- A television documentary in which Shimon Peres, Israel's
foreign minister, discloses for the first time details about Israel's acquisition
of nuclear weapons is to be broadcast in the Arab world. It is intended,
at a time of rising tensions, as a warning.
- In the documentary, Mr Peres goes further than any other
Israeli official in confirming that the Jewish state has a nuclear capability.
He and former French government officials give details about co-operation
between Israel and France in launching Israel's nuclear programme.
- The film, made by a leading Israeli documentary team,
is a sign that the government may be finally relaxing its rule of absolute
silence on its nuclear programme. Mordechai Vanunu, a technician at the
Dimona nuclear facility, is serving an 18-year jail sentence for revealing
in 1986 that Israel had a nuclear programme and more than 100 warheads.
- The documentary, The Bomb in the Basement: Israel's Nuclear
Option, was shown in Israel last month and is being sold to leading Arabic
television stations including Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based satellite channel.
- The makers of the film believe that the government's
co-operation in speaking about the origins of its nuclear capability was
prompted by concerns over international terrorism and the expectation that
Iran will have a nuclear capability within a few years.
- The documentary's Israeli director, Michael Karpin, who
previously made a controversial film about the assassination of Yitzhak
Rabin, said he was not sure until a few weeks ago whether military censors
would allow the programme to be broadcast.
- "It could be that after September 11 they [the government]
decided that perhaps the time had come to reveal a little bit more about
the Israeli nuclear project," Mr Karpin said. "I think the decision
to let it go ahead has to do with the idea of wanting to tell the Arab
world: 'Listen we have it'."
- The film reveals how France helped Israel on its nuclear
programme in exchange for support in the Suez War. In the mid-1950s, relations
between the two countries were warming because of their shared anxiety
over burgeoning nationalist movements in North Africa.
- Israel feared that the rise of Gamal Abdel Nasser in
Egypt would embolden an already formidable foe, while France faced an Arab
insurrection in Algeria, one of its last colonies. Their interests converged
in 1956 when Israel agreed to team up with France and Britain in a war
to punish Nasser for nationalising the Suez Canal.
- At the end of September 1956, in Sevres near Paris, Mr
Peres, then a 30-year-old Defence Ministry official, accompanied David
Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, to a meeting with French and
British delegations about the Suez crisis. The Israelis waited for the
British delegation to leave before approaching the French on the matter
of its nuclear project.
- Mr Peres said: "In Sevres, when it was all over,
I told Ben-Gurion, 'There's one piece of unfinished business: the nuclear
issue. Before you agree, let me finish that.' Of the four countries which
at that time had a nuclear capacity - the United States, the Soviet Union,
Great Britain and France - only France was willing to help us."
- Mr Peres is asked in the documentary whether Israel requested
a nuclear reactor. He replies: "I asked for more than that. I asked
for other things, too; the uranium and those things. I went up to Ben-Gurion
and said, 'It's settled.' That's how it was."
- Mr Ben-Gurion approved Israel's participation in the
Suez campaign. On October 29, 1956, 400 Israeli paratroopers were dropped
in western Sinai in the first phase of the attack on Egypt.
- The agreement with France was unprecedented. Until then,
no country had supplied another with the means for developing a nuclear
capability. Mr Karpin believes that Mr Peres may have been motivated to
speak on the subject because he hopes that it will help to secure his place
- In Paris, Jean-Francois Daguzan, the deputy director
of the Foundation for Strategic Research, said that France's deal with
Israel had been kept a secret for almost 30 years. "It was well known
in military and political circles but it didn't become public knowledge
until the mid-1980s after a book was published about that era and the agreement
- "There was no suggestion that France had given Israel
its nuclear capacity but it had certainly helped the country acquire it."
- Israel still officially neither confirms nor denies making
nuclear weapons at the plant near Dimona. The country's journalists use
coded language, never stating unequivocally that Israel has the bomb. The
policy of ambiguity was crafted to deter Arabs from attacking Israel while
avoiding the political fallout of becoming an acknowledged nuclear power.
- The documentary marks the first time that the Israeli
broadcasting media has dealt with the issue candidly. Some commentators
are surprised that the censors allowed Mr Karpin such leeway as in the
past six months Israel has detained an academic over a book he wrote on
the country's nuclear capacity and jailed Yitzhak Yaakov, a retired general,
for talking to a journalists on the subject.