’Nuke security for Israel more urgent’
By Philip Iglauer
Israel said Wednesday that “the uprising in Syria” and nuclear ambitions in Iran make preventing nuclear materials from getting into the hands of terrorist groups more urgent than ever before, just weeks ahead of an international nuclear security summit here.
Israel’s top diplomat in Korea said the violence and political instability gripping Syria make the risk of a terrorist group obtaining nuclear materials in the Middle East greater than ever.
Israeli said that Iran and Syria had long been the origin and transport point for terrorists to smuggle weapons to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, as well as through Egypt’s Sinai desert, which Israeli said is a key transit point for smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip. “This is a case in point,” he said. “This is not a theoretical question for us. It is happening.”
“With our history of being a target of terrorist groups for many years now, this topic is very important to us,” he said.
Leaders of more than 50 nations and international organizations will convene at the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit March 26 and 27.
Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor will head his nation’s delegation at the summit, whose main focus is to coordinate the international community in safeguarding the world’s nuclear and radiological materials so that they never fall into the hands of terrorists.
“Indirectly or directly, proliferation goes hand and hand with the danger that nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists,” he said. “All the bad guys are together. They are clearly proliferators.”
Israeli says the threat of the proliferation of nuclear materials in key distribution hubs like Syria is ever more real today because of the current political violence and instability there.
“Syria acted as a bridge for weapons from Iran to come through into Southern Lebanon,” Israeli said at his office in downtown Seoul. “In 2006 in the last clash we had with Hezbollah, weapons were smuggled from Iran through Syria and into southern Lebanon.”
Israel faced off in July 2006 across its border into southern Lebanon with Hezbollah in a five-week conflict that came to be known as the Second Lebanon War in Israel. “All kinds of weapons were smuggled through (Syria), including mortars and rockets,” he said.
“When you have these types of arms go uncontrolled into a country and with an ineffective government there, like with the failed states of Somalia and Yemen, it causes serious trouble.”
Israeli stopped short, however, of classifying Syria as a failed state saying only, “It is difficult to say.”
“If the international community is not going to intervene, the conflict will continue for a long time. Assad will continue down the path he has chosen. The opposition is suffering casualties and killings, and continues to resist. If there is intervention, however, it can be resolved quickly. If there is no intervention, then Syria could become a failed state,” he said.
He accused Iran of proliferating weapons through Syria during Israel’s 2006 conflict in Lebanon, adding that Iran also violated its obligations as a signatory to the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).
Iran has been hit by international sanctions aimed at its nuclear program, and recently it signaled a willingness to come back to talks on uranium enrichment activities.
“We will know the sanctions worked only after Iran changes its policy,” he said, outlining two prerequisites: dismantling its nuclear program at Qom, and stopping all enrichment activities elsewhere in the country.
There are nine nuclear weapons states. Five are signatories to the NPT. Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea are either declared nuclear weapons states or known to possess them. All refuse to sign on to the NPT, the world’s most universal treaty, which almost 200 other countries have.
Israel has for decades refused to neither confirm nor deny questions over its secret arsenal of hundreds of nuclear missiles, adhering instead to a policy of “nuclear opacity.” Israeli opted to repeat part of his government’s official response to such questions, saying “Israel will not be the first nation to introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle East.”
When asked how Israel reconciles concern about proliferation and its refusal to join the global anti-proliferation regime, Israeli said, “We reconcile it by the fact that Israel is responsible and has responsible conduct within the international community.”