A forthcoming article in Rolling Stone magazine says Israel built an arsenal of nuclear weapons from uranium that Israeli commandos hijacked nine years ago in France and Great Britain.
"The stolen material was used to give Israel a last-resort military alternative in the Mideast," wrote Howard Kohn and Barbara Newman. "By the Central Intelligence Agency's estimate, Israeli scientists have fashioned as many as 15 powerful nuclear bombs" from the hijacked uranium.
Kohn and Newman said their sourcess were two unidentified U.S. officials - "one a highly valued Pentagon consultant, the other a former National Security Agency official." The authors said the information was "corroborated" by a former CIA official, a former White House aide and "other government officials."
Intelligence sources told the Washington Post they had never heard of any uranium hijackings in France and Britain and doubted that any had taken place.
One source close to the international nuclear trade said the French government exercises strict controls over all uranium shipments, providing police escorts for all trucks hauling weapons-grade uranium and stopping them overnight at French miliatry bases.
"Outside of the Soviet Union," this source said, "nobody takes greater care with uranium shipments than France."
The Rolling Stone article says commandos from the Israeli Mossad secret service attacked a 25-ton truck ferrying government uranium inside France in 1968, disable the driver with tear gas, then smuggled truck and uranium 2,000 miles to clandestine bases in the Negev Desert.
"The Mossad squad repeated the scenario in England with the same success," the article goes on, "but that operation ended in disappointment" because the British shipment contained only "yelloweake," the yellow uranium ore from which the metal is extracted.
"Israeli scientists, however, were closed to competing a facility where a sophisticated process is used to refine yellowcake into bomb material," the article goes on.
Nuclear experts claim that Israel has no such facility and no such process. They point out that if Israel wanted to make nuclear weapons it could do so by building a relatively inexpensive ($30 million) facility to extract plutonium from spent uranium fuel burned up in a reaearch reactor Israel has operated since 1956.
This reactor is located at Dismona in the Negev Desert and is not under international safeguards of any kind to determine if plutonium is diverted out of it or not. The operaton has long been classified as secret by Israel.