Commentary Magazine


Topic: French government

Netanyahu’s Office Responds to Anti-Israel Time Article

If there was a bright side to Karl Vick’s Time magazine piece on Israel last week, it’s that it finally pushed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office to issue a forceful response to the unhinged anti-Israel alarmists who’ve been claiming that the country is sliding toward fascism.

In a blunt and unapologetic letter to Time, Netanyahu’s senior adviser Ron Dermer called the allegations in the article “outrageous” and proceeded to tear apart the misleading and factually inaccurate statements in an expert manner. There’s too much information there to go through a blow-by-blow analysis, but check out Dermer’s letter in full here.

Dermer also gave a strong defense of Israel’s controversial new NGO law, which allows the Knesset to investigate whether certain NGOs are being funded by foreign governments. I’ve been critical of the law, but Dermer was able to skillfully convey the challenges Israel faces in addressing the growing number of foreign-funded NGOs that are working ceaselessly to undermine the country.

”What would Britain do if the French government was actively funding a British NGO that sought to eliminate the monarchy? What would the United States do if the Iranian government was funding American NGOs pressing for a withdrawal of US forces from the Middle East?” wrote Dermer.

And he noted that the NGO law might not be the perfect solution, and there is still a “vigorous public debate in Israel, including within the Likud party, over the best means to address the problem.”

“Israel has upheld its democratic values despite being threatened like no country on earth,” Dermer wrote in conclusion.

It’s sad that Israel still needs to be on the defensive on this subject. And even sadder that it has to point out that it’s worthy of being called a democracy.

But the letter was definitely necessary. Part of the reason the anti-Israel misinformation campaign has been so successful in the past few months is because Netanyahu’s office has not been quick enough to correct false reports and outright lies about controversial legislation. I hope this stronger public-relations effort continues.

If there was a bright side to Karl Vick’s Time magazine piece on Israel last week, it’s that it finally pushed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office to issue a forceful response to the unhinged anti-Israel alarmists who’ve been claiming that the country is sliding toward fascism.

In a blunt and unapologetic letter to Time, Netanyahu’s senior adviser Ron Dermer called the allegations in the article “outrageous” and proceeded to tear apart the misleading and factually inaccurate statements in an expert manner. There’s too much information there to go through a blow-by-blow analysis, but check out Dermer’s letter in full here.

Dermer also gave a strong defense of Israel’s controversial new NGO law, which allows the Knesset to investigate whether certain NGOs are being funded by foreign governments. I’ve been critical of the law, but Dermer was able to skillfully convey the challenges Israel faces in addressing the growing number of foreign-funded NGOs that are working ceaselessly to undermine the country.

”What would Britain do if the French government was actively funding a British NGO that sought to eliminate the monarchy? What would the United States do if the Iranian government was funding American NGOs pressing for a withdrawal of US forces from the Middle East?” wrote Dermer.

And he noted that the NGO law might not be the perfect solution, and there is still a “vigorous public debate in Israel, including within the Likud party, over the best means to address the problem.”

“Israel has upheld its democratic values despite being threatened like no country on earth,” Dermer wrote in conclusion.

It’s sad that Israel still needs to be on the defensive on this subject. And even sadder that it has to point out that it’s worthy of being called a democracy.

But the letter was definitely necessary. Part of the reason the anti-Israel misinformation campaign has been so successful in the past few months is because Netanyahu’s office has not been quick enough to correct false reports and outright lies about controversial legislation. I hope this stronger public-relations effort continues.

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70 Years Ago Today

On August 3, 1940, Ze’ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky — one of the towering figures in the history of Zionism — died in New York of a heart attack at age 59.

He had been in New York since March, pushing his plan for a Jewish army to fight Hitler, giving speeches that drew huge crowds at the Manhattan Center. On June 20 — under the headline “Jabotinsky Asks Jews for Army of 100,000 – Zionist Leader Calls for Men to Fight as a Unit — 4,000 Hear Plea” — the New York Times reported his words from the prior evening:

I challenge the Jews, wherever they are still free, to demand the right of fighting the giant rattlesnake, not just under British or French or Polish labels, but as a Jewish Army. Some shout that we only want others to fight, some whisper that a Jew only makes a good soldier when squeezed in between Gentile comrades. I challenge the Jewish youth to give them the lie.

The day before his death, he had contracted to publish his book on the Jews and the war. On August 3, he collapsed at an upstate New York training camp for the Zionist youth movement he created. His last words, reported in Shmuel Katz’s monumental biography, were “I am so tired.” Katz believed the real cause of death was “stress and overwork.”

More than 12,000 people stood on Second Avenue three days later outside his funeral services — conducted by three rabbis, with 200 cantors chanting and 750 people in attendance, including British, Polish, Czech, and other diplomats. As he had requested, there were no eulogies or speeches. The New York Times reported the next day that:

At the end of the chapel service, the coffin, draped with a Zionist flag, was carried from the funeral home, surrounded by an honor guard of 50 boys and girls. … Many men and women wept … a throng of 25,000 followed the cortege or lined the route. …

A motorcade of fifty cars and eight buses left for the New Montefiore Cemetery in Farmingdale, L.I., where a military service was held.

Jabotinsky’s 1935 will stipulated that he should be buried “wherever death finds me and my remains may not be brought to Palestine except by the order of that country’s eventual Jewish Government” — reflecting his faith in the eventual re-creation of the Jewish state. But it was not until 1964 that his body was transferred to Mount Herzl for burial.

It was a hero’s homecoming. In New York, the casket was carried through Manhattan to Kennedy airport in a hearse drawn by four white horses, with Times Square renamed “Jabotinsky Square” for the day; in Paris, the French government and Jewish community held a ceremony as the plane landed there on its way to Israel. In 2007, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert recalled the reception in Israel:

I clearly remember the immense funeral procession in the streets of Tel Aviv, which was unparalleled; I remember the tremendous emotion, sometimes tearful, of students and admirers, headed by the Chairman of the Herut Movement, Menachem Begin, who accompanied the coffin. A huge audience … came to pay their respects to the great Zionist leader; a bit late but wholeheartedly.

In a 2009 Knesset speech, Benjamin Netanyahu recalled the 1964 homecoming, which “made a tremendous impact on me.” On this day, we too should remember: read Midge Decter’s 1996 article (“one of those remarkable Eastern European Jews on whose like the world will never look again”); Hillel Halkin’s 2005 review (“one of the most intelligent, talented, honest, and likeable of all twentieth-century politicians”); Anne Lieberman’s extraordinary 2009 essay (which virtually channels Jabotinsky); and the resources at Jewish Ideas Daily.

On August 18, 2010, at 7:30 p.m., Americans for a Safe Israel will hold a special memorial at Park East Synagogue, 163 East 67th Street, with Douglas Feith as the keynote speaker.

On August 3, 1940, Ze’ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky — one of the towering figures in the history of Zionism — died in New York of a heart attack at age 59.

He had been in New York since March, pushing his plan for a Jewish army to fight Hitler, giving speeches that drew huge crowds at the Manhattan Center. On June 20 — under the headline “Jabotinsky Asks Jews for Army of 100,000 – Zionist Leader Calls for Men to Fight as a Unit — 4,000 Hear Plea” — the New York Times reported his words from the prior evening:

I challenge the Jews, wherever they are still free, to demand the right of fighting the giant rattlesnake, not just under British or French or Polish labels, but as a Jewish Army. Some shout that we only want others to fight, some whisper that a Jew only makes a good soldier when squeezed in between Gentile comrades. I challenge the Jewish youth to give them the lie.

The day before his death, he had contracted to publish his book on the Jews and the war. On August 3, he collapsed at an upstate New York training camp for the Zionist youth movement he created. His last words, reported in Shmuel Katz’s monumental biography, were “I am so tired.” Katz believed the real cause of death was “stress and overwork.”

More than 12,000 people stood on Second Avenue three days later outside his funeral services — conducted by three rabbis, with 200 cantors chanting and 750 people in attendance, including British, Polish, Czech, and other diplomats. As he had requested, there were no eulogies or speeches. The New York Times reported the next day that:

At the end of the chapel service, the coffin, draped with a Zionist flag, was carried from the funeral home, surrounded by an honor guard of 50 boys and girls. … Many men and women wept … a throng of 25,000 followed the cortege or lined the route. …

A motorcade of fifty cars and eight buses left for the New Montefiore Cemetery in Farmingdale, L.I., where a military service was held.

Jabotinsky’s 1935 will stipulated that he should be buried “wherever death finds me and my remains may not be brought to Palestine except by the order of that country’s eventual Jewish Government” — reflecting his faith in the eventual re-creation of the Jewish state. But it was not until 1964 that his body was transferred to Mount Herzl for burial.

It was a hero’s homecoming. In New York, the casket was carried through Manhattan to Kennedy airport in a hearse drawn by four white horses, with Times Square renamed “Jabotinsky Square” for the day; in Paris, the French government and Jewish community held a ceremony as the plane landed there on its way to Israel. In 2007, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert recalled the reception in Israel:

I clearly remember the immense funeral procession in the streets of Tel Aviv, which was unparalleled; I remember the tremendous emotion, sometimes tearful, of students and admirers, headed by the Chairman of the Herut Movement, Menachem Begin, who accompanied the coffin. A huge audience … came to pay their respects to the great Zionist leader; a bit late but wholeheartedly.

In a 2009 Knesset speech, Benjamin Netanyahu recalled the 1964 homecoming, which “made a tremendous impact on me.” On this day, we too should remember: read Midge Decter’s 1996 article (“one of those remarkable Eastern European Jews on whose like the world will never look again”); Hillel Halkin’s 2005 review (“one of the most intelligent, talented, honest, and likeable of all twentieth-century politicians”); Anne Lieberman’s extraordinary 2009 essay (which virtually channels Jabotinsky); and the resources at Jewish Ideas Daily.

On August 18, 2010, at 7:30 p.m., Americans for a Safe Israel will hold a special memorial at Park East Synagogue, 163 East 67th Street, with Douglas Feith as the keynote speaker.

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Frenchness 101

It is dawning on Europe at last that if a state is to survive, citizenship must mean something more than an aggregate of tribal affiliations. All that “land of the free and home of the brave” stuff is, perhaps, starting to look less like jingoism and more like a sound sense of national identity. With France’s occasional Muslim riots morphing into a steady Muslim boil, the French are beginning to wonder about this thing called immigration—why is it becoming the French nightmare if it has been so integral to the American dream?

Isolated in squalid quartiers sensibles or touchy neighborhoods, France’s Muslim immigrant communities are becoming an increasingly insular state within a state. Following their homelands’ mores and customs, the only needs these homogeneous communities have of larger France are the ample state benefits doled out,  no questions asked. In what feels like an emergency measure, France has decided to foster the idea of citizenship in these religious and cultural enclaves: the French government has just launched a program to train its Muslim clerics in Frenchness. The first class of 25 began meeting at the Catholic Institute of Paris in January. The program’s director, Olivier Bobineau, says he wants students to better comprehend the values and rules of France, particularly in regard to the relationship between religion and politics. In some cases, foreign-born clerics don’t even know how to speak French. (This, too, would presumably be addressed.)

Well, triage is a French word; perhaps they can start there. But then what? What do you do if, at the end of the day, being French means . . . being French? What enduring principle can these instructors point to as an ideological foundation for French citizenship? The French have made indispensable contributions to ideas and art, but how does that translate into a practical vision of statehood? Is there even a consistent direction in which French history moves, so that one can speak of an ideal not yet attained? Since 1776, France has done repeated stints as a monarchy, a republic, an empire, and once, a puppet regime of neighboring fascists. More recently, it has teetered on the brink of fuzzy socialism. (For all the talk about America’s youth as a country, it is the oldest existing democracy on the planet.)

Another problem is that citizenship is not a top-down proposal. France cannot redefine by fiat the motives of those who have already taken up residence inside her borders. Having come to France to be paid isolates, these immigrants will not suddenly wish to emulate Pascal or Voltaire because of a government-sponsored class. Any step towards bringing France’s Muslims into the fold has to begin much further upstream, with a clear definition of what France hopes to be and with a better understanding of what prospective immigrants expect to contribute to this vision.

It is dawning on Europe at last that if a state is to survive, citizenship must mean something more than an aggregate of tribal affiliations. All that “land of the free and home of the brave” stuff is, perhaps, starting to look less like jingoism and more like a sound sense of national identity. With France’s occasional Muslim riots morphing into a steady Muslim boil, the French are beginning to wonder about this thing called immigration—why is it becoming the French nightmare if it has been so integral to the American dream?

Isolated in squalid quartiers sensibles or touchy neighborhoods, France’s Muslim immigrant communities are becoming an increasingly insular state within a state. Following their homelands’ mores and customs, the only needs these homogeneous communities have of larger France are the ample state benefits doled out,  no questions asked. In what feels like an emergency measure, France has decided to foster the idea of citizenship in these religious and cultural enclaves: the French government has just launched a program to train its Muslim clerics in Frenchness. The first class of 25 began meeting at the Catholic Institute of Paris in January. The program’s director, Olivier Bobineau, says he wants students to better comprehend the values and rules of France, particularly in regard to the relationship between religion and politics. In some cases, foreign-born clerics don’t even know how to speak French. (This, too, would presumably be addressed.)

Well, triage is a French word; perhaps they can start there. But then what? What do you do if, at the end of the day, being French means . . . being French? What enduring principle can these instructors point to as an ideological foundation for French citizenship? The French have made indispensable contributions to ideas and art, but how does that translate into a practical vision of statehood? Is there even a consistent direction in which French history moves, so that one can speak of an ideal not yet attained? Since 1776, France has done repeated stints as a monarchy, a republic, an empire, and once, a puppet regime of neighboring fascists. More recently, it has teetered on the brink of fuzzy socialism. (For all the talk about America’s youth as a country, it is the oldest existing democracy on the planet.)

Another problem is that citizenship is not a top-down proposal. France cannot redefine by fiat the motives of those who have already taken up residence inside her borders. Having come to France to be paid isolates, these immigrants will not suddenly wish to emulate Pascal or Voltaire because of a government-sponsored class. Any step towards bringing France’s Muslims into the fold has to begin much further upstream, with a clear definition of what France hopes to be and with a better understanding of what prospective immigrants expect to contribute to this vision.

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French “Youth” Alert

European Jewish Press reports that on February 22, a Jewish teenager was captured and tortured in France:

Six youths from the southern Paris suburb of Bagneux, aged 17 to 25, are accused of locking up 19-year-old Mathieu Roumi in a storage room on February 22, beating and sexually tormenting him.

Aged 17 to 25, the six youths — who knew the victim — had falsely accused him of stealing from them in order to lure him into a trap, judicial sources said.

Somehow, I don’t think we’re dealing with a bunch of young South of France suburbanites. For starters, these mischievous kids are pretty much men. Second, Bagneux is the same Muslim ghetto in which a gang kidnapped, tortured, and killed 23-year-old French Jew Ilan Halimi in 2006. Here’s more on the February attack:

With a pen, the aggressors scrawled “dirty Jew” and “dirty faggot” on the face of their victim. Later they forced him to swallow down cigarette butts and to suck a condom on a stick. The man’s ordeal reportedly lasted nine and a half hours.

From the Halimi case:

 . . . For three weeks, the “Barbarians” detained and tortured Ilan Halimi. When he was found on February 13, he was naked, handcuffed after being dumped near railway tracks in a Parisian suburb. He suffered from severe burns covering 80 percent of his body. Traces of cigarette burns, iron burns, and various cuts (made by knives and scissors) covered his body. He passed away in an ambulance before reaching the hospital…

In 2006, Ilan Halimi was one of four Jews potentially targeted for the attack. The gang that killed him called his family and read them Koranic verse while he was in captivity. But apparently we shouldn’t necessarily concern ourselves with that or consider the larger implications of French “youth” culture and environs like Bagneux, because the city’s Communist Mayor, Marie-Hélène Amiable,  is quoted as saying “one should not make a confusion between the two cases.” Not only are the cases nearly identical–so is the French government’s dismissive response. So far, the only difference I see is that the recent victim was lucky enough to survive.

European Jewish Press reports that on February 22, a Jewish teenager was captured and tortured in France:

Six youths from the southern Paris suburb of Bagneux, aged 17 to 25, are accused of locking up 19-year-old Mathieu Roumi in a storage room on February 22, beating and sexually tormenting him.

Aged 17 to 25, the six youths — who knew the victim — had falsely accused him of stealing from them in order to lure him into a trap, judicial sources said.

Somehow, I don’t think we’re dealing with a bunch of young South of France suburbanites. For starters, these mischievous kids are pretty much men. Second, Bagneux is the same Muslim ghetto in which a gang kidnapped, tortured, and killed 23-year-old French Jew Ilan Halimi in 2006. Here’s more on the February attack:

With a pen, the aggressors scrawled “dirty Jew” and “dirty faggot” on the face of their victim. Later they forced him to swallow down cigarette butts and to suck a condom on a stick. The man’s ordeal reportedly lasted nine and a half hours.

From the Halimi case:

 . . . For three weeks, the “Barbarians” detained and tortured Ilan Halimi. When he was found on February 13, he was naked, handcuffed after being dumped near railway tracks in a Parisian suburb. He suffered from severe burns covering 80 percent of his body. Traces of cigarette burns, iron burns, and various cuts (made by knives and scissors) covered his body. He passed away in an ambulance before reaching the hospital…

In 2006, Ilan Halimi was one of four Jews potentially targeted for the attack. The gang that killed him called his family and read them Koranic verse while he was in captivity. But apparently we shouldn’t necessarily concern ourselves with that or consider the larger implications of French “youth” culture and environs like Bagneux, because the city’s Communist Mayor, Marie-Hélène Amiable,  is quoted as saying “one should not make a confusion between the two cases.” Not only are the cases nearly identical–so is the French government’s dismissive response. So far, the only difference I see is that the recent victim was lucky enough to survive.

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Goodbye Qaddafi

Today, Brother Leader Muammar Qaddafi packs up the tent in the gardens of the Hotel Marigny, the official guest residence next to the Elysee Palace, and ends his five-day stay in the City of Lights. The visit was too much, even for the French. Said Manuel Valls, a veteran socialist: “I have the impression that France has been humiliated.”

Make that humiliated and criticized. Nobody seems to be defending the French government of Nicolas Sarkozy for inviting the Libyan strongman. The erratic autocrat has managed to outrage just about everybody on his first official visit to a Western state since 2003, when he renounced terrorism and nuclear weapons. Controversy has followed almost every one of his outlandish and insulting comments on a wide range of topics, but the larger issue is the West’s engagement of reforming tyrants. Qaddafi is now considered “a socially acceptable dictator.”

But Qaddafi remains a dictator nonetheless, and that has caused heartburn for the center-right French government. President Sarkozy has been on the defensive about his warm welcome for the charismatic, mercurial, and despotic Libyan, who came with 400 followers and his contingent of female bodyguards in desert fatigues. In his best reply to critics, the French leader asked, “If we don’t welcome those who take the road to respectability, then what do we say to those who take the opposite road?”

Sarko, of course, has a point and Qaddafi may theoretically have a “right to redemption,” but it is the nature of France’s engagement that has been wrong. “It’s a question of balance, and in this case, the balance wasn’t right,” said Dominique Moisi, director of the French Institute on International Relations. Even some ministers in the French government have thought their president has gone too far in pandering to the “Supreme Guide of the Revolution.” Unfortunately, the Libyan, with petrodollars to spend, has been able to bend the normally clear-thinking leader of France. “Qaddafi is not perceived as a dictator in the Arab world,” Sarkozy told a French magazine on Wednesday. “He is the longest serving head of state in the region, and in the Arab world, that counts.”

What really counts is that Western leaders speak plainly. It’s all right to deal with autocrats from time-to-time, but we need to make sure that we do not legitimize them and create incentives for regressive behavior. As it happens, in the glow of his pomped-up stay, Qaddafi felt comfortable enough in, among other things, turning back the clock and repeating his denials that his government has never sponsored terrorism. This step in the wrong direction shows that Sarkozy has not found the right way to keep the Libyan on the right road.

Today, Brother Leader Muammar Qaddafi packs up the tent in the gardens of the Hotel Marigny, the official guest residence next to the Elysee Palace, and ends his five-day stay in the City of Lights. The visit was too much, even for the French. Said Manuel Valls, a veteran socialist: “I have the impression that France has been humiliated.”

Make that humiliated and criticized. Nobody seems to be defending the French government of Nicolas Sarkozy for inviting the Libyan strongman. The erratic autocrat has managed to outrage just about everybody on his first official visit to a Western state since 2003, when he renounced terrorism and nuclear weapons. Controversy has followed almost every one of his outlandish and insulting comments on a wide range of topics, but the larger issue is the West’s engagement of reforming tyrants. Qaddafi is now considered “a socially acceptable dictator.”

But Qaddafi remains a dictator nonetheless, and that has caused heartburn for the center-right French government. President Sarkozy has been on the defensive about his warm welcome for the charismatic, mercurial, and despotic Libyan, who came with 400 followers and his contingent of female bodyguards in desert fatigues. In his best reply to critics, the French leader asked, “If we don’t welcome those who take the road to respectability, then what do we say to those who take the opposite road?”

Sarko, of course, has a point and Qaddafi may theoretically have a “right to redemption,” but it is the nature of France’s engagement that has been wrong. “It’s a question of balance, and in this case, the balance wasn’t right,” said Dominique Moisi, director of the French Institute on International Relations. Even some ministers in the French government have thought their president has gone too far in pandering to the “Supreme Guide of the Revolution.” Unfortunately, the Libyan, with petrodollars to spend, has been able to bend the normally clear-thinking leader of France. “Qaddafi is not perceived as a dictator in the Arab world,” Sarkozy told a French magazine on Wednesday. “He is the longest serving head of state in the region, and in the Arab world, that counts.”

What really counts is that Western leaders speak plainly. It’s all right to deal with autocrats from time-to-time, but we need to make sure that we do not legitimize them and create incentives for regressive behavior. As it happens, in the glow of his pomped-up stay, Qaddafi felt comfortable enough in, among other things, turning back the clock and repeating his denials that his government has never sponsored terrorism. This step in the wrong direction shows that Sarkozy has not found the right way to keep the Libyan on the right road.

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Loose French Nukes

Loose nuclear weapons in Pakistan are, or should be, keeping military planners up at night, especially those in China, Russia, India, and the U.S. Even a slight chance that some of the 50 to 100 weapons in Pakistan’s arsenal could fall into the hands of radicals Islamists is a chance that the world cannot afford to take.

Loose nuclear weapons are not exactly a new problem, and it is not one confined to basket-case states like Pakistan. Even highly developed countries sometimes have difficulty keeping their weapons secure. Just this year, the U.S. lost control of some of its nuclear arms for a period of hours.

A dramatic and little known case occurred in France in the spring of 1961. The story is told in “The Risks of Spreading Weapons: A Historical Case” by D. G. Brennan in the 1968, Volume 1 edition of a relatively obscure journal, Arms Control and Disarmament.

In mid-April 1961, the French were preparing for their fourth nuclear weapon test (three had taken place in 1960 at their Sahara test site near Reggan in central Algeria. On 22 April, General Maurice Challe, former Commander-in-Chief of French forces in Algeria, initiated the rebellion in Algeria that came to be known as “The Revolt of the Generals.” The French scientists at the test site were immediately nervous about the security of their incipient nuclear explosive, and began hurried preparations to detonate the device, so as to remove it from any possibility of seizure. . . . [T]he French general in charge of the test site, while not participating in the revolt, was a friend of General Challe, and he did not want the device detonated. However the scientists at the site got authorization from Paris to set if off anyway. They exploded the device early on the morning of April 25, 3 days after the start of the revolt.

It was set off with hastily-improvised and incomplete detonation arrangements, and because of this, it gave a very low yield of less than one kiloton. (The French Government communiqué announcing the shot described it as of “weak power.”) Observers in various countries other than France who became aware of the nature and yield of the explosion thought the test a failure, and I t was often described openly as a “fizzle.” However…the explosive was “optimized” to be only the fastest way of unambiguously getting rid of the fissile material on hand for the weapon, not to provide high yield. For this objective, the “test” was of course a complete success.

It could have been important that it was a success, in this sense. The rebels were already making claims to have taken over control of the whole of Algeria. Although this claim proved false as far as the test site was concerned, it is highly probable they would have made major attempts to seize it if they known an incipient nuclear explosive remained there.

While it is difficult to see how possession of that explosive by the rebels would have altered the outcome of the rebellions (which collapsed the next day), it is not difficult toe believe they might have attempted to use it to blackmail the government, and it is even possible to conceive that some fanatics might have used it destructively as a last act of bitter revenge.

All is not well that ends well. If this kind of frightening near-miss scenario played out in developed country like France, we do have ample reason to stay awake at night worrying about the fate of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal.

Loose nuclear weapons in Pakistan are, or should be, keeping military planners up at night, especially those in China, Russia, India, and the U.S. Even a slight chance that some of the 50 to 100 weapons in Pakistan’s arsenal could fall into the hands of radicals Islamists is a chance that the world cannot afford to take.

Loose nuclear weapons are not exactly a new problem, and it is not one confined to basket-case states like Pakistan. Even highly developed countries sometimes have difficulty keeping their weapons secure. Just this year, the U.S. lost control of some of its nuclear arms for a period of hours.

A dramatic and little known case occurred in France in the spring of 1961. The story is told in “The Risks of Spreading Weapons: A Historical Case” by D. G. Brennan in the 1968, Volume 1 edition of a relatively obscure journal, Arms Control and Disarmament.

In mid-April 1961, the French were preparing for their fourth nuclear weapon test (three had taken place in 1960 at their Sahara test site near Reggan in central Algeria. On 22 April, General Maurice Challe, former Commander-in-Chief of French forces in Algeria, initiated the rebellion in Algeria that came to be known as “The Revolt of the Generals.” The French scientists at the test site were immediately nervous about the security of their incipient nuclear explosive, and began hurried preparations to detonate the device, so as to remove it from any possibility of seizure. . . . [T]he French general in charge of the test site, while not participating in the revolt, was a friend of General Challe, and he did not want the device detonated. However the scientists at the site got authorization from Paris to set if off anyway. They exploded the device early on the morning of April 25, 3 days after the start of the revolt.

It was set off with hastily-improvised and incomplete detonation arrangements, and because of this, it gave a very low yield of less than one kiloton. (The French Government communiqué announcing the shot described it as of “weak power.”) Observers in various countries other than France who became aware of the nature and yield of the explosion thought the test a failure, and I t was often described openly as a “fizzle.” However…the explosive was “optimized” to be only the fastest way of unambiguously getting rid of the fissile material on hand for the weapon, not to provide high yield. For this objective, the “test” was of course a complete success.

It could have been important that it was a success, in this sense. The rebels were already making claims to have taken over control of the whole of Algeria. Although this claim proved false as far as the test site was concerned, it is highly probable they would have made major attempts to seize it if they known an incipient nuclear explosive remained there.

While it is difficult to see how possession of that explosive by the rebels would have altered the outcome of the rebellions (which collapsed the next day), it is not difficult toe believe they might have attempted to use it to blackmail the government, and it is even possible to conceive that some fanatics might have used it destructively as a last act of bitter revenge.

All is not well that ends well. If this kind of frightening near-miss scenario played out in developed country like France, we do have ample reason to stay awake at night worrying about the fate of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal.

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