Recently elected president of Iran Hassan Rouhani. (AP/Ebrahim Noroozi)

It’s no secret that Israeli leaders have, so far, acted cooly about the new offers (including at the United Nations this morning) by Iran’s new president Hassan Rouhani to renounce the building of nuclear weapons. Andrew Sullivan had a good take on this yesterday, suggesting that some no doubt prefer the current ambiguity, which encourages a possible Israeli and US strike against Iran to allegedly resolve most of their fears.

But another reason, rarely explored until now, is that Israel knows that the anti-nuke claims by Iran also focus attention, finally, on the fact that Israel already has a top-secret nuclear arsenal, with at least eighty weapons, according to the latest expert analysis.

So it’s one thing for Iran to now say it will never build nukes. It’s another when they call (as Rouhani did today) for a nuclear-free region.

Calls for a nuclear-free world, or global abolition, always sound grandiose and unrealistic. But regional? The only regional nuclear nation there is Israel. Yet neither Israel nor the US will even admit publicly what everyone knows—the Israelis have had nukes for decades and already “used” them as deterrent and hammer in Middle East conflicts.

The US media has long failed to mention, or at least highlight, the existence and issues raised by Israel’s nuclear program. You won’t find many pundits in the archives writing about—and certainly not denouncing it. I’ve done a bit of a search and so far can’t find a single poll that has asked the American public the simple question, “Does Israel possess nuclear weapons?” I would guess the that something like 20 percent would say yes. I’m afraid many in Congress and in the media are also ignorant or uncertain about this.

But we may be starting to see more media attention. Here’s an extensive AP story today. And The New York Times carried an op-ed a few days ago written by two American experts on non-proliferation, titled, “Let’s Be Honest About Israel’s Nukes.” Just one excerpt:

An obstacle of America’s own making has long prevented comprehensive negotiations over weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. While the world endlessly discusses Iran’s nuclear capabilities and the likelihood that it will succeed in developing an atomic arsenal, hardly anyone in the United States ever mentions Israel’s nuclear weapons.

Mr. Obama, like his predecessors, pretends that he doesn’t know anything about them. This taboo impedes discussions within Washington and internationally. It has kept America from pressing Egypt and Syria to ratify the chemical and biological weapons conventions. Doing so would have brought immediate objections about American acceptance of Israel’s nuclear weapons.

And their conclusion:

And if Israel’s policy on the subject is so frozen that it is unable to come clean, Mr. Obama must let the United States government be honest about Israel’s arsenal and act on those facts, for both America’s good and Israel’s.

Greg Mitchell’s book Atomic Cover-up is available in new print and ebook editions.

Phyllis Bennis gives Obama’s speech on Iran a close read.