The Indian/Pakistani Nuclear Tests and Israel
The Monitor: Nonproliferation, Demilitarization, and Arms Control
(Center for International Trade and Security, University of Georgia) Vol. 4, No. 2-3, Spring - Summer 1998, pp. 53-54.


Parts One and Two




Part One

Against its interests and will, Israel has been dragged into the Indian and Pakistani test and their aftermath. Rumors have linked Israel to the Indian tests, and the reports regarding Indian-Israeli military cooperation are greatly exaggerated. Pakistan claimed that Israeli F-16s were preparing to attack the Pakistani nuclear facilities, triggering intense diplomatic activity and even direct conversations between Israeli and Pakistani diplomats (in itself, a good exercise). There is no evidence for any of these claims; all aspects of Israeli nuclear program are highly classified and any reports of cooperation with a foreign country are simply not credible. It is unimaginable that Israel would take the risks of exposure by even discussing such issues with foreign officials. With respect to Pakistan, if there were indeed F-16s in Pakistani airspace, these were probably American aircraft for all the obvious reasons.

If the sources of these reports and rumors are examined, there are many parties, that have an interest in spreading false information regarding allegations of Israeli involvement. First, by attempting to link Israel to the Indian nuclear program and tests, Pakistan would have been seeking to delegitimize and isolate India in the Arab world. (There are reports that the Arab League representative in New Delhi delivered a protest regarding the Indian ties with Israel). Facing American isolation and sanctions after its own tests, Pakistan is looking to Iran and the Arab states for support, particularly financial aid, and the attempt to tie India and Israel into a single foreign non-Islamic force may be seen as useful in this process. (In the 1970s and 1980s, Arab states successfully sold the claims of Israeli nuclear cooperation with South Africa to many Europeans, Americans, Asians and Africans, but after the collapse of the apartheid regime, it became clear that this carefully managed disinformation campaign was uncritically accepted, despite the absence of evidence.)

Regarding the F-16s over Pakistan, if there were indeed such aircraft, Pakistani officials may have known there identity, and that they were not Israeli, but either to create a diversion just before their first test series, or to avoid another confrontation with the US, it might have been convenient to attribute them to Israel.

India, for its part, may also perceive an interest in linking itself to Israel at this time. Although India's relations with Israel have been very limited and India has traditionally aligned itself with the Arab states, this has been changing slowly and there is some very limited conventional military cooperation, and there have been some mutual visits. Isolated states tend to seek out each other's company and identify areas of cooperation, and in this case, India may see some benefits in developing closer ties with Israel in order to reduce the impact of Delhi's own isolation following the nuclear tests. This may even lead some Indians to exaggerate such ties, precisely in order to help counter the degree of isolation.

In addition, the Palestinians and many Arab states have an interest in linking Israel to India and also to create or highlight reports of Israeli "plans" to attack Pakistan. For many years, Israeli policy makers have observed the Arab effort to use diplomatic pressure to "strip Israel of its deterrent capability" and its technological superiority. This campaign to highlight the Israeli nuclear status is also designed to delegitimate and isolate Israel internationally. The false claims linking Israel to India are designed to tar Israel with the international costs of testing even though Israel has not tested. In addition, by using the Indian and Pakistani tests to highlight the Israeli nuclear option, Iran, Syria and perhaps other states in the region are seeking to justify their own nuclear weapons ambitions and efforts.

During a crisis in the peace process, some Palestinians (Hamas leader Yassin, in particular, but also PA leaders) see an "Islamic bomb" as a boost to their own bargaining power, in some psychological or political sense. This strategy plays on Israeli concerns regarding technology transfer from Pakistan to Iran or Iraq, as well as hope that an Iranian nuclear weapon and a change in the regional balance of power would somehow force Israel to make more concessions involving security risks in the negotiations with the Palestinians. (In fact, to the degree that there is an impact, the opposite is the case, and to the extent that Israel is concerned about security threats from other directions, it will be less likely to turn over territory to the Palestinians, but this is outside of the issues in this analysis.)

Finally, Israel has a strong interest in keeping a low profile with respect to these events. While it is true that Israel is the last of the non-NPT "threshold" states, in contrast to both India and Pakistan, Israel has no interest in testing, but does have a strong interest in maintaining the status quo with a strong non-proliferation regime. The India tests that shattered the regime and triggered the Pakistani tests are clearly not in Israel's interests.

Israel has scrupulously honored the agreements from the late 1960s with the U.S. government in which it pledged not to test or declare its nuclear status. For thirty years, Israel has carefully maintained this policy of nuclear responsibility, and it is still doing so, despite the NPT violations of Iraq and the Iranian programs. Among the former group of three "threshold states", Israel was the only one to sign and prepare to ratify the CTBT. Israel also has no interest in becoming involved in the India/Pakistan/China triangle, and any rumors of involvement should be treated with a high degree of skepticism.

Part Two

Following the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests, the term "Islamic bomb" suddenly reappeared. In Jerusalem's Al Aqsa Mosque, Sheik Hayyan Idrisi told the worshippers that "the Pakistani nuclear bomb is the beginning of the resurgence of Islamic power,'' and according to press reports, the worshippers responded with chants of "Allah Ahkbar". In his tour of the Arab world, the head of the radical Hamas terror group, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, celebrated the new "asset to Arab and Muslim nations". Newspapers printed cartoons featuring a nuclear mushroom cloud topped by an Islamic crescent, and some argued that the display of Islamic power would force Israel to make more concessions in negotiations with Arafat. The Iranian Foreign Minister's visit to Islamabad, a few days after Pakistan joined the nuclear club, seemed to emphasize these threats.

However, this focus is magnified far out of proportion, and neither the term "Islamic bomb", nor the Pakistani capability itself are fundamentally new. The term was coined after the 1974 Indian "PNE", when Ali Bhutto declared that Pakistan would follow in developing nuclear weapons, even if his people "had to eat grass". Pakistan received aid from a number of countries in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia and Libya, leading to concerns that Pakistani nuclear know-how or even weapons would be transferred to Colonel Ghaddafi, the Saudis, or Saddam Hussein.

In the intervening 20 years, there was no sign of an "Islamic bomb" in this sense. With the recent tests, Pakistan became unambiguous nuclear power, but this does not necessarily imply that Pakistan will now become a source of nuclear weapons or technology.

Indeed, it is clear that these tests were a response to India's tests, and the nationalist rhetoric and policies of the current government in Dehli. Pakistan is focused on what it perceives as the Indian threat and the conflict over Kashmir, and the current leadership, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, have stated that they have no interest in becoming embroiled in the Middle East. Furthermore, far from being an Islamic bomb, the Pakistanis owe this dubious achievement primarily to the assistance received from China. If anything, this weapon should be labeled as a "Chinese bomb".

While the short term impact of these events on the Middle East and on the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is minimal, they are likely to have a longer-term impact on the Middle East and on Israel. The sudden disruption of decades of nuclear equilibrium, when no new state entered the nuclear club, is, in itself, a source of instability. Israel is a status-quo state, and despite the near-misses in the cases of Iraq and North Korea, and concerns regarding Iran's continuing efforts, the nuclear non-proliferation regime has served Israeli interests.

Now, the future of this regime is uncertain, at best. A world of 7 nuclear powers is fundamentally different from the system of 5 powers, and the 7 may become 10, and then 15, etc. In most scenarios, the next states in the queue are Iran and Iraq (which still maintained the integrity of its nuclear design teams).

Both Iran and Iraq were well on the road towards nuclear weapons long before India and Pakistan joined the nuclear club. Both countries have been receiving nuclear and missile technology from China and Russia. Thus, even if it was so inclined, the ability of Pakistan to assist Iran or Iraq beyond what has been received directly from Moscow and Beijing would seem to be quite limited. Perhaps some information on bomb design can now be provided, but over 50 years after Hiroshima, this is of marginal importance. In addition, as Mike Eisenstadt and others have noted, relations between Iran and Pakistan are not particularly close (despite the visit of the Iranian Foreign Minister), and Pakistan is unlikely to risk its close relationship with Saudi Arabia by helping Iran or Iraq go nuclear.

Despite the media attention on the implications of a Pakistani-based "Islamic bomb", the major Israeli concern, as evidenced by recent official comments, continues to be the accelerated Iranian and revived Iraqi efforts to join the nuclear club. The U.S -led. sanctions regimes on Iran and Iraq have not succeeded in ending their nuclear ambitions, and the despite the American sanctions imposed on India and Pakistan, there is a strong basis for arguing that these will be short lived and ineffective in deterring other would-be nuclear powers. The US Congress has finally passed sanctions legislation designed to prevent Russian technological assistance to Iranian missile programs, but it may too late. (For almost a year, the Clinton Administration blocked sanctions, arguing that Russia could be convinced to cooperate without the treats of penalties.) China also continues to provide strategic technology and material to Iran, also in violation of its pledge to abide by the terms of the original MTCR guidelines.

Even if the US is willing to continue to bear the burden of single-handedly supporting the NPT regime, any success depends on a radical change in the policies of other suppliers and trading partners of the rogue states. After decades of easy profits and lax controls, will the European Union and Japan take the threats of proliferation seriously and support the U.S. in blocking the nuclear ambitions of Teheran and Baghdad? There are even some signs that Russia and China are concerned about the implications of a world of many nuclear powers for their own security. If this happens, it is possible, that the South Asian nuclear madness will be contained, and the Middle East will be spared the instabilities of a nuclear arms race.