Bomb Shop in the Nile: Target Israel
After sixteen years of service as the MANCHESTER GUARDIANcorrespondent in West Germany, TERENCE PRITTIEhas now been recalled to Fleet Street to become the GUARDIAN’S diplomatic correspondent. The following news story is one of the most startling which he uncovered on his way home.
BY TERENCE PRITTIE
AT THE end of April the British Foreign Secretary, R. A. Butler, made what appeared to be a gaffe when he said in Washington that President Nasser of Egypt was in possession of “minor” nuclear missiles. His statement was supposed at the time to have arisen out of some misunderstanding of Nasser’s program for producing rockets with conventional warheads, which Nasser has assured the world he intends to fire off some day against Israel. In London the Foreign Office couid not explain Mr. Butler’s Washington statement, beyond the thought that he had misread one of his background briefs.
Mr. Butler certainly chose his words with less than his usual carefulness. But the meaning behind his words was plain: the British government is increasingly concerned over Nasser’s threats to Israel, which have included such sinister phrases as “burning the cancerous growth of Israel” out of the Middle East. The evidence that Nasser is planning to destroy Israel should be examined on the basis of his openly declared statements of intention. The truism is too often forgotten that if a man says something often enough, he will not only come to believe it but will feel obliged to implement it.
Nasser’s campaign to compass the destruction of Israel has four main features. He is planning to secure the removal of the British from their present military bases in Aden, Cyprus, and Libya. He is building up his conventional armed strength. In addition, he has made considerable progress with a crash program to produce ground-to-ground rockets in sufficient numbers to be able to flatten Israel’s few cities and decimate its closely concentrated population. Finally, he has been experimenting with the production of weapons of genocide of both a nuclear and “subnuclear” type.
It is easiest to leave the question of the ejection of the British from their military bases to the last. Nor need a great deal be said about the building up of Egyptian conventional armed strength. Egypt today has squadrons of Ilyushin 28 and Topolev 16 bombers, which are better than anything Israel has. Egypt has the Stalin heavy tank, which, again, is much bigger than the British Centurion medium tank used by the Israeli army. Egypt is building HA 300 jet fighters at the Heluan aircraft factory outside Cairo. The HA 300 has been designed by an Austrian engineer, Professor Brandner, and has passed its flight tests. Egypt would, of course, aim at achieving overwhelming superiority in the air before attacking Israel. At sea, the Egyptians have seven destroyers to Israel’s three, and ten submarines to Israel’s two.
Two wars against Israel have convinced President Nasser that the Egyptians, man for man, are no match for the Israelis. Therefore even an immense superiority in conventional weapons and in manpower (the population of Egypt is ten times that of Israel) would not guarantee victory in a third war. This is why the Egyptians, with the vital help of German and other foreign scientists and technicians, have been working on a crash program for the production of longand medium-range rockets at their Factory 333 at Heliopolis, a few miles east of Cairo. Three main types of rocket are being developed there.
The first is a single-stage rocket, using fluid fuel and carrying a half-ton warhead. It has the code name Al Zafar (“the Victor”). Some dozens of this rocket, which has a range of 235 miles, have already been produced. It was first fired in public tests on July 23, 1963.
More powerful is Al Kahar (“the Conqueror”). This, too, is a single-stage rocket, using fluid fuel and carrying a warhead of up to two tons in weight. It has a range of about 375 miles. Finally, there is a two-stage rocket, Al Raid (“the Explorer”), which is still in process of development. Its first stage will be based on the Conqueror, and its second-stage rocket will be smaller than the Victor. The size of its warhead has still to be determined, but would presumably be about half a ton. Al Raid would have a range of more than 600 miles.
These three rockets supply the foundation for Nasser’s assertion that he now has weapons which cover the whole distance from Cairo to Beirut. All three rockets are being adapted for use from mobile launching pads, which could if necessary be towed through the Sinai Peninsula and up to Israel’s borders. But their range makes this unnecessary, and the chief attraction of the rockets for Nasser is that they could be fired off in safety one hundred miles and more from the frontier. For the total length of Israel from north to south is barely one hundred miles. Israel’s width averages no more than thirty to thirty-five miles.
The Egyptians are also building light naval craft, somewhat smaller than frigates, which are to be equipped with launching pads for rockets in place of conventional apparatus for torpedoes. Although they would presumably carry only small rockets, naval craft could play an important part in a saturation attack on Israel’s cities, which are nowhere more than ten miles from the sea (the only exception is the Jewish half of Jerusalem).
It is believed that Nasser intends to build between eight hundred and one thousand rockets for an assault on Israel. This will take him roughly two years at the present estimated rate of progress. The key to his success is the continued presence in Egypt, in his employ, of the two dozen German scientists and five to six hundred German and other foreign technicians who have been there for the past three years.
The German “rocket colony" in Egypt, according to recent estimates, consists of approximately five hundred technicians with more than one thousand dependents. The senior scientists are paid from $3000 to $5000 a month, which is perhaps three times what they would earn in West Germany. They are generally given free houses and domestic staff, and few of them show the slightest desire to return home. The pay and living conditions of all the technicians are, in like manner, far better than what they would expect at home. The German colony has its own club on an island in the Nile and its own school, which is by far the biggest German school abroad. Perhaps the greatest attraction in working for Nasser lies in the power and responsibility involved. In Egypt these Germans are important people.
Nasser certainly wants to keep them there. Egypt is desperately short of scientists and high-class technicians. His rockets, his nuclear experiments, and the satellite which he claims he will fire into space are the work of his German hirelings.
The Egyptians, operating on their own, would probably have to scrap their rocket program. This is why the Israeli government is so anxious that the German Federal government should take active steps to recall Germans working on armaments in Egypt. So far, in spite of frequent Israeli representations during the last year and a half, the Bonn government has done nothing beyond preparing the draft of a law which would enable passports to be withdrawn from German citizens carrying out work of this kind. If such a law were passed, these Germans would have to be buried abroad.
West German hesitance over putting this legislation before the Bundestag deserves a note. There is a powerful pro-Arab lobby in Bonn, where a section of the Christian Democratic Party and virtually the whole Free Democratic Party are opposed to any action which could harm German trade interests in the Middle East. West German heavy industry provides the most powerful single pro-Arab pressure group, and a small group of firms has considerable influence with the Federal government. The group includes the steel and heavy engineering firms of Krupp, Thyssen, Kloeckner, and Demag, which have major industrial interest in Egypt.
NASSER’S rocket program, used with his other conventional weapons, would be of sufficient scope to cripple Israel and secure her total military defeat. This, of course, is Nasser’s primary objective in a war with Israel. But it is not his only objective. He has sworn to blot out Israel completely and to incorporate the whole of Palestine in a unified Arab state or, if that cannot be organized, in Egypt. The most that he would contemplate leaving of Israel would be a Jewish ghetto in Palestine, but it is very doubtful whether he would be prepared to leave even that. For a Jewish ghetto would continue to attract more Jewish immigrants, and the claim and hope for a Jewish national state would be kept alive. This is why Nasser is contemplating using weapons of genocide against Israel.
I learned details of his experiments in this direction from a scientist who worked for more than a year for Nasser. This scientist was in close touch with a member of Nasser’s inner circle of assistants. Mahmoud Khalil. Khalil and a dozen other comparatively young men who form the inner circle often work eighteen to twenty hours a day and make no secret of their pride in “burning themselves out” in the service of their country. One of the tasks of this small group during the last two years has been to examine the possibilities of producing weapons of genocide.
Three particular possibilities have been explored. The first was to produce a nuclear bomb of the Hiroshima type, which ranks today as out-ofdate to the Great Powers, but which would be amply sufficient to blot out Israel’s centers of population. This project, which was given the name “Operation Cleopatra,” was held up because of the inability of the German scientists in Nasser’s employ to produce an easily transportable bomb or a nuclear warhead light enough to be fitted onto a rocket. In addition, the Egyptians do not have a large atomic reactor for producing plutonium or a diffusion plant for producing fissile uranium. For a Hiroshima-type bomb, Nasser would have to procure uranium, a very difficult matter.
Yet he has undoubtedly examined the possibilities of doing this. One proposed method was to buy 20 percent enriched uranium (which is available for peaceful purposes) and to enrich it up to the 90 percent required for a bomb. Another was to buy numbers of laboratory reactors, which can produce up to 8 grams an hour of 90 percent enriched uranium. Yet another possibility was to build a nuclear power station “for peaceful purposes” in Egypt, and negotiations to this end have already taken place with a British firm, Kennedy and Donkin. Nasser has suggested that a Britishbuilt nuclear reactor could act as a “partner” to the Aswan Dam power stations. He has conducted his negotiations quite openly on that pretext.
Mahmoud Khalil is reported even to have discussed with Nasser the chance of bribing officers of the British Air Force to fly British-based planes to Cairo, and to bring as many as three nuclear bombs with them. This may sound like science fiction. Indeed, this possibility was never explored any further, but it is of interest that it was even considered.
The second possibility of producing weapons of genocide was explored under a different project, “Operation Ibis.” Its purpose was to produce small missiles with a limited radioactive fallout. These missiles, known as “radioactive rubbish bombs” by experts in this field, could be dropped from aircraft, fired as artillery shells, or used in the warheads of rockets. They would be difficult to handle, and for this reason Nasser has been employing gamma-ray experts from Germany and other European countries who have been working on protective casings, clothing, and other equipment. Such weapons would have a delayed effect, by poisoning food, water, and the atmosphere.
The third possibility examined in Egypt was that of causing heavy losses to an “enemy” population by exploding small packages of strontium 90, of two or three pounds. Strontium 90 in powder form could be exploded in small containers, which could be fired from weapons of a light mortar or even bazooka type. The packages and the weapons could be deposited beforehand in Israel, or even in countries friendly to Israel, and could be exploded by Egyptian agents. Strontium 90 has a life of about twenty years. Once again, this may sound like science fiction. Once again, it must suffice to say that this plan was carefully examined by Nasser’s advisers.
THE revelation that the Egyptians have been considering the possible use of weapons of genocide has given rise to some misconceptions. It has been argued, for instance, that names such as “Cleopatra" and “Ibis” would never be used by Egyptians, who would surely prefer Arabic code names. The answer is that these names were used by the foreign scientists working for Nasser. An Egyptian code name will doubtless be furnished if any one of the three projects gets under way. So far, there is no direct evidence that a production program for any of the three has begun.
A second misconception is that because the use of weapons of genocide would be “militarily useless,” Nasser must have abandoned projects like “Operation Ibis.” This is a highly ingenuous suggestion, for Nasser would clearly never use radioactive rubbish bombs alone but as supplementary to his rockets and other conventional weapons. The object of “Operation Ibis” would be quite simply to scare the Jews out of the Middle East.
There is nothing fanciful about this. The burning adoration of the Jews for Eretz-Israel, the national home and Promised Land, is such that they would not think of deserting it after military defeat and might even be prepared to go once again into bondage in the land of Egypt — if by so doing, they could keep their claims alive. But genocide, coming only twenty years after Hitler’s “final solution,” the extermination of six million European Jews, would pose a terrible threat. If Israel’s present population were destroyed, or prevented by radioactive fallout from propagating their species, could the remaining Jews of the world every again mount a resettlement of Israel and another return to the Promised Land? It is highly doubtful, for Israel’s present small population constitutes the kernel of Jewish idealism and faith.
One must revert to point one of Nasser’s campaign to destroy Israel: the removal of the British from their Middle East bases. These were the bases used for the ill-fated and badly judged British intervention at Suez in 1956. These bases would be used again if Nasser were to launch an unprovoked and genocidal attack on Israel. This is why Nasser has asked the ruler of Libya, King Idris, to end the leases of air bases to Britain and the United States at El Adem and Wheelus Field. This is why Nasser has sent an army of 42,000 men to the Yemen, as a first step toward destroying the British-sponsored South Arabian Federation and liquidating the Aden base. This is why Egypt has, after the Soviet Union, been the principal supplier of arms to the Greek Cypriots. Nasser intends to close the Eastern Mediterranean and the Red Sea to the West.
Complementary to this intention is Nasser’s desire to build a firm alliance with the Soviet Union, a desire which was plainly advertised during Khrushchev’s visit to Cairo in May. The Soviet Union can be of immense use to Nasser in the economic and military fields. It is supplying Egypt with a $280 million loan, with increased technical aid for industrial development and irrigation, and with secondhand armaments at cut prices. But of much more importance is the future diplomatic role of the Soviet Union in the Middle East, which will be designed to counter and finally to eradicate Western influence in the area. It is naive to imagine, as some Western commentators have done, that Nasser has much more to gain from an EgyptianSoviet entente than Khrushchev has. The latter can now set to work to turn the Middle East into a bastion against Western “imperialism” (and, incidentally, against Chinese Communism), to outflank the Central Treaty Organization, to open the road to peaceful penetration of India (bereft of Nehru) and Africa. A rejuvenated Islam could be a very useful ally for a Soviet Union which must want to take up a dominant middle position between Western Europe and Red China.
THE State of Israel asks for nothing more than to be left in peace. Israel has offered to join in guarantees of all existing frontiers in the Middle East. It would willingly offer money and technical aid in solving the problems of the Palestinian-Arab refugees. It has offered to share in the utilization of the waters of the River Jordan for peaceful purposes, although it is going ahead with pumping its share from the Sea of Galilee to the deserts of the Negev. Israel threatens nobody, and even when forced to go to war with Arab neighbors, has set out to keep its military victories within strict bounds, thereby giving Arab prestige the chance to recover. The essence of Israeli policy has been to develop good relations with its neighbors. In the long-term future, Israel could be of tremendous use to the Arab countries, by providing technical advice and a model of how to run a modern state.
The Israelis, naturally, are desperately worried by Nasser’s arms buildup. The Prime Minister, Levi Eshkol, said on May 20: “With the aid of German and other scientists Egypt is developing missile armaments on a large scale and devoting incessant effort to their improvement and expansion. She is also engaged in developing destructive weapons which are not to be found today in the Middle East.” This was an oblique reference to Nasser’s experiments with weapons of genocide. The Israeli government has appealed repeatedly for the recall of the German and other foreign scientists; the Knesset did this once again on May 4.
What should, or what can, the Western powers do about Nasser’s plans to destroy Israel?
The United States and Britain can guarantee Israel’s existing frontiers and offer a similar guarantee to the Arab nations. Steps should be taken in the United Nations to secure the withdrawal of the large Egyptian army from the Yemen. The West German scientists should go back to their own country. It should he made plain to Nasser that Britain has no intention of giving up her Middle East bases until there is real stability in that area. Finally, the Arab nations should be encouraged to regard the State of Israel as a fact. In return, the Western powers must offer to make a major contribution toward the resettlement of the Arab refugees in Arab countries and toward building up the economies of those countries. The Arab states should be made to understand that the desire to avert a war in the Middle East does not stem from anti-Arab feelings, and that nothing will be gained in the long run by trying to play off rival world blocs against one another.
Above all, there is a paramount need for close collaboration in the Middle East between the United States and Britain. Their immense joint stake in Middle East oil is reason enough for this, and there is no harm in saying so. But much more important is the very real threat of war breaking out, if not today or tomorrow, then in all probability in the near future. Nasser’s arms buildup suggests that this could be.