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Israel Nuclear Weapons Debate: Military's Capabilities Kept Secret

Image: Israel Nuclear Weapons Debate: Military's Capabilities Kept Secret
Picture dated November 2 1973 of Israel former Prime Minister Golda Meir posing for photographers with United States President Richard Nixon in Washington. (AFP/Getty Images)

By    |   Sunday, 14 Sep 2014 11:06 AM

Israel’s nuclear weapons capabilities have been kept secret since a 1969 agreement made between Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and President Richard Nixon.

The Obama administration recently declassified 107 pages of documents from the late-1960s leading up to that secret meeting.

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Before that meeting, the United States sought three concessions from Israel: that it would stop its nuclear weapons development in exchange for U.S. acceptance of Jericho missiles, that it would join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and that it would open its weapons facilities to U.S. inspection, Al Jazeera reported.

Israel has said ambiguously said it would not "introduce" a nuclear weapon in the Middle East. But exactly what that means is unclear, with Israel saying a nuclear weapon would be "introduced" when it was assembled, tested, and publicly acknowledged, and the U.S. defining a nuclear weapon as "introduced" once it was in possession and capable of exploding.

Fearing that pressure would hasten nuclear weapons development throughout the Middle East, the United States backed off and adopted a softer approach toward Israel.

In the recently declassified documents, Nixon advisers recommend allowing Israel to retain its “technical option” to produce nuclear weapons.

Since the secret meeting between Meir and Nixon, Israel has maintained a practice of neither confirming nor denying the existence of nuclear weapons, and the U.S. and other world leaders have kept quiet about the subject.

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Israeli-American scholar Avner Cohen, author of “The Worst-Kept Secret,” told Al Jazeera last year, “I think that sometimes, some Israelis enjoy the opacity or the ambiguity around the nuclear program, because they would like others to think all sorts of things. They’re not going to say it, but they wouldn’t mind if others would speculate all sorts of ideas, including that nuclear weapons are usable.”

The existence of nuclear weapons in Israel came to light in 1986, when technician Mordechai Vanunu leaked information about the program and spent 18 years in jail.

According to The Guardian, Israel’s nuclear program includes an estimated 80 warheads.

Israel’s motivations for nuclear weapons are “First, to deter the Arabs from striking Israel; and second, if deterrence fails and Israel were about to be overrun, to destroy the Arabs in a nuclear Armageddon,” Haaretz reported.

The defensive nature of the program is significant to world leaders.

"Israel has never given any reason to doubt its solely defensive nature," Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said, according to The Washington Post. "Israel has never brandished its capabilities to exert regional influence, cow its adversaries or threaten its neighbors."

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Israel's nuclear weapons capabilities have been kept secret since a 1969 agreement made between Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and President Richard Nixon.
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Sunday, 14 Sep 2014 11:06 AM
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