. We all knew that Israel is a nuclear power for some time. We all knew that Israel does not talk much about it, so-called silence is golden, that has been Israel's attitude for ages till the recent days. Israel's official policy is that it's not going to be the first to introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East. The US knows that Israel has nuclear weapons, yet both nations have taken some measures of constraints, no test, no declaration, keeping the weapons under a very low salience. And that posture was essentially agreed in September 1969 between US President Richard Nixon and the Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir.
Then a discovery – which was not that shocking but it was interesting – was that in 1967, on the eve of the ‘67 war, Israel, as a matter of emergency, improvised for the first time, just in case, two or three nuclear devices. They were not yet bombs, but they were devices that under some circumstances could be detonated as a demonstration.
RT: Now Israel and the US have what analysts call “a special relationship”. How much does nuclear weaponry and nuclear power play into the relations between these two nations?
AC: Well, it's one aspect. But this is the most low-profile and sensitive aspect of the relationship. This is the relationship that Israeli and Americans talked very-very little about. There is a ritual that the leaders from both countries, when they meet for the first time, reaffirm that arrangement and go to the next subject. So there's not much talk about it except the fact that both countries know that their interest is to keep the issue low-level, invisible. That's the attitude.
RT: You call for a reconsideration of Israel’s nuclear policy. What needs to change?
AC: Well, I believe that Israel has to be engaged, that the world has to engage Israel and Israel itself has to be engaged within the global nuclear order. For global purposes, that is to say to be a part of the process that maybe in the long run will bring us to the world without nuclear weapons, Israel should be recognized. And I think that would allow Israel to be involved in a discourse that ultimately may lead to some arrangement in the Middle East and, perhaps, even globally. Of course the immediate question is Iran, and, you know, Israel is not a part of the entity. Iran is a part of the entity. Israel has never threatened any of its neighbors. Iran made all sorts of declarations that imply threats. Iran never accepted Israel’s existence. So, the issue is first and foremost Iran and not Israel. But I would like to see Israel engaged as one of the eight nuclear weapons states in the effort to lead and to discuss those issues.
RT: What is going to change under Barack Obama when it comes to dealing with Israel? Is Obama going to get Israel to sign a non-proliferation treaty?
AC: Now, in fact, we already know Obama met Prime Minister Netanyahu just a few weeks ago. And from the hints that were given, the old ritual took place this time as well, the leaders affirmed the existence of this quiet, invisible agreement. Both countries still understand or still believe that their mutual interest is to keep the nuclear issue apart from the other discussions. So, even though Obama’s long-term interest is to lead to world without nuclear weapons and to have a nuclear order based on empathy and ideals of empathy, I think that is clear to everybody, that at the present time this is a very-very long term idea that cannot be realized right now.
RT: Staying on the nuclear topic. North Korea's recent actions caused media hysteria. Shouldn’t the world be as concerned as the headlines say that the world should be? And the US response to North Korea’s behavior?
AC: There is good reason to be concerned. The only region in the world where nuclear weapons could be put to use, in my view, the most dangerous area is the Korean Peninsula. The US has the agreement to protect South Korea. The US cannot fight in three different frontiers: one is Iraq, the other one is Afghanistan, and if something happens in Korea, there is no way to handle it conventionally.
Therefore, in Korea there is at least a considerable role for the use of nuclear weapons. And that's the reason why we are all concerned about it. It appears that the North Korean government for their own reasons (some of them domestic) believes that they have been neglected, not enough attention was given to them. And they want to test president Obama and to get attention to the whole situation in that peninsula. So it is a situation that is a grave concern, it questions the global nuclear order, the situation in Asia and of course the leadership of president Obama.
RT: The Obama administration has said time and again that it wants to reset relations with Russia. And it seems that the one issue that they may be successful on working together is the issue of nuclear non-proliferation. Are you at all optimistic that these two nations can come together for this?
AC: For the long run I hope yes. I think it will be complicated. I think there would be a lot of issues that had to be delivered and discussed. The US at first has to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty which was rejected by the US Senate a number of years ago during the Clinton administration. I think there is basically a situation that could lead to the agreement about reducing the number of nuclear weapons to small numbers. I am not sure if Russia at present is ready to take more seriously the idea of a world without nuclear weapons. I think that nuclear weapons do place some role in Russia's national security idea. But to reduce the number in a significant way and to replace the agreement that's about to expire at the end of the year, I think there are reasonably good chances.
RT: Barack Obama has made his speech addressing the Muslim world. What does he have to do to gain their support, especially when it comes to dealing with Israel and Russia and these other countries?
AC: Well, I think his speech in many ways was fresh, to some extent even unique. For the first time he put the Palestinian and Israeli sides on symmetric, to some extent parallel roles. He put priority on the effort to try to push forward to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Nuclear weapons did not play a major role, but he did express the deep concern about Iran, and again he repeated his view that he would like the Middle East like the rest of the world to be without nuclear weapons. And he enclosed the fact that he would like to see even the US without nuclear weapons.
RT: Is that realistic?
AC: Not right now. But it's an important idea to put on the table. In my view, a lot depends on the resolution of the Iranian question. If the Iranian question is not going to be resolved, there'll be all sorts of repercussions – politically and also in nuclear questions. If the Iranian question is going to be resolved, it will be a major step towards the long road towards this vision of a world without nuclear weapons.
RT: Thank you so much.
AC: Thank you.