MSNBC Reveals Facts on Israel's Weapons of Mass Destruction

Published on Monday, April 21, 2003 by

by Ira Chernus

Most astounding web page of the week:

Here is MSNBC, giving us more information on Israel's weapons of mass destruction (WMD)than I've seen in any left-wing or peace-activist news source. Here is the mainstream U.S. media, that beast we love to hate, giving us a story that gives away the store.

It's a story we expect the elite media to hide, because it is so embarrassing to U.S. policymakers. How could anyone cheer for the carnage in Iraq, where no WMD have yet been found, if they knew that Israel is the only Middle Eastern nation with a proven WMD arsenal? How could anyone approve of a U.S. policy that kills where WMD don't seem to exist and turns a blind eye where they obviously do?

Far from hiding the story, though, MSNBC uses its graphic skills to put all the details just a mouse-click away. What's going on?

Supporters of Israeli policy will give you an answer in a single word: anti-semitism. These folks are always amazing us with their charges of anti-Israel bias in the U.S. media, which they insist proves anti-semitism. It's silly, of course. If the media were biased against Israel, the facts about Israeli WMD would have been headline news every day during the debate about the Iraq war. Those facts were headline news in the Arab world. They were absolutely crucial, because they undermined the Bush administration's principal justification for war. But mainstream news sources here paid very little attention.

Even now, MSNBC is not making the information easy to get. It is tucked away in an obscure corner of the website. Try finding it from the home page, and if you figure out how, let me know. (I found it only through a direct link in an email I received.) When I searched the site for "Dimona" (Israel 's best-known nuclear weapons site), it came up blank. When I tried to access the root directory, I was told that I was "not authorized to view this page."

Still, the information is there on the site, if you know how to get it (and now you do). You have to wonder why. Maybe some MSNBC staffers were really interested in digging up facts, as good journalists should. Perhaps it never occurred to them that there was anything embarrassing here.

After all, mainstream U.S. journalists are not embarrassed to say that the U.S. has the world's largest and most advanced stocks of WMD. No reason to hide it, they assume, because our WMD are the good kind. We are a democracy. We would never use our weapons for aggressive or immoral purposes. We would use them only when absolutely necessary for self-defense. Most Americans assume that our WMD are morally pure because the journalists who give them their daily truth assume it.

Most of those journalists assume the same about Israel's WMD. Our mainstream media depict Israel as a lone bastion of democracy surrounded by totalitarian enemies. So its WMD must be as good as our own. If there is any bias here, it is for, not against, Israel and its policies.

This still leaves me wondering, though. For decades, Israel has been coyly half-hiding its WMD program. That program was treated as a big secret. Journalists who wrote about it risked attack by Israel's supporters; they were hailed as brave heroes by Israel's critics.

Israel's watchdogs in the U.S. are relentless and well-connected. If they thought this information on the MSNBC website was harmful to Israel, I suspect the information would disappear fast. In fact, the cynic inside me says the information might be on that site because the Israeli government wants it there.

Look at the graphic from the viewpoint of a military strategist in Damascus, or in Hamas headquarters in Gaza. You would see strength so overwhelming, it would be stupid even to dream of fighting against Israel, much less to think about it in realistic terms. Look at it from the viewpoint of a strategist in Istanbul or New Delhi. You would see a very appealing potential ally, one with far more firepower than you could even hope to produce in the near future. Look at it from the viewpoint of a strategist in Teheran or Islamabad. Would you want Israel as your enemy or your friend?

On the other hand, putting out the facts on Israel's WMD may not be Israel's idea at all. It may come from the nest of neo-conservative hawks in the highest reaches of the Pentagon. They want all those capitals throughout the Middle East and South Asia to get the idea. The neo-cons are planning a new order in that part of the world. They have announced quite openly that their conquest of Iraq was only a first step toward this new order. They plan to make Israel the military cornerstone of the new order.

Why should Middle East and South Asian leaders roll over and accept the new neo-con order? Just take a look at the MSNBC graphic. Incontrovertible military facts on the ground speak louder than words. Need we say more?

Perhaps the information is tucked away in such a hard-to-find corner of cyberspace because the general public is "not authorized to view this page." Perhaps it is meant to send a specific message to specific people. Or perhaps I'm far too cynical.

In any event, now you too know just how huge Israel's WMD program really is. Anyone for international inspectors? Or would you trust the U.S. and its "coalition of the willing" to do the job?

Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder.