Israelis put nuclear bunkers in gardens
Uzi Mahnaimi, Tel Aviv
AMID mounting fears that Iran is planning to obliterate their country, wealthy Israelis are shelling out on underground nuclear shelters in the gardens of their luxury homes.
The shelters, which cost at least £60,000 for a bargain-basement version, are built to withstand radioactive fallout, have fortified walls and doors and generate their own electricity and decontaminated air. Defence experts estimate that hundreds of such bunkers, many fitted with all modern conveniences such as bedrooms, kitchens and bathrooms, have already been built in private homes across the country and demand is soaring.
Zaki Rakib, a wealthy businessman, built a shelter for himself and his family under his large villa overlooking the Mediterranean in Herzliya, an exclusive garden suburb north of Tel Aviv.
“The shelter looks like a regular flat,” he said. “It is 2,000 square feet, with a living room, two bedrooms, kitchen, self-powered electricity.”
Rakib’s post-nuclear pad, which can accommodate more than 25 people for two weeks, cost about £250,000. “The difference between an atomic shelter and a regular one is in the technical components: the thickness of the walls and a special system to block radioactive fallout,” he said.
Leading the stampede to the nuclear bunker is Shari Arison, the country’s wealthiest woman, estimated to be worth about £2.7 billion. The Israeli media have reported that she has already made preparations for Armageddon by building two sophisticated underground structures. One is at her home in Tel Aviv, the other in the garden of her holiday villa in Bnei Zion village.
Firms specialising in the manufacture of such shelters are booming. Ahim Torati is a company producing parts for atomic shelters. “We supply components for decontaminated air, fortified doors and walls,” said Menahem Torati, its owner.
“If in a regular shelter the door should withstand a five-ton blast, the door of an atomic shelter should absorb 250-270 tons.”
Seeking to allay public fears, the government insists that the population has little to fear. “We are aware of all these panicky people building atomic shelters. They’re wasting their money,” said a security source.
“Israel will not allow Iran to build an atomic bomb, and even if it did, the Iranians know very well that we’ll bomb them back to the Stone Age before they’ve launched a single missile.”
However, the government is quietly updating its preparations for a possible nuclear strike. Ephraim Sneh, the deputy defence minister, confirmed that a £300m nuclear shelter is being constructed in the Jerusalem hills for the Israeli war cabinet. “This will be a command and control centre that will be able to run the state of Israel during a war, even after a nuclear strike,” he said.
Israelis are used to coping with the threat of war, but until recently the civilian population has been largely unaffected by conflicts beyond the country’s borders. The 34-day invasion of Lebanon last summer, however, brought war closer to home. Up to 250 Hezbollah missiles rained down on Israel every day. Millions of terrified Israelis spent the hottest weeks of the summer in shelters.
Iran’s increasingly bellicose rhetoric is fuelling fears that the next war could bring even more devastation. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has stated that Israel should be “wiped off the map”. As well as developing nuclear technology, Tehran boasts long-range ballistic missiles capable of hitting any target in Israel.
Many Israelis no longer trust their government to protect them. One man building a £60,000 nuclear shelter in his Tel Aviv garden said: “After the Lebanon war, I concluded that I have to protect my family, as I’m not sure the state will be able to do it.”
While the well-off are calling in the builders, nearly one third of the country’s population have no protection even against conventional weapons. “If Tel Aviv were attacked today, you can expect thousands of casualties,” predicted one security expert.