One in four Israelis don't want nukes - Poll

January 01 2004 at 03:18PM
Reuters, reprinted by

Jerusalem - One in four Israelis believe their country should give up its presumed nuclear arsenal as part of a comprehensive move to rid the Middle East of weapons of mass-destruction, a poll published on Thursday found.

Widely believed to be the only regional nuclear power, Israel has come under extra scrutiny since Libya said last month it was abandoning its WMD programme.

Israel does not discuss capabilities, in a policy it calls "strategic ambiguity".

But a survey of 504 Israelis commissioned by the state broadcaster found 77,4 percent believe Israel has nuclear weapons and 25,2 percent think these should be eliminated as part of any regional disarmament campaign.

Opposed to the suggestion were 56,1 percent of those surveyed, while 18,7 percent did not express an opinion. More than 22 percent said that either they did not believe Israel had the bomb or did not know whether it had.

The poll gave no comparative figures from the past.

On Monday, Syria proposed that the UN Security Council ban all nuclear, biological and chemical weapons in the Middle East in what Arab envoys called an attempt to embarrass Israel.

Several nuclear-armed council members stalled the motion, envoys said.

Long used to battling neighbours sworn to its destruction, Israel is now bogged down with a Palestinian uprising whose suicide bombers and guerrilla snipers have made strategic weapons systems appear all-but redundant.

Asked by Tel Aviv pollster Shvakim Panorama to grade their sense of national security, 81,7 percent said "terrible" or "not so good". Only 18,3 percent were optimistic on security.

At least 200 nuclear warheads are believed to have been produced at the Dimona reactor in southern Israel, an estimate based on disclosures by technician Modechai Vanunu to Britain's Sunday Times newspaper in 1986 and other exposes.

The Mossad secret service abducted Vanunu in 1986. He was tried and jailed for 18 years. Vanunu is due for release in April, but security sources said on Thursday he may be barred from leaving the country out of concern he could reveal more state secrets.