Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israel's Unmentionable Stockpile of Nuclear Bombs

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israel's Unmentionable Stockpile of Nuclear Bombs

Article excerpt

How far can a respected news publication go in trying to protect an official Israeli "cover story"?

Apparently, pretty far.

This seems to be the case in an article by George J. Church, in the July 8 issue of Time magazine, in which he discusses the 1970 nuclear non-proliferation treaty. After noting that Israel did not sign it, he states that "Israel, India and Pakistan are all in this category, but they nonetheless are believed to have secret weapons programs underway."

Israel is believed to have secret weapons programs underway? Considering what is known about Israel's nuclear weapons stockpile, this is roughly equivalent to writing that Israel is "believed to be planning to occupy the West Bank and Gaza." The fact is that Israel isn't just believed to have a nuclear weapons program underway, but is known to have had a stockpile of bombs for more than 20 years. The only difference in the two situations is that Israel doesn't -- because it can't -- deny that it has troops in the West Bank and Gaza, but it can choose to refrain from comment about its nuclear stockpile (it never confirms or denies its existence) because the bombs aren't sitting out there for all the world to see.

No Ruffling of Feathers

Yet Mr. Church, instead of fulfilling his journalistic responsibility to "tell it like it is," apparently prefers not to ruffle the feathers of the Israeli government. The only way he could have downplayed it more would have been to repeat Israel's ritualistic phrase: "Israel will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East," which means zilch. It was designed to mean nothing, because to have said that "Israel will not be the first to produce nuclear weapons in the Middle East" would have been too much of a barefaced lie even for Israel's leaders.

The CIA already knew in the 1960s, through scientific monitoring, that Israel was striving to produce nuclear weapons in a reactor facility in Dimona, which it told US officials was only a "textile factory." In 1969, the CIA drew up a National Intelligence Estimate to the effect that Israel had joined the nuclear club and passed it to President Johnson (who hushed it up). In February 1976, Carl Duckett, then the CIA's deputy director for science and technology, told a group of American space technologists at a Washington briefing that Israel "has 10 to 20 nuclear weapons ready and available for use." And, irony of ironies, in its issue of April 12, 1976, Mr. Church's own magazine, in an article titled "How Israel Got the Bomb," announced: "Time has learned that Israel possesses a nuclear arsenal of 13 atomic bombs, assembled, stored, and ready to be dropped on enemy forces from specially equipped Kfir and Phantom fighters or Jericho missiles."

Since the mid-'80s, US and foreign intelligence officials have been estimating that Israel has a stockpile of between 100 and 200 nuclear bombs, of which a score are the more powerful "hydrogen" bombs. Israel added credibility to this estimate beginning in 1986, when a nuclear technician named Mordechai Vanunu, who had worked in Dimona for 10 years, revealed the size of the stockpile to London's Sunday Times. After tracking him down in Europe and returning him forcibly to Israel, the government tried and convicted Vanunu of treason for violations of security. It never denied his allegations. …

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