Stop Selling Death

August 28, 2014
'Nuff said?

‘Nuff said?

 

Moving from conflict to conflict in the Middle East, trying to keep up with the politics and players involved, the unrelenting violence, the rising death toll and refugee crisis, is as difficult as it is depressing. 

There is one common thread however – from Gaza to Syria to Iraq to Egypt to Libya to Afghanistan — U.S. military intervention and an ever-ready supply of U.S weapons pouring into the region make matters worse.

Let’s stop fanning the flames of war.  Sign Peace Action’s petition to restrict and limit U.S. weapons sales

U.S. weapons provided to the Iraqi Army are now in the hands of extremists who are close to tearing the country apart.  The success of the extremist offensive has led them to declare themselves the Islamic State, stretching into Syria where they have been fighting to overthrow the Assad government alongside other rebels being vetted by the U.S. to see who is worthy of receiving yet more U.S. weapons transfers, just what the region doesn’t need.

The U.S. leads the world in weapons sales. That includes the sale of weapons to undemocratic regimes and nations on the U.S. State Department’s list of human rights abusers. Tell Congress and the President it’s time to stop selling weapons to dictators and governments that turn U.S. weapons on civilian populations.

We need a new foreign policy, one that reflects America’s values and goodwill, one that relies more on patient diplomacy and humanitarian assistance and far less on weapons and war.

Humbly for Peace,

Kevin Martin
Executive Director
Peace Action

P.S. – Now, faced with war raging in the Middle East, a region awash in U.S. weapons, it is time again to push Congress and the Obama administration to end the practice of arming dictators and human rights abusers.


Interview on Iraq on Radio New Zealand

June 30, 2014

Our executive director Kevin Martin was interviewed about the situation in Iraq by Radio New Zealand on Saturday, give it a listen, it’s the second link on this page. Kevin’s interview follows an excellent commentary by Wayne Brittenden at about 4:50 minutes in.

 

 


Letter from 32 peace organizations to the president urging U.S. participation in Mexico conference on nuclear weapons

February 6, 2014

This letter is a follow-up to one we sent the president last year, as well as a petition campaign that garnered over 25,000 signatures, urging U.S. participation in multilateral nuclear disarmament fora. Next week, governmental and non-governmental reps will convene in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico for the second conference on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons (the U.S. and other nuclear states skipped last year’s meeting in Oslo, Norway). Reliable sources had said the U.S. was considering participating in the Mexico conference, but there has been no announcement on this to date. Last week’s email action alert generated over 2200 Peace Action supporters’ emails to the president (thank you!) and other organizations including Physicians for Social Responsibility and Nuclear Age Peace Foundation have also generated emails to President Obama on the Mexico conference. The letter below is also posted on the website of our colleague organization, the Lawyers Committee for Nuclear Policy.

–Kevin Martin

January 29, 2014
President Barack Obama

The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Washington, DC 20500

Mr. President,
The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review Report rightly declared: “It is in the U.S. interest and that of all other nations that the nearly 65-year record of nuclear non-use be extended forever.” On February 13-14 in Mexico, governments will gather for a second conference on the consequences of nuclear explosions. The point is to develop and disseminate understanding of the consequences, and the inability to respond adequately to them, so as to reinforce the determination, well expressed in the Report, that nuclear weapons must never be used again.
The United States should be there. The aim – and the focus on catastrophic consequences – is completely in accord with your speeches in Prague, Berlin, and elsewhere. In Prague you said: “One nuclear weapon exploded in one city – be it New York or Moscow, Islamabad or Mumbai, Tokyo or Tel Aviv, Paris or Prague – could kill hundreds of thousands of people. And no matter where it happens, there is no end to what the consequences might be – for our global safety, our security, our society, our economy, to our ultimate survival.”
As representatives of organizations working for the global elimination of nuclear weapons, we respectfully urge that you direct the State Department to send a delegation to the Mexico conference and to participate constructively.
We last wrote you by letter dated June 6, 2013 to urge that you speak at the September 26, 2013 United Nations High-Level Meeting on Nuclear Disarmament. While regrettably there was no high-level US representative at the meeting, the United States did make a statement and also joined in a statement made by a UK mission policy advisor (!) on behalf of the United Kingdom, France, and United States.
It would have been better if the joint statement had not been made at all. It conveyed a profoundly negative attitude toward the multiple efforts being made in international forums to stimulate progress on achieving and sustaining a world free of nuclear weapons, stating: “And while we are encouraged by the increased energy and enthusiasm around the nuclear disarmament debate, we regret that this energy is being directed toward initiatives such as this High-Level Meeting, the humanitarian consequences campaign, the Open-Ended Working Group and the push for a Nuclear Weapons Convention.”

In the remaining three years of your Presidency, we strongly urge that your administration shed that negative attitude and participate constructively in deliberations and negotiations regarding the creation of a multilateral process to achieve a nuclear weapons free world. Opportunities will arise in the Conference on Disarmament, the NPT Review Process, and the UN General Assembly.
Regarding the Conference on Disarmament, in December 2013 the General Assembly adopted a new resolution following up on the High-Level Meeting. The resolution calls for “the urgent commencement of negotiations, in the Conference on Disarmament, for the early conclusion of a comprehensive convention” to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons. Rather than reflexively rejecting that call, the United States should engage in good faith in efforts to make the Conference on Disarmament productive in pursuing the objective for which it was established more than three decades ago: complete nuclear disarmament.
Finally, your administration should work hard to convene soon the conference on a zone free of WMD in the Middle East promised by the 2010 NPT Review Conference. Prospects for movement on substantive issues are appreciably higher now than they were a year ago, due to the praiseworthy US-Russian initiative on disarmament of the Syrian chemical weapons arsenal and the encouraging progress on reaching a permanent settlement of disputes over Iran’s nuclear program.
We would appreciate a reply to this letter, and would be happy to meet to discuss the matters it addresses.
Sincerely,
John Burroughs, Executive Director, Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy
[contact for this letter: johnburroughs@lcnp.org; (212) 818-1861;
866 UN Plaza, Suite 4050, New York, NY 10017]
Joseph Gerson, Disarmament Coordinator, American Friends Service Committee
Kevin Martin, Executive Director, Peace Action
Jacqueline Cabasso, Executive Director, Western States Legal Foundation
David Krieger, President, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

Ashish Sinha, Program Director, Alliance for Nuclear Accountability
Henry Lowendorf, Chair, Greater New Haven Peace Council
Alfred L. Marder, Honorary President, International Association of Peace Messenger Cities
Alice Slater, Director, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, New York
Marylia Kelley, Executive Director, Tri-Valley CAREs (Communities Against a Radioactive Environment)
Tim Judson, Acting Executive Director, Nuclear Information & Resource Service
Baria Ahmar, Canada/Lebanon coordinator, Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament
Blase Bonpane, Ph.D., Director, Office of the Americas
Sr. Patricia Chappell, SNDdeN, Executive Director, Pax Christi USA
Sheila Croke, Pax Christi Long Island Council
The Rev. David W. Good, Tree of Life Educational Fund
Nydia Leaf, Granny Peace Brigade (New York)
Paul Hodel, Promoting Enduring Peace
Odile Hugonot Haber, Co-Chair, Middle East Committee, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom – US
Alan Haber, The Megiddo Peace Project.
David Hartsough, Executive Director, PEACEWORKERS, San Francisco
Valerie Heinonen, o.s.u., Director, Shareholder Advocacy, Dominican Sisters of Hope, Mercy Investment Services, Inc. and Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk, U.S. Province
Margaret Melkonian, Executive Director, Long Island Alliance for Peaceful Alternatives

Sr. Rosemarie Pace, Pax Christi New York
Rob van Riet, Coordinator, Disarmament Program, World Future Council
Ellen Rosser, President, World Peace Now
Rev. Kristin Stoneking, Executive Director, Fellowship of Reconciliation
Dr. Kathleen Sullivan, Program Director, Hibakusha Stories
David Swanson, cofounder, WarIsACrime.org
Carol Urner, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, 2014 Nuclear Weapons Abolition Campaign.
Alyn Ware, Member, World Future Council
Bill Wickersham, Adjunct Professor of Peace Studies, University of Missouri – Columbia
cc:
John Kerry, Secretary of State
Rose Gottemoeller, Acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security
Thomas M. Countryman, Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation
Susan Rice, National Security Advisor
Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor
Samantha Power, Permanent Representative to the United Nations
Christopher Buck, Chargé d’Affaires, a.i., Conference on Disarmament


The Endless Arms Race

January 21, 2014

This article was published yesterday by History News Network. The author, Larry Wittner, is a national Peace Action board member and distinguished author, emeritus professor and activist.

 

by Lawrence S. Wittner

 

Lawrence S. Wittner (http://lawrenceswittner.com) is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany. His latest book is a satirical novel about university corporatization, What’s Going On at UAardvark?

 

Image via Wiki Commons.

It’s heartening to see that an agreement has been reached to ensure that Iran honors its commitment, made when it signed the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to forgo developing nuclear weapons.

But what about the other key part of the NPT, Article VI, which commits nuclear-armed nations to “cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament,” as well as to “a treaty on general and complete disarmament”? Here we find that, 44 years after the NPT went into force, the United States and other nuclear powers continue to pursue their nuclear weapons buildups, with no end in sight.

On January 8, 2014, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced what Reuters termed “ambitious plans to upgrade [U.S.] nuclear weapons systems by modernizing weapons and building new submarines, missiles and bombers to deliver them.” The Pentagon intends to build a dozen new ballistic missile submarines, a new fleet of long-range nuclear bombers, and new intercontinental ballistic missiles. The Congressional Budget Office estimated in late December that implementing the plans would cost $355 billion over the next decade, while an analysis by the independent Center for Nonproliferation Studies reported that this upgrade of U.S. nuclear forces would cost $1 trillion over the next 30 years. If the higher estimate proves correct, the submarines alone would cost over $29 billion each.

Of course, the United States already has a massive nuclear weapons capability — approximately 7,700 nuclear weapons, with more than enough explosive power to destroy the world. Together with Russia, it possesses about 95 percent of the more than 17,000 nuclear weapons that comprise the global nuclear arsenal.

Nor is the United States the only nation with grand nuclear ambitions. Although China currently has only about 250 nuclear weapons, including 75 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), it recently flight-tested a hypersonic nuclear missile delivery vehicle capable of penetrating any existing defense system. The weapon, dubbed the Wu-14 by U.S. officials, was detected flying at ten times the speed of sound during a test flight over China during early January 2014. According to Chinese scientists, their government had put an “enormous investment” into the project, with more than a hundred teams from leading research institutes and universities working on it. Professor Wang Yuhui, a researcher on hypersonic flight control at Nanjing University, stated that “many more tests will be carried out” to solve the remaining technical problems. “It’s just the beginning.” Ni Lexiong, a Shanghai-based naval expert, commented approvingly that “missiles will play a dominant role in warfare, and China has a very clear idea of what is important.”

Other nations are engaged in this arms race, as well. Russia, the other dominant nuclear power, seems determined to keep pace with the United States through modernization of its nuclear forces. The development of new, updated Russian ICBMs is proceeding rapidly, while new nuclear submarines are already being produced. Also, the Russian government has started work on a new strategic bomber, known as the PAK DA, which reportedly will become operational in 2025. Both Russia and India are known to be working on their own versions of a hypersonic nuclear missile carrier. But, thus far, these two nuclear nations lag behind the United States and China in its development. Israel is also proceeding with modernization of its nuclear weapons, and apparently played the key role in scuttling the proposed U.N. conference on a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East in 2012.

This nuclear weapons buildup certainly contradicts the official rhetoric. On April 5, 2009, in his first major foreign policy address, President Barack Obama proclaimed “America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” That fall, the UN Security Council — including Russia, China, Britain, France, and the United States, all of them nuclear powers — unanimously passed Resolution 1887, which reiterated the point that the NPT required the “disarmament of countries currently possessing nuclear weapons.” But rhetoric, it seems, is one thing and action quite another.

Thus, although the Iranian government’s willingness to forgo the development of nuclear weapons is cause for encouragement, the failure of the nuclear nations to fulfill their own NPT obligations is appalling. Given these nations’ enhanced preparations for nuclear war — a war that would be nothing short of catastrophic — their evasion of responsibility should be condemned by everyone seeking a safer, saner world.

- See more at: http://hnn.us/article/154488#sthash.dJhQuAEk.dpuf


If Israel Won’t Come to Helsinki, Helsinki Will Come to Israel

December 17, 2013

–by Madelyn Hoffman, Executive Director, New Jersey Peace Action

On December 5th, 6th and 7th, over 100 delegates from at least 14 countries gathered first in Haifa and then in the Israeli-occupied West Bank town of Ramallah, for an historic international conference on creating a nuclear weapons free, weapons of mass destruction free Middle East. According to the organizers, this was the first such conference ever to be held in Israel.

The conference was held in Israel because an official United Nations (U.N.) sponsored conference on the topic, agreed upon by all delegates at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference of 2010 in New York City and scheduled to be held in Helsinki, Finland in December 2012 never happened. The U.S. and Israel scuttled the conference at the last minute claiming that the timing for this conference was off due to there being “too much tension in the Middle East.”

Undaunted, an alternative conference was organized in Helsinki in December 2012 by representatives of some international NGOs. Issam Makhoul, a former MP in the Israeli Knesset and one of the primary organizers of the Haifa Conference said at that conference of NGOs, If Israel wont come to Helsinki, Helsinki will come to Israel.

The International Conference in Haifa and Ramallah was the result of that pledge.

Delegates to the conference came from Israel, Palestine, Belgium, France, Senegal, the Congo, Germany, Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Japan and the United States. There were also 4 current members of the Israeli Knesset and 4 former members of the Israeli Knesset in attendance, joined by elected officials from progressive political parties in Europe. Sharon Dolev, Director of the Israeli Anti-Nuclear Movement, was featured on a couple of panels, including one titled Civil Society and the Anti-Nuclear Movement, moderated by Jackie Cabasso, Executive Director of the Western States Legal Foundation,

Mr. Tadadoshi Akiba, former mayor of Hiroshima and a founding member of Mayors for Peace, now with approximately 6000 members, provided much of the context for why it is so important for the world to work toward the elimination of nuclear weapons during the lifetimes of the Hibakusha, Japanese survivors of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The average age of Hibakusha today is 78, so if the world is to help them to achieve their dream of a nuclear weapons free world in their lifetimes, the time is short! The current mayor of Haifa, Mr. Yona Yahav, pledged that he would join Mayors for Peace.

Madelyn Hoffman, New Jersey Peace Action’s (NJPA’s) Executive Director, attended on behalf of both NJPA and Peace Action, the nation’s largest grass roots disarmament organization, founded in 1957. She brought with her Peace Action’s 56 year commitment to reducing and ultimately eliminating all nuclear weapons and a desire to move toward a genuine and lasting peace in the Middle East by supporting the Israeli movement for disarmament. That movement is urging that Israel first abandon its decades-long policy of “nuclear ambiguity” and acknowledge its nuclear arsenal, then join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, both important first steps toward nuclear disarmament.

The conference took place just days after a negotiated agreement was reached with Iran at a conference in Geneva. That agreement exchanged yet another assurance from Iran that it would not develop nuclear weapons and never had any intentions of doing so for a modest easing of sanctions against the country. While there are serious concerns about the way in which the agreement was reached and the inability of more conservative members of the U.S. House and U.S. Senate to give up their desire for war and increased sanctions on Iran, the fact remains that, if upheld, Iran and the West reached an agreement around nuclear weapons development through diplomacy and thankfully, war was averted, at least temporarily.

The conference also took place a few months after a U.S. military strike against Syria was averted through tremendous public opposition in the U.S. and another successful diplomatic agreement, this one brokered by Russia and requiring Syria to destroy its chemical weapons. Again, whether or not one agrees with negotiating such agreements first by threatening war, the fact remains that war was avoided by high level diplomacy.

Given both of these important agreements, conference participants believe that any remaining ability for Israel to rightly claim an existential threat seems to have been eliminated. Participants in the conference also stressed that a turning point seems to have been reached – one in which an important choice needs to be made about what’s next for the Middle East. Now the dilemma exists: should all states in the Middle East have nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction or should no state? Conference participants opted for the latter. Anything else, they argued, would simply allow the sole nuclear power in the region to use the threat of nuclear war to increase its dominance in the region, rather than to work toward achievement of genuine peace with its neighbors.

Israeli participants in the conference used the conference to launch plans for the creation of an Israel-based coalition to address issues of nuclear weapons and nuclear power. Some of their demands in regard to the state of Israel are for determined and persistent activity to achieve a Middle East free of nuclear weapons and all WMD; constructive, good faith participation in the Helsinki Conference whenever it is rescheduled; accession to and ratification of all treaties and instruments related to nuclear and all weapons of mass destruction; cessation and prohibition of acquisition, production, stockpiling, threatening or using nuclear weapons; and an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories as part of a just and peaceful solution to the conflict.

Of course, the Middle East isn’t the only region in the world that needs to disarm, but a nuclear weapons free/weapons of mass destruction free Middle East would be a good start and a good model, for countries like India/Pakistan, Russia, Great Britain, China, France and the United States. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty requires that nuclear disarmament be the ultimate goal of the nuclear states and that no nuclear weapons possessing nation adopt or follow policies that will lead to a new nuclear arms race.

The conference program in Ramallah focused at length on Israel’s Dimona nuclear reactor, located in the Negev, about 13 kilometers south of Dimona. At age 50, the nuclear reactor has not been inspected by the international community for a very long time. After hearing lengthy and detailed presentations of anecdotal evidence from Palestinian doctors about the potential health impacts of the operations of the Dimona reactor on nearby residents and the surrounding environment, conference attendees asked that Israel subject all nuclear facilities to International Energy Agency safeguards, monitoring and verification, similar to what Iran must do; move toward closure, decommissioning, containment and remediation of the Dimona nuclear facility; and achieve full public disclosure of radioactive and toxic contamination by the Dimona facilities of the air, soil and ground water.

If participants in the three-day conference pledge to do whatever they can to adopt and promote the preliminary goals reflected above, much progress will have been achieved. For some of us from the United States, it was important to be introduced to the grass roots movement for nuclear disarmament in Israel. It is also useful to remember that there will be a PrepCom in May 2014 for the 2015 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. Our disarmament friends from Israel and from around the world will be in New York at that time. It will be good to make the most of that opportunity to let people here in the U.S. know just how widespread is the movement for nuclear disarmament and how peaceful negotiations can lead us closer to that goal.

Photos below by Madelyn Hoffman – Top photo, the first panel at the conference, from left to right: Former Speaker of the Israeli Knesset, Avraham Burg; Dr. Emily Landau, Senior Research Associate,Institute for National Security Studies; Professor Tadatoshi Akiba, former Mayor of Hiroshima and President of “Mayors for Peace”; Issam Makhoul, Former M.K. (member of the Knesset) and Chairman of the Emil Touma Institute for Palestinian and Israeli Studies. Bottom photo, Sharon Dolev, the director of the Israel Disarmament Organization and Madelyn Hoffman.

firstpanelhaifa sharonandmh


Letter from the Haifa Conference

December 9, 2013


Posted on December 7, 2013 by  in CommentaryMAPA NewsOur People // 0 Comments

jjk130hI arrived in Ben-Gurion Airport via Rome on Wednesday night and had the most routine entry to Israel ever.  Not a single question, even after I asked not to have my passport stamped and told the agent I was there to attend a conference until Sunday.  The Haifa International Conference for a Middle East Free of Weapons of Mass Destruction (http://wmdfz.org/) began on Thursday morning at the Dan Panorama Hotel overlooking Haifa Harbor from the top of Mount Carmel.  I’m estimating around 150 registered delegates, with perhaps 100 or so in the room at any one time. Although the Conference was officially non-partisan it was clearly under the auspices of the Israeli far left, principally the electoral Front for Peace and Democracy (Hadash in Hebrew, Jabha in Arabic, “The Front”), which includes the Israeli Communist Party.In my experience, the Israeli Left is the only social space in Israel where Arabs and Jews mingle in cordial equality.  Here the Palestinians tended to speak Arabic among themselves, but they addressed the Conference in Hebrew.The crowd was a little on the “gray” side, but not so much as similar gatherings tend to be in the US.  And although the Israeli Left is regarded as a small radical fringe by most of the Jewish population, Hadash/Jabha has 4 Knesset members (out of 120) and a strong base principally in the Arab Palestinian communities; Meretz, also represented at the Conference (think DSA), has 5 Knesset members.  The mayor of Haifa welcomed the Conference.I’m staying at the apartment of two elderly Communists in their 80’s.  Colman Altman, who met me at the train station, was born in South Africa to Lithuanian parents and emigrated to Israel in he 1950’s. He’s a retired academic physicist.  His wife Janina, is a chemist from Lvov, now in Ukraine, but known as the Eastern Polish city of Lviv before the Second World War. (Earlier it was Lemberg in Austrian Galicia, the home of the novelist Joseph Roth.) Janina lost her entire family to the Nazis and came to Israel in 1950—where, ironically, she traded her parents’ Zionist ideal for revolutionary politics.  She said the inequality she experienced in Israel and especially the treatment of Arabs was her inspiration.There were delegates from a number of Foreign countries – perhaps a half-dozen  or more from the US, including three from the US Peace Council, two (including myself along with Madeline Hoffman from New Jersey) and a woman representing WILPF; others were from France, Francophone Africa (Senegal?) Germany, Belgium and perhaps other countries I may have missed.The morning program opened with a very moving address by Prof. Tadatoshi Akiba, the mayor of Hiroshima until 2011.  He was introduced by Naomi Chazan, an Israeli academic with a  long record of fighting for human rights. (When I spoke with Akiba later, he called Boston his “second home”, having studied for years at MIT.)Akiba pointed out that if “Official” Israel refused to participate in the movement toward the abolition of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, then is was up to political/progressive people to press the issue.  He said he spoke on behalf of the many thousands of “Hibakusha” or nuclear bomb survivors from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who are demanding the complete abolition of nuclear weapons “in their lifetime. (Their average age is in the 70’s.)  Their slogan resonates tellingly here in Israel:  “Never Again should any people suffer as we did.”Akiba spoke about some hopeful signs in the struggle to eliminate nuclear weapons:In October 2013 there was a conference of 56 countries like Sweden, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, “Able But Unwilling” to develop nuclear weapons.  That is, they possessed the technical ability and nuclear programs necessary to produce nuclear weapons but chose not to do so. They cited the influence of anti-war domestic politics as the key element opposing weapons development.In November of this year the signatory nations of The Red Cross/Red Crescent met in Sydney, Australia to reaffirm the same goal of moving the nuclear abolition goal of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.Finally, the international “Mayors for Peace” now has almost 6000 members and provides hope that urban and civil society will be able to push their governments. Akiba pointed out that cities, unlike nations, do not have armies.The goal of the 60,000 surviving Hibakusha is the elimination of nuclear weapons by 2020 – “While we are alive”.  Akiba said a goal is “A dream with a deadline” and that for the Hibakusha it meant success “within our lifetime.”Former Knesset speaker Avrum Burg spoke next about the politics of a Middle East WMDFZ.  I’ll report on that in a subsequent p


Haaretz – Israeli Conference urges a Middle East without Nuclear Weapons

December 7, 2013

Note: Madelyn Hoffman, executive director of New Jersey Peace Action, and Jeff Klein, a Massachusetts Peace Action board member, have been attending this conference in Haifa. We look forward to reports from them soon.

This Haaretz article is behind a paywall so no link, but the text is below. Thanks to our colleague Jacqueline Cabasso of Western States Legal Foundation, who is also at the conference, for sending this article.

By Eli Ashkenazi

A conference opened in Haifa Thursday advocating a Middle East without nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction – a controversial issue in Israel.

If Israel won’t go to Helsinki, Helsinki will come to Israel, former MK Issam Makhoul said at the two-day conference, referring to Israel’s decision last year not to take part in a Helsinki conference on the issue. Makhoul said Israel couldn’t escape a discussion on the matter.

According to Makhoul, the Haifa conference was the first step toward opening a debate in Israel on nuclear weapons. He said an Israeli coalition of organizations and a monitoring committee would push the issue forward.

Makhoul said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s insistence on talking about the Iranian nuclear threat helped stoke the discussion on Israel’s nuclear program as well. There is now a willingness and sense of urgency in broaching the subject and telling Israelis that a different kind of Middle East is possible, he said.

The conference is the first in a series on the issue, the organizers said. Delegates came from Europe, the United States and Africa. Among the participants was Prof. Tadatoshi Akiba, a former mayor of Hiroshima, who urged a 2020 deadline for world nuclear disarmament.

Akiba said no one needed to suffer as his countrymen had suffered, adding that governments had not met expectations and that civil-society groups must help governments achieve the goal.

Former Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg, who 14 years ago permitted a rare Knesset debate on the nuclear issue, said that when Israel first crafted its strategy on the issue, the country was still fragile. Israel therefore sought to create a balance of power, but what once was an asset was now becoming harmful.

Calling former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the best friend of Israel’s nuclear program, Burg said Arab countries were now immersed in their own affairs and that Israel was not the excuse for everything.

Burg said the formula now was that if everyone has the bomb no one will have it. He added that a discussion was needed recognizing Israel as a nuclear power and asking what Israel would get in exchange for relinquishing this status. Also, all parties must understand that countries have more to lose by possessing nuclear weapons.

Former MK Naomi Chazan said the fact the conference was being held was a historic moment in Israel, where there is no serious discussion on the nuclear issue.

But Dr. Emily Landau of the Institute for National Security Studies offered a different take, saying the subject was constantly under discussion in academic forums and elsewhere.

Landau said that although speakers at the conference blamed Israel, the reality was more complex, and that focusing on Israel, as Egypt has been doing for decades, was the mistake of the Helsinki conference as well. Landau said Iran’s nuclear ambitions had to be addressed, and that it was impossible to talk about countries’ nuclear capabilities before discussing relations between countries and confidence-building.

Unlike most speakers, who praised the Geneva talks between the six powers and Iran, Landau said the delegates should listen when an Iranian leader compares Israel to a dog or cancer and calls the country illegitimate. Landau said Israel, located in the middle of a dangerous region, needed to create deterrence and was not a nuclear threat.


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