A growing number of U.S. experts say that feigning ignorance about Israel’s nuclear arsenal creates more trouble than it averts
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.
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.
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.