Israel Asks Egypt: Stop Move to Monitor Our Nuclear Facilities

Netanyahu's advisers went to Cairo three weeks ago to discuss matter with Egypt Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, who heads effort to lobby internationally against Israel's nuclear program.

Barak Ravid
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A partial view of Israel's Dimona nuclear power plant in the southern Negev desert.
A partial view of Israel's Dimona nuclear power plant in the southern Negev desert.Credit: AFP
Barak Ravid

Israel has asked Egypt to stop its efforts to advance a resolution to subject Israel’s nuclear facilities to international inspection, a motion expected to come up for a vote at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s General Conference in two weeks, senior officials in Jerusalem said.

The Israeli message to Egypt was conveyed during a visit to Cairo three weeks ago by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s special envoy, Isaac Molho, and National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen, the officials said. Molho and Cohen met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and other Egyptian government officials to discuss the matter. Shoukry and his ministry are leading the anti-Israel move in the IAEA as part of a long-time Egyptian policy to lobby internationally against Israel’s nuclear program.

The Egyptian moves have been a source of tension between Jerusalem and Cairo in recent months. A senior Israeli official noted that Jerusalem had hoped that the close bilateral intelligence and security cooperation since President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi took office would lead to Egyptian restraint on the issue of Israel’s nuclear capabilities.

Senior Israeli officials said Molho and Cohen made this clear to Shoukry and the other Egyptian officials they met, saying such actions did not reflect the current state of bilateral relations. The two also made it clear that the Egyptian efforts would not succeed, because Israel would block such a resolution, as it had done several times in the past.

The officials added that Israel is very frustrated that even the extensive aid it is giving Egypt in its battle against jihadist groups in the Sinai – including agreeing to allow more Egyptian troops into the peninsula than permitted under the countries’ peace agreement – has not changed Cairo’s attitude toward the Israeli nuclear issue.

“Despite everything that’s been going on in the region in recent years, Egypt is continuing as if nothing has changed and is acting against Israel in international forums,” a senior Israeli official said.

Israeli anger at Egypt over this particular issue began in May when the Egyptians led a drive to advance a resolution at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, one that would have called for an international conference on making the Middle East a nuclear-free zone. The resolution was blocked with the help of the United States and Britain. Harsh words were exchanged after the conference between Egyptian and Israeli officials, including between Netanyahu and Sissi. Those conversations apparently had little impact, since Egypt is continuing to challenge Israel on the nuclear issue.

The draft resolution, entitled “Israel’s nuclear capabilities,” has been proposed repeatedly to the IAEA by Egypt in recent years. It condemns Israel, demands that it open its reported nuclear facilities to IAEA inspection, and calls for an international conference on making the Middle East a nuclear-weapons-free zone. Unlike UN Security Council resolutions, this one wouldn’t be binding. But it could still cause Israel great diplomatic damage, focus international attention on Israel’s nuclear program and prompt further IAEA action.

For the past three years, Israel has succeeded in mustering a majority against Egypt’s IAEA resolutions, thanks partly to Israeli proposals for a direct regional security dialogue with Arab states under UN auspices. Egypt and various other countries have rejected these proposals, but they earned Israel considerable international credit.

A diplomatic campaign to thwart the latest resolution began in mid-July, before most of Europe went on its August vacation, when the Foreign Ministry sent a cable to all Israeli embassies and consulates instructing them to urge their host governments to oppose it.

“The resolution is fundamentally biased and mistaken, aimed at diverting global attention from the real dangers of nuclear proliferation in this region,” the cable’s talking points said. “This move will further politicize the IAEA and undermine the trust necessary for any regional dialogue on this issue.”