View of the Israeli nuclear facility in the Negev Desert outside Dimona .
(photo credit: JIM HOLLANDER / POOL / REUTERS)
The Knesset voted 73 to 8 Wednesday afternoon to reject MK Jamal Zahalka’s proposal for international monitoring over Israel’s alleged nuclear facility in Dimona.
Only MKs from Zahalka’s Joint List faction voted for the bill, which would have compelled Israel to sign the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons within a month and then submit the Dimona facility to the oversight of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Zahalka warned in the Knesset debate that the facility endangered the region, its people, and property, especially if there would be an earthquake. He noted that there was a small earthquake in Tiberias overnight and that a small earthquake near a nuclear facility in Japan six years ago caused significant damage.
The bill was co-sponsored by Joint List MKs Haneen Zoabi and Juma Azbarga. Zahalka warned that the Dimoana facility encouraged neighboring countries to build similar facilities.
“As long as Israel has nuclear weapons, other countries in the region will try to acquire them as well, and they will get them sooner or later,” Zahalka said. “The only way to prevent that from happening is to denuclearize the entire Middle East from weapons of mass destruction, including Israel.”
Asked by Zahalka if Israel had a nuclear plant in Dimona, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said Israel made sure there would be no nuclear weapons in Iraq and Syria and would ensure Iran would not get a nuclear capability. Steinitz said that if Iran stops being militant, there will be Middle East peace but if Israel stops fighting for its existence, it will be destroyed.
The minister added that the IAEA had nothing to do with earthquakes. Zahalka rebutted him that if there would be an earthquake, there could be damage to the reactor, and then the IAEA would have to get involved to deal with the repercussions.
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Turning to the MKs who voted against the bill, Zahalka said: “You are responsible for the disaster that could come because the reactor is unsupervised.”
Steinitz called the bill “a joke,” because Zahalka focuses on safety from earthquakes while the IAEA “didn’t prevent Fukushima,” referencing the 2011 disaster at a nuclear plant in Japan.
The minister stressed a difference between a “research reactor” and a reactor used as a power plant. He further explained the plant was upgraded several times over since the 90s and said Zahalka was wrong to call it old and outdated. He stressed it would also be safe even in the event of an earthquake.
Israel is widely believed to be the Middle East’s only nuclear power, though it has never confirmed or denied that it has a nuclear arsenal. The country has refused to sign on to international nonproliferation treaties and arrested Mordechai Vanunu in 1986 for leaking information about a facility in Dimona.
Vanunu was jailed as a traitor in 1986 after discussing his work as a technician at the Dimona nuclear reactor facility with Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper, an interview that led experts to conclude that the facility had produced fissile material for as many as 200 atomic warheads.Lahav Harkov, Avraham Gold and Yonah Jeremy Bob contributed to this report.
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