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Only MKs from Zahalka’s Joint List faction voted for the bill, which would have compelled Israel to sign the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons within a month and then submit the Dimona facility to the oversight of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Zahalka warned in the Knesset debate that the facility endangered the region, its people, and property, especially if there would be an earthquake. He noted that there was a small earthquake in Tiberias overnight and that a small earthquake near a nuclear facility in Japan six years ago caused significant damage.
The bill was co-sponsored by Joint List MKs Haneen Zoabi and Juma Azbarga. Zahalka warned that the Dimoana facility encouraged neighboring countries to build similar facilities.
“As long as Israel has nuclear weapons, other countries in the region will try to acquire them as well, and they will get them sooner or later,” Zahalka said. “The only way to prevent that from happening is to denuclearize the entire Middle East from weapons of mass destruction, including Israel.”
Asked by Zahalka if Israel had a nuclear plant in Dimona, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said Israel made sure there would be no nuclear weapons in Iraq and Syria and would ensure Iran would not get a nuclear capability. Steinitz said that if Iran stops being militant, there will be Middle East peace but if Israel stops fighting for its existence, it will be destroyed.
The minister added that the IAEA had nothing to do with earthquakes. Zahalka rebutted him that if there would be an earthquake, there could be damage to the reactor, and then the IAEA would have to get involved to deal with the repercussions.
Turning to the MKs who voted against the bill, Zahalka said: “You are responsible for the disaster that could come because the reactor is unsupervised.”
Steinitz called the bill “a joke,” because Zahalka focuses on safety from earthquakes while the IAEA “didn’t prevent Fukushima,” referencing the 2011 disaster at a nuclear plant in Japan.
The minister stressed a difference between a “research reactor” and a reactor used as a power plant. He further explained the plant was upgraded several times over since the 90s and said Zahalka was wrong to call it old and outdated. He stressed it would also be safe even in the event of an earthquake.
Israel is widely believed to be the Middle East’s only nuclear power, though it has never confirmed or denied that it has a nuclear arsenal. The country has refused to sign on to international nonproliferation treaties and arrested Mordechai Vanunu in 1986 for leaking information about a facility in Dimona.
Vanunu was jailed as a traitor in 1986 after discussing his work as a technician at the Dimona nuclear reactor facility with Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper, an interview that led experts to conclude that the facility had produced fissile material for as many as 200 atomic warheads.
Lahav Harkov, Avraham Gold and Yonah Jeremy Bob contributed to this report.
Friends and family gathered at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem and speakers included Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, as well as Peres' grandchildren.
Rivlin spoke of Peres' contributions to the world stating, "In the days following your passing, more and more stories have come out about your great contribution to Israel and even the world."
"Above all your spirit is what made you great," Rivlin added.
Among Peres' contributions was Israel's nuclear facility.
As director-general of the Defense Ministry in the mid 1950s, Peres was instrumental in building a close relationship with France, which agreed to sell a nuclear reactor to Israel. France also provided the technical knowledge and equipment needed to turn the young Jewish state into the world’s sixth nuclear power. Peres played another pivotal role in securing other key components needed for the program, all under the nose of the Americans.
Netanyahu announced his plan to name the Dimona nuclear facility after the late president stating,"In the years in which I was an officer in the IDF, we trained and did a navigation near Dimona and were told not to go there."
"Only when I became prime minister and entered the nuclear facility did I understand its importance for Israeli security, which Shimon Peres established."
"I have given a directive to change the name of the nuclear facility in Dimona to the 'Shimon Peres nuclear center,'" stated Netanyahu.
Netanyahu also read from a letter that his father had sent to Shimon Peres two days after the Entebbe mission in which Yoni Netanyahu was killed.
The letter spoke of his appreciation and admiration for Peres, who was Israel's defense minister at the time.
"We missed an opportunity, each of us was fortified in his political position and only in the last years did our connection really blossom and strengthen," Netanyahu stated.
Mika Almog, granddaughter of Peres, spoke of the hope that Peres brought to Israel.
Almog stated, "The fear that your passing is an end to hope, to Israel as a nation looking for peace, a nation looking for leaders who are compassionate, not just looking to win elections or arguments."
"Shimon Peres's passing is a commandment not to lose hope."
Peres was buried between former prime ministers Yitzhak Shamir and Yitzhak Rabin.
Herb Keinon contributed to this article.