The A-Z of Israel
On 22 January, Israelis will go to the polls. The world watches – but how much do we really know about the country that calls itself “the sole bastion of democracy” in the Middle East?
A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
N is for Nuclear weapons
Israel has never officially confirmed or denied possessing nuclear weapons, preferring to rely on the ambiguous formulation that it “will not be the first nation” to “introduce” them to Middle East. In 1968, pressed by the US to explain the meaning of “introduce”, Yitzhak Rabin, then Israel’s ambassador to the US, said it had not tested nuclear weapons, and so could not be regarded as having “introduced” them to the region, a tacit admission that it was indeed in possession of them.
From its establishment in 1948 onwards, Israel sought to acquire nuclear weapons as the “ultimate guarantor” of its security following the Holocaust. The nation’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, declared that what Einstein, Oppenheimer and Teller, all three of them Jews, had “made for the United States, could also be done by scientists in Israel for their own people”. In 1960 the CIA discovered that the Israelis were constructing a reactor, with French support, and they were reported to have acquired nuclear weapons in 1969. The first extensive details of the programme emerged in 1986 when a former nuclear technician, Mordechai Vanunu, gave the Sunday Times photographs that he had taken at the weapons facility in Dimona. He was subsequently drugged and abducted by Mossad agents (see I for Institute) in Rome. He served 18 years in prison for treason and espionage.
Israel is one of four nuclear-armed states that are not party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the others being India, Pakistan and North Korea. The CIA estimates that Israel has between 200 and 400 nuclear warheads. Last December, the UN General Assembly voted by 174 to six, urging it to join the NPT “without further delay” and to open up its facilities to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency.