Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Peru, Nazca and Climate Change

On December 8th, whilst the Lima climate talks were in progress, Greenpeace activists unfurled a message at the historic landmark of Nazca in Peru (Picture above). Little did the activists know at the time that their action would blow up into a major international incident causing considerable embarrassment to Greenpeace. 

But lets bring this incident into context by asking a few questions. A major ancient artefact may have sustained superficial damage as a result of Greenpeace's actions. This superficial damage may result in in further damage. At the moment nobody knows until an investigation has been conducted and completed. Until then what we have is pure speculation. The Guardian has summed up the situation between the Peruvian Authorities and Greenpeace.

Clearly a well intentioned action by Greenpeace was miscalculated and not properly planned out. But how does this compare with the totally misguided policies of so called political 'leaders' who intentionally act in favour of corporations and institutions who have placed the planet in pearl and have presided over policies that has resulted in the deaths of millions of people?

What then of the future of the Nazca lines? How will climate change affect these artefacts in the future? And what about the constant demand for land and resources?

What is clear from this incident is the unnecessary distraction from the inconvenient reality of climate change as a serious threat to humanity. In other words an ancient monument has taken precedence over the future survival of the human race. It has brought into sharp relief the immense gulf between scientific reality and subjective human perception.

Nazca offers a fascinating insight into an ancient civilisation. Preservation of site is rightly of paramount importance. It is unfortunate that the Greenpeace incident took place. But then it is equally unfortunate that there is a chronic lack of ability of our current civilisation to come to terms with what is going on. The fate of those who made the artefact may be a fate that we will all share. It is therefore worth delving into the history of this remarkable site. 

According to an article in Popular Archaeology: 'a recent genetic study that suggests that the evidence indicates periods of migration in pre-Columbian Andean societies in Peru, spurred on by local climate changes. It supports the archaeologists, who for years have been saying that the excavated evidence hints of such shifts by the Nasca, Wari and Tiwanaku peoples'.

As for the peoples themselves, it would appear that their lifestyle was based on sustainability: 'Perhaps because of the adversity they faced, the Nasca people seem to have been remarkably "green." The creation of the puquios displayed a sophisticated sense of water conservation, since the underground aqueducts minimized evaporation. The farmers planted seeds by making a single hole in the ground rather than ploughing, thus preserving the substructure of the soil. During a visit to a Nasca site called La Muña, Isla pointed out layers of vegetative matter in the walls of buildings and terraces that marked the rocky hillside settlement. The Nasca, he said, recycled their garbage as building material. "It's a society that managed its resources very well," he said. "This is what Nasca is all about." '

The National Geographic (NG) article goes on to say: 'There is little question that water—or more precisely, its absence—had assumed paramount importance by the endgame of the Nasca culture, roughly between A.D. 500 and 600. In the Palpa area, geophysicists have traced the creep of the eastern margin of the desert about 12 miles up the valleys between 200 B.C. and A.D. 600, reaching an altitude of some 6,500 feet. Similarly, the population centres in the river oases around Palpa moved farther up the valleys, as if they were trying to outrun the arid conditions. "At the end of the sixth century A.D.," Eitel and Mächtle conclude in a recent paper, "the aridity culminated and the Nasca society collapsed." By A.D. 650, the more militaristic Wari (Huari) Empire, which expanded from its base in the central highlands, had supplanted the Nas­ca in the southern desert region.

"It wasn't just climate conditions that caused the collapse of the early Nasca culture at Cahuachi, and we can say the same thing for the end of Nasca culture in general," Johny Isla told me. "A state of crisis was provoked because water was more prevalent in some valleys than in others, and the leaders of different valleys may have been in conflict." '

More information on the site and its world heritage status can be found at UNESCO.

The location of the Nazca lines lies at the north western fringes of the Atacama Desert. As such the climatic conditions are very similar.

Another NG article considers the role - past and present - of the Atacama desert. It points out subtle climatic changes that have occurred in the region over the past 10,000 years: 'More than 10,000 years ago when the Atacama's climate was more moderate, humans stated to populate the region. Archaeologists have long known about the deserts coastal civilisations... , and have recently found evidence of settlements in some of the Atacama's driest caves and valleys. Life could not exist at these inland sites today: An immense and permanent high-pressure cell over the pacific Ocean fends off weather systems from the west and to the east Andean peaks, drain moisture from clouds formed in the Amazon basin. On the coast the cold water Peru current streams in from Antarctica and chills the desert air, creating a temperature inversion that further inhibits rain clouds'. 

A detailed explanation of the region from a geological historical perceptive can be found in a series of articles referred to in Vignettes. The general conclusion is that hyper-aridity developed in the area about 19 - 13 million years ago, with recent changes occurring as noted above.

The western coast of South America at mid latitudes certainly exhibit unique geographical and climatic features. This poses the question as to how would future climate change affect the region? 

The current local climate in the region is influenced by the Humboldt (Peru) current (see below) and a subtropical high pressure system. The El Nino Southern oscillation (ENSO) is another important factor in determining climate fluctuations.
The Humboldt current has a considerable cooling influence on the climate of Chile, Peru and Ecuador. It is also largely responsible for the aridity of Atacama Desert in northern Chile and coastal areas of Peru and also of the aridity of southern Ecuador. Marine air is cooled by the current and thus is not conducive to generating precipitation (although clouds and fog are produced). 

The United Nations Global International Waters Assessment (GIWA), is an in-depth study of the Humboldt Current. With respect to climate change, 'It is expected that extreme natural events, such as El Niño, will increase in frequency and intensity as a result of global change. The El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a global ocean-atmospheric event responsible for significant climate, oceanic, biological and ecological changes. The countries of the region particularly affected by El Niño are Ecuador and Peru'. 

Although the report doesn't document whether a changing climate would directly affect the desert regions, its clear that it could impact the socio-economics of the region, which depends on tourism and the fishing industry and that the ENSO will be an influencing factor in the region.

The article, The impact of ENSO in the Atacama Desert and Australian arid zone: Exploratory time-series analysis of Archaeological Records, from The Journal of Chilean Anthropology, offers an informative insight into the effects of ENSO in the region over the past 5000 years. 

It's analysis of past impacts appear to tally with the potential impacts warned by the UN in its GIWA report: 'In northern Chile, historical El Niño events are recorded as having a major impact on coastal waters, causing the collapse of local fisheries, mass mortality of marine organisms and birds, red tide, torrential rainfall, erosion of coastal lowlands and widespread flooding. The major effects of ENSO are on the marine biomass along the coast. El Niño events disrupt the trophic structure of marine ecosystems; create a pulse of severe drought in the highlands; and extreme rain in coastal regions of Peru and northern Chile. Between 1819 and 1991 historical records show 32 episodes of rain in the normally dry Atacama Desert. Of these, 21 were linked to El Niño.

'In contrast, on the altiplano -SOI [Southern Oscillation Index] events are associated with dry years. An intensified subtropical jetstream blocks the advection of moisture from the Amazon Basin and Gran Chaco during El Niño events'. 

Another paper, Late Quaternary hydroclimatology of a hyper-arid Andean watershed: Climate change, floods, and hydrologic responses to the El Niño-Southern Oscillation in the Atacama Desert, published in the journal Geomorphology, offers a detailed technical and scientific analysis of research conducted in the region (NB: Paywall). 

It considers paleo-climatic change in the region over the defined period, with a reference to anthropological activities.

The paper notes that the region has 'experienced significant climatic changes over contemporary, Quaternary, and geologic timescales where the development of hyper-aridity during the Mid-to-Late Tertiary has been punctuated by drier and wetter periods over timescales of 101 –103 years and where the effects of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) have been climatically profound throughout the Holocene and longer (Keefer et al., 1998; Magilligan and Goldstein, 2001; Keefer et al., 2003). Despite these extreme climatic conditions, this region has been an important environmental setting for sophisticated cultural development through intensive and extensive irrigated agriculture and other cultural adaptations such as terracing and raised fields in highland or riverine settings (Dillehay and Kolata, 2004; Diaz and Stahle, 2007).  

The paper details the effects of ENSO on the climate variations in the region: 'The extreme climatic conditions in this geographic setting are exacerbated by the occurrence of El Niños and La Niñas. Significant flooding across the Atacama and Peruvian coastal deserts and droughts in the Andean highlands and Altiplano are linked to the magnitude of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (the pressure difference between Darwin, Australia and Tahiti). The Atacama Desert lies in a latitudinal belt from ~°15 S to °25 S on the western side of the Andes, and its hyper-aridity is controlled by the rainshadow effect of the Andes which limits the transfer of moisture from the Atlantic Ocean trade winds westward across the topographic high of the Andes. This orographic effect is further compounded by the position and strength of the Pacific cell of the STHP [sub-tropical high pressure cell] that, in concert with the normally cool waters off the eastern Pacific, establishes an inversion layer of ~ 800 m on the western side of the Andes ultimately blocking eastward transfer of Pacific-sourced moisture. Moreover, the relative strength and position of the upper-level Bolivian High also modulates precipitation amount across the Altiplano (Lenters and Cook, 1997, 1999; Vuille, 1999; Vuille et al., 2000b; Garreaud, 1999; Garreaud and Aceituno, 2001; Garreaud et al., 2003). During El Niño years, the Pacific STHP weakens and trade winds diminish, which limit the upwelling of deep cool water off the eastern Pacific and ultimately allow rainfall on the arid western slopes of the Andes and dryer conditions across the normally wetter Altiplano (Fig. 1A), and disrupting most agricultural and cultural systems. At the other extreme of ENSO, strengthened La Niña's permit wetter conditions to prevail across the Altiplano but maintain dry conditions across the Andean western slopes, exacerbating normal patterns (Fig. 1B)'. The figures are reproduced below.
The paper makes a reference to exceptionally strong El Niño events known as Mega Niños. These appear to be associated with rarer but catastrophic flooding events. 

The paper concludes with this observation: 'El Niños have a catastrophic dimension associated with floodplain stripping (Manners et al., 2007), erosion of
important irrigation canals (Huckleberry, 1999; Huckleberry and Billman, 2003), and wiping out villages (Keefer et al., 2003), but they also can provide cultural opportunities and serve a vital role in replenishing and maintaining groundwater resources across the Atacama Desert'.

The NG article El Niño/La Niña Nature’s Vicious Cycle, gives a detailed account of the effects of the intense El Niño that caused severe flooding in 1997/98. Yet, according to paleo-climate record, this would not be defined as a catastrophic event. 

There is little doubt in as far as the evidence goes that a warming climate could lead to more intense ENSO events. Peru is particularly vulnerable to such events. The potential for a catastrophic event occurring is more likely, especially if global warming follows a more extreme trajectory.

From the perspective of Nazca, a flood event could completely destroy the region, as noted in an article in The Independent. The cause is attributed to deforestation and industrial activities: 'the Unesco World Heritage site could be destroyed or damaged beyond repair within a matter of years, says Viktoria Nikitzki of the Maria Reiche Centre. The organisation, based in the nearby city of Nazca, is dedicated to researching and protecting the Lines.
"There has been deforestation everywhere so water from the highlands comes down to the Lines in streams and rivers. The Lines themselves are superficial, they are only 10 to 30cm deep and could be washed away," she said. "There is no maintenance or any sort of care for the Lines. Also there is threat by the weather. Nazca has only ever received a small amount of rain. But now there are great changes to the weather all over the world. The Lines cannot resist heavy rain without being damaged."

Pollution and dust from a nearby iron mine and people trespassing and even driving vehicles over the 200 square-mile site are also causes for concern'. 
In the light of what has been discussed above, it could be argued that Greenpeace's infraction was a relatively minor incident in the grand scheme of things. The world is changing at so many levels. A fabulous heritage site could be lost in the future. But so could so many other things. There is some uncertainty as to the potential impacts of climate change. But the message from the past suggests that things could change quickly and suddenly.   

Friday, 19 December 2014

Israel Under The Spotlight 4 (Israeli Nukes)

Last month (November 9th) saw the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall - one of the most symbolic events of the 20th century. The fall of the wall was seen a harbinger of peace and harmony. But unfortunately, things didn't quite go to plan.

Certainly after the raising of the so-called iron curtain, east and west relations improved and led to the decommissioning of nuclear warheads on both sides. But there still remains a significant nuclear 'deterrent' with the key nuclear powers.

More recently the Middle East has become a focal point for the nuclear debate, with Iran seeking to become a member of the global nuclear 'club'. But as I noted above, the west and Israel aren't to keen to offer membership.

Of course Israel is a member of this 'club' - even if it doesn't go out of its way to broadcast it, preferring to maintain a policy of 'nuclear ambiguity', i.e. neither affirming nor denying its nuclear capability - and that presents considerable ramifications for the region, which I'll discuss below.

Middle East Hotspot
Israel's nuclear build up reads like something out of a 007 novel. It began almost on the day Israel was created as a state.

This article from FAS (Federation of American Scientists), outlines the clandestine history of Israel's relationship with 'The Bomb'. It cites secret cooperation with France that was instrumental in building the framework of Israel's nuclear capability: 'For reactor design and construction, Israel sought the assistance of France. Nuclear cooperation between the two nations dates back as far as early 1950's, when construction began on France's 40MWt heavy water reactor and a chemical reprocessing plant at Marcoule. France was a natural partner for Israel and both governments saw an independent nuclear option as a means by which they could maintain a degree of autonomy in the bipolar environment of the cold war'.

In 1949, uranium was found incorporated within phosphate deposits in the Negev desert. The Israel Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC) was established in 1952. 'Its chairman, Ernst David Bergmann, had long advocated an Israeli bomb as the best way to ensure "that we shall never again be led as lambs to the slaughter." Bergmann was also head of the Ministry of Defense's Research and Infrastructure Division (known by its Hebrew acronym, EMET), which had taken over the HEMED research centers (HEMED GIMMEL among them, now renamed Machon 4) as part of a reorganization. Under Bergmann, the line between the IAEC and EMET blurred to the point that Machon 4 functioned essentially as the chief laboratory for the IAEC. By 1953, Machon 4 had not only perfected a process for extracting the uranium found in the Negev, but had also developed a new method of producing heavy water, providing Israel with an indigenous capability to produce some of the most important nuclear materials'.

Under French guidance, 'On 3 October 1957, France and Israel signed a revised agreement calling for France to build a 24 MWt reactor (although the cooling systems and waste facilities were designed to handle three times that power) and, in protocols that were not committed to paper, a chemical reprocessing plant. This complex was constructed in secret, and outside the IAEA inspection regime, by French and Israeli technicians at Dimona, in the Negev desert under the leadership of Col. Manes Pratt of the IDF Ordinance Corps.

'To maintain secrecy, French customs officials were told that the largest of the reactor components, such as the reactor tank, were part of a desalinization plant bound for Latin America. In addition, after buying heavy water from Norway on the condition that it not be transferred to a third country, the French Air Force secretly flew as much as four tons of the substance to Israel'. In 1964, the Dimona reactor went critical.

The US eventually became aware of the plant. The  CIA 'had determined by the mid-1960s that the Israeli nuclear weapons program was an established and irreversible fact.

'United States inspectors visited Dimona seven times during the 1960s, but they were unable to obtain an accurate picture of the activities carried out there, largely due to tight Israeli control over the timing and agenda of the visits. The Israelis went so far as to install false control room panels and to brick over elevators and hallways that accessed certain areas of the facility. The inspectors were able to report that there was no clear scientific research or civilian nuclear power program justifying such a large reactor - circumstantial evidence of the Israeli bomb program - but found no evidence of "weapons related activities" such as the existence of a plutonium reprocessing plant.

'Although the United States government did not encourage or approve of the Israeli nuclear program, it also did nothing to stop it. Walworth Barbour, US ambassador to Israel from 1961-73, the bomb program's crucial years, primarily saw his job as being to insulate the President from facts which might compel him to act on the nuclear issue, alledgedly saying at one point that "The President did not send me there to give him problems. He does not want to be told any bad news." After the 1967 war, Barbour even put a stop to military attachés' intelligence collection efforts around Dimona. Even when Barbour did authorize forwarding information, as he did in 1966 when embassy staff learned that Israel was beginning to put nuclear warheads in missiles, the message seemed to disappear into the bureaucracy and was never acted upon'. 

The timing of US ambivalence towards Israel here is interesting. It follows one of the most controversial cover ups of the era. It involves an event that took place during the latter stages of the 1967 six day war.

USS Liberty and the Vietnam War
The six day war broke out when the US was heavily involved in the Vietnam war. But despite many US resources earmarked for the Asian conflict, the US dispatched the intelligence surveillance gathering ship USS Liberty to the Mediterranean off the coast of Egypt, where it would monitor the unfolding conflict in the Middle East. 

On June 8, 1967, Israel launched an unprovoked attack on the Liberty. The incident is explored in the excellent documentary The Day Israel Attacked America, which was recently aired on Al Jazeera.

Another account of the incident is covered in this article from Consortium News, as it explores the content of the film: 'the documentary confirms not only that the attack on the U.S. Navy spy ship was deliberate - an undisputed fact long accepted by all but the most shameless Israeli apologists - but reveals, perhaps for the first time, how Tel Aviv was able to induce the U.S. government to cover up an attack that killed 34 and injured 171 of its own seamen by a supposed “ally.” 

'The documentary’s narrator said declassified Israeli documents now show that “they were going to threaten President Johnson with ‘blood libel’ - gross anti-Semitism - and that would end his political career.”

'The Israeli government hired teams of lawyers, including close friends of Johnson, the narrator added, and began an “all-out offensive” to influence media coverage of the attack, leaning on them “to kill critical stories” and slant others in Israel’s favor.

'Noting the cleverness of Israel’s tactics, the documentary revealed that after having identified the Vietnam War as Johnson’s “soft spot” it quietly provided him with “two extraordinary gifts.”

The first addressed the President’s bitterness toward many American Jewish organizations and community leaders over their opposition to his Vietnam policy. But as the Liberty crisis unfolded, Hughes said, “they were suddenly becoming more silent on Vietnam.” Johnson was made to understand that taking a more “moderate” position toward Israel over the attack would benefit him politically.

The second gift was a vital military one. The U.S. military attaché in Tel Aviv received a surprise visit. “I think I have something you might be interested in,” a senior Israeli intelligence officer told him. The Israelis had just crossed the Red Sea to capture the Egyptian military’s Soviet-supplied surface-to-air missiles, the same ones the North Vietnamese were using to bring down American aircraft on a daily basis.

As a show of gratitude, the U.S. government gave the Israelis two gifts in return. The Johnson administration resupplied them with the weapons they had used in their six-day land grab of territory from Egypt, Jordan and Syria. The White House also decided to water down the Defense Department’s inquiry into the attack on the Liberty.

'Johnson’s “softer approach” to Israel was reflected in the U.S. Navy inquiry then underway onboard the Liberty. As one of the survivors recalled, the Liberty’s crew began to realize that “a cover-up was descending” upon them. Among key testimony ignored was the strafing of the Liberty’s deck with napalm and the machine-gunning of the sinking ship’s lifeboats.

Without interviewing any Israelis involved in the attack, the U.S. court of inquiry rushed out a report - hurriedly completed in a mere 20 days - exonerating Israel from blame. Tel Aviv quickly followed up with its own report that concluded that the whole incident was “a series of mistakes, and that no one was to blame.” '

There was no doubting the strong Israeli influence in Washington from the Jewish lobby - summed up in this paragraph: 'Israel’s influence inside the White House was even more significant. “Many of Johnson’s closest friends and advisors were pro-Israeli, and they reported back to Tel Aviv on his every move,” the film asserted'.

Israel was the first country to give the US a bloody nose and get away with it. The second was Vietnam. In January 1973, US forces were evacuated from Vietnam after the fall of Saigon.

Few would doubt that the Liberty incident would launch Israel on a course that would effectively lead it to a mindset of total impunity. The cover up that followed Liberty put the US in the palm of Israel's hand. Perhaps its not so much Washington pulling the strings in Tel Aviv but the other way around. 

What nuclear weapons?
With Israel firmly committed to doing its own thing, whilst hoodwinking the world into thinking that any nuclear preoccupation is purely peaceful, its nuclear program continued apace - at whatever cost. 

Israel's deception drew Norway into the international web. It revolved around the supply of heavy water to Israel under the promise of peaceful intent, initially back in 1959. The bottom line is that the emerging scandals of sales of heavy water to Israel violates the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which forbids the transfer of heavy water without international controls. Several other countries have been drawn into the web. It appears that Israel’s nuclear spider knows no boundaries.

Next on the list of players is Argentina. Argentina's role was pivotal in the genesis of Israel's nuclear program. That role is documented by the National Security Archive: 'During 1963-64, the Israeli government secretly acquired 80-100 tons of Argentine uranium oxide ("yellowcake") for its nuclear weapons program, according to U.S. and British archival documents.

'The U.S. government learned about the facts of the sale through Canadian intelligence and found out even more from its Embassy in Argentina. In response to U.S. diplomatic queries about the sale, the government of Israel was evasive in its replies and gave no answers to the U.S.'s questions about the transaction.

These nearly unknown documents shed light on one of the most obscure aspects of Israel's nuclear history-how secretly and vigorously Israel sought raw materials for its nuclear program and how persistently it tried to cultivate relations with certain nuclear suppliers. Yellowcake, a processed uranium ore, was critically important to Israel for fuelling its nuclear reactor at Dimona and thereby for producing plutonium for weapons. The story of the Argentine yellowcake sale to Israel has remained largely unknown in part because Israel has gone to great lengths to keep tight secrecy to this day about how and where it acquired raw materials for its nuclear program.

'Early on when American, British, and Canadian intelligence tried to uncover the secrets of the Israeli nuclear program, they clearly understood that Israel needed a reprocessing facility to transform its spent reactor fuel into weapons-grade plutonium. For example, according to an October 1964 National Intelligence Estimate on nuclear proliferation a "major deficiency, in terms of a weapons program, is the lack of a plutonium separation plant." Although the Israelis had told both the US and Canada that the Dimona facility would include a pilot plant for reprocessing, the widespread assumption was that it was probably too small to produce enough plutonium for a weapons program. That the original French design for Dimona included a large underground reprocessing facility (Machon 2) was one of Israel's deepest nuclear secrets, which Mordecai Vanunu later revealed. To this day, it is unclear exactly how much Western intelligence knew about the facility and exactly when and how it learned it'. 

I'll discuss the role of Mordecai Vanunu below. But - surprise surprise - the UK was also involved in the conspiracy.

A Newsnight investigation for the BBC revealed for the first time in 2005 that Britain was also complicit in supplying Israel with heavy water: 'Documents uncovered by Newsnight in the British National Archives show how, in 1958, Britain agreed to sell Israel 20 tonnes of heavy water, a vital ingredient for the production of plutonium at Israel's top secret Dimona nuclear reactor in the Negev desert'.

And it was kept secret from the US: 'The documents unearthed by Newsnight also show British officials decided not to tell Washington about it. "On the whole I would prefer NOT to mention this to the Americans," concluded Donald Cape of the Foreign Office'. 

In a follow-up investigation a year later Newsnight revealed that the UK was supplying Israel with plutonium in 1966: 'Using Freedom of Information, Newsnight has obtained top secret papers. They show Foreign Minister Kim Howells misled the IAEA and that Britain made not one, but hundreds of secret shipments of nuclear materials to Israel'.

Tony Benn, who became minister of Technology in Harold Wilson's Government at the time intimated that 'he always suspected civil servants were doing deals behind his back but he never thought they would sell plutonium to Israel. "It never occurred to me they would authorise something so totally against the policy of the government." ' But what the revelations show is that high level UK Government officials knew a lot more than they were letting on.  

One of the most daring episodes of Israel's determination to produce nuclear weapons was the Plumbat affair: 'In November 1968 the cargo ship Scheersberg A set sail from Antwerp, Belgium, bound for Genoa, Italy. She was hauling uranium which Asmara Chemie, a West German chemical company, had consigned to SAICA, an Italian paint company, for commercial processing. She never arrived. 

Two weeks after she was due at Genoa she put in instead at the eastern Turkish port of Iskenderum, her hull empty. The captain and crew abandoned her and disappeared. 

'Nervous of losing their 1967 military-conquests in another war, Prime Minister Golda Meir her government (including General Dayan, then paratroop commander Ariel Sharon, and later Prime-Minister and former terrorist leader Menachem Begin) were determined to obtain nuclear weapons for defense of "Greater" (Eretz) Israel. Europe had 200 tonnes of uranium oxide ("yellowcake") sitting in a silo in Belgium which Israeli nuclear scientists were ready to convert into bombs at their clandestine reactor near Dimona. Trouble was, Israel was not allowed to have uranium. 

Standing in the regime's way to obtaining uranium was EURATOM, the European Economic Community's new regulatory agency tasked with monitoring the fledgling European nuclear industry. Part of Euratom's mandate is preserving the security of Europe's nuclear stocks and enforcing anti-nuclear arms proliferation treaties banning E.E.C. member states from exporting nuclear materiel to governments not allowed developing nuclear capacity— and of course Israel did not qualify'.

Israel - with the help of Mossad - devised Operation Plumbat. Using a West German chemical company as a front: 'In 1968 Asmara Chemie applied to Euratom for approval of what appeared on the surface to be a routine proposal. Asmara wanted to buy uranium from the Belgian mineral company SGM and ship it on the Scheersberg A to Italy for harmless processing by the paint company SAICA, owned by one of Shulzen's cronies [owner of Asmara]. SGM did not care much what happened to the uranium once satisfied that Asmara could pay for it. Euratom, disorganized, divided, squabbling with itself, and in the process of moving all their offices and files from one city to another, approved the Asmara- SAICA deal without much investigation. Euratom did think it a little unusual to move the uranium by ship instead of rail, but nothing came of it. 

The Sheersberg A met secretly with an Israeli freighter somewhere in the Eastern Mediterranean, and the uranium was transferred at sea. The freighter then sailed the remaining distance to Israel where the uranium was unloaded and sent to Dimona for processing into weapons'. 

Israel had been involved in other means of obtaining nuclear material. These are touched upon within this Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) account of The Relevance of Mordechai Vanunu Disclosures to Israel’s National Security. Mordechai Vanunu's revelations would confirm once-and-for-all Israel's nuclear capability.

From 1976 to 1985, Vanunu worked at the Dimona plant. Before he left he took a series of photographs within the plant. A year later he took his story to The Sunday Times.

Israel had no intentions of letting Vanunu away with his 'crimes': 'Vanunu was kidnapped by the Mossad while in Rome and taken to Israel, where he was tried and convicted of treason and espionage. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison'. 

The article argues that Vanunu had limited expertise and as such would not have had a great impact on Israeli national security. But there is no doubt that his story revealed important facts concerning Israel’s nuclear program. He has his own website where he tells his story.

Another area of contention is Israel's relationship with South Africa during the mid seventies. Secret South African documents reveal that Israel offered to sell nuclear warheads to the apartheid regime, as reported in the Guardian. However there is no evidence such a transaction took place.  

'South Africa eventually built its own nuclear bombs, albeit possibly with Israeli assistance. But the collaboration on military technology only grew over the following years. South Africa also provided much of the yellowcake uranium that Israel required to develop its weapons'.

The Iran Issue
Moving towards the present day, Israel has been consolidating its nuclear 'deterrent'. This has involved Israel working closely with Germany in its acquisition of a fleet of Dolphin class submarines. The story of Germany's close cooperation with Israel is told in an engaging article from Del Spiegel. 

Six subs altogether will be delivered to Israel - four are in service already - custom built to Israel's specifications. Spiegel leaves no doubt as to the capability of the subs: 'Deep in their interiors, on decks 2 and 3, the submarines contain a secret that even in Israel is only known to a few insiders: nuclear warheads, small enough to be mounted on a cruise missile, but explosive enough to execute a nuclear strike that would cause devastating results. This secret is considered one of the best kept in modern military history. Anyone who speaks openly about it in Israel runs the risk of being sentenced to a lengthy prison term.

Research SPIEGEL has conducted in Germany, Israel and the United States, among current and past government ministers, military officials, defense engineers and intelligence agents, no longer leaves any room for doubt: With the help of German maritime technology, Israel has managed to create for itself a floating nuclear weapon arsenal: submarines equipped with nuclear capability'.

Underlying this relationship is an apparent need to atone for the past - something the article questions: 'Is Berlin recklessly promoting an arms race in the Middle East? Or should Germany, as its historic obligation stemming from the crimes of the Nazis, assume a responsibility that has become "part of Germany's reason of state," as Chancellor Merkel said in a speech to the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, in March 2008? "It means that for me, as a German chancellor, Israel's security is never negotiable," Merkel told the lawmakers.

'The German government has always pursued an unwritten rule on its Israel policy, which has already lasted half a century and survived all changes of administrations, and that former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder summarized in 2002 when he said: "I want to be very clear: Israel receives what it needs to maintain its security." 

Those who subscribe to this logic are often prepared to violate Germany's arms export laws. Ever since the era of Konrad Adenauer, the country's first postwar leader, German chancellors have pushed through various military deals with Israel without parliamentary approval, kept the Federal Security Council in the dark or, as then Defense Minister Franz-Josef Strauss, a member of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), did, personally dropped off explosive equipment. That was what happened in an incident in the early 1960s, when Strauss drove up to the Israeli mission in Cologne in a sedan car and handed an object wrapped in a coat to a Mossad liaison officer, saying it was "for the boys in Tel Aviv." It was a new model of an armor-piercing grenade'.

Curious then. Has Germany forgotten about the pact between the Nazis and the Zionists? Or has the pact never been rescinded...?   

Intriguingly, the order for the first 2 subs were agreed after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. Although the deal nearly fell through, the 1991 Iraq war - which resulted in Israel coming under attack from Iraqi scud missiles - secured the deal. It was helped in part by the fact that German technology was incorporated within the the Scuds - an unfortunate association. The Germans had also supplied poison gas to Iraq. As Spiegel noted 'Israel-Germany-gas' wouldn't circulate very well. The German guilt complex had been activated.

The building of the subs was initially conducted in secret: 'one of the most secretive arms projects in the Western world has been underway in Kiel, where a special form of bonding between the German and the Israeli people developed.

'One of the special features is the equipment used in the Dolphin class, which is named after the first ship. Unlike conventional submarines, the Dolphins don't just have torpedo tubes with a 533-millimeter diameter in the steel bow. In response to a special Israeli request, the HDW engineers designed four additional tubes that are 650 millimeters in diameter -- a special design not found in any other submarine in the Western world.

What is the purpose of the large tubes? In a classified 2006 memo, the German government argued that the tubes are an "option for the transfer of special forces and the pressure-free stowage of their equipment" -- combat swimmers, for example --, who can be released through the narrow shaft for secret operations. The same explanation is given by the Israelis.

In the United States, however, it has long been speculated that the wider shafts could be intended for ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads. This suspicion was fueled by an Israeli request for US Tomahawk cruise missiles in 2000. The missiles have a range of over 600 kilometers, while nuclear versions can even fly about 2,500 kilometers. But Washington rejected the request twice. This is why the Israelis still rely on ballistic missiles of their own design today, such as Popeye Turbo.'

As far as Germany was concerned, they didn't question the Israelis purpose behind the subs: 'the government was saying that Germany delivered a conventional submarine -- what the Israelis did with it afterwards was their own business. In 1999, the then State Secretary Brigitte Schulte wrote that the German government could not "rule out any armament for which the operating navy has capability, following the appropriate retrofitting." '

But Israel's real concern in the area is the Iranian threat: 'The conflict between Israel and Iran has intensified steadily since 2006. War is a real danger. For months now, Israel has been preparing governments around the world, as well as the international public, for a bombing of the nuclear facilities at Natanz, Fordu and Isfahan using cutting-edge conventional, bunker-busting weapons. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Defense Minister Ehud Barak are convinced that the "window" is closing in which such an attack would be effective, as Iran is in the process of moving most of its nuclear enrichment activities deep below ground.

'Only Netanyahu and Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, probably know how close the world stands today to a new war'. 

Back in 2006 though, Iran didn't help its cause by holding a conference that allegedly denied the holocaust. The 'official' line though was that 'This conference seeks neither to deny nor prove the Holocaust... . It is just to provide an appropriate scientific atmosphere for scholars to offer their opinions in freedom about a historical issue.'

What was particularly interesting about the conference was the fact that 3 Rabbis from the Neturei Karta attended: 'The three will present at the conference a position stating that the Holocaust was provoked by the Zionists, and that it must not serve to legitimize acts against the Palestinians.

According to this claim, the people of Israel vowed never to turn against the nations of the world. With the establishment of Zionism, this oath had been broken, a violation which brought about the Holocaust'.

3 years later, Israel 'flexed its muscles' by taking one of its subs through the Suez Canal: 'A defense source said the Israeli navy held an exercise off Eilat last month and that a Dolphin took part, having traveled to the Red Sea port though Suez. Israel has a naval base at Eilat, a 10-km (6-mile) strip of coast between Egypt and Jordan, but officials say it has no submarine dock there.

'Another Israeli defense source with extensive naval experience said the drill "showed that we can far more easily access the Indian Ocean, and the Gulf, than before."

But the source added: "If indeed our subs are capable of doing to Iran what they are believed to be capable of doing, then surely this is a capability that can be put into action from the Mediterranean?"

Each German-made Dolphin has 10 torpedo tubes, four of them widened at Israel's request -- to accommodate, some independent analysts believe, nuclear-tipped cruise missiles. But there have been questions about whether these would have the 1,500-km (1,000-mile) range needed to hit Iran from the Mediterranean'.

Netanyahu has left no doubts: "You don’t want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs," he said. "When the wide-eyed believer gets hold of the reins of power and the weapons of mass death, then the entire world should start worrying, and that is what is happening in Iran."  

But despite all the noises coming from Tel Aviv, Israel has backed off from military intervention in Iran. Instead it has turned its attention to its sophisticated intelligence network. With a little help from its friends - particularly in the US - Israel has turned to cyber warfare

The New York Times presents the background of a highly sophisticated cyber attack using the Stuxnet worm that infected Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities.  

The article notes: 'Over the past two years, according to intelligence and military experts familiar with its operations, Dimona has taken on a new, equally secret role — as a critical testing ground in a joint American and Israeli effort to undermine Iran’s efforts to make a bomb of its own.

Behind Dimona’s barbed wire, the experts say, Israel has spun nuclear centrifuges virtually identical to Iran’s at Natanz, where Iranian scientists are struggling to enrich uranium. They say Dimona tested the effectiveness of the Stuxnet computer worm, a destructive program that appears to have wiped out roughly a fifth of Iran’s nuclear centrifuges and helped delay, though not destroy, Tehran’s ability to make its first nuclear arms.

“To check out the worm, you have to know the machines,” said an American expert on nuclear intelligence. “The reason the worm has been effective is that the Israelis tried it out.” 

'In recent days, the retiring chief of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, Meir Dagan, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton separately announced that they believed Iran’s efforts had been set back by several years. Mrs. Clinton cited American-led sanctions, which have hurt Iran’s ability to buy components and do business around the world.

The gruff Mr. Dagan, whose organization has been accused by Iran of being behind the deaths of several Iranian scientists, told the Israeli Knesset in recent days that Iran had run into technological difficulties that could delay a bomb until 2015. That represented a sharp reversal from Israel’s long-held argument that Iran was on the cusp of success.

The biggest single factor in putting time on the nuclear clock appears to be Stuxnet, the most sophisticated cyberweapon ever deployed'.

A particular characteristic of Stuxnet was its ability to aim at a specific designated target: 'Only months later, in June, Stuxnet began to pop up around the globe. The Symantec Corporation, a maker of computer security software and services based in Silicon Valley, snared it in a global malware collection system. The worm hit primarily inside Iran, Symantec reported, but also in time appeared in India, Indonesia and other countries.

But unlike most malware, it seemed to be doing little harm. It did not slow computer networks or wreak general havoc'.

The article goes on to explain how specialised the worm was and how it was able to cause chaos without detection by the Iranians. It could be described as the cyber equivalent of a computer guided missile.

Of course nobody wants to give too much away, but: 'Publicly, Israeli officials make no explicit ties between Stuxnet and Iran’s problems. But in recent weeks, they have given revised and surprisingly upbeat assessments of Tehran’s nuclear status.

“A number of technological challenges and difficulties” have beset Iran’s program, Moshe Yaalon, Israel’s minister of strategic affairs, told Israeli public radio late last month. The troubles, he added, “have postponed the timetable.” '

The Samson Option
The Samson Option is sometimes referred to in articles about Israel's nuclear capability. It refers to the Israeli nuclear strategy whereby it would launch a massive nuclear retaliatory strike if the state itself was being overrun, just as the Biblical figure Samson is said to have pushed apart the pillars of a Philistine temple, bringing down the roof and killing himself and thousands of Philistines who had gathered to see him humiliated.

The background to this policy and the history of Israel's nuclear build-up is explored in the 1991 book The Samson Option: Israel's Nuclear Arsenal and American Foreign Policy by Seymour Hersh. 

An op.ed in the New York Times discusses how Israel came close to engaging the Samson Option during the Yom Kippur war in 1973: 'The shock Israelis felt at the Egyptian-Syrian surprise attack on Oct. 6, 1973, can best be compared to that felt by Americans after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Israel was caught totally unprepared: the government had assumed that its intelligence services would be able to alert it at least 48 hours before any invasion.

'...Defense Minister Moshe Dayan was heard murmuring about ''the end of the Third Kingdom.'' The commander of the air force, Gen. Benny Peled, warned that with the rate of losses his forces were enduring, within a week Israel might no longer have any effective air power. It was arguably the darkest day in the history of the Israeli Army.

It was in the early hours of Oct. 9 that senior Israeli military leaders brought up the idea of using Israel's doomsday weapons. By that time Israel had lost some 50 combat planes and more than 500 tanks -- 400 on the Egyptian battlefield alone. According to a new book by the Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman, when the prime minister's top military aide heard those ideas, he begged the army's deputy chief of staff, tears in his eyes, ''You must save the people of Israel from these madmen.'' '

However Prime Minister Golda Meir sidestepped the ultimate decision: 'Like John F. Kennedy a decade earlier, Golda Meir had stared into the nuclear abyss and found a path back to sanity. Mrs. Meir's decision not to accept Mr. Dayan's pessimism not only avoided a nuclear catastrophe, it demonstrated to the world that Israel was a responsible and trusted nuclear custodian'.

So, can Israel be trusted not to use its nuclear arsenal in anger? That's the big question. The fact that the country has no compulsion about testing conventional weapons on a Palestinian population, is hardly a prerequisite for security and confidence.

But Israel has been very canny about its nuclear capability. It policy on nuclear ambiguity has allowed it to circumvent International protocols on the issue - particularly the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Whilst the rest of the world has been reigning in its nuclear arsenals, Israel has been consolidating Its.

Perhaps those Germans who were present at the 25th anniversary celebrations of the fall of Wall last month, might have cause to reflect on the submarines their Government is building for Israel. 

Meanwhile in Israel, another wall has been built.