Israel is not giving up its policy of ambiguity about nuclear weapons in the Middle East, but it is about to become the first Middle Eastern country to equip its citizenry with an antidote to the fallout from a radioactive weapon.
The defense establishment has decided to include Lugol's Iodine capsules in the protective kits it distributes to the public. The pills, costing about $1 apiece, are meant to block the influence of radioactive iodine by buttressing the thyroid gland, considered a key mechanism for sustaining the body's immunity.
Home Front Command exercises in recent years have taken into consideration the use of the pills - sometimes using candy placebos - in case of such potentially radioactive disasters as a meltdown at a reactor. Among the scenarios tested was the possibility of a meltdown on board a U.S. nuclear submarine in Haifa port. Not much credence was given to the possibility of radioactivity resulting from a hostile attack. However, since September 11 - and more so after intelligence operations revealed intensive efforts by Qaeda to acquire the know-how for manufacturing "dirty" bombs - the likelihood of such an event occurring as the result, for example, of an Iranian or Iraqi action against Israel, has increased.
In February 1991, Iraq tried to hit the Dimona reactor, using a cement payload as its warhead. And the Home Front is including similar possibilities in its preparations during the current U.S.-Iraqi crisis.
Radioactive risk is a sub-scenario of one of the two traditional nuclear-biological-chemical risks, "Black Curtain," which refers to biological weapons. The other scenario, "Necklaces," deals with defenses against chemical attacks or accidents.
In the U.S., Lugol's Iodine is sold in capsules without prescription. The U.S. administration has ordered hundreds of thousands of the capsules from a North Carolina factory and recommends taking it up to 14 days after exposure to radioactive fallout or a radioactive accident.
Israeli doctors said last night that the iodine is much more effective if it is taken about 10 days before exposure, and not afterward, because there are side effects that might disrupt the thyroid gland. In severe cases, said the doctors, it can be life-threatening, but the danger to the wider population is much greater from radioactivity without any protection.
Involved in the discussions leading up to the decision to supply the pill, which will be introduced first during the updating of protective kits, were Brig. Gen. (res.) Shaul Horev, the defense minister's assistant for special means, and the National Security Council (NSC). The Lugol decision, which overlaps the new American policy, is a reflection of the growing overlap between Washington and Jerusalem's efforts to meet common threats, from terror to weapons of mass destruction.
Maj. Gen. Uzi Dayan, head of the NSC, is going to Washington in two weeks to take part in a closed-door seminar on suicide bombings, being convened by Tom Ridge, the president's adviser on domestic security and the likely head of the new Homeland Security Office. Dayan will be accompanied by a professional delegation, including IDF officers, intelligence professionals, police and Magen David Adom professionals. Dayan will use the Washington trip to bid farewell to his counterpart, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and to Francis Taylor, head of the counter-terrorism office in the State Department.
Dayan leaves his position on September 6, and the NSC will remain without a chairman until mid-October, when Ephraim Halevy leaves the Mossad and takes up the position of national security adviser.
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