Israel has never officially admitted that it has a nuclear military option, which has choked off any effort to conduct a debate about it. How can one discuss something without information? When such a debate emerges here and there, it focuses on the moral issue: Is it right for Israel to maintain an arsenal of nuclear weapons when it keeps trying to prevent other countries from acquiring the bomb? But that’s a debate that’s limited from the start to the philosophical realm, and is in any case perceived as being relegated to bleeding-heart pacifists from Israel’s leftmost fringe. The real debate, the one that should occupy every responsible and concerned citizen, is the debate on quantity-cost-benefit. The right question to ask is not necessarily whether Israel needs an atom bomb, but how many bombs it needs.
Foreign sources over the past decade have cited various numbers when assessing Israel’s arsenal. If you single out the most serious estimates, the range is between 75 and 200 bombs. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter claimed in 2008 that there were 150. Perhaps he was exaggerating. The Pentagon in 1999 said there were only 80. Nuclear researchers Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris believe that in 1999 there were just 70 bombs, and only in 2004 did the number reach 80. They also claim that during that year Israel decided to stop the production of new bombs but that it retains fissile material sufficient for anywhere from 115 to 190 warheads, should the need arise.
But what need are we referring to? Under what scenario did Israel’s nuclear planners think 70 or 80 bombs wouldn’t be enough? And why over the years did it produce so many bombs, even as it was observing the dynamics (crazy as they were) of the Cold War being conducted by the two world powers? E
There’s a problem right now. Based on publications here and abroad, if 10 years ago, Israel had stopped making new bombs, then is it possible that storage, upkeep and maintaining readiness would cost 4.5 billion shekels a year? And if production has indeed stopped, then why is a budget increase of 13 percent slated for next year?