This is the final installment in a multi-part examination of Israeli nuclear development in the Negev Desert. Part One can be read here, Part Two can be read here, and Part Three, here.
This article relies on publically accessible media and archival documents—texts that often convey the dominant ideological tone, even within commonly perceived “neutral” sources (for example, government reports or “objective” journalists). Media that has informed the article include long-since declassified FBI and CIA files, transcripts of speeches, Canadian conference documents, archives from clearly identified institutes, as well as archived and contemporary news reports. Using these primary and secondary sources, the intention here is not restate all that which can be found in extant chronologies but to consider the context in which this information arises. The first section of this retrospective essay will begin by situating Israeli nuclear development within its early historical context and national mythology. It naturally includes Israel’s public emergence as a militarized nuclear threat during the Six Day War. It will then look at Israel’s collaboration with the apartheid government of South Africa on procuring uranium, the diversion of uranium from the United States, and exchanging technological expertise with other allies. The second part of this article will look at the ongoing Israeli implementation of radioactive materials in weapons and zones attacked during military operations, including Lebanon in 2006. It will then focus on the role of secondary sources of refined uranium, like the agricultural phosphate industry, for the production of nuclear arms. It will also look at how the nuclear and phosphate/chemical mining industries in the Negev Desert play into Israel’s colonial project, illegal settlement of the West Bank, and persecution of Bedouin peoples in the Negev.
This text owes a great deal to the archival efforts of Israeli-American historian Avner Cohen, who compiled interviews with key Israeli officials relating to the early days of Israel’s construction of the Dimona reactor. Cohen’s work is unique in North American media as an Israeli voice critical of Israeli nuclear arms proliferation. Cohen has maintained criticism not only of the historical events of the Israeli nuclear program, despite his description in 2003 of Golda Meir’s decision not to deploy a nuclear bomb in the East Sinai in 1973 as demonstrating “to the world that Israel was a responsible and trusted nuclear custodian.” Cohen’s interviews are compiled in an archive at the Wilson Centre Nuclear Proliferation International History Project, which is sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation and in part by the New York-based Leon Levy Foundation, a philanthropic organization supporting humanities and projects around Jewish culture. Historical events quoted in Cohen’s interviews and the documents he has collected, as well as other sources in this text, are predominantly fragmented across government websites or written about with an episodic approach to Israel’s nuclear ambitions. Another debt is held by Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem which holds parallels between the creation of the “Jewish State” as a Nazi solution to the Jewish question, into the present catastrophe of the Jewish State of Israel that advocates for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and the displacement of Bedouin from their homelands. A porous mythology has been spun around Israel’s colonial project. The burden of historical sorrow in Arendt’s work is amplified so much more as we fall prey to a cultural amnesia erasing the greatest threats to our shared humanity. Indeed, the same patterns are playing out, though with a distinct shift of face.
THE SHIT CARTEL, REDUX1
The previous section of "The Decay of the Third Kingdom" explored Israel’s expansion of civilian settlements and relocation of military bases deeper into the Negev. In addition to government-mandated expansion plans, the southern region has long been a development site for Israeli extractive industries. Geological surveys for mineral resources were conducted in the Negev during the 1950s, and contributed to the founding of the Dimona and Soreq nuclear reactors.
The south of Israel is populated by small industrial towns where residents may work at the mines, factories, or mineral processing facilities that exploit the resources of the Negev. A few of Israel’s primary natural resources include potash, natural gas, magnesium bromide, some copper ore, as well as clays from the Dead Sea.2 Many of the mining operations in Israel are controlled by the Tel-Aviv based company Israel Chemicals Limited (ICL).
In 2011, Israel granted a prospecting license to oil and gas company Gulliver Energy, chaired by former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, to scout the Negev for possible sites of uranium mining. The research was conducted in partnership with Israeli company Zerach Oil and Gas LP, but was abandoned by 2013 as not economically viable. Zerach was then bought by Energy Texas in 2017 and renamed PetroTx, giving the American company 80 percent interest in continuing exploration and resource acquisition across the Negev. Israel would have to source uranium elsewhere.
Phosphate is recovered from clay deposits with high concentrations of the phosphorus mineral, and is commonly processed into agricultural fertilizers, food additives, industrial salts, and acids. The U.S. Geological Survey reported that in 2017, Israeli mine production of phosphate rock increased to 4,000 tonnes,3 while in 2018, Israel was reported as the ninth biggest producer of phosphate in the world.
Phosphate rock is found across North Africa, with significant deposits mined in Western Sahara, a region that is struggling for sovereignty of the Sahawari people from the state of Morocco. Western Saharan phosphate at Boucraa is mined by a subsidiary of the Moroccan state-owned Office Chérifien des Phosphates. Elsewhere in North Africa, phosphate mines are developing with lucrative investment from Chinese companies, as in the case of Algeria’s plans for a $6 billion phosphate plant in the country’s northeast region in partnership with China’s Wengfu Group. Other regions that are sources of phosphate rock include Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Tunisia, with production notably increasing in Senegal and Togo. In the United States, Florida had a booming economy of phosphorous through the 90s, and the state remains a leading global producer along with North Carolina, accounting for more than 75 percent of U.S. production in 2017. Phosphate production in Brazil is largely concentrated in the southeastern states of Minas Gerais, Goiás, Paraná and São Paulo.
Phosphate is a non-renewable resource, leading scientists to refer to a point of “peak phosphorus,” after which the world’s reserves will gradually deplete. There is no known alternative for the present agricultural uses of the mineral. As a result, the majority of the global phosphate market is controlled by what is essentially a small international cartel of agricultural and mining corporations from Canada, the United States, Russia, India, Germany, Israel, and Morocco. These companies have a cross-pollination of directors working in one another’s phosphate producing companies, or otherwise invested in one another’s subsidiaries. Along with Israel Chemicals, some of the biggest phosphate mining and production companies include Mosaic Company (U.S.), Nutrien (Canada), and Uralchem (Russia), and Wengfu Group (China).
Phosphate companies active in the southeastern states of Brazil, for example, include Canadian company Fengro Industries (previously DuSolo), and American corporation Mosaic, who purchased one of Brazil’s leading phosphate companies, Vale Fertilizantes, which owns five phosphate mines and four production facilities. Vale is responsible for what the Brazilian government has called the country’s worst environmental disaster, when in January 2019 a dam burst at the Feijao iron ore mine in Minas Gerais, sending tailings and heavy metals into Rio Doce and killing a known total of 166 people.
Brazil has a “single superphosphate” operation in Tocantins, operated by Itafos Arraias, which is a subsidiary of Itafos. This company is described as Canadian-owned, but according to Bloomberg, its headquarters is publically listed in the Cayman Islands. Itafos has a board member Mohamed Ibnabdejalil, who holds numerous positions in Moroccan phosphate companies like Office Cherifien des Phosphates (which is mining in West Sahara), and owns other operations like Maroc Phosphore. Phosphate companies with operations in Morocco include dual ventures between the Moroccan and Indian governments, and, as in the case of Zuari Maroc, Indian private company Adventz.
In the Negev, it is ICL that owns exclusive rights to mine the desert’s phosphate. ICL describes its operations as falling under four categories: Industrial Products (Bromine), Potash, Phosphate Solutions, and Innovative Ag Solutions. ICL operates numerous subsidiaries that may be specific to a particular mineral, such as Rotem Amfert Negev (also known as the Negev Phosphates Chemical Company). According to the ICL Group website, “ICL also produces food-grade phosphoric acid, which is used by ICL’s other business units to manufacture downstream products.” “Green phosphoric acid,” which ICL describes as fertilizer grade phosphate, is the raw material produced by reacting the apatite group of minerals with sulfuric acid. This acid can then be processed into fertilizers or a compound for food products, but still contains toxic materials such as arsenic, cadmium and uranium.4 In addition to the Israeli mining rights that are owned by ICL, phosphoric acid is processed into agricultural fertilizers and traded by Haifa Chemicals, a subsidiary wholly owned by American company Trans-Resources Inc.5
Screenshot from Google Maps: Dimona reactor (south) relative to Rotem Amfert (facilities at top of image)
There are several phosphate mining and processing facilities located in the Negev. The Rotem Amfert facility is located at the Mishor Rotem industrial area, which is north of the Shimon Peres Negev Nuclear Research Facility (previously known as Dimona). Rotem Amfert is Israel’s only acknowledged nuclear fuel cycle facility, and is known to process phosphate mined at Orod (the Hebrew name for Uranus) and Zin, as well as near the city of Arad. These phosphate mines are linked to the Negev Nuclear Research Facility by Highway 25 from Rotem Amfert, Highway 206 from Oron, and Highway 227 from Zin.
Besides agricultural and household uses, phosphorus has significant military applications, from the nerve gas of the Second World War to the phosphorus bombs used in Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2009. Rotem Amfert is known for producing white phosphoric acid, supposedly “to supply the feed and food industry” (Imas 2007). “White phosphorous” is another name for yellow phosphorus, which is known for its characteristic change of colour to yellow when exposed to light, and is used for white phosphorus munitions. It is produced through an electrothermal process in which phosphate rock is heated in an oven, producing a slag, or waste material, known as ferrophosphorus. This ferrophosphorus can then yield further metals that are important for military industries like vanadium, which is used to strengthen steel for aerospace and military applications, and chromium which, like cadmium, is used in paints and primers to prevent the corrosion of metals in weapons systems.
“Why are we silent when Morocco, which heads the Arab League Jerusalem committee, has made its total and unquestioning peace with Israel?,” wrote Edward Saïd in his 1995 essay "The Current Status of Jerusalem." No doubt that international silence is especially loud in the face of today’s booming North African phosphate industry.
Rock phosphates from Israel and Morocco are known to contain the highest levels of uranium concentrations. Moroccan phosphates are estimated to contain about 6.9 million tonnes of uranium, according to the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA)’s recent studies. Israel Chemicals stated in March 2018 that it intends to invest “tens of millions of dollars in the coming years in entrepreneurial initiatives, innovation and development of agricultural technologies.” It is important that in 2017, the IAEA reported that Morocco is considering increasing nuclear energy development. World Israel News published a headline on June 2, 2018, claiming that “Israel’s ties with Morocco not official, but warming,” with what was reported as a “surprising extent of normalization.”
Natural uranium is subject to safeguards observed by the IAEA, which regulate the production and trade of uranium for peaceful, non-military use. Uranium that is a by-product of other industrial or agricultural processes is derived from what are described as “unconventional sources.” Phosphates are one example—uranium can be extracted from phosphate rock in the process of making fertilizers. Israeli physicist Shelheveth Freier commented in 1987 on Israel’s policy on nuclear non-proliferation that the country had developed a method to “extract uranium and return the phosphates to the phosphate industry.”
Freier described a tripartite agreement reached between Israel, France and Britain on the production of heavy water. “The French Atomic Energy Commission came along,” he claimed. “They said, "You know what? We don't know how long there'll be reserves, rich reserves of uranium in the world. We'd like to buy your process of the extraction of uranium from phosphate and keep this plan in our drawer so that if we are hard put to we might begin extracting uranium say, from the phosphates in Algeria.””
IAEA safeguards do not sufficiently address uranium produced from these unconventional sources, whether as a by-product of mining or of ore processing. This allows governments to exploit trade agreements and import one material, only to divert the derivative products towards military purposes. According to the World Nuclear Association, current facilities for the recovery of uranium from phosphoric acid are located in “Canada, Spain, Belgium (for Moroccan phosphate), Israel, and Taiwan,” and Brazil is known to process uranium from phosphate from Santa Quiteria and Itataia mines.
Indian institutes like the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Pune University, and the Indian Institute of Technology at Uttar Pradesh (near the Narora heavy-water nuclear reactor) have published numerous studies that document methods for extracting uranium, or in some cases plutonium, from phosphates. These studies show that phosphates can generally yield more uranium than plutonium, and refer to a type of phosphate known as tri-isoamyl phosphate as being particularly advantageous for “reprocessing of fast reactor fuels” in the PUREX process that purifies fuel for nuclear weapons.
Morocco, which does not currently have a nuclear program, is “planning construction of a nuclear power programme beyond 2030,” and developing plans for the Sida Boulbra nuclear reactor in collaboration with French company Sofratome. Prior to the election of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, American geopolitical corporate research firm Stratfor noted that Brazil may be considering reactivating the nuclear weapons program it dismantled in 1990 after signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Particular indications of nuclear weapons development are superphosphate processing facilities. Superphosphates, which are synthetic fertilizers with high amounts of phosphorous, are a known source for deriving uranium. A key indication of Iraq’s nuclear weapons development prior to the Gulf War was the operation of Al Qaim Superphosphate Fertilizer Plant, west of Baghdad. Until 1990, Al Qaim was processing uranium from phosphate mined at the Akashat area, in Al-Anbar Province. Uranium is of course required for nuclear fusion in both the atomic and the more powerful hydrogen bomb. The open-pit Akashat mine, constructed by Belgian company Sybetra-Union Minière, was used to produce phosphate fertilizers. Uranium was extracted from the phosphoric acid until the destruction of the plant during the 1991 Gulf War.
The 2004 CIA Report on Iraq’s nuclear activities states: "Iraq’s main plant for yellowcake production prior to 1991 was at Al-Qa’im. The plant was designed, erected, and commissioned by Mechim Company of Belgium during the period 1982 to 1984. Using phosphate ore from the Akashat mine and the Prayon process, the first batch of yellowcake was delivered to the IAEC in December 1985 with approximately 168 tons delivered through 1991."
Saudi Arabia was the eighth largest global producer of phosphate in 2018, and intends to increase its production alongside the country’s emerging nuclear industry. Saudi Arabia is working with Bechtel, an American engineering and construction firm, to develop a new industrial city known as Waad al-Shamal and an associated mining complex known as the Ma’aden Phosphate Project near the border with Jordan. The $7.5 billion (USD) project is expected to make the Waad al-Shamal mine one of the largest phosphate mines in the world.
Saudi Arabia is also known to be testing ballistic missiles with the capability of carrying nuclear warheads. Saudi Arabia launched its first nuclear plant project in November 2018, under Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, which will officially become the country’s first nuclear reactor. The King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy posted a plan called the Saudi National Atomic Energy Project (SNAEP), that would involve the construction of large and small nuclear facilities by 2032, and “uranium mining at the centre of Jordan”. Through the state-owned Jordan Phosphate Mines Company, the kingdom currently has an agreement to supply three million megatonnes of phosphate rock to India, a nuclear state that closely follows Pakistan with an estimated capacity of 130 to 140 nuclear warheads.
Another unconventional source of uranium is seawater. Seawater is estimated to naturally contain about 500 times the amount of uranium than what occurs in land-based ores, which is distributed in the water much like sea-salt. Studies on the extraction of uranium from seawater had been previously conducted in the United States in the late 1970s, with precedents in Europe and Japan. A 1979 study on the extraction of uranium from seawater was conducted by Bendix Field Engineering, Exxon Nuclear Company, Oregon State University, and Vitro Engineering Corp. The report had considered sites for a uranium extraction plant along the Alaskan coast, suggesting Cook Inlet as an ideal location because of its high tides. At the time, it was determined that the temperature of the coastal waters was too low for successful extraction of uranium.
This brings attention to recent studies by China, one of Israel’s major trading partners and a nuclear state with an estimated capacity of around 260 warheads. China has developed methods for successfully extracting uranium from seawater. Chinese company LCW Supercritical Technologies and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory claimed that for the first time, in June 2018, seawater yielded yellowcake uranium. This process involved the use of plastics immersed in the water to collect uranyl ions that could then be removed from the water and refined for use in nuclear power plants.
Mineral commodities are an area of growing collaboration between Israel and China, in addition to weapons trade and exchange of mass surveillance technologies. China nearly doubled its funding in 2018 for agreements with Israeli companies worth over $20 million, and was expected to overtake the United States as the top investor in Israeli companies. This growing partnership between the two countries is also evident in the phosphate industry. In 2016, ICL bought 15 percent shares in the leading Chinese phosphate company Yunnan Yuntianhua, and currently has a mining operation in China’s southwestern Yunnan Province, which borders Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam. In another instance, ICL invested $180 million in the Yunnan Phosphate Chemical Group, which is a leading Chinese producer of the mineral, and “is also buying a 20 percent stake in the Chinese firm, subject to approval by China’s security regulators.” This was done as “a hedge against a possible loss of future supplies at Sde Barir,” a controversial Israeli phosphate mine that was to be constructed in the Negev.
The Sde Barir mine was supposed to be built in the Arad Valley between the Bedouin towns of al-Pora’a and Kseifa in the Negev, but was vehemently contested in 2015 for environmental and humanitarian reasons. The construction of the ICL mine would require the evacuation of thousands of Bedouin in a region that is already targeted by Israeli razing and chronic displacement of Bedouin villages. In a letter to the Israeli Ministry of Finance, ICL gave a familiar narrative of job creation as a justification for the phosphate mine, claiming that, “Failure to grant a permit to mine phosphates at Sde Barir will, within a fairly short time, put into question all of the Israel Chemicals group's phosphates business in Israel, and will be liable to lead to the closure of the Rotem plant in the Negev and to the dismissal of many hundreds more workers.” Moshe Haddad, chairman of Rotem Amfert’s workers’ committee, was quoted in December 2015 in Haaretz: “Thousands of families in the Negev will be able to earn a living in dignity.” Despite the additional health risks posed to the Bedouin town of Arad, as identified by the Israeli Health Ministry in 2015, the Sde Barir mine was approved.6
In 2013, ICL ‘declared that phosphate reserves were drying up’ in Israel, creating further incentive for ICL to find and capitalize on sources of phosphate elsewhere. Israel Chemicals currently has other phosphate operations around the world, with fertilizer companies located in Belgium and Spain, processing facilities in Germany and the Netherlands, and a facility for processing animal-feed additives in Turkey. Extending its reach further into Southeast Asia, ICL partnered in 2013 with the Vietnamese company Duc Giang Chemical to construct the first yellow phosphate plant in Vietnam, and operates a superphospate plant in the northwestern province of Lao Cai.
The more recent technical successes and efficiency of extracting uranium from seawater naturally point towards the possibility of this uranium being used for military purposes, but its indirect sourcing makes it difficult to monitor under international regulations. By using these forms of “unconventional sources” to derive military-grade uranium, it is possible for Israeli companies to remain beyond the accountability of international regulation. And Israel’s non-participation in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) means that, beyond whatever information is freely volunteered by the government, the country’s nuclear projects are already not subject to international oversight and reporting on uranium production, alternative sources for extraction, and whether the uranium is being used for military purposes.
OF DIGNITY AND DECAY
Even if Israel chose to sign onto the NPT, it has already set a precedent of using radiological, incendiary and biological weapons, and of weaponizing land contamination in the West Bank and Gaza in what has been called a “toxic biosphere of war.”
Uranium on its own can be used in Radiological Dispersal Devices or “dirty bombs.” Aside from the obvious implications in nuclear warheads, uranium is already used by the IDF in anti-tank bullets to better penetrate vehicles’ armor shells. When Israel bombed a UN post in Lebanon in 2006, an elevated presence of uranium was later detected in the soil in Khiam. A report by Lebanese physicist Dr. Mohammed Ali Kobeissi of the New Weapons Research Group found elevated levels of uranium in bomb craters left by IDF missiles. A United Nations (UN) report by Achim Steiner, a proponent of Israeli technological partnerships across Africa, later claimed to have found “no evidence” of military origins for the uranium in the soil of Khiam. Steiner did confirm Israeli use of “white phosphorus-containing artillery and mortar ammunition by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF).”
Phosphorus itself is used in artillery shells, bombs, rockets and grenades, and international treaties classify them as “incendiary” weapons, not as chemical weapons. Phosphorus bombs contain self-igniting felt wedges that are soaked in phosphoric acid which bursts into flame. White phosphorus burns persistently when exposed to oxygen, sometimes down to the bone or internal organs, causing excruciating pain and severe harm to the body. Poisoning caused by white phosphorus prolongs the healing of wounds, exacerbating the damage. But the Chemical Weapons Convention Schedule of Chemicals does not recognize phosphorus as a toxic chemical or as a precursor to a toxic chemical. In a statement on Israeli attacks on Hizbollah, Israeli minister Jacob Edery stated that "according to international law, the use of phosphorus munitions is authorised and the (Israeli) army keeps to the rules of international norms."
In 2009, Human Rights Watch released a report on the extent of Israeli use of phosphorus in Gaza. The report described how the Israeli military deployed white phosphorus artillery shells, manufactured in the United States by Thiokol Aerospace, in densely populated Palestinian civilian areas of Gaza, acting as a smoke-screen for the IDF. A few of the civilian targets outlined in the report included the Gaza City headquarters for UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the al-Quds Hospital, and a school in Beit Lahya that was sheltering “roughly 1,600 displaced persons.” Human Rights Watch confirmed that the IDF was made aware of the civilian presence: “As with all of its facilities in Gaza, the UN had provided the IDF with the GPS coordinates of the school prior to military operations.” Israel claimed it would discontinue use of phosphorus munitions in 2013, as it was bad for the state’s public image.
Israeli phosphorus-shelling United Nations Relief and Welfare Agency (UNRWA), Gaza, January 15 2009 © Yannis Behrakis/Reuters, via Forensic Architecture.)
Even with these more obvious military uses of uranium and phosphorus, there is also a form of long-term warfare that is waged through contamination, sometimes identified only many years later. In part 3 of this series, this was shown in Israel’s strategic ‘development’ in the Negev desert, and dumping of industrial waste near Palestinian cities and villages. Israel has strategically resettled Palestinians into contaminated areas across the Negev, or has created zones of industrial contamination, like dumps for garbage or unsanitary medical equipment, near Palestinian residential areas.
Without free movement between Gaza and the West Bank, Palestinians are economically forced into dependence on the Israeli chemical and manufacturing industries that occupy the Negev. Much like the sewage pollution described by architect Eyal Weizman, environmental pollution from processing phosphates and other minerals is enough to affect devastating effects on Palestinian populations. Environmental toxicity has become a form of warfare through the prolonged damages to civilian health, seen in Lebanon and across Palestine. This has been the case with lead poisoning from “Operation Cast Lead,” when Israel bombed Gaza between 2008 and 2009, leading to medical issues, such as sterility and cancer, and birth defects documented from metals used by the IDF.
Contamination from phosphate plants can be caused by phosphogypsum polluting soil and water, and eventually making its way into the bodies of living beings. The Mishor Rotem phosphate factory in the Negev was under investigation in 2017 for a toxic tailings spill that contaminated the Ashalim riverbed with acidic wastewater. Ari Rabinovitch reported for Reuters that, “Israel’s Ministry of Environment has opened a criminal investigation into the plant’s owner, Rotem Amfert, and its parent company Israel Chemicals (ICL).” Even in its household uses such as in domestic insecticide, detergent, or textile flame retardants, phosphorus can be toxic in creating a chemical sensitivity through daily exposure, and can contribute to the contamination of waterways.
“THE MEANS OF WEAPONS”
Israel remains a non-signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and maintains a policy of ambiguity around declaring its military nuclear capacity. Israel is globally recognized as a ‘state of concern’, still only suspected of developing military nuclear programmes. The total Israeli arsenal of nuclear warheads is estimated at around 80, trailing below estimates for India and Pakistan. Yet, as Anna Wetter writes for the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), states are not considered under NPT regulation to be “nuclear states” until they have exploded a nuclear device. “The treaty defines a nuclear weapon state as one that exploded a nuclear device before 1967,” she writes. “All other states—whether parties to the treaty or not—are non-nuclear weapon states.”
Wetter writes that existing regulations on the trade and movement of uranium as a dual-use good, as well as microbial and biological toxins use for warfare, do not yet sufficiently address “implementation, verification or enforcement measures.” This continues to make it difficult for international monitoring and regulation to hold governments accountable for military development, as well as the environmental and human costs of nuclear facilities. Without this accountability, companies invested in Israeli industries also remain beyond reproach for their ‘technically indirect’ investment in Israel’s nuclear warfare.
The Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies, a conservative Zionist think tank, published an article by Prof. Louis René Beres, which claimed that Israel must re-evaluate its current policy of ambiguity around its military nuclear capacity. ICL’s own fertilizer advertising campaigns seem to embody the fascistic overtones of Netenyahu’s speech at the renaming ceremony of the Shimon Peres Negev Nuclear Research Centre: "In the Middle East, and in many parts of the world, there is a simple truth: There is no place for the weak. The weak crumble, are slaughtered and are erased from history while the strong, for good or for ill, survive. The strong are respected, and alliances are made with the strong, and in the end peace is made with the strong. This process, of normalization by leading countries in the Arab world with the strong State of Israel, is happening before our eyes on a scale that would have been impossible to imagine a few years ago."
Screenshots from ICL Fertilizers’ “Rotem Amfert, Circle of Existence” (2013) video.
In spite of its policy of ambiguity, Israel has manufactured a defensive narrative around its nuclear arsenal, shaping its policies of pre-emptive destruction and evading the regulations of organizations like the IAEA. Even if Israel were to become a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Agreement that is supposedly “an ‘essential pillar’ of international peace,” its policies are historically rooted in knowingly targeting civilians to inflict mass casualties, instill fear against the state’s opponents, and extend conditions of apartheid upon non-Jewish peoples in the colonial state.
In a letter to the UN Director General Yukiya Amano in 2016, Ambassador to the Israel Atomic Energy Agency, Merav Zafary-Odiz deflected attention from Israeli nuclear accountability towards “those”, other Middle Eastern countries, "Tabling of a politically-motivated draft resolution entitled 'Israeli nuclear capabilities' under the requested agenda item would divert attention from the dire situation in many parts of our region, and the true dangers posed by those Middle Eastern countries that are possessing or pursuing weapons of mass destruction and even make use of them against civilians, including their own."
Although this series has a more retrospective focus on the role of uranium in Israeli nuclear development, there are other secondary, or unconventional, sources of fissile material that are pursued by the Israeli government. More contemporary minerals that are relevant to the development of nuclear power include monazite, which is derived from phosphate rich deposits and is a source of small quantities of thorium and sometimes uranium. Israel continues to collaborate with the United States on research into fissile materials, including the extraction of uranium and thorium from monazite.
In 1990, a study was published by researchers from Technion in Haifa in collaboration with the University of California, Berkley on the extraction of uranium and thorium from monazite. Studies such as these set the precedent for continued collaboration on nuclear programmes, as in 2010, Israel began collaborating with the United States on thorium powered nuclear energy. Thorium has been represented as an alternative and proliferation-resistant nuclear fuel due to the low quantities of plutonium that it produces, however recent studies prove that thorium could in fact be used to form and recover uranium-233, which is usable in nuclear weapons.
A greater ghost hangs over the desert of the Negev. Minerological and metallurgical development is an arm of military occupation in the same way as are the construction of illegal civilian settlements outside UN designated borders, or the blatant military attacks on civilian populations in Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, or the Golan Heights. The exploitation of the Negev for mineral commodities that fuel the Israeli war machine continues without recourse, providing ever greater returns for the international governments and companies that are invested in Israeli industries.
When technological industries are by proxy invested in the military applications of ICL’s recovered mineral products, and insurance companies like the Canadian Pension Plan are invested in these extractive industries, they know fully well where the profits are coming from. When universities collaborate with Haifa’s Technion or the Weizmann Institute on “disinterested sciences,” they know fully well that these institutes transfer technology to military interests. Israeli PR campaigns around its economic “diplomacy” with Morocco, Egypt and Jordan intend to soften the public face of a state that sees itself as exceptional within what physicist Shelheveth Freier called “a regressive Middle East,” in which Israel has been positioned only recently by Western powers. So when Israel continues to lobby for the criminalization of Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions on a global scale, it is because BDS is an effective economic strategy that broadly cuts the flow of such “downstream” products from industries that return profits from seemingly “domestic” products like fertilizer, to the military ambitions of an apartheid state.
As nuclear weapons have become unquestioningly normalized in the face of public apathy or disillusionment, the pursuit of peace is not to be found in perfecting the means of war. When did we abandon the struggle against global nuclear warfare? When did it become more criminal to protest the means of mass murder than to extract the means of weapons from fertilizers and seawater? Against the argument of nuclear “deterrence” as a step towards peace, when has peace ever been achieved through the pursuit of brutal methods of mass murder? When has peace ever been achieved through the investment of money, resources and lives into perfecting methods of incinerating, and contaminating countless bodies? Who will hold the makers of the bombs and the button-pushers accountable? Who will hold the makers of death to account?
1. Title refers to “The Shit Cartel,” a section in To Justify Land 4: Onwards, Ecofiscal Commissions! which was originally published in 2017 through Berfrois, and later with some edits in Media Co-op (Canada). The section refers to the Canadian, American and Russian fertilizer industries, and the price-fixing of the global potash cartel.
2. As Israel continues to lobby for international recognition of its sovereignty over the occupied territory of Syria’s Golan Heights, both Israel and the U.S. have their sights set on Syrian oil in the region. See “Partition of Syria: US and Israel Eye Golan Heights Oil,” Christina Lin, Asia Times, April 4, 2018.
3. Figures are based on individual company reports.
4. Jay Rydberg, Solvent Extraction Principles and Practice, (Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2004), 629. In 2017, a European Union ruling lowered the permitted levels of cadmium, a carcinogenic and mutagenic substance, in phosphate rock to 20 mg per kilogram. Cadmium is a metal that is resistant to bacterial growth and corrosion, with properties of good adhesion, ductility and lubrication that make it useful for military applications, such as cadmium plating for military aircraft or to elevate the resistance of weapons to corrosion. During the Cold War, the United States also secretly tested cadmium as a biological weapon in the form of a zinc cadmium sulfide spray.
5. ICL has significant investment from U.S. companies, including JP Morgan Chase ; Beverly Hills based investment company Lourd Capital LLC, Chicago-based Citadel LLC, and New York-based Neuberger Berman. Until 2018, Saskatchewan’s Potash Corp. (owned by Nutrien after the merger with Agrium) owned up to 13.8 percent stake in ICL, making the Canadian company one of ICL’s larger investors. In January of 2018, Potash Corp. sold its shares, citing regulatory requirements in China and India where ICL is currently expanding its operations.
6. The mining site began within steps of a school.
Lital Khaikin is a Russian-Canadian author and publisher living in Montréal ( Tiohtià:ke ). Her literary writing has appeared in numerous publications including 3:AM Magazine, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, Berfrois, and the “Vestiges” journal by Black Sun Lit, and some of her poetry has been translated into Italian. She has contributed journalism to Canadian publications like Briarpatch and the Media Co-op, writing about industrial development, extractive industries, and militarism. Some of this work has been translated into Mandarin for the Taiwanese publication Coolloud Collective. She has previously edited with the team of continent. journal, and has participated in residencies in Germany, Austria, and Denmark. She is the founder and publisher of The Green Violin, a slow-burning ‘samizdat’-style literary press for the free distribution of poetry, essays, prose, and literary paraphernalia.