Muhammad al-Baradai is determined to push ahead with his agenda despite allegations that Israel has atomic weapons.

 

Israel, which is believed to have up to 200 nuclear weapons, has a policy of "ambiguity" under which it neither confirms nor denies it has the bomb.

  

But al-Baradai, director-general of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said in Moscow last week that Israel should clarify its nuclear activities and start working towards ridding the Middle East of nuclear weapons.

 

IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky confirmed on Saturday that these would be key topics on al-Baradai's visit from Tuesday to Thursday.

 

Al-Baradai is to meet with Israeli atomic energy officials as well as cabinet ministers.

  

Little hope

 

But Israeli analyst Gerald Steinberg held out little hope for

Al-Baradai to make much progress.

 

Steinberg, from the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs, said in

a written forecast of the visit that Israel was not about to change its ambiguity policy and sign on to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that mandates the IAEA to verify atomic

activities worldwide.

 

"There is no foundation for a change" since "the threat to

Israel has not diminished much in the past five decades and hatred of Israel in the Arab and Muslim worlds remains intense," Steinberg said.

 

He said Israel was particularly worried about its arch enemy

Iran, which the IAEA is investigating for allegedly secretly

developing nuclear weapons.

 

Steinberg said Israel's giving up its "nuclear insurance policy ... would actually make the region more unstable" and that Israel would not accept a trade-off "linking Iran's illegal nuclear programme with pressure on Israel to abandon its deterrent".

 

He added that a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East "however

distant, will become essentially unfeasible if Iran crosses the

point of no return in its development of nuclear weapons."

 

Peace Agreement

 

Al-Baradai said: "I think the message we need at the end of the day is to rid the Middle East of all weapons of mass destruction. Israel agrees with that. They say that has to be in the context of a peace agreement."

 

Al-Baradai said that rather than waiting there should be a "parallel dialogue on security and ... the peace process. I don't think you'll have peace without people understanding what sort of security structure you will have."

  

IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said it would be Al-Baradai's

first trip to Israel in six years and that he would be carrying out his mandate from the 137-member agency "to promote non-proliferation and a nuclear weapon-free zone in the Middle East."

 

Al-Baradai visits Israel after two other critical trips this year - to Libya, which has disarmed its nuclear weapons programmes, and to Iran.

 

Al-Baradai's trip also follows the release from prison earlier this year of Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, who says Israel should rid itself of nuclear weapons and open up fully to international inspection.

  

Arab countries that are members of the IAEA have complained that Israel is not being investigated, at a time when countries such as Iran are under intense scrutiny from the UN agency.

  

India and Pakistan, two other relatively new nuclear powers,

have also refused to sign the NPT, while long-established nuclear states China, Britain, France, the United States and Russia are founding members of the treaty.