Hush, hush about Israel's bomb
- Hush, hush about Israel's bomb
By Jonathan Cook
27 November - 3 December 2003
At midday on Friday, 24 October, Issam Makhoul, an Arab member of
the Israeli parliament, and his wife Suad got into their two cars
outside their home in the centre of Haifa. Issam Makhoul reversed
his Knesset-supplied Ford out of the driveway as his wife started
the engine of the family Honda to collect their twin children from
Seconds later an explosion flooded Suad Makhoul's car with flames.
She leapt from the vehicle moments before the fire could engulf her.
Today, Makhoul's house is under a 24-hour guard and he is escorted
everywhere in public by an army-trained bodyguard -- of the kind
usually accompanying senior government ministers and defence
The Shin Bet security services, who have told Makhoul that the
explosion was caused by a small bomb placed under the car, have
refused to comment further. There has been almost no coverage in
either the Israeli or foreign media, and a Haifa court has issued a
gag order on information related to the case.
Makhoul has possibly the lowest profile of the 10 Arab members of
the Knesset, most of whom appear readier than Makhoul to make
headlines in the Hebrew media by being drawn into verbal, and
occasionally physical, combat with right- wing MPs in the chamber.
Makhoul belongs to Jubha, the "quietest" of the Arab factions. The
party is contained within the joint Arab and Jewish Communist bloc
known as the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality, which uniquely
puts co-existence between the two main communities at the heart of
its political platform.
Other Arab MPs belong to Azmi Bishara's secular nationalist Tajamu
Party and the Islamic Movement, whose spiritual leader is Sheikh
These two have been far more outspoken and as a consequence are the
subject of public witch- hunts. Both are now embroiled in criminal
trials initiated by Attorney-General Elyakim Rubinstein, apparently
at the behest of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
So what thrust the white-haired, mild- mannered Makhoul into a
situation in which he was specially targeted for assassination?
According to Israeli Army Radio, Knesset security officials are
working on the assumption that criminal elements within the Arab
minority were responsible for the attack. That seems far less
probable than that the would-be assassins selected Makhoul because
he has been an almost solitary critic of Israel's most sensitive --
if widely known -- secret: that it has stockpiles of weapons of mass
destruction (WMDs), including nuclear arms.
For decades Israel has refused to confirm the now well-documented
fact that it has a significant arsenal of nuclear warheads -- the
only country in the Middle East known to have successfully developed
such a programme. Estimates suggest it has as many as 300 warheads,
some of which, if the latest reports are to be believed, have been
fitted to cruise missiles aboard Dolphin submarines, putting every
Arab state within range of an Israeli strike.
With the connivance of the West -- in particular the US, Britain,
France, Germany and South Africa -- Israel has been allowed to do
all this unchecked at its nuclear weapons factory at Dimona in the
Negev, and without signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Today it is
believed to have nuclear weapons bases at Haifa, Kfar Zechariah, and
Eilaboun and Yodfat in the Galilee.
Israel also has an advanced biological weapons programme based at
Nes Tsiona, south of Tel Aviv, where it is reported to have been
working on new toxins, including a nerve agent that can attack genes
found only in Arabs.
Makhoul gained notoriety in February 2000 for trying to cut through
Israel's policy of "nuclear ambiguity" -- its refusal publicly to
discuss its possession of warheads -- by raising the issue of the
country's atomic programme in the Knesset, the first time such a
debate had ever been staged. His speech provoked an outpouring of
vitriol from Jewish MPs, who accused him of being a traitor and
tried to have him ejected from the chamber.
During the stormy debate, Makhoul appealed for the release of
Mordechai Vanunu, the scientist turned whistleblower who in 1986
exposed Israel's secret weapons programme at Dimona. Vanunu was
later abducted by Mossad agents and has been in prison, much of the
time in solitary confinement, ever since.
Makhoul told the other MPs: "Vanunu is not the problem. The problem
is the Israeli government's policy. A policy that's turned a small
territory into a poisonous nuclear waste bin ... which could make us
all disappear in a nuclear cloud."
Most right-wing MPs were not in the chamber to protest: they had
stormed out before Makhoul got up to speak. Instead left-wing MPs
shouted abuse, including Ophir Pines of Labour who called out: "You
are committing a crime against Israeli Arabs today."
Makhoul outraged the Israeli government and the general public
again, in June this year, by appearing in the BBC documentary
"Israel's Secret Weapon", which examined in detail Israel's record
of acquiring WMDs and its concerted effort to intimidate those who
try to speak out.
In one scene a series of officials refuse to give an interview to
the BBC reporter over the phone, several saying that they do not
want to suffer Vanunu's fate. Makhoul, on the other hand, is shown
castigating Israel for dragging the region into a nuclear arms race.
The broadcast so angered Israel that it cut all official ties with
the BBC, including its reporters; a ban that was only reversed this
week after the BBC -- in what was widely seen as an attempt to
ingratiate itself with the Sharon government -- agreed to set up a
Mideast news ombudsman to ensure the "impartiality" of its reports.
Few Israeli officials are prepared to link the bomb attack with the
MP's campaign against the country's nuclear arsenal. The producers
of the BBC programme e-mailed Makhoul after the explosion to say
they hoped it was not the result of the broadcast.
However, Roman Bronfman, a Haifa member of the Knesset from the
Meretz Party who has close contacts with Israel's large Russian
community, says he has heard that a group of extreme right-wing
Russian students at the Technion technical college in Haifa planted
the device. Four groups at the college are believed to have openly
opposed Makhoul's nuclear views. Bronfman has handed a list of
suspects to the police, though so far no action has been taken.
Sources close to Makhoul, however, believe that the assassination
plot cannot be lightly dismissed as the work of fanatics. The police
have told the MP that the culprits must have carried out detailed
research of his movements before deciding where and when to plant
But the size of the bomb, weighing less than one kilogramme,
suggests it was meant less to kill and more to send a message -- not
the usual tactics of a Jewish terror cell.
The attack also follows a campaign of widespread incitement against
Makhoul, which the authorities, including the attorney-general, have
done nothing to curb.
Typical was an interview of Makhoul on a Tel Aviv radio talk show
with a former right-wing Knesset member, Shmuel Platto Sharon, two
weeks after the assassination attempt and close to the anniversary
of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination by right-wing extremists.
Although ostensibly there to talk about Israel's nuclear policies,
Makhoul is interrupted by Sharon who barks at him with the question,
"Why do you hate us?", and the statement, "You are dangerous". Later
Sharon again interrupts to say, "You have no business being here [in
Israel] -- you should go to Palestine." He then adds: "I know your
game. You eat Jews. People like you shouldn't stay in this country."
Friends of Makhoul fear that the climate of hatred against him is
receiving official sanction. Some of the continuing official
hostility towards Makhoul may derive from his determination to
create an anti-nuclear campaign inside Israel. He observes: "Israel
is the only nuclear state in the world that hasn't developed a 'ban
the bomb' movement, either within the peace camp or the green
movement. Here uniquely, it seems, the Israeli bomb is seen as a
peaceful bomb. Those who call themselves peace activists are really
apologists for Israel's continuing nuclear policy."
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