Steinitz: Israel is a global leader in readiness for nuclear terror

At nuclear security summit in DC, energy minister says Jewish state willing to help Mideast nations prevent smuggling of radioactive materials

Israeli border police train for an incident of an atomic warfare attack (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Israeli border police train for an incident of an atomic warfare attack (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

‘Israel is one of the countries most prepared for scenarios of nuclear terrorism,” Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said Saturday at a nuclear security summit held in Washington.

Steinitz said Israel has developed measures to prevent such attacks, including means to stop the smuggling of radioactive materials. The minister said the Jewish state was willing to assist all nations in the Middle East in preventing such smuggling — even those with which it does not have diplomatic relations.

He added that Israel has response teams trained to deal specifically with scenarios of nuclear terrorism.

“On the whole we can sleep soundly, relatively speaking, definitely when compared to other nations,” Steinitz said.

World leaders at the summit have warned of a persistent and harrowing threat of terrorists getting their hands on a nuclear bomb.

US President Barack Obama said Friday there was no doubt that if “madmen” in the Islamic State group obtained nuclear material, they would use it to kill as many people as possible. He urged fellow leaders not to be complacent about the risk of a catastrophe he said would have global ramifications for decades.

Steinitz warned that according to Israeli assessments, the majority of victims in many scenarios of such an attack would be caused by public panic, not by the attack itself. He thus advised examining ways to calm the public in the event of an attack.

Obama reacted to the Israeli minister’s statements, saying his advice should be taken note of.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz attends a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset on July 27, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz attends a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset on July 27, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Steinitz added that the scenario of an attack using a nuclear weapon was an unlikely one. Far more likely, he said, was “terror of radioactive materials stolen from nuclear reactors or from hospitals or from factories. “Then if you take that and scatter it you can cause some serious harm. Israel is preparing for that scenario.”

Steinitz’s American counterpart Ernest Moniz, meanwhile, was set to arrive in Israel for a two-day visit Sunday, Maariv reported. The two were expected to discuss widening cooperation on energy matters.

Obama on Friday credited global efforts to secure nuclear material for the fact that no terrorists have yet gotten their hands on a nuclear weapon or a dirty bomb. But he said it wasn’t for lack of trying: Al-Qaeda has sought nuclear materials, IS has deployed chemical weapons, and extremists linked to the Brussels and Paris attacks were found to have spied on a top Belgian nuclear official, Obama said.

“We have measurably reduced the risk,” Obama said. Still, he added, “the threat of nuclear terrorism persists and continues to evolve.”

At this year’s summit — Obama’s last major push on denuclearization — deep concerns about nuclear terrorism have tempered other, more positive signs of the world coming together to confront the broader nuclear threat.

The UN Security Council members who brokered a sweeping nuclear deal with Iran held up that agreement as a model for preventing nuclear proliferation, as they gathered on the summit’s sidelines to review implementation of the deal.

Obama spent part of the summit huddling with the leaders of South Korea and Japan about deterring nuclear-tinged provocations from North Korea, in a powerful show of diplomatic unity with two US treaty allies. Similarly, Obama’s sit-down with Chinese President Xi Jinping offered the two strategic rivals a chance to illustrate their mutual concern about the North, a traditional Chinese ally.

Frustration over the slow pace of reducing nuclear stockpiles shadowed the summit. The absence of key players, especially Russia, further underscored the lack of unanimity confronting global efforts to deter nuclear attacks.

After six years of prodding by Obama and others before him, the global stockpile of fissile material remains in the thousands of metric tons. What’s more, security officials warn that the radioactive ingredients for a “dirty bomb” are alarmingly insecure in many parts of the globe.

Ahead of the summit, fewer than half of the countries participating had agreed to secure their sources of radiological material like cesium and cobalt, which are widely present in hospital, industrial and academic settings but could be diverted to make a dirty bomb. Obama said that as the Islamic State is squeezed in Syria and Iraq, the world must anticipate it will lash out elsewhere, citing recent attacks in Belgium and Turkey as examples.

AP contributed to this report.

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