The official position of Israel with regard to nuclear weapons is one
of "opacity", summed up by the deliberately ambiguous statement:
Israel will "not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the
Middle East." Obviously, this can mean either that Israel will not be
the first to build nuclear weapons in the Middle East, or that Israel
will not be the first to use nuclear weapons in the Middle East.
It has been an open secret since the late 1960s that Israel has had
nuclear weapons. The CIA estimated in 1969 that Israel had constructed
one or two atomic bombs. Since that first estimate, the numbers of
atomic weapons, both battlefield and strategic weapons, possessed by
Israel has grown steadily to a current figure between 100 and 200. It
has been reported that Israel has actually armed and deployed some
atomic weapons on at least two occasions.
The United States government is required by law (USC Title 22, Chapter
72, subchapter 1) to invoke certain sanctions or prohibitions against
any "person" (as defined by the act, a person includes a foreign
country) who has been certified by the President as having engaged in
any prohibited action, including "the use, development, production,
stockpiling, or other acquisition of any nuclear explosive device."
The sanctions include:
(1) Ban on dealings in Government finance
(2) Restrictions on operations
Prohibition (1) includes the dealing in any US Government debt
instrument, in other words, the buying or selling of Government bonds.
Prohibition (2) includes any new business operations in the US.
The act gives the President the option of suspending these sanctions
while he is negotiating a settlement with a foreign government which
has been declared to be in violation, or of waiving them if he
determines that the continuing of the sanctions would present a risk
to the US or international finance markets, but he is obliged to make
a report to Congress within 90 days.
The official position of the US Government has been one of willful
ignorance of an Israeli nuclear capacity. This position has become
more difficult to maintain since the revelations by Mordechai Vanunu,
a nuclear technician, of the activities at the Dimona nuclear
facility, which had been subjected only to cursory inspection, its
bomb production levels being concealed underground.
(Vanunu has been tried and imprisoned, and is scheduled for relase in 2004.)
Nuclear Weapons - Israel
"There followed two decades in which the United States, through a
combination of benign neglect, erroneous analysis, and successful
Israeli deception, failed to discern first the details of Israel's
"Although the United States government did not encourage or approve of
the Israeli nuclear program, it also did nothing to stop it. Walworth
Barbour, US ambassador to Israel from 1961-73, the bomb program's
crucial years, primarily saw his job as being to insulate the
President from facts which might compel him to act on the nuclear
issue, alledgedly saying at one point that "The President did not send
me there to give him problems. He does not want to be told any bad
"The actual size and composition of Israel's nuclear stockpile is
uncertain, and is the subject of various estimates and reports. It is
widely reported that Israel had two bombs in 1967, and that Prime
Minister Eshkol ordered them armed in Israel's first nuclear alert
during the Six-Day War. It is also reported that, fearing defeat in
the October 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Israelis assembled 13
twenty-kiloton atomic bombs."
"In 1986 descriptions and photographs of Israeli nuclear warheads were
published in the London Sunday Times of a purported underground bomb
factory. The photographs were taken by Mordechai Vanunu, a dismissed
Israeli nuclear technician. His information led some experts to
conclude that Israel had a stockpile of 100 to 200 nuclear devices at
United States Code
TITLE 22 - FOREIGN RELATIONS AND INTERCOURSE
CHAPTER 72 - NUCLEAR PROLIFERATION PREVENTION
SUBCHAPTER I - SANCTIONS FOR NUCLEAR PROLIFERATION
Israel's Nuclear Development & Strategy: Future Ramifications for the
Middle East Regional Balance
THE THIRD TEMPLE'S HOLY OF HOLIES: ISRAEL'S NUCLEAR WEAPONS
BBC Transcript of "Israel's Secret Weapon" (part 1)
Transcript, /BBC World Service,/ 29 June 2003
The Bomb That Never Is
"Those who believe that opacity has no substitute--and almost the
entire Israeli defense establishment adheres to that position--rely on
two major arguments. The first is based on the notion that any
deviation from the policy will be costly--causing damage to
U.S.-Israeli relations, possibly even resulting in sanctions. And it
could, they add, undermine U.S. nonproliferation policy itself.
Therefore, opacity is described as indispensable for both American and
Israeli vital interests."
Congressional Research Service [CRS] Reports Nuclear, Chemical and
Missile Weapons and Proliferation