By Bassel Oudat, Al-Ahram Weekly – 17-23 Sept 2009
In an annual report, “the Suffering of Syrian Citizens in the Golan”, submitted to a UN commission investigating human rights abuses in the Palestinian territories, the Syrian Foreign Ministry has accused Israel of “the crime of burying nuclear, radioactive and poisonous waste in the Golan, exposing the population to the danger of grave illnesses.” The report also notes that the “living conditions of the Syrian inhabitants of the occupied Golan are deteriorating every day.”
These accusations are not new, since in August 2003 Syria also claimed that special units of the Israeli army were digging tunnels in Jabal Al-Sheikh, also known as Mount Hermon, inside the occupied Syrian territories, adding that these were meant as dumping grounds for nuclear waste. Since then, Syria has repeatedly claimed that secret tunnels in Mount Hermon are being used to dump radioactive material from Israel’s Demona reactor.
Such dumping on Israel’s part, the Syrian authorities say, goes beyond any military threat and compromises the environment of the whole region.
In December 2003, Syrian eyewitnesses said the Israelis were digging tunnels seven metres in diameter and around 100 metres deep close to the summit of Mount Hermon, adding that electric lifts and stairs had also been constructed.
According to the Syrian media at the time, Israeli army personnel, some in uniform and others in plainclothes, were regularly inspecting the tunnels, and trucks carrying sealed cement drums were dumping waste in them.
While the veracity of these reports has been called into question, the Syrian authorities have since offered more details about Israel’s alleged dumping of nuclear waste.
According to Syrian sources, Israel has now dug a tunnel in the mountainside to hide dozens of nuclear warheads and has booby-trapped the Golan with bombs, tactical nuclear mines, and combustible radioactive devices. A unit from the Israeli military is said to be supervising operations.
According to Syrian officials, Israel is burying nuclear waste on Mount Hermon in order to prevent Syria from reclaiming the Golan, occupied by Israel since the 1967 war.
In early 2004, a Syrian official at the UN again accused Israel of burying nuclear waste in the occupied Golan, and the Syrian government sent warnings to Syrian and Palestinian citizens, telling them that Israel was storing radioactive material in areas adjacent to the Syrian-Palestinian border.
Syria has also called for the international monitoring of Israeli facilities. The move was prompted by Israel’s admission that cracks had been found in its Demona reactor, causing the Israeli government to distribute iodine pills to Israeli citizens living close to the reactor at the time.
Arab Knesset member Issam Makhoul has denounced the alleged Israeli disposal of nuclear waste in the Golan as a “crime against humanity”, claiming that Israel is imperilling human, animal and plant life in the region.
For its part, Israel is playing down the reports, saying that it is only digging anti-tank ditches in the Golan.
Israel has occupied the Syrian Golan since 1967, and it has expelled nearly 130,000 people from the area. Some 130 Syrian villages and 112 farms have been destroyed by the Israeli occupiers, and Israel has since housed 20,000 settlers in settlements in the Golan. The Israeli army has also set up 600 posts in the area, according to Syrian sources.
In December 1981, the Israeli Knesset passed a law annexing the Golan and giving its inhabitants the option of obtaining Israeli nationality. However, the area’s Syrian inhabitants refused to become Israeli citizens.
The Israelis say that the Golan is too important for their security to give back to the Syrians. Syria has said that it cannot sign a peace agreement with Israel until the issue of the Golan is settled.
In addition to its civil nuclear programme, Israel is considered to be the world’s sixth largest nuclear power, having started its secret military nuclear programme with French help in 1958 and benefited since from considerable US and South African cooperation.
According to international estimates, Israel has amassed more than 200 nuclear warheads over the past 30 years, ranging from smaller warheads suitable for attacking limited targets and larger warheads capable of destroying major cities.
Israel is believed to have enough uranium and plutonium to produce at least 100 more nuclear warheads. Its Jericho missile system can deliver warheads to targets over 1,500km away.
Israel is the only country in the region that has nuclear weapons, and it has always refused to sign any nuclear non- proliferation treaty or allow international monitors to examine its facilities.
Syria’s recent report on alleged Israeli dumping of nuclear waste in the occupied Golan is the latest in a series of requests to international agencies asking for assistance in investigating the tunnels that Israel has built in the area.
The Syrian government has also called for the banning of all weapons of mass destruction from the region, with Damascus now maintaining that the danger to the region also comes from the risks of nuclear waste, as well as the possibility of nuclear conflict.
The complete IOA coverage of Israel’s involvement in nuclear warfare