Avner Cohen on Israel's policy of nuclear opacity – Part 3

In a Op-Ed piece Avner Cohen co-authored with Marvin Miller [a research associate in the Science, Technology, and Society Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology] that appeared in the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune on 25 August, the two wrote that “Opacity was first codified in a secret accord between President Richard Nixon and Prime Minister Golda Meir of Israel in September 1969. As long as Israel did not advertise its possession of nuclear weapons, by either declaring it had them or testing them, the United States agreed to tolerate and shield Israel’s nuclear program. Ever since, all U.S. presidents and Israeli prime ministers have reaffirmed this policy — most recently, President Obama in a July White House meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during which Mr. Obama stated, ‘Israel has unique security requirements. … And the United States will never ask Israel to take any steps that would undermine [its] security interests’. Opacity continues to have almost universal support among members of the Israeli security establishment, who argue that, by not publicly flaunting its nuclear status, Israel has reduced its neighbors’ incentives to proliferate and has made it easier to resist demands that it give up its nuclear shield before a just and durable peace is established in the Middle East”. This piece was posted here.

The article argued that “In the early days of its nuclear program, Israel had no concerns about legitimacy, recognition and responsibility; its focus was acquiring a nuclear capability. Today, the situation is different. Israel is now a mature nuclear weapons state, but it finds it difficult under the strictures of opacity to make a convincing case that it is a responsible one. To the extent that opacity shields Israel’s nuclear capabilities and intentions, it also undercuts the need for its citizens to be informed about issues that are literally matters of life and death, such as: Whose finger is on the nuclear trigger and under what circumstances would nuclear weapons be used? Opacity also prevents Israel from making a convincing case that its nuclear policy is indeed one of defensive last resort and from participating in a meaningful fashion in regional arms control and global disarmament deliberations. Israel needs to recognize, moreover, that the Middle East peace process is linked to the issue of nuclear weapons in the region. International support for Israel and its opaque bomb is being increasingly eroded by its continued occupation of Palestinian territory and the policies that support that occupation. Such criticism of these policies might well spill over into the nuclear domain, making Israel vulnerable to the charge that it is a nuclear-armed pariah state, and thus associating it to an uncomfortable degree with today’s rogue Iranian regime … in order to deal effectively with the new regional nuclear environment and emerging global nuclear norms, Israel must reassess the wisdom of its unwavering commitment to opacity and realize that international support for retaining its military edge, including its nuclear capacity, rests on retaining its moral edge”.

Avner Cohen on Israel's policy of nuclear opacity

The pioneering Israeli scholar, scientist, historical researcher, policy analyst and writer Avner Cohen, who has worked for decades inside and outside Israel (in the U.S.) to analyze Israel’s nuclear project [and is now senior fellow at the James Martin Center for Non-proliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies], has recently posted material here, which [CORRECTION] is his chapter in a fresh new book, Governing The Bomb: Civilian Control and Democratic Accountability, edited by Hans Born, Bates Gill and Heiner Hanggi and published jointly by Oxford University Press and SIPRI (2010). It is Chapter 7: Israel | GOVERNING THE BOMB: CIVILIAN CONTROL AND DEMOCRATIC ACCOUNTABILITY.

Avner Cohen is also now publishing a his own new book, The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel’s Bargain with the Bomb (Columbia University Press: New York, 2010). His first book, Israel and the Bomb, was published by Columbia University Press in 1998.

In Governing the Bomb, Cohen discusses Israel’s policy of “nuclear opacity”, and writes that: “Israel was the sixth state in the world and the first in the Middle East to develop and acquire nuclear weapons. It initiated its nuclear programme in earnest in the late 1950s when it constructed its primary nuclear facility, the Negev Nuclear Research Center—also known by KAMAG, its Hebrew acronym—outside the town of Dimona. Within a decade, Israel had completed the initial research and development stage of its nuclear weapon programme. By the eve of the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel had secretly improvised the construction of two or three rudimentary, but operational, nuclear devices. By 1970 it was widely presumed that Israel had crossed the threshold of nuclear weapon capability. Since 1986—in the wake of the disclosures made by Mordechai Vanunu, Israel’s infamous nuclear whistle-blower—Israel has been believed to have a mature nuclear weapon programme and is viewed as an established nuclear weapon state, in both the quality and quantity of its arsenal. Estimates of the size of Israel’s nuclear arsenal vary significantly, ranging from less than 100 up to 300 warheads…

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