After Bibi Netanyahu’s provocative speech to Congress, The New York Times provided helpful clarifications in an article headlined “What Iran Won’t Say About the Bomb.” Written by two superbly expert reporters, William Broad and David Sanger, the piece walked through the technical complexities for non-experts (myself included) and explained key questions Iranians have failed to answer.
But this leads me to ask a different question: What about Israel’s bomb? Why isn’t that also part of the discussion?
In the flood of news stories about Iran’s nuclear intentions, I have yet to see mention of Israel’s nuclear arsenal (if I missed some mentions, they must have been rare).
Yet Israel’s bomb is obviously relevant to the controversy. The facts are deliberately murky, but Israel has had nuclear weapons for at least forty years, though it has never officially acknowledged their existence. The Israeli diplomatic approach has been called “nuclear ambiguity.”
I asked a friend who’s a national-security correspondent in Washington why news stories don’t mention Israel’s bomb. He shrugged off my question. “Because everybody knows that,” he said. Probably that’s true among policy elites and politicians, though I am not so sure this is widely known among average Americans.
In any case, if everyone knows Israel has the bomb, why not acknowledge this in the public debate?
I asked another friend (a well-informed journalist sympathetic to the Palestinian cause) why reporters don’t talk about the Israeli bomb. “Groupthink,” he said. “It’s almost as though Israel gets a bye from the media.”
The Iranians, he added, have raised the issue of the Israeli bomb many times in the past, but their complaints were generally ignored in the Western press. Iranian diplomats pointed out that Iran has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and submits to international inspections as the treaty requires (though Iran still hides stuff, as The New York Times account described). Israel has never signed the NPT and therefore does not submit to inspections.
My point is, the existence of Israel’s nuclear superiority is clearly a pivotal fact of life in the chaotic conflicts and occasional wars of the Middle East. It should not be left out.
Israel’s bomb might be an important factor in motivating Iran to seek a nuclear bomb of its own (though Iran denies that intention). It might also be the subtext for Netanyahu’s bellicose warnings and his occasional calls for bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Bibi’s country would lose valuable leverage if it no longer had a nuclear monopoly in the region. Yet it might be considered a provocative act if Israel bluntly acknowledged its nuclear arsenal.
According to Wikipedia’s account, largely based on scholarly sources, Israel has seventy-five to 400 bombs (others say it is more like 100 to 200). It has never threatened to use them anywhere, though during the Yom Kippur War in 1973 Israeli leaders put eight of its nuclear-armed F-4’s on alert. Its adversaries no doubt got the word.