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Israeli Disarmament Movement Steers Through Nuclear Ambiguity

By Bernhard Schell

Photo: Demonstration in Tel-Aviv against nuclear weapons. Credit: The Israeli Disarmament Movement.

AMMAN (IDN) – The Israeli media ignored the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in honour of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) on December 10, 2017 in Oslo. The Israeli Ambassador to Norway however attended the event.

The silence of the Israeli media, according to observers, was not surprising though ICAN's eminent partner in the Middle East, the Israeli Disarmament Movement (IDM), founded and chaired by Sharon Dolev, has influenced the Israeli public discourse for the past six years. [P 29]

ICAN also has partners in Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Yemen.

The legal identity of the IDM is the Regional Peace and Disarmament Movement (RPM), founded in 2010 and registered as an NGO (non-governmental organization) with the Israeli Ministry of Justice. Its main goals are a Weapons-of-Mass-Destruction (WMD) Free Zone in the Middle East and a Global Nuclear Ban.

RPM’s goals as registered at the Israeli Ministry of Justice are: the   representation of international campaigns for nuclear disarmament, as part of international efforts towards a nuclear ban, and promoting the discourse in Israel regarding nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

The RPM/IDM also aims at promoting Israel’s integration in international initiatives and treaties banning nuclear weapons, the country's participation in international and regional initiatives calling for WMD Free Zones and in particular in the Middle East, the Arab Peace Initiative, and renewable energy initiatives in the region as Peaceful Energy.

Dolev is an experienced peace and human rights activist in several organizations. These include the Meretz Party, a left-wing, social-democratic, and green political party, also called the Movement for Civil Rights; Geneva Initiative; and Women in Black, a worldwide network of women committed to peace with justice and actively opposed to injustice, war, militarism and other forms of violence.

Dolev has served as Meretz’s action coordinator, chaired Young Meretz, led the Peace and Disarmament/Nuclear Campaigns in Greenpeace, and was the Director of Greenpeace in Israel.

Asked how she would explain the Israeli media's silence on the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, and her role in the Disarmament Movement at home, Dolev said in an interview published in+972 Blog: "If I were speaking in the United Nations about human rights violations in the occupied territories, I would have been on the front page of the newspapers, and all the ministers would be attacking me."

On the other hand, she said, if she were to speak to the UN General Assembly about the Israeli nuclear programme and the ways to disarm, no one would criticize her. "No one will call me a traitor for daring to speak about the issue. The ambiguousness works in all directions."

Israel’s decades-long policy of deliberate ambiguity is anchored in its refusal to admit it has weapons of mass destruction.

According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), Israel is widely understood to possess a sizeable nuclear arsenal, but maintains a policy of nuclear opacity. David Ben Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, clandestinely established the nuclear weapons programme in the mid to late 1950s with French assistance, to meet what Israel viewed as an existential threat from its Arab neighbors.

The programme is centered at the Negev Nuclear Research Center (Hebrew acronym, KAMAG) outside the town of Dimona, where a French-supplied plutonium production reactor went critical in the early 1960s.

"Israel reportedly assembled its first rudimentary nuclear devices in late May 1967 in the run-up to the Six-Day War. Based on some rough estimates of the plutonium production capacity of the Dimona reactor, Israel is believed to have manufactured around 840 kg of weapons-grade plutonium, enough for an estimated arsenal of 100 to 200 nuclear warheads," according to NTI.

At the same time, Israel remains a non-signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). While Israel has supported the vision of a Middle East free of nuclear weapons, it has been reluctant to negotiate establishing such a zone, asserting that comprehensive peace in the region is a prerequisite to negotiating a WMDFZ.

The Israeli Disarmament Movement has been rallying in favour of a WMD free zone in the Middle East but also for diplomatic and peaceful solution to the Iranian issue. It has been meeting and informing selected group of journalists in Israel in the disarmament efforts and the risk posed by WMD.

Explaining the outreach activities, IDM sources say: "The WMDs in general are not the topic of most informed salon talks; in Israel this is more so. The Israeli public discussion on the disarmament issues is narrowed down to the Iranian issue and framed to tailored fit one size discussion that does not mention the Israeli arsenal or the role Israel should take on the international disarmament efforts. Our education program offer courses given by academic experts, lectures and seminars."

The Israeli Disarmament Movement not only represents the ICAN campaign but also Mayors for Peace in Israel.

As a grass root organization the Israeli Disarmament Movement attaches importance to the inclusion of the public into its campaign. It seeks not just to reach them with printed materials but also with an opportunity to listen to the stories of the Hiroshima atomic bombing survivors, meet and discuss with international experts the issues of nuclear disarmament.

The Israeli Disarmament Movement founded the first disarmament lobby in the Knesset. The lobby hosts every year an expert lecturer and an open discussion in the Israeli parliament. It also posts queries and updates the lobby members with relevant information

"Our organization promotes the building and maintaining of an Israeli NGO coalition against WMD and nuclear weapons in particular," IDM sources say. It organized the Haifa Conference for a Nuclear Weapons and Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East in Haifa, in December 2013. The purpose of the conference was to further talks on the elimination of WMDs from the Middle East.

In Israel the ambiguity policy casts its shadow on what the traditional media would risk saying. In order to bypass such obstacles, the IDM is constantly translating information materials on the dangers posed by WMDs and about the alternative paths. Translations and publications are printed and handed to politicians, media outlets and shared to the public through the new media. [IDN-InDepthNews – 27 December 2017]

Photo: Demonstration in Tel-Aviv against nuclear weapons. Credit: The Israeli Disarmament Movement.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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