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The Bomb in the Basement

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    Posted: 29 April 2005 at 4:26pm

The documentary, The Bomb in the Basement: Israel's Nuclear Option, was shown in Israel in November 2001 The makers of the film believe that the government's co-operation in speaking about the origins of its nuclear capability was prompted by concerns over international terrorism and the expectation that Iran will have a nuclear capability within a few years.


The film reveals how France helped Israel on its nuclear programme in exchange for support in the Suez War. In the mid-1950s, relations between the two countries were warming because of their shared anxiety over burgeoning nationalist movements in North Africa.


Israel feared that the rise of Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt would embolden an already formidable foe, while France faced an Arab insurrection in Algeria, one of its last colonies. Their interests converged in 1956 when Israel agreed to team up with France and Britain in a war to punish Nasser for nationalizing the Suez Canal.


At the end of September 1956, in Sevres near Paris, Peres, then a 30-year-old Defence Ministry official, accompanied David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, to a meeting with French and British delegations about the Suez crisis. The Israelis waited for the British delegation to leave before approaching the French on the matter of its nuclear project.


Peres said: "In Sevres, when it was all over, I told Ben-Gurion, 'There's one piece of unfinished business: the nuclear issue. Before you agree, let me finish that.' Of the four countries which at that time had a nuclear capacity - the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain and France - only France was willing to help us."


Ben-Gurion approved Israel's participation in the Suez campaign. On October 29, 1956, 400 Israeli paratroopers were dropped in western Sinai in the first phase of the attack on Egypt.


The agreement with France was unprecedented. Until then, no country had supplied another with the means for developing a nuclear capability. Karpin believes that Peres may have been motivated to speak on the subject because he hopes that it will help to secure his place in history.


In Paris, Jean-Francois Daguzan, the deputy director of the Foundation for Strategic Research, said that France's deal with Israel had been kept a secret for almost 30 years. "It was well known in military and political circles but it didn't become public knowledge until the mid-1980s after a book was published about that era and the agreement was mentioned.


"There was no suggestion that France had given Israel its nuclear capacity but it had certainly helped the country acquire it."


Israel still officially neither confirms nor denies making nuclear weapons at the plant near Dimona. The country's journalists use coded language, never stating unequivocally that Israel has the bomb. The policy of ambiguity was crafted to deter Arabs from attacking Israel while avoiding the political fallout of becoming an acknowledged nuclear power.


The documentary marks the first time that the Israeli broadcasting media has dealt with the issue candidly. Some commentators are surprised that the censors allowed the documentary producer Karpin such leeway as in the past six months Israel has detained an academic over a book he wrote on the country's nuclear capacity and jailed Yitzhak Yaakov, a retired general, for talking to a journalists on the subject.


(Source: News.telegraph, April 30, 2005)


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