Israel may have 200 N-weapons: Hans Blix
The ex-chief UN weapons inspector said a nuclear-free Middle East would be possible if states in the region rejected nuclear activities.Updated: Jun 02, 2006 13:04 IST
Former chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix said that Israel is "assumed" to have 200 nuclear weapons - a figure that Israeli officials and its allies have rarely, if ever, mentioned.
Blix, who was speaking in his new capacity as head of a Swedish organisation, the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, said on Thursday that a nuclear-free Middle East would be possible if states in the region, including Israel, rejected nuclear activities.
To date, Israeli officials have never discussed in public the breadth of their nuclear programme or their nuclear arsenal.
The assumption has been that the programme exists.
But in Israel, Mark Regev, a spokesperson for the Israeli Foreign ministry, said, "there has been no change in Israel's long standing position that we will not be the first country to introduce nuclear weapons into the region".
Blix's release of the "assumed" number of Israeli nuclear weapons comes at a tense time over Iran's nuclear programme.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for the dismantling of the Israeli state and claimed that the Holocaust never happened.
The international community is wrestling with Tehran to bring a stop to its new uranium enrichment programme, which Washington charges will be used to produce nuclear weapons that would be a threat to Israel.
Blix last made headlines as chief of the international team that searched for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq during the time it was ruled by Saddam Hussein.
The weapons inspectors found no such weapons and the effort was disbanded after the US invaded Iraq in March 2003.
Blix said Middle East states should refrain from uranium enrichment and conversion of plutonium as a first step to a nuclear-free zone.
"Israel should commit itself not to make more plutonium, they are assumed to have 200 nuclear weapons," Blix told a news conference to present a 227-page study by the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission in Sweden.
The document, titled "Weapons of Terror," was issued at UN headquarters in New York and given to Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the president of the UN General Assembly, Swedish Foreign Minister Jan Eliasson.
The world now has a stock of 27,000 nuclear weapons, of which 12,000 are still actively deployed, held mostly by the nuclear powers, the report said.
The study made 60 recommendations, topped by a call on all countries to accept the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which for nuclear states would reduce their arsenals and stop producing fissile material for nuclear weapons and enrichment of uranium.
"All states - even the great powers - must prepare to live without nuclear weapons and other weapons of terror," the study said.
The 14-member commission that issued the study seeks to reduce dangers from nuclear, biological, chemical and radiological weapons.
When he returned to Stockholm after his work as head of the IAEA, Blix was given the job of forming the commission in December 2003, with the cooperation of dozen well-known world experts on weapons.
Israel has taken strident moves to keep secret information about its nuclear programme.
In 1986, it abducted nuclear spy Mordechai Vanunu from Rome and put him in jail for 18 years for leaking secret information to a British newspaper.
Since his 2004 release, he has been banned from travelling abroad and meeting with foreign nationals without prior clearance from Israeli authorities.
First Published: Jun 02, 2006 12:13 IST