Thursday, February 03, 2000 5:50

Nuclear debate leads to shouting match in the Knesset


The first-ever Knesset debate on Israel’s nuclear program quickly deteriorated into a shouting match, brining the session to an end in just 45 minutes.

Hadash MK Issam Makhoul, who had appealed to the Supreme Court to force the debate, said Israel has hundreds of nuclear warheads. The Arab MK called upon the government to come clean regarding the number of warheads and then dismantle them in compliance with the nonproliferation treaty.

Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Haim Ramon, responding on behalf of the government, said he could not respond in detail to Makhoul's allegations. "To do so would aid the enemy," Ramon told the plenum. Ramon then accused Makhoul of harming Israel’s interests.

The emotionally charged debate escalated into a shouting match quickly. The chairman evicted six Arab MKs from the plenum while National Religious Party and other right-wing MKs left the chamber during the address by Makhoul.

Watching the spectacle from the visitor’s gallery were representatives of the Egyptian Embassy and officials of anti nuclear organizations.

Makhoul charged that for forty years, Israel has been conducting a policy of “deception and lies” pertaining to its nuclear program concealing the fact it possesses nearly 300 nuclear warheads. Makhoul further stated that due to the veil of secrecy surrounding the nuclear program, Israel is second only to Britain in the danger it poses to its own population by its nuclear policies.

Makhoul rejected claims that the nuclear arms were necessary to protect Israel from threats such as Iran. Going further than most legislators were willing to tolerate, Makhoul stated that Iran was the “response to Israel’s nuclear policy and not the cause”.

Ramon angrily rejected the charges that the Knesset does not supervise the nation’s nuclear program, explaining the appropriate Knesset committee has done so for the past forty years. Nonetheless stated Ramon; there is not a democracy in the world that does not have its closely guarded secrets necessary for its survival. It is foolish to pretend that Israel faces no more threats added Ramon. One needs only look around and see what Iran is saying.

The speaker reiterated the government’s policy on nuclear arms, stating;

1. Israel would not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East.

2. Israel supports nuclear nonproliferation, but at the same time, the nuclear proliferation treaty in its present form is not an appropriate solution for the Middle East as proven in the case of Iran and Iraq.

3. Israel supports a Middle East free of nuclear and ballistic weapons in the long term, but only if there is no threat of warfare and a long-standing peace between the countries in the area.