JERUSALEM (CNN) — The director of the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog body — the International Atomic Energy Agency — is on his way to Israel in his first visit there since 1998.
Mohammed El Baradei’s three-day trip has been dubbed by officials in Jerusalem as a “routine visit” to discuss bilateral issues, but his visit is likely to bring up matters Israel never likes to discuss openly.
For nearly 50 years, Israel has neither confirmed nor denied it has nuclear weapons and it is unlikely that El Baradei’s visit will change that.
Most estimates put the stockpile at more than 100 bombs. If true, Israel would be the sixth-ranked nuclear power in the world, just after Britain.
The Israeli government has never deviated from a policy of “nuclear ambiguity” and has never signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
“Making it public would make it even more of an arms race and dismantling would leave Israel very vulnerable to attacks,” Gerald M. Steinberg of Bar-Ilan University says.
“Israel is a very small country and Israel very much fears threats from the outside. … particularly when you have statements from countries like Iran saying that Israel should be wiped out off the face of the earth.”
Allegations Iran is trying to develop a nuclear program are raising concerns that El Baradei’s visit may bring renewed pressure on Israel to disclose its own nuclear activities.
Israeli officials are reluctant to discuss El Baradei’s visit, simply saying he was invited to discuss a series of bilateral issues like cooperation in nuclear medicine and the smuggling of nuclear waste.
Analysts familiar with the issue, however, say discussions about a tacit acknowledgement, let alone disarmament, are not on the agenda.
Israeli officials say any discussion about disarmament is out of the question before comprehensive and lasting peace in the region.
“Our vision for the long term is indeed to turn the Middle East into a zone free of all weapons of mass destruction,” says former senior Mossad official Uzi Arad.
“But to pave the way towards that vision one needs to conclude peace agreements with all countries in the region, to have peaceful relations, good neighborliness, and to have durable such conditions.”
Al Baradei’s visit coincides with Israel’s atomic energy commission launching its first Web site.
It does not mention atomic weapons because, a commission spokesman said, “We are not going to put everything on the site, no company does that.”