A Brief History
On October 5, 1986, the British newspaper the Sunday Times ran a story featuring information and photographs from Mordechai Vanunu, a former technician who had worked in the Israeli nuclear program, that detailed secrets about the Israeli nuclear weapons program, confirming, as suspected, that Israel did indeed possess such bombs.
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) recognizes the U.S., the UK, Russia, China and France as nuclear powers and seeks to limit other nations from gaining that status. Of course, India and Pakistan are known to have nukes, and North Korea is believed to recently have developed working nuclear warheads.
Israel likely developed its first nuclear weapon around 1966 and possibly has a secret agreement with the U.S. that Israel will not use any of those weapons unless an enemy first uses nukes against them. On the other hand, Israel has a policy of active intervention against any potentially hostile country wishing to acquire their own nuclear weapons and will not hesitate to engage in preemptive strikes to prevent such a scenario. Should Israel ever conduct such a strike against Iran, it would potentially disrupt the Middle East and create much higher oil prices, giving U.S. diplomats plenty of incentive to negotiate an anti-nuclear agreement with Iran.
It is estimated by various agencies that Isreal has anywhere from 50 to 400 nuclear weapons (the lower number being the more probable figure) and the technology to deploy those warheads via land or sub-launched missiles or to drop them from airplanes. (Israeli missile technology allows for intermediate or long-range ballistic missiles capable of reaching any likely foe.)
Question for students (and subscribers): Is a nuclear-armed Israel a good or a bad thing? Should Israel have the right to launch preemptive strikes to prevent Muslim nations from acquiring nukes? Tell us what you think in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Cohen, Avner. The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel’s Bargain with the Bomb. Columbia University Press, 2012.
Karpin, Michael. The Bomb in the Basement: How Israel Went Nuclear and What That Means for the World. Simon & Schuster, 2007.