VIENNA (IPS/GIN) (FinalCall.com) – The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief has asked Israel to give up its secret arsenal of nuclear weapons to head off an arms race in the Middle East, asserting that nukes would not bring the much-hoped-for security to Israel.

Speaking to the Israeli daily Haaretz, Mohammad ELBaradei pressed Israel to follow in the footsteps of countries that voluntarily took the initiative of destroying their nukes under IAEA supervision, citing South Africa as a classic example.

“We operate under the assumption that Israel has nuclear arms. Israel has never denied this,” he told the Israeli paper from his Vienna office, in his first interview with the Israeli media.


The chief of the UN nuclear watchdog also encouraged Israel to sign up to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). “I am not happy with the status quo, because I see a lot of frustration in the Middle East, due to Israel’s sitting on nuclear weapons or nuclear weapons capability, while others in the Middle East are committed to the NPT,” he asserted.

Israel, India and Pakistan are the only countries with nuclear facilities that have not signed the NPT, which was initiated in 1968 to stop the spread of nuclear weapons through inspections and sanctions.

The senior UN diplomat further suggested that Israel and its neighbors begin a dialogue for the eradication of weapons of mass destruction.

“My fear is that, without such a dialogue, there will be continued incentive for the region’s countries to develop weapons of mass destruction to match the Israeli arsenal,” Mr. ELBaradei maintained.

While the U.S. is pressing Iran over its alleged nuclear arsenal, Israel’s nuclear arsenal has grown from an estimated 13 nuclear bombs in 1967 to 400 nuclear and thermonuclear weapons, according to a report published by the Los Angles Times last October.

The CIA and the Pentagon said, in one of their reports released last year, that Israel now has between 200 and 400 enhanced radiation and hydrogen weapons, it added.

The Washington Post also revealed last October that Israel has succeeded in modifying U.S.-made cruise missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads to be launched from submarines.

For reactor design and construction, Israel sought the assistance of France. Nuclear cooperation between the two nations dates back as far as the early 1950s. On Oct. 3, 1957, the two countries inked a revised agreement calling for France to build a 24 MWt reactor, known as Dimona and, in protocols that were not committed to paper, a chemical reprocessing plant, according to the LA Times.

In early 1968, the CIA issued a report concluding that Israel had successfully started production of nuclear weapons. U.S. intelligence agencies routinely omit Israel from semiannual reports to Congress identifying countries developing weapons of mass destruction to protect the country from any economic or military sanctions.