Iran Watch: What about Israel's nukes?

Iran Watch, part 3.

Last night's Newsnight was pretty disappointing. Diplomatic editor Mark Urban and host Jeremy Paxman had a nice, long chat about the logistics of an Israeli attack on Iran - from refuelling mid-air to the availability of US bunker-buster bombs. I don't recall either Urban or Paxman discussing the legality, legitimacy or catastrophic consequences of such an attack. So much, as I often say, for the "anti-war" BBC. Watch the discussion for yourself.

Then Paxman introduced his main guest on the subject: Daniel Taub, Israeli ambassador to the UK. It was a soft interview by Paxo standards (including questions such as "How long do you think you've got?" and other such curveballs) and I found myself yelling at the television: ask him about the nukes, their nukes.

This is the closest that the Newsnight presenter came to pressing Taub on Israel's nuclear weapons programme, in his penultimate question:

You speak, of course, as a nuclear weapon regime...

To which Taub responded:

The Israeli policy as far as nuclearisation hasn't changed for decades.

And that was that. Taub was allowed to hide behind the Israeli policy of nuclear "ambiguity" (or "amimut" in Hebrew). Paxman moved on. The fact that Israel is the only nuclear-armed nation in the Middle East, refuses to sign up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), is in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 487 which "calls upon Israel urgently to place its nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards" and continues to ignore the IAEA's September 2009 resolution calling upon the Jewish state "to accede to the NPT and place all its nuclear facilities under comprehensive IAEA safeguards", seems to be off-limits in the current debate about Iran.

In fact, discussing Israel's secret nuclear weapons arsenal has long been a taboo for the west's media. It's as depressing as it is outrageous. My own view is that no Israeli official or spokesman should be allowed to come on the BBC or ITV or Sky News and fear-monger about Iran's nuclear programme unless he is first questioned about Israel's own nuclear weapons programme - and any self-proclaimed "impartial" journalist who fails to ask such questions, or follow up on them, should hang their heads in shame.

Here's the New Yorker's excellent John Cassidy, writing on his blog yesterday:

In case you'd forgotten about them -- and that wouldn't be hard, given how seldom their existence is mentioned in public debates -- Israel has perhaps a hundred nuclear weapons, maybe even a few times more than that, and it has the capacity to launch them from underground silos, submarines, and F-16 fighter bombers.

Outside of the Israeli defense ministry, very few people know precisely how many nuclear-armed missiles the country has. According to a non-classified 1999 estimate from the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, which was cited in a 2007 bulletin from the Federation of American Scientists, Israel had between sixty and eighty nuclear warheads. More recent estimates say the figure is considerably higher.

The London-based Institute of Strategic Studies says Israel has "up to 200" warheads loaded on land-based Jericho 1 and Jericho 2 short- and medium-range missiles. Jane's, the defense-information company, estimates that the over-all number of warheads is between a hundred and three hundred, which puts the Israeli nuclear arsenal roughly on a par with the British and French capabilities. And some of these warheads are widely believed to have been loaded onto the new Jericho 3 intercontinental ballistic missile, which has a range of up to four thousand five hundred miles -- meaning it could theoretically strike targets in Europe and Asia.

Cassidy concludes:

The regime in Tehran is a deeply unpleasant one, and many of our other allies, including Britain, France, and Saudi Arabia, are also determined to prevent it from joining the nuclear club. But publicly acknowledging what everybody already knows about Israel -- that it's one of the world's nuclear powers -- would make the United States less vulnerable to the charge of double standards.

Hear, hear! (Read Cassidy's full blogpost here.)

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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The legal loophole forcing pregnant women out of work

Zero-hours contracts are eroding hard-won maternity rights.

In the last ten years, we have seen a feminist revival, a comprehensive Equality Act and the second female British prime minister in history. Women are making progress. 

That is, unless you’re a pregnant woman. A 2015 study found more new and expectant mothers reporting discrimination in the workplace than they had in 2005. More women said they were made redundant or felt forced to leave their job. Three-quarters had a negative experience at work because of their pregnancy.

But the offices of Britain slowly retreating into the smoke-filled fug of the seventies, where female workers spent the day dodging wandering hands. A report by the Women and Equalities select committee suggests this is a thoroughly modern phenomenon. 

When it comes to rights at work, some pregnant women are more equal than others. Those most likely to report a risk to their health at work were those working in poorly-paid sectors like caring, and those in unstable employment, such as zero-hours contracts. 

This is enshrined in the law. Women working for agencies or on zero-hours contracts do not have the same pregnancy and maternity entitlements as those who are classed as employees.  According to some legal and professional opinions, they have no rights at all. 

Fair enough, you might say. If a temp announces her pregnancy halfway through a four-week stint, it’s a bit much to expect her temporary employer to cough up. She’s chosen a more flexible form of employment in the first place. 

The problem is, increasingly it’s not a choice. Over the last ten years, according to Citizens Advice, there has been a 58 per cent increase in people taking temporary jobs “because they are unable to find permanent work”. 

The influence of contract type means that, even within the same glossy corporate building, two pregnant women can experience utterly different treatment. Scarlet Harris of the TUC told the committee: “In some larger employers you will see good practices happening among professional women at the top, but they might be large organisations with women agency workers working lower down who are not afforded the same rights at all and are treated very differently.”

Despite their contracts, temporary workers often do continue to work for the same company for months on end. On Mumsnet, a forum, women on zero-hours contracts discussed when to reveal the news to their employer. One user wrote: 

“I was on a zero-hour contract working for the company for six years. [I] have had a few different contracts over the years, and had a quite physical and sometimes dangerous job so had to tell my boss really early. 

"I was eventually given no hours at all in the time they count maternity pay from.”

The woman, who had worked 14 hours a day at times, had to rely on using up her paid holidays, and statutory maternity pay. She did not return to her job.

In theory, zero-hours contract workers who resemble full-time employees can challenge their employers in court. But the committee found that pregnant women were put off from going to employment tribunals by the short deadline and recently-introduced fees. On Mumsnet, one pregnant worker gave the idea short shrift. She wrote: 

“Those protections that women fought and died for have gone along with fixed contracts.

“We have no protection - heaps of people have come online and written about being shafted after announcing pregnancy. They have been seriously let down by everyone and they have been unable to 'prove' that their hours are reduced due to their pregnancy.”

In other words, we have not gone back in time. This is the era of the disposable workforce, where pregnant women can quietly be discarded as their due date nears. If MPs want to prevent the trend of discrimination getting worse, they should close the legal zero-hours loophole first.