More than 60 of the world’s leading experts on the threat posed to humanity by atomic weaponry in the hands of rogue regimes and terrorist organizations gathered in Luxembourg a few days ago. Well-known names such as Dr. Mohamed Al-Baradei, Hans Blix and Rolf Ekeus demonstrated the serious leadership represented. No small surprise, the assembly took place in the heart of Europe as an initiative of a Euro-Jewish organization.
The high level and dispassionate tone of discourse which predominated did not soften the recurring themes:
• Seldom has any such gathering contained less rhetoric and more single-minded focus on the Number One Problem facing civilization at this time: Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons. Speaker after speaker analyzed and recommended, pinpointed and underscored in a chilling yet totally on the mark manner. Iranian nuclearization was divided into two equal alarming subjects: rogue state applications via missiles and godfather dispenser of technology to international terror organizations.
• A former senior American official, quoting an analyst whom he claimed was “no alarmist,” suggested the odds of terrorists exploding a nuclear device in a major US or European city in the coming decade as “50-50%.” More than one million kilograms of enriched uranium exists today in Russia alone, not always under the tightest of security controls. Terrorists need less than 100 kilos to create a dirty bomb, which could readily slaughter up to 100,000 if activated in a major urban center.
• Russia and the US have between then 10,000 nuclear missiles ready to use. Both governments were castigated—primarily by experts FROM those nations—for a plodding lack of urgency in scaling this threat down.
This event did not invite official government representatives. Rather, it was an assembly of individuals with unique knowledge about and personal history in the world’s nuclear programs—authorities in policy, non-proliferation and arms control. The tone of discussion was friendly, and the thinking is that conclusions reached by THIS apolitical group should carry all the more credibility amongst key governments, the UN, NATO and others involved in the subject.
The two largest groups of experts came from the US and Russia. Experts such as ex-Russian Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko who today heads the Russian Atomic Energy Agency, and former US Secretary of Defense William Perry took part. This reflected a serious approach in light of the central role played by these two countries even today. They were joined by important players from India, Japan, Israel, Canada and other nations. It is reasonable to report that there was much more relaxed consensus between the Russian and American experts than between their respective governments in 2007.
Perhaps most interesting of all was that a Jewish organization, the European Jewish Fund headed by the visionary Dr. Moshe Kantor, was actually the prime initiator of this event. Specific Jewish issues did not figure into the agenda, and likely more than 90% of the participants were not Jewish. The origins and acceptance of the program from all quarters spoke both to the credit of Kantor’s far-reaching concerns as well as the participants’mature objectivity.
Israel was represented in the dialogue by two outstanding experts: Dr. Eli Levite, deputy director of Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission; and Dr. Uzi Arad, ex-head of Mossad Intelligence and founder of the IDC’s universally respected Herzliya Conference. Arad noted that the event’s Jewish sponsorship ad served Israel’s interests well, by demonstrating Jewish global interests without parochializing the discussion.
Some thought that Israel would play a more pronounced role in the conference’s agenda, but it was referred to only occasionally, in passing. The very real dangers posed by Iranian nuclearization, however, were dissected and warned against in non-stop cadence throughout the 48-hour discussion.
Asked about the Iranian threat to Israel, one US expert summarized the group’s thinking when he pointedly replied: “No one sees any threat to world order posed by Israel. The real issue with Iran is how a ‘Shi’ite bomb’ would be regarded by Sunni-majority regimes in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. It is this challenge that can reap major whirlwinds and instability in the Middle East, since it could trigger a new regional arms race.”
The Luxembourg Forum brought together the best minds in the world to focus on the most frightening problems facing mankind at this time… along with workable solutions to nuclear proliferation. By focusing on Iran more than any other subject, the experts demonstrated a realistic understanding of today’s situation. The fact that a Jewish organization brought them together to do this, without hidden agendas, is a lasting credit to the individuals who made it happen.
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Martin Karp, director of the LA Jewish Federation office in Israel, has organized recent seminars on emergency response and related issues with the participation of leading American experts on nuclear terrorism.