Israel, since its inception in 1948, has had strained ties with Islamic countries due to their support for Palestine. Although its relationship with most of them has gotten better over time, there are still 28 states including Pakistan that have refused to recognize the Jewish nation.
Recent media reports have revealed shocking details about Israeli opposition to Pakistan’s nuclear program and its effort towards derailing it. The Israeli spy agency Mossad is suspected of detonating bombs and delivering threats to German and Swiss corporations that were actively assisting Pakistan’s nascent nuclear weapons program in the 1980s.
The findings were reported on January 1, 2022, by the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ). According to the paper, “The suspicion that the Mossad might be behind the attacks and threats soon arose. For Israel, the prospect that Pakistan, for the first time, could become an Islamic state with an atomic bomb posed an existential threat.”
In the 1970s, two Pakistani Presidents, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, regarded nuclear weapons as a way to improve the country’s standing in the “Muslim world”.
Islamabad touted its nuclear arsenal as an Islamic bomb to imply that it would be a shared property of the entire Muslim world. While there was little truth in that narrative, Israel could have potentially felt threatened for that very reason.
In the 1980s, Pakistan and Iran collaborated closely on the development of nuclear weapon devices, according to the article. The rigorous efforts of German and Swiss companies in supporting Iran’s nuclear development “has been rather well researched”, according to NZZ.
However, “new, previously unknown documents from archives in Bern and Washington sharpen this picture,” it said.
According to the article, Swiss historian Adrian Hänni stated that the Mossad was most certainly engaged in the bombings of Swiss and German enterprises, but that there was no “smoking gun” to establish that the Mossad was responsible.
A hitherto unknown organization, the ‘Organization for the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in South Asia’, claimed responsibility for the explosions in Switzerland and Germany at the time.
However, new findings suggest that Israel was averse to the idea of Pakistan, a Muslim state, acquiring or developing nuclear weapons in consonance with Iran, another arch-rival of Israel in the region.
Pakistan’s Covert Nuclear Program
The late Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, known as the “Father of Pakistan’s Atomic Weapons Program,” crisscrossed Europe in the 1980s to collect technology and designs for a nuclear weapons device from Western institutions and firms, according to NZZ.
The paper also noted that in 1987, Khan met with a delegation from Iran’s Organization for Atomic Energy in a Zurich hotel. Engineer Masud Naraghi, the head of Iran’s nuclear energy commission, led the Iranian delegation at the time.
Pakistan confirmed for the first time in 2003 that it may have provided critical nuclear know-how and equipment to Iran’s uranium enrichment program, a complex and comprehensive enterprise that had been kept secret for 18 years.
The revelation came after weeks of denials from the Pakistani government that it was involved in the Iranian initiatives. It came as Pakistan revealed that it was interviewing Khan, the man who oversaw Pakistan’s nuclear weapons acquisition and is regarded as a national hero in his country, for suspected ties with Iran.
In Switzerland, Khan’s team had met with two German engineers, Gotthard Lerch and Heinz Mebus, as well as Naraghi, who got his Ph.D. in the United States. Additional meetings were held in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, according to NZZ.
With Pakistan’s rapid efforts to restart its nuclear weapons program, the US attempted but failed to persuade the German and Swiss governments to punish corporations in their nations that aided Pakistan. Mossad agents are suspected of targeting companies and engineers involved in this plot in Switzerland and Germany.
According to the NZZ, “A few months after the unsuccessful intervention of the American state department in Bonn [then-capital of West Germany] and Bern, unknown perpetrators carried out explosive attacks on three of these companies: on February 20, 1981, on the house of a leading employee of Cora Engineering Chur; on May 18, 1981, on the factory building of the Wälischmiller company in Markdorf; and finally, on November 6th, 1981, on the engineering office of Heinz Mebus in Erlangen. All three attacks resulted in only property damage, only Mebus’s dog was killed.”
Israeli Covert Ops
The paper noted that “the explosives attacks were accompanied by several phone calls in which strangers threatened other delivery companies in English or broken German.
Sometimes the caller would order the threats to be taped. “The attack that we carried out against the Wälischmiller Company could happen to you too” — this is how the Leybold-Heraeus administration office was intimidated.
Siegfried Schertler, the owner of Vakuum-Apparate-Technik (VAT) at the time, and his head salesman Tinner were called several times on their private lines. Schertler also reported to the Swiss Federal Police that the Israeli secret service had contacted him. All this emerges from the investigation files, according to NZZ.
According to Schertler, the VAT executive was called by David, an employee of the Israeli embassy in Germany. David asked the company’s CEO to abandon “these industries” involving nuclear weapons and focus on the textile industry, according to the CEO.
Companies in Switzerland and Germany apparently profited handsomely from their dealings with the Khan’s nuclear weapons network.
NZZ reported, “Many of these suppliers, mainly from Germany and Switzerland, soon entered into a business worth millions with Pakistan: Leybold-Heraeus, Wälischmiller, Cora Engineering Chur, Vakuum-Apparate-Technik (with the chief buyer Friedrich Tinner) or the Buchs metal works, to name but a few. They benefited from an important circumstance: the German and Swiss authorities interpreted their dual-use provisions very generously: Most of the components that are required for uranium enrichment, for example, high-precision vacuum valves, are primarily used for civil purposes.”
The National Security Archive in Washington recently declassified diplomatic letters from the US State Department from Bonn and Bern in 1980, according to the NZZ. “This shows how the US resented the two countries’ casual handling of the delicate deliveries to Pakistan,” the NZZ article said.
“In the now released dispatches, which were previously classified as secret, those companies are listed for the first time that the US has accused of supporting the Pakistani nuclear weapons program with their deliveries. The list included around half a dozen companies each from Germany and Switzerland.”
Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan spent the 1970s in the Netherlands working for Urenco, a British-Dutch-German collaboration that is a world leader in uranium enrichment technology.
A Dutch court sentenced him to four years in prison after he left the Netherlands and came home for stealing key plans for centrifuge equipment used to enrich weapons-grade uranium.
The United States had imposed sanctions on Pakistan in 1998 after it announced that it had detonated nuclear bombs underground to match India’s capability. However, the current reports suggest that the US took note of the matter and the fact that friendly countries were helping it with requisite tech help.
Further, in early 1979, State Department officials that were closely watching Pakistan’s nuclear program were startled after learning that Islamabad had secretly initiated a uranium enrichment program using gas centrifuge technology, according to National Security Archive records.
On being asked by The EurAsian Times if the US was already aware of Swiss and German companies aiding Pakistan’s nuclear effort and whether Mossad attacked these corporations with American sanction, Rajiv Nayan, Senior Research Associate at Manohar Parrikar Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis said, “Unfortunately, the US government has been overactive on Iran, and active on North Korea but overlooks Pakistani role in the proliferation network. It is an old story repeated time and again. AQ Khan was made the scapegoat at the beginning of this century. The Pakistani state was somewhat given a clean chit.
“Even Khan was released later and the non-proliferation community and activist states remained quiet. Germany and Switzerland adopted some standard export control laws but it seems the proliferation network, which was declared dismantled, is very much active and functioning. Israel may have acted out of frustration. A section of the US establishment may have given tacit support. But we should assume the formal US sanction for the act.”
These revelations come at a time when the United States, Germany and other P5 countries remain invested in nuclear talks with China. Even though the officials in the United States have not taken cognizance yet, the report does raise some important questions. However, a clearer picture might emerge once the stakeholders give their own response.