Israel’s Nuclear Ambiguity Reconsidered

The Israeli policy of “nuclear opacity” — by which that country’s presumptive nuclear weapons program is not formally acknowledged — is examined in the new book “The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel’s Bargain with the Bomb” by Avner Cohen (Columbia University Press, October 2010).

For a variety of reasons, the author concludes that Israel’s “nuclear opacity” is obsolete and will have to be replaced, sooner or later, with a forthright acknowledgment of what everyone already believes to be the case anyway.

Cohen, an Israeli scholar who was trained as a philosopher, provides a lucid account of how nuclear opacity has “worked,” i.e. served Israeli interests, by providing the benefits of deterrence without the negative political and strategic consequences that could ensue from overt disclosure.  But its time has passed, he says.

“I argue that the old Israeli bargain with the bomb has outlived its usefulness, that it has become increasingly incompatible with contemporary democratic values at home and with the growth of international norms of transparency, and that it is time for Israel and others to consider a new bargain.”  Among other things, he says, the continuing development of nuclear weapons-related technology in Iran is likely the force the issue to a new degree of clarity.

For the time being, however, there is no sign of any change in Israel’s position on the matter.  “Israel has a clear and responsible nuclear policy, and it has frequently reiterated that it will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East,” David Danieli of Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission told Haaretz last month.  “Israel neither adds to nor subtracts from this statement.”

Avner Cohen’s “The Worst-Kept Secret” was reviewed recently in the New York Times and the Forward.

No Responses to “Israel’s Nuclear Ambiguity Reconsidered”

  1. ARny Handelman October 26, 2010 at 1:31 PM #

    It is critical for Israel to maintain its opacity concerning its nuclear arsenal and capabilities. Sun Tsu said it best: “all warfare is based on deception.” Let’s face facts–Israel is at war. Iran openly calls for the destruction of Israel, and several Arab groups and states agree. So why should these enemies be given any information that might be of use to them in a conflict? Israel needs to be able to have nuclear weapons concealed from possible attack. Particularly now with Hezbollah armed with more than 50,000 rockets. Israel also benefits from the fears engendered in her enemies by Israel’s unkown weapons. It’s bad enough for the enemies to know how many fighter planes, tanks etc. that Israel has, and where they are kept or deployed. But the opacity has a real deterrent effect.

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