Israel braces for nuclear disarmament pressure from U.S.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

TEL AVIV Israel is expecting a Western effort to pressure the Jewish state to eliminate its purported nuclear weapons arsenal.

Israeli officials said the agreements by Iran and Libya to sign the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the suspension of Egypt's nuclear energy program would result in Western pressure on Israel to declare its nuclear weapons arsenal. The officials said the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been responding to suggestions from the European Union and hints from the United States.

"I have no doubt that certain things that are happening will eventually affect Israel," Israeli military intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aharon Zeevi-Farkash said.

Israel has refused to sign the NPT or allow its nuclear reactor at Dimona to undergo inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The Arab League plans to make this a key issue during 2004, Middle East Newsline reported.

The officials said the Sharon goverment expects the Bush administration to ask Israel to relay a commitment to discuss weapons of mass destruction disarmament as part of an effort to persuade Syria to do the same. They said Syria has cited Israel's purported nuclear weapons program for the missile, biological and chemical weapons programs of Damascus.

"I think that the state of Israel is fighting for its existence," Zeevi-Farkash said. "I assume that the European countries understand the special position that Israel is in. Israel is in an Arab sea, alone as a democracy, and this gives them possibilities that other countries don't have."

Officials said one step would be the release of Mordechai Vanunu, a former Dimona technician sentenced to 18 years for relaying Israel's nuclear secrets. Vanunu is expected to complete his sentence in April 2004 and officials said authorities plan to limit his movement.

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