Analyze This: Long a target of enemy dreams of destruction, Dimona finally tastes real violence

City has long been source of high-profile targets.

February 4, 2008 23:14
4 minute read.

Thankfully, when the enemy finally hit Dimona, it wasn't quite on the scale that many have foreseen one day striking the relatively isolated and quiet Negev town. Expressing the shock felt by residents after Monday's suicide bombing, in which one woman was killed and dozens were wounded in the first terror attack of any kind on the town, Dimona Mayor Meir Cohen told Channel 1, "People here aren't used to this kind of thing, but it's part of the new reality that all of us in the Negev now have to deal with." Though true enough, Cohen was perhaps being a tad modest about his town's status. While it and neighboring towns in the western Negev have until now been spared the wages of terror that have struck so frequently and painfully elsewhere in Israel, Dimona boasts a crucial difference from the likes of Yeroham, Arad and Mitzpe Ramon. As the home of the country's major nuclear reactor and research facility - and rumored to be the principle production center of an Israeli nuclear arsenal - Dimona has long figured as a prime target of potential Arab aggression, both rhetoric and physical. Just last September, Patriot missile batteries stationed around Dimona were reportedly placed on high alert, in case Damascus attacked the nuclear facility in retaliation for the Israel Air Force strike on an alleged Syrian nuclear facility being built with North Korean assistance. Confirming that this was no unjustified concern, Syrian legislator Muhammad Habash was quoted in London's Al-Quds Al-Arabi in December saying "If Syria feels threatened by Israel, it will be hard to stop our missile operators from responding to the Israeli aggression by attacking the Dimona nuclear reactor" - which, he emphasized, was "within range" of Syrian projectiles. That wasn't the case with the handful of Scud missiles that Saddam Hussein fired toward the Dimona reactor in 1991 during the first Gulf War, some of which Baghdad claimed had warheads packed with concrete designed to punch through the outer-walls of the reactor building. All, fortunately, fell well short of their target. The greatest threat against the Negev city, according to a book published last year titled Foxbats over Dimona: The Soviets' Nuclear Gamble in the Six Day War, came in 1967. According to this thoroughly researched though highly speculative account, the very origins of the Six Day War derive from Soviet concerns over Israel's development of its nuclear weapons-production capability at the Dimona reactor. Thus, after spurring Egypt and Syria to provoke Israel into what the Kremlim believed would be a more extended military conflict, Moscow planned to launch a strike to wipe out Dimona on the grounds that it was preempting possible Israeli nuclear action against its Arab allies. Although the book's sensational thesis has been the subject of considerable debate and has been rejected by some experts on the 1967 war, The Jerusalem Post subsequently confirmed from an official Russian military source one of the book's major revelations: that Soviet pilots did in fact conduct high-altitude surveillance sorties over Dimona in advanced MiG-25 "Foxbat" aircraft just prior to the Six Day War. Whether the residents of Dimona have actually been in any real danger over the years from this kind of major aerial assault is a matter of speculation. That it remains in the crosshairs of Israel's most serious and determined enemies is not; more than once, Iranian officials have been quoted in the press citing Dimona as a potential target of the Islamic Republic's Shihab missiles, especially in response to any Israeli action against its own nuclear facilities. It's doubtful Dimona residents lose much sleep over the prospect. Indeed, the main complaint against the presence of Israel's premier nuclear facility in their midst has been allegations by several residents that radiation leaks from the reactor may be responsible for instances of cancer in the vicinity. The emphasis that Arab propaganda places on Dimona may also be exaggerated, or at least misplaced, in this day and age. If Israel does in fact possess the nuclear arsenal attributed to it, it surely long ago found more secret and secure places to store it. Still, we should not be surprised if it is revealed that the suicide bombers who struck on Monday chose Dimona as their final destination not simply by chance or convenience, but as a locale whose very name evokes Israel's status as this region's preeminent power. The residents of Dimona, especially the victims of the bombers and their families and friends, certainly deserve all our sympathy and support as they deal with this unprecedented attack. But perhaps we should be a little bit grateful that when Dimona finally found itself a target of deadly enemy action, it turned out to be far less than the Armageddon that many feared for so long might befall this corner of the Negev. Even more urgent is the need to remain vigilant so that the tragedy that befall Dimona yesterday is never allowed to become the nightmare vision of the city's future that still obsesses the dark corners of malignant minds in Damascus, Teheran and elsewhere where they dream of Israel's destruction. 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