Turkish President Erdogan and Israeli PM Netanyahu
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DEVELOPING: Turkey’s Erdogan reportedly requesting IAEA inspection of Israeli nuclear weapons

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may be in the process of formally requesting an inspection of Israel’s nuclear weapon arsenal, according to Turkish and Russian news outlets.

The reports come shortly after Erdogan’s contentious meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin on Friday, where Erdogan said:

Can the weaponry and strength of the Hamas be compared to the arsenal and power of Israel? Does Israel currently have nuclear weapons? Yes, but if you ask Israel, they won’t admit it because they are very good at using lies.

According to TRT World – the English-language arm of Turkey’s national public broadcaster TRT – Erdogan told journalists on his return flight home that his government is in the process of initiating the IAEA’s “verification mechanism” (bold added here, and throughout):

Urging that since Israel is not a party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, it is not initially bound by its rules, he said, “Member countries can request a verification mechanism by the International Atomic Energy Agency for nuclear security. We are currently initiating this process.”

“Advancing this matter is crucial for balancing strategic interests in the region. We will continue to exert pressure from here. We, as Türkiye, are making this call. Israel’s nuclear weapons must be thoroughly inspected without delay. We will follow up on this. I appeal to the global public to not let this matter be forgotten,” he added.

The same basic thing was reported by Russia’s state-owned news outlet Sputnik today, with a slightly different translation:

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that his government would push for an international investigation into Israel’s possible nuclear weapons capabilities in light of its threats against Gaza this Saturday.

“Over 1,000 lawyers have requested the International Criminal Court to open an investigation into these [Israel’s] war crimes, and the number of appeals continues to grow. This is just one side of it. Then again, Israel is not part of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and therefore it is not bound by its rules. However, there are cases where member states can apply to the International Atomic Energy Agency to create an inspection mechanism for the sake of ensuring nuclear security. We are launching appropriate efforts right now,” Erdogan said on a flight home from Berlin.

Turkiye’s president maintains that the possible presence of nuclear arms in the country must be verified, “leaving no room for doubt”.

“The process will take time. The final judgment shall be submitted to the UN Security Council, the highest authority for monitoring nuclear-related matters. There is a chance that the US will side with Israel and veto the issue. However, the very fact that this topic is being discussed at all is remarkable.

So far, this is the first instance where such a formal claim was registered against Israel. Keeping it going is vital for maintaining balanced strategic interests in the region. We will continue to push for it. Turkiye’s advocating for this matter as a nation. Israel’s nuclear weapons must be verified, leaving no room for doubt, before it is too late,” said the Turkish leader.

Erdogan’s meeting with Scholz on Friday was reported on by many US, Israeli, and Western European news outlets, but his comments about Israel’s nukes was widely omitted.

The word “nuclear” does not appear in stories published by the AP, France 24, The Times of Israel, and The Independent at all, for example.

In a speech two days before his meeting with Scholz, Erdogan called upon Benjamin Netanyahu directly: “Do you have nuclear weapons or not?”

He also reportedly questioned the lack of action from the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) — the same intergovernmental organization he’s now reportedly requesting an inspection from.

The Times of Israel wrote on Wednesday:

Turning his attention to remarks made in recent days by Israeli far-right Minister Amichai Eliyahu, who suggested that Israel could drop nuclear weapons on Gaza (before being reprimanded) Erdogan addressed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by name.

“They [Israel] have been speaking about murdering all those people using nuclear weapons, so let me call on Benjamin Netanyahu — do you have nuclear weapons or not? Explain this, if you have the courage.”

“You are threatening people with atomic bombs, nuclear bombs. It does not matter what you have, you are a goner,” he said.

While foreign sources have estimated Israel has an arsenal of dozens to hundreds of nuclear weapons, the Jewish state has neither publicly confirmed nor denied such reports in keeping with its policy of so-called nuclear ambiguity.

Later in his speech, Erdogan returned to the topic of nuclear weapons and asked why the International Atomic Energy Agency had not stepped in after Israel’s supposed admission of possessing nuclear weapons.

Update Nov 19, 2023:

Echoing Erdogan, Turkey’s state-run news outlet Anadolu Agency quotes Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan calling Israeli nukes a “known yet unacknowledged secret for many years.” He warns that Israel’s continued possession of nuclear weapons could “escalate the nuclear arms race” in the region:

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan expressed concerns Saturday that Israel’s continued possession of nuclear weapons could heighten the nuclear arms race, leading to an unfavorable situation.

“The ongoing possession of nuclear weapons by Israel, coupled with the failure to denuclearize the region, will escalate the nuclear arms race, leading to increased nuclearization in the area. This is not a favorable situation for both the region and the world,” Fidan said in an interview with Al Jazeera.

“Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons has been a known yet unacknowledged secret for many years — a fact that everyone is aware of but no one has admitted. We see that Israel has developed its nuclear capability by not becoming a party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and we also know that it has received significant support from both the US and Europe in this regard. So, this is not a secret,” he said.

The minister emphasized the need for complete denuclearization of the region or other countries to take steps to enhance their security, stressing the urgency to find a solution to the critical strategic issue.

Image Credit: US Embassy in Tel Aviv (CC BY 2.0). May be modified from original.