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By Ami Dor-on
Head of the Mossad, Ephraim Halevy, warned the NATO leadership: “North Korea is helping Iran develop long range missiles that can reach Europe and America”.
Not only has Iran tried to join the nuclear power’s club. The Islamic race for nuclear weapons began in 1969 when Muammar Gaddafi tried to buy a nuclear bomb from Pakistan for 500 million dollars. During a meeting of scientists back then in Tripoli he said: “Whoever leads the inevitable Islamic war with the Western world in the 21st century will be those who possess an atomic bomb “. One major question remains unanswered. Has the U.S. learned how to deal with Iran from the lesson it learned in dealing with the elimination of the Libyan nuclear threat?
There is a common practice applied by Israel’s Prime Minister to the country’s media-political arena, a practice by which he gives interviews during prime time so the public might be exposed to information regarding existential questions. Questions like how or what did we do last year, are things good or bad, as well as where are we heading as a nation in the foreseeable future? Interviews of this type are typically used by politicians as a stage show where they can display their ‘merchandise’. But what does that politician do if he has no merchandise to show? It turns out that the answer to his dilemma is simple as that politician knows the path of creating a terrifying scenario is always a good and effective means designed to demonstrate to his astonished audience that only he, the wise politician who sits on high, really knows how to deal with the existential storm that is about to occur.
This method is not new and more than a few Prime Ministers have used it. The one who was most skilled in creating horror scenarios of this kind was Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Thus, in a world already filled with news about the nuclear threat from Iran as well as the existence of an array of missiles carrying chemical warheads in Syria, Sharon decided that it was time to scare the people of Israel. Using an unusually severe statement Sharon declared, “Libya is working vigorously on developing a nuclear bomb and probably is the most advanced Arab country in this field”. In order to turn a normal threat into a terrible threat, Sharon added,” the Libyans are receiving help and using nuclear expertise from Iraq as well as receiving Science andTechnological support and assistance from Pakistan”.
The threatening information that Sharon ‘sold’ to the media and public as ‘hot news’ was not new at all and even if Sharon hadn’t received accurate information from Israeli intelligence, he would have known about it from reading newspapers.
The truth was that Libya had indeed tried for years to achieve nuclear combat capability. After Pakistan triggered an atomic blast before an amazed world in May 1998, Israel’s Ma’ariv newspaper, published an article written by my colleague Eli Teicher and myself, which offered a broad overview of the history of the ‘Islamic bomb’. The bomb was an outcome of close cooperation between Pakistan and other Islamic countries, especially Libya, which expected to receive its’ share of the nuclear pie.
“Pakistan’s nuclear test surprised no one in the West or in the East,” we wrote. “For more than a quarter of a century it was known to intelligence agencies of the super-powers that the Pakistanis had made a strategic decision to produce an atomic bomb in order to balance the nuclear threat from India, which has developed nuclear weapons and was the fifth country in the world that tried the so-called ‘peaceful nuclear facility’ on May 18th 1974. Because Pakistan is extremely poor and under severe economic restrictions, and in order to obtain funding from oil-rich Arab countries in order to materialize its’ plans of achieving nuclear weapons, Pakistan had ‘marketed’ a concept entitled ‘Islamic bomb. Talent and scientific capacity were abundant in Pakistan. The country supported extremely competent staffs of scientists, including Dr. Mohammad Abdus Salam, Physics Nobel Prize winner, who declared in 1970 that “the technology of nuclear weapons is not a secret. One should just put in all the details in the right place like a crossword puzzle”.
Pakistan suffered from one major problem, money required for its nuclear program was not readily available. The money, as estimated by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Prime Minister of Pakistan at that time, would be made available by Libya’s ruler, Muammar Muhammad El-Gaddafi. Addressing one of the semi-Political semi-religious conferences held in Tripoli, capital of Libya, Gaddafi said: “The atomic bomb is the key to the club of 21st century superpowers. Without a bomb, we, the Arab nations, are like those who shoot using bows and arrows, while our enemies have already invented gunpowder”.
Regarding Gaddafi, those were not empty words. Gaddafi was working zealously and vigorously to obtain nuclear weapons. A few months after he had seized power in Libya, on September 1, 1969, he sent his right-hand man, Major Abdel El-Salam Jalood, to a secret meeting in Cairo with Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. “I’m going to Beijing to acquire an atomic bomb. Not a big bomb. Anything small to medium,” Jalood told Nasser, more an announcement than requesting advice.
Despite his skepticism Nasser issued Jalood an Egyptian passport with a false name and gave him his blessing towards his meeting with Chinese Prime Minister, Chou Enlai. Chou met and listened to Jalood but after hearing what he wanted Chou responded very politely that atomic bombs, ‘even small ones’, were not for sale. Chou did not send Jalood back on the first plane home, but introduced him to another Muslim, who was Gadhafi’s ally in thought and action. The man was Pakistan’s Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
Bhutto’s selection of Libya was a very natural one. Gaddafi was swimming in money and was in a frenzy to acquire nuclear weapons. Libya had an added advantage. She was a neighbor of Niger, a country rich in uranium, and whose leader, Colonel Seyni Kountche, had already stated that “our uranium policy is simple. We sell uranium to any country with good money and we do not investigate the nature of its regime”. Bhutto came to Tripoli for a short visit of one day and one night and received an excited welcome. An agreement between the two leaders was signed in February 1974, whose provisions were: Libya would fund Pakistan’s nuclear research and development with up to 500 million USD. In return for this ‘humble contribution’, Libya would get free access to Pakistani atomic facilities and to all the knowledge gained in them, as well as “at least two operational nuclear bombs”.
Following Operation Desert Storm and the downfall of Saddam Hussein, Eli Teicher and I wrote in our review, that Gaddafi went on to assemble the best scientists for a motivational encounter in Rabat, near the capital Tripoli, the city where the largest chemical weapons factory in the third world was located.
“We lost the battle,” Gaddafi told his listeners “but not the big war. In the battle that will break out in the early 21st century between Islam – the future second largest superpower worldwide after the decline of the Soviet Union, and Western Civilization” … Gaddafi explained to his listeners that those who lead Islam to this inevitable war with the Western world will be those who hold in their hands an atomic bomb. “Libyan money,” Gaddafi said, “and Syria’s ballistic missiles with Pakistani atomic power will return Islam to its appropriate status, a status that had been stolen from it by force. What was taken by force will be returned with a greater force”.
It is fair to assume, that these facts were known to Israeli intelligence agencies which had been following the development of the Islamic nuclear option, including Iran, for many years. It is fair to assume that their enacted duty involved direct reports to the Prime Minister. But not only the Israeli intelligence knew about this story. Quite a few serious organizations were well aware of this issue. One of them was the ‘Federation of American Scientists (FAS)’, which in its review of weapons of mass destruction in Libya, reported as follows: “intelligence experts define Libya as one of the most dangerous countries from the perspective of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. Though the case in the development of the Libyan nuclear capability is somewhat premature because of Libya’s very limited technological capability, the worries increase about the very significant effort invested by it and in Libyan chemical weapons of mass destruction”. However, the Federation’s scientists also wrote that Libya had the ability to launch nuclear and/or chemical warheads using ‘Scud’ and ‘frog’ missiles found in its possession as well as using ‘Topolowa 22’ medium-range combat bombers that formed a part of Libya’s air force. A similar assessment of Libya’s offensive capabilities was also made in the report of the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States (CIA) and presented to Congress in 1999. The report stated that Libya was one of five Arab countries that possessed weapons of mass destruction.
If we assume that Israeli Prime Minister Sharon knowingly ignored the visible material, one informative piece about the Libyan nuclear capabilities could not escape his knowledge. Early in 2000, news agencies around the world published information that the former Head of Mossad, Ephraim Halevy, met in Europe, under secrecy, with NATO officials. According to these media reports and quoted media information from abroad which appeared in the Israeli newspaper ‘Ha’aretz’, Halevi presented the NATO officials with the facts regarding Iran, Iraq, Libya and Syria’s nuclear capabilities. Halevi explained to his listeners that the danger of this development should lie not only in the concerns of Israel but in the concerns of all NATO members as well.
“Iran is investing money in developing long-range missiles capable of reaching Europe and North America in the future”. Halevy also added that Iran was developing its nuclear capability while its chemical manufacturing systems had already produced ‘large amounts of nerve gases’. Regarding Libya, Halevy suggested that the NATO officials closely monitor developments in this country “which is developing long-range missiles with the assistance of North Korea”.
In its efforts to scare the Israeli public regarding the danger imposed on it by the threat of the use of weapons of ‘the worst kind’ against it, one issue should be carefully considered and taken in its proper proportion. There have been those who tried to position Muammar Gaddafi as a ‘crazy fanatic’ for many years . The truth is different. During his reign, Gaddafi took many calculated and rational actions. Perhaps for reasons of image the things he said came out sounding strange or even irrational to Western ears. But just as Gadhafi realized in the past that he should not build a nuclear infrastructure near his capital, Tripoli, fearing an Israeli and / or American elimination air-attack, he knew that Israel held an intimidating advantage, an “Assault NABUTT” (second blow response), from its’ Dolphin submarines’ which, according to foreign publications, ‘carried cruise missiles with nuclear warheads’.
This double potential threat made it clear to Gaddafi that if he would attack Israel with weapons of mass destruction, nuclear or chemical, then the Israeli “second blow” would turn Lybia into a radioactive arid wasteland desert, in which no living creature could survive. And just for that reason, despite all the sinister threats and actions, one can say with certainty that Gaddafi who was executed in October 2011 by the furious revolutionary crowd, was a ruler who saw reality with a sober eye. He recognized the dangerous implications for the future existence of Libya if he continued his efforts to obtain the nuclear offensive capability.
This truth was proven to the world at the end of 2003, when Gaddafi decided that Libya would publicly announce its intention to cease its efforts to develop nuclear weapons and open all its nuclear and chemical facilities to the supervision of the international community. This statement, which surprised Israel and many other countries in the West, was the result of secret talks held between Libya, the U.S. and the UK. These contacts were kept a closely guarded secret for fear of leakage wiping out the confidential diplomatic effort. Even Intelligence services in the U.S. and UK, who usually tended to share relevant information with ‘colleague’ countries, hid the moves taken facing the Libyan regime from Israel while attempting to dismantle their nuclear industry and discourage him from continuing the development of its capabilities seeking a nuclear military option.
In the end it is clear that a realistic understanding of reality on the part of Gaddafi, as well as the use of peaceful means and dialogue, all led to the elimination of one channel of nuclear threat by an Islamic state against Israel. And maybe, just maybe, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be able to actually learn something useful from the actions of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. In the meanwhile, one question remains unanswered. Will U.S. President Obama take note from the lessons learned from the way the Libyan nuclear threat was eliminated when it comes to its dealings with Iran? If so will he understand that the realizations learned from this lesson are also applicable to Tehran’s fundamentalist regime, and may work in the negotiations currently taking place?