A Response to Mohamed ElBaradei

If there is any lesson to be drawn from the interview with Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) it is that the chances of the IAEA taking resolute action to bring about the suspension of the Iranian nuclear program are slim to none.

In an interview granted to Yossi Melman (Haaretz, December 12), Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), proves that nothing has changed in the defective management culture and policies of the agency that is supposed to serve as a barrier to the proliferation of nuclear arms.

In an interview that is entirely feigned innocence and erudite evasiveness from saying what is clearly indicated by the findings of the inspectors that he himself dispatched to Iran, ElBaradei makes it clear that he is following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Hans Blix. On the eve of the first Gulf War, Blix legitimized Iraq when he issued a report stating that the Iraqis are not acting to develop nuclear weapons, and that they are fastidiously observing the conditions of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). But a few months later, the UN inspectors sent to Saddam's country discovered that Iraq had been only months away from completing development of the bomb.

Like Blix, in a report issued last month ElBaradei states "there is no evidence" that Iran's actions in the nuclear realm "are related to a nuclear weapons program." This statement is not corroborated by the findings of his inspectors, who found that Iran - a signatory to the NPT - deceived the IAEA for the past 18 years, built a series of secret nuclear installations, where it was busy developing fissionable materials required for the manufacture of nuclear weapons, purchased fissionable materials without reporting it, as stipulated by the treaty, and even succeeded in a plutonium-separation project.

All of the above makes no impression on ElBaradei, who explains that, although the Iranians deceived and concealed, and are indeed enriching uranium, have separated plutonium and made use of centrifuges - these actions "could easily have been used for civilian purposes." In other words, for the development of nuclear energy alone. It takes a great deal of feigned innocence to be able to justify and come to terms with this sort of nuclear activity by a state that has hundreds of years of petroleum and gas reserves.

The main message of the IAEA director-general is aimed at Israel. As he sees it, Israel should disarm itself of nuclear weapons ("I haven't seen that Israel ever denied" having nuclear weapons, he notes) as a "confidence-building measure that could contribute to peace." ElBaradei explains to Melman that "I am not happy with the status quo, because I see a lot of frustration in the Middle East because Israel is sitting on nuclear weapons or nuclear weapons capability, while other parties in the Middle East are committed to the NPT." There is much irony to this statement, as it is uttered by someone who knows well that the scheming and deception that was included in Iraq's nuclear program and are included in that of Iran's, took place under the patronage of the NPT and with the quiet blessing of the IAEA.

"But are the Israelis more secure with nuclear weapons today than they were 50 years ago? The assumptions made 50 years ago are not necessarily relevant today." ElBaradei asks a rhetorical question in his desire to prove that Israel does not need nuclear weapons, that they do not, in any case, add to its security. And so, as far as ElBaradei knows, Israel is indeed safer than it was 50 years ago, largely because it has nuclear potential. The assumptions that guided David Ben-Gurion a half-century ago, when he went about building Dimona, not only remain valid, but have proven themselves since that time more than once. Due to the nuclear image attached to Israel, leaders in the Middle East stopped planning its destruction, and even stopped thinking about it in their heart of hearts. It is doubtful whether Anwar Sadat would have come to Jerusalem if he had not reached the clear realization that it was no longer possible to put an end to the existence of a nuclear Israel, and therefore the choice was to come to terms with it. Almost certainly, Saddam Hussein would not have hesitated to launch chemical missiles at Israel in 1991 had he not feared its nonconventional response. Nuclear weapons are indeed dangerous, as ElBaradei states, but in the Israeli case, they are the insurance policy that if now conceded would be an irresponsible act.

ElBaradei certainly well understands all of this, but he continues to feign innocence when he says: "I believe in the importance of holding a dialogue on the subject and I don't see a reason why Israel isn't ready to at least start the discussion" on disarming the Middle East of nuclear arms.

If there is any lesson to be drawn from the interview with ElBaradei it is that the chances of the IAEA taking resolute action to bring about the suspension of the Iranian nuclear program are slim to none. The last remaining barrier is the U.S., which in the absence of the full cooperation of ElBaradei and Europe, will have a difficult time putting pressure on Iran. Therefore, it is all too possible that Israel will eventually face a nuclear Iran. If this happens, its security would rely on the same deterrent capability afforded by its nuclear potential that Mohamed ElBaradei is urging Israel to lose, by disarming without delay.