JERUSALEM ø The International Atomic Energy Agency plans a campaign to force Israel to permit
international inspections of its Dimona nuclear facility.
The agency has been under longterm pressure from the European Union, Arab states and Iran to focus more attention on Irael's nuclear program.
Several Arab countries reiterated their call for a nuclear free zone in
the Middle East during a United Nations sponsored disarmament conference in
Geneva on May 27. Arab envoys said the establishment of such a zone would be
their priority over the coming year.
IAEA director-general Mohammed El Baradei plans to visit Israel over the
next two months, officials said. The visit was expected to take place
following the IAEA board of directors's meeting in mid-June to discuss
Iranian compliance with international nuclear inspection efforts. The United
States has charged that
Teheran has violated its pledge to the IAEA.
Israeli officials said the campaign was also in response to a spate
of articles and television documentaries based on information provided by
Israeli nuclear spy Mordechai Vanunu. Vanunu was released from an Israeli
prison on April 21 and has been living in a monastery in Jerusalem.
Officials said several Western countries, together with Israeli and
international anti-nuclear activitists, plan to focus on Dimona in the weeks
prior to El Baradei's arrival in Israel. They said Vanunu has been urged to
discuss Dimona and Israel's purported nuclear weapons program.
The European Union has also been encouraging El Baradei's efforts to
press Israel to open Dimona to international inspections as part of the
campaign for a nuclear-free Middle East. Officials said such EU countries as
Britain, France and Germany have quietly warned the Bush administration that
the West would fail to win Iranian cooperation with the IAEA unless Israel's
nuclear program becomes part of the international effort.
The IAEA drive has been urged by Egypt, Syria and other Arab and Muslim
states, officials said. Egypt has appealed to the United States to press
Israel to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which would
allow the IAEA to inspect suspected nuclear facilities, including the Dimona
"There has been a feeling within the international community that too
much attention has been paid to Iran's nuclear program at the expense of
Israel," a senior Israeli official said. "There is a drive to switch the
focus from Iran to Israel over the next few months by portraying Israel as
an immediate nuclear threat."
The agency has confirmed that El Baradei will be visiting Israel
sometime in the summer. An agency spokesman said details have not yet been
El Baradei's visit would be the first to Israel since 1998. An IAEA
statement on April 29 said the director-general intends to "use such a trip
to consult on his mandate from the IAEA General Conference to promote
non-proliferation and a nuclear weapon-free zone in the Middle East, as well
as to discuss bilateral cooperation in nuclear sciences and applications."
"Arab countries have launched numerous initiatives to free the Middle
East from all weapons of mass destruction, notably nuclear weapons," Saudi
representative Abdul Wahab Attar said. "They have moved within the Arab
League to establish a governmental committee of experts to work out a draft
treaty to make the Middle East WMD free."
In late May, Israeli authorities detained a British journalist sent to
Israel to interview Vanunu for the British Broadcasting Corp. Officials said
a videotape of an interview by Peter Hounam of Vanunu was seized and the
journalist was expelled from Israel.