TEL AVIV – “Israel is one of the countries most prepared for scenarios of nuclear terrorism,” the country’s National Infrastructure and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said Saturday at a nuclear security summit in Washington.
“On the whole we can sleep soundly, relatively speaking, definitely when compared to other nations,” Steinitz (pictured) said, explaining that Israel has implemented measures for both the prevention of nuclear attacks, and the smuggling and theft of radioactive materials.
The minister also said Israel will help all nations in the Middle East – including hostile states – in preventing such smuggling.
President Barack Obama said Friday at the summit that there was no doubt that if “madmen” in the Islamic State obtained nuclear material, they would use it to launch a nuclear attack.
“Just the smallest amount of plutonium — about the size of an apple — would kill and injure hundreds of thousands of innocent people,” Obama said.
“It would be a humanitarian, political, economic, and environmental catastrophe with global ramifications for decades. It would change our world,” he added.
Obama agreed with Steinitz’s assessment that the majority of victims would be caused by public panic, not by the attack itself, and therefore advised examining ways to calm the public in the event of an attack.
Steinitz added that the scenario of an attack using a nuclear weapon was an unlikely one. Far more likely, he said, was “terror of radioactive materials stolen from nuclear reactors or from hospitals or from factories.
“Then if you take that and scatter it you can cause some serious harm. Israel is preparing for that scenario.”
Obama applauded global efforts to secure nuclear material, which he said was the reason terrorists have not yet gotten their hands on a nuclear weapon. But, he said, Al-Qaeda has long sought nuclear materials, IS has deployed chemical weapons in Syria and Iraq, and extremists linked to the Brussels and Paris attacks were found to have spied on a top Belgian nuclear official.
“We have measurably reduced the risk,” Obama said, but “the threat of nuclear terrorism persists and continues to evolve.”
Obama rejected statements made by Republican front-runner Donald Trump that Japan and South Korea should be allowed to build their own nuclear arsenals, reversing decades of U.S. policy.
“The person who made the statements doesn’t know much about foreign policy or nuclear policy or the Korean peninsula or the world generally,” Obama said.
The president spent part of the summit with the leaders of South Korea and Japan discussing how to deter nuclear provocations from North Korea.
The summit, which was attended by 50 world leaders, was noticeably shunned by some key players, including Russia.
Obama and other security officials warned that global stockpiles of nuclear materials and radioactive ingredients for a “dirty bomb” are dangerously insecure in many parts of the world.
The summit is the last Obama will host before leaving office.