Tue, Jul 06, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Israel posts Web site on nuclear program

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , JERUSALEM

Israel's Atomic Energy Commission posted a Web site on Sunday about the country's nuclear program, which has always been highly secretive, though the new site is limited to the most basic information and a few long-distance photos.

The introduction of the site came just two days before a visit by the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, who last week called for talks on a nuclear-free Middle East.

As noted on the new Web site (www.iaec.gov.il), the Atomic Energy Commission was established in 1952 by then-prime minister David Ben-Gurion.

Since then, Israel has tried to say as little as possible about its nuclear program. It has always refused to confirm or deny whether it possesses nuclear weapons, though various estimates have said the country has enough plutonium to make about 200 warheads.

In an interview last December with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, ElBaradei said he presumed that Israel had a nuclear arsenal.

The Web site notes that Israel has two nuclear research centers, including a nuclear reactor in the Negev Desert, outside the southern town of Dimona.

There is no reference to nuclear weapons on the Web posting, which says the Dimona facility is for "expanding and deepening basic knowledge of nuclear science and related fields and providing an infrastructure for the practical and economic utilization of atomic energy."

Some photos are of nondescript buildings, with bright flowers in the foreground. One shows what appears to be the silhouette of the dome-shaped Dimona reactor at sunset, from a great distance.

The Web site, in English and Hebrew, offer just a few pages of general information that is already common knowledge.

In May, Israel's equally secretive intelligence service, Mossad, posted its own Web site, which advertises for recruits.

While ElBaradei's two-day visit will focus attention on Israel's nuclear program, Israeli analysts say they see no possibility that it will lead Israel to change its policy of "strategic ambiguity."

"These policies have been followed by all prime ministers; they enjoy wide support in the Israeli body politic, and are well understood by Israel's allies," said Uzi Arad, director of the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, outside Tel Aviv.

ElBaradei's visit is likely to cover a variety of civilian nuclear issues, like nuclear medicine and safety regulations, Arad said.

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