Accusation of nuclear arms link hits Israel

July 11, 1997

ISRAEL's Ben-Gurion University has been accused by the United States government of breaching an agreement on the supply of a supercomputer by using it for nuclear research.

The allegation came to light three months ago when the university was included in a register published by the US department of trade, listing institutions and commercial enterprises throughout the world which have illegally sold US-supplied weapons on to third parties, or used US-supplied technology for uses other than those intended.

Avishai Braverman, the president of Ben-Gurion University, which is in the Negev, responded to the discovery that his university was on the register by writing to the US ambassador in Israel, Martin Indyk.

Professor Braverman said he was angry that his university had been singled out and that they were required to get a special licence to buy certain types of supercomputers from the US. He denied the allegation that the university was "engaged in research which might lead to weapons development or production".

He added that the university's work was done for peaceful aims, and that they cooperated with US and other foreign universities on nuclear medicine.

"We have never been accused of wrongdoing," he said. "If someone says that Ben-Gurion University cannot have a supercomputer because it is near Dimona, it is hogwash. The physical proximity is not an issue."

Other universities in the region have been listed in the register but were recently removed following a relaxation in the US authorities' interpretation of what constitutes "inappropriate use" of a tech-nology.

Ben-Gurion University re-mains on the list. It is the only university in the country with a nuclear engineering department and has been "suspected" by the US of doing research on nuclear arms development. The US indicated that this suspicion was "strengthened" by the university's proximity to the nuclear power plant at Dimona.

Following prolonged negotiations, a Cray computer was event-ually delivered to the university in late 1995. Intelligence information confirming that joint research between the university and the nuclear station was taking place using the supercomputer seems to have prompted the US to leave the university on the register.

Zvi Shtauber, vice president of Ben-Gurion University, stated that the university was not engaged in any kind of weapons research and that they were surprised at being singled out by the US authorities. "The work that we carry out with the supercomputer is publicly accessible," said Dr Shtauber, adding that the Cray machine has its own Website.

A former policy adviser to the Israeli government explained: 'This is a problem of the US administration's internal politics, which are affected by legalism rather than practicality. They want to be seen internationally as holding up Israel's nuclear weapons research, largely because they are impotent to stop Iran and Iraq from developing nuclear capability."

The university's inclusion on the blacklist means that US firms are prohibited from trading with it if certain products are involved. A university spokesperson said inclusion had made it difficult in the past to procure equipment such as high-tech components.

Other Israeli academic institutions once on the list, including the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot and the Technion-Institute of Technology in Haifa, were barred from buying supercomputers from the US. They were defined as bodies whose scientists may have been, or were, linked to nuclear R&D, that was, or could be, for military purposes.

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