Nuclear Targets

Since World War II, military strikes to halt nuclear activities have occurred exclusively in the Middle East, threatening serious long-term health and economic consequences. By closing its Dimona facility, Israel would show its commitment to reducing regional nuclear tensions, while sending a message about the wisdom of building reactors in the world’s most volatile region.

LOS ANGELES -- Nuclear facilities as military targets? The drumbeat appears to be growing louder. Western leaders repeatedly declare that no option is off the table to stem Iran’s nuclear ambitions. And, in mid-November, London’s Sunday Times reported that Israel put defenses around its Dimona nuclear reactor on “red alert” 30 times, as worries grew that Syria would avenge Israel’s September attack on a suspected nuclear site in Syria.

Israel’s fear reflects the region’s unique history. Since World War II, strikes to halt nuclear activities have taken place exclusively in the Middle East: Iraq was struck by Iran (1980), Israel (1981), and the United States (1991, 2003), while Iraq bombed Iran (1984-87) and Israel (1991). But raids never generated significant radiological consequences, because plants were under construction, contained inconsequential amounts of nuclear material, had radioactive elements removed prior to the attack, or because the attacker missed the mark.

A successful strike on Dimona, however, would be another matter. So, given the threat of radioactive releases, does the plant’s continued operation outweigh the risks?

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