The 47-year-old nuclear elephant in the room

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Sep 28, 2014, 12:29:40 AM9/28/14
to ShunkW

I posted for years about Mordechai Vanunu who was kidnapped in Italy, kept in solitary confinement  for almost 10 years and in prison for 18 years by the Israeli government just for daring to speak the truth about the nukes in Negev…Most people in the US would prefer to ignore the truth about the most dangerous nuclear power in the world.

The 47-year-old nuclear elephant in the room

Israel has a substantial arsenal of nuclear weapons.

Related: Nuclear weapons lab employee fired after publishing scathing critique of the arms race

Former CIA director Robert Gates said so during his 2006 Senate confirmation hearings for secretary of defense, when he noted — while serving as a university president — that Iran is surrounded by “powers with nuclear weapons,” including “the Israelis to the west.” Former President Jimmy Carter said so in 2008 and again this year, in interviews and speeches in which he pegged the number of Israel’s nuclear warheads at 150 to around 300.

Related: A closer look at the Negev Nuclear Research Center

But due to a quirk of federal secrecy rules, such remarks generally cannot be made even now by those who work for the U.S. government and hold active security clearances. In fact, U.S. officials, even those on Capitol Hill, are routinely admonished not to mention the existence of an Israeli nuclear arsenal and occasionally punished when they do so.

Related: The 'Demand Side': avoiding a nuclear Iran

The policy of never publicly confirming what a scholar once called one of the world’s “worst-kept secrets” dates from a political deal between the United States and Israel in the late 1960s. Its consequence has been to help Israel maintain a distinctive military posture in the Middle East while avoiding the scrutiny — and occasional disapprobation — directed at the world’s eight acknowledged nuclear powers.

Related: Avoiding a nuclear arms race in the Middle East

But the U.S. policy of shielding the Israeli program has recently provoked new controversy, partly because of allegations that it played a role in the censure of a well-known national laboratory arms researcher in July, after he published an article in which he acknowledged that Israel has nuclear arms. Some scholars and experts are also complaining that the government’s lack of candor is complicating its high-profile campaign to block the development of nuclear arms in Iran, as well as U.S.-led planning for a potential treaty prohibiting nuclear arms anywhere in the region.

Related: DOE official seeks probe of dissident analyst’s dismissal by nuclear weapons laboratory

The U.S. silence is largely unwavering, however. “We would never say flatly that Israel has nuclear weapons,” explained a former senior State Department official who dealt with nuclear issues during the Bush administration. “We would have to couch it in other language, we would have to say ‘we assume’ or ‘we presume that Israel has nuclear weapons,’ or ‘it’s reported’ that they have them,” the former official said, requesting that his name not be used due to the political sensitivity surrounding the topic.

President Barack Obama made clear that this 4-decade-old U.S. policy would persist at his first White House press conference in 2009, when journalist Helen Thomas asked if he knew of any nations in the Middle East with nuclear arms. “With respect to nuclear weapons, you know, I don’t want to speculate,” Obama said, as though Israel’s established status as a nuclear weapons state was only a matter of rumor and conjecture.

There’s more to this story. Click here to read the rest at the Center for Public Integrity.

This story is part of National Security. Click here to read more stories in this topic.

Copyright 2014 The Center for Public Integrity. This story was published by The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C.


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