Israel stands firm over its nuclear secrets
By Ohad Gozani in Tel Aviv
Israel said yesterday that it would not abandon its "no show, no tell" nuclear policy, because the long-standing strategy of deliberate ambiguity had paid off.
As Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, arrived in Israel, officials from the Israeli prime minister down said there was no need for a change which could only set off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
Ariel Sharon told army radio: "I don't know what he is coming to see. Israel has to keep in its hand all the components of power necessary to protect itself." The prime minister added: "Our nuclear policy has proven itself and will continue."
Israel is believed to have become the only nuclear power in the Middle East when its ultrasecret nuclear plant in Dimona in the southern Negev desert began operations in the 1960s .
But it has persistently declined to confirm or deny any nuclear capability under a tacit deal with America, declaring instead that it would not be the first to introduce atomic weapons into the region.
Briefing reporters on the eve of Mr ElBaradei's two-day visit, officials said that in his talks with Mr Sharon and other Israeli officials the IAEA chief would try to press for some Israeli acknowledgment of its nuclear capability.
Israeli officials expressed confidence that the visit would not be confrontational as Mr ElBaradei was fully aware of the Israeli position, which might remain in place as long as the Arab-Israeli conflict remained unresolved. They said the United Nations official would not tour either the Dimona plant or the Israeli research reactor at Nahal Soreq, south of Tel Aviv.
Instead his talks would focus on broad issues, including the need for a nuclear-free Middle East.
Israel has resisted pressure to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, and thus is not obliged to show or declare its nuclear capacities or activities to United Nations inspectors.
Experts believe Israel has stockpiled up to 200 nuclear devices with plutonium produced at the Dimona plant.
The extent of the Israeli weapons programme was revealed in 1986 by Mordechai Vanunu, who secretly took pictures of various phases of the operation and sold them to a British newspaper. Mr Vanunu served an 18-year jail term for treason.