Former US President Jimmy Carter has again come under fire in the US mainstream media, since publicly saying that Israel has 150 or more nuclear weapons in its arsenal. Details about Israel’s nuclear weapons programme started emerging in 1986. International nuclear experts now believe that Israel maintains a cache of between 100 and 300 nuclear weapons, though Israel, backed by the US, maintains a policy of nuclear ambiguity.
The Real News Network's Senior News Analyst Aijaz Ahmad looks at the story behind the spin.
Based in New Delhi, Aijaz Ahmad is The Real News Network's Senior News Analyst; Senior Editorial Consultant, and political commentator for the Indian newsmagazine, Frontline. He has taught Political Science, and has written widely on South Asia and the Middle East.
WOLF BLITZER, TV HOST: We begin this hour with a new controversy centered around former President Jimmy Carter. He's offering up information on Israel's unacknowledged nuclear arsenal.
REKHA VISWANATHAN (VOICEOVER): Former President Jimmy Carter has again come under fire in the US mainstream media since publicly saying that Israel has 150 or more nuclear weapons in its arsenal. Details about Israel's nuclear weapons program started emerging in 1986. International nuclear experts now believe that Israel maintains a cache of between 100 and 300 nuclear weapons, though Israel, backed by the US, maintains a policy of nuclear ambiguity. The Real News' senior analyst, Aijaz Ahmad, looks at the story behind the spin.
AIJAZ AHMAD, SENIOR ANALYST, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: Well, when it comes to Israeli nuclear weapons, President Carter is only repeating what has been said 1,000 times. Evidence first surfaced in 1986, when Mordechai Vanunu, a technician in the Israeli nuclear weapons lab, broke the story to The Sunday Times. Vanunu was then kidnapped in Rome by Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, and taken to Israel, where he was kept in solitary confinement for 11 years and in prison wards for another seven years, until 2004. Interestingly, Vanunu was charged with treason and espionage, but never with fabricating facts or spreading lies. Israel has never denied that it has nuclear weapons, and Prime Minister Olmert has categorically included Israel among nuclear weapon states.
EHUD OLMERT, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Can you say that this is the same level when they are aspiring to have nuclear weapons as America, France, Israel?
President Carter is also responding to a sentiment that is quite widespread in Europe and virtually universal in the world outside the West. And the sentiment is this: while major powers have huge nuclear arsenals and Israel itself has hundreds of such weapons, what legal or moral authority does the West has to demand that Iran suspend even its enrichment program? Many people believe that even if Iran does have a nuclear weapons program, that it is essentially defensive in nature. This idea was confirmed even by Defense Secretary Robert Gates during his confirmation hearings on 5 December 2006. Look at what he had to say:
"...while they're certainly pressing, in my opinion, for a nuclear capability, I think that they would see it in the first instance as a deterrent. They are surrounded by powers with nuclear weapons—Pakistan to their east, the Russians to the north, the Israelis to the west, and us in the Persian Gulf." (Robert Gates)
Carter's point is that it is for Israel and the West to enter into direct dialog and offer security guarantees that Iran would never be subjected to nuclear blackmail or military invasion. But that's not how the corporate media portrays any of it. Look at this.
NEWS ANALYST: Well, now it appears that he's giving out secret information about Israel and how many nuclear weapons they may have. According to most people, this information has never been made public before—at least the US has not blown the cover.
NEWS ANALYST: Right. And no one's done it. They haven't done it. So why not leave it to a former president, a one-term president like Jimmy Carter?
REPORTER: This could make someone like Iran say, "Look, if Israel has 150 nuclear weapons, why shouldn't we be a nuclear power?" at a time when the US is trying to make sure that Iran does not get nuclear weapons.
Pundits of the corporate media want to suggest that Carter is somehow divulging state secrets which he knows because he has been president of the United States, and that he's out to hurt Israeli national interests. This is strange. Carter is the man who, as president, negotiated the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel which ensured that Israel would never again have to fight a war against a coalition of Arab states. So why the spin and this demonization of Carter as an enemy of Israel? Well, Carter's peace mission in the Middle East derails the Bush-McCain agenda. The Bush administration refuses to talk to Iran, but Carter, like most people in the world, insists that Iran has some legitimate security concerns which must be addressed. The Bush-McCain crowd dismisses Hamas simply as a terrorist organization; Carter reminds us that Hamas is the political party that won the Palestinian elections of 2006 and no peace process in the occupied territory is possible without associating Hamas with it. He talked to them, much to the chagrin of the Bush administration, and is now facilitating an indirect dialog between Hamas and the Israeli government through Egyptian interlocutors. He even went to Syria—supposedly a member of the Axis of Evil—and facilitated a peace dialog between Syria and Israel, which is now being conducted under the auspices of the Turkish government. The Bush administration doesn't like it, so corporate media doesn't like it either. Pundits in that media even suggest that if Carter were to endorse Barack Obama, his endorsement would be a liability.
NEWS ANALYST: —as Jimmy Carter is known now as a better carpenter than he is president. And ordinarily you'd think that would make him irrelevant in the debate, but I think Paul is right in the sense that now Carter's legitimizing Hamas. Meeting with them raises questions Barack Obama does not want discussed. And he is having a problem in states like Florida bringing the Jewish vote to the table.
So according to the corporate media, Carter has become something of a political untouchable, because he takes concrete steps to bring peace to the Middle East. The corporate media would rather march to the drumbeats of war. As for the issue of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, the solution is actually quite simple. Resolutions to declare the Middle East a zone free of nuclear weapons has been on the table of the UN Security Council since 1974, when Iran first moved such a resolution. Egypt moved that resolution again in 1985, and Syria in 1989 and again in 2003, on behalf of the group of Arab states. No such resolution can be seriously considered in the Security Council, because the US would veto it, and the US would veto it because a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East would require Israel to get rid of its nuclear arsenal.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.