Israel’s Nukes

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (Ralph Alswang)

Israel’s Nukes

Michael Arria

Mondoweiss  /  September 2, 2021

Mr. Bennett Goes to Washington

President Biden’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett certainly didn’t go as expected. The tragic airport attack in Kabul occurred shortly before they were scheduled to meet and it had to be delayed. One assumes that the whole thing was abbreviated on account of the news.

Palestine was only mentioned in passing. However, Bennett told the New York Times that he would expand settlements in the West Bank, decline to reopen a Jerusalem consulate for Palestinians, and refuse to enter any kind of peace agreement with Palestine. Bennett later boasted, “I am the only prime minister in three decades who told the president of the United States I am not going to hold peace talks with the Palestinians.”

The big focus was obviously Iran. Everyone knows Israel has nuclear weapons and regularly threatens its neighbors with violence but Iran enriching a small amount of uranium is akin to genocide or something. The Biden administration is trying to reboot the Iran Deal and Israel is openly trying to tank this prospect. Bennett obviously didn’t get the answers he wanted on that front but Biden did not rule potentially attacking the country or strengthening sanctions even more. “We’re putting diplomacy first and see where that takes us. But if diplomacy fails, we’re ready to turn to other options,” said the president.

Axios’s Barak Ravid reported that Bennett also asked Biden to keep U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria. The Israeli delegation said they were “optimistic” with Biden’s response, something to remember as pundits claim we’re suddenly not at war for the first time in twenty years.

Back to Israel’s nukes for a second. Ravid also had some interesting information in his newsletter. A senior Israeli official says Biden assured Bennett that the U.S. would provide cover for Israel’s not-so-secret arsenal. As Ravid points out, this has become a tradition of presidents since Israel’s obtained the weapons in the late 1960s. He breaks down some of the history:

“The strategic understandings were first discussed between Nixon and Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in 1969, at which point the Israeli nuclear capability had crossed the point of no return.

  • Presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Clinton reiterated those oral understandings in their first meetings with their Israeli counterparts.
  • In 1998, during the Wye River peace conference, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked President Bill Clinton to turn the oral understanding to a written document. Clinton agreed and signed a letter committing that the U.S. would allow Israel to retain its “strategic deterrence” capability regardless of any non-proliferation initiative.
  • In 1999, when Ehud Barak replaced Netanyahu, Clinton signed the letter again. So did President George W. Bush when working with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.”

Ravid also notes that Israel was concerned Obama wouldn’t sign the letter and were relieved to learn that his governing strategy didn’t contain a whole lot of hope or change. In fact, Obama passed a gag order in 2012 prohibiting federal employees from discussing Israel’s nuclear weapons.

Last week the site happened to run a piece Grant F. Smith breaking down some of this history:

“Much has happened in the decades since President Richard Nixon first promised Israeli Prime Minster Golda Meier never to publicly discuss Israel’s nuclear weapons. US Senators Stuart Symington and John Glenn learned that Israel (with help from some proxies in the US) in the 1960s diverted enough US weapons grade uranium from the government contractor NUMEC to build a dozen bombs. Outraged that nothing was being done about it, the senators complicated presidential “strategic ambiguity” by amending US foreign assistance laws to condition aid to nuclear weapons countries that were not signatories to the treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons...

Why is such information continuing to receive protection? If multiple US government agencies reveal that the US has long known Israel has a nuclear weapons program, it raises uncomfortable questions about amount of foreign aid illegally delivered to Israel. Since Symington and Glenn became law, the US has transferred nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars in publicly known foreign assistance to Israel, and additional billions in covert assistance...”

Obviously none of this will change under Biden or Bennett.


Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss