Britain gave Israel plutonium in 1960s - report

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Britain secretly supplied Israel with a small amount of plutonium in 1966 despite a warning from intelligence officials that it could help develop a nuclear bomb, BBC television reported on Thursday.

Britain also made hundreds of shipments of restricted materials to Israel in the 1960s which could have aided a nuclear arms programme, the BBC said in a summary of a report to be shown on its Newsnight programme later in the evening.

The Labour government under Prime Minister Harold Wilson sold Israel lithium compounds which would have enabled it to make weapons 10 times as powerful as the first atom bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima in 1945, the BBC said.

Israel is widely believed to have the Middle East's only atomic arsenal but it neither confirms nor denies this under an 'ambiguity' policy billed as a safeguard against arms races in the Middle East.

Newsnight said its investigation, based on previously secret documents released under freedom of information laws, had shown Israel asked Britain for 10 milligrams of plutonium in 1966.

Although Israel would have needed almost 5 kg of plutonium for an atom bomb, British officials were warned the amount had "significant military value" and could be used in experiments to speed up the development of nuclear arms, according to the BBC.

The Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence opposed the request but it was pushed through by Mike Michaels, a Jewish civil servant in the Ministry of Technology, the BBC said.

Tony Benn, who served as technology minister under Wilson, said he had no knowledge of the decision although he had suspected civil servants were doing deals behind his back.

"I'm not only surprised, I'm shocked," he told the BBC. "It never occurred to me they would authorise something so totally against the policy of the government."

Britain's Foreign Office had no immediate comment on the BBC report.

Israel established its main nuclear reactor outside the desert town of Dimona in the 1950s, primarily with French help. Historians believe resources for the plant were also obtained from elsewhere in Europe and from North America.

Based on revelations made by former Dimona technician Mordechai Vanunu to a British newspaper in 1986, independent experts concluded that Israel has amassed as many as 200 nuclear warheads using uranium and plutonium.

The founder of Israel's government arms manufacturer Rafael said in his memoir that on the eve of the 1967 Middle East war his designers managed to assemble a working 'system' -- a euphemism now widely believed to refer to the Jewish state's first nuclear bomb.

Last year Newsnight reported that in the late 1950s Britain provided Israel with 20 tonnes of heavy water which it needed to start up the Dimona reactor.

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