It is often said that while we don't know which nuclear weapons state will disarm first, we do know which will disarm last. That country is Israel. Israel would cling to its nukes until the very end, until nobody else would have them.
Israel's nuclear past hints in that direction. Israel's founding father, David Ben- Gurion, dreamt about the bomb almost since Israel was born. By the end of its first decade, Israel initiated its nuclear weapons project. Less than a decade later, on the eve of the 1967 War, Israel assembled its first nuclear devices.1
Israel's determined drive for the bomb stems from its historical consciousness and geopolitical situation. Today, it reflects the avowal "Never Again" in reaction to the Holocaust - the most formative event in modern Jewish history.
Israel is a major stakeholder in the global nuclear order. Not only is Israel the world's sixth nuclear weapons state, but it signed (with the United States as a co-signer) an "exceptionalist bargain" with the bomb.2 Ever since its birth, the Israeli bomb has remained opaque, i.e. unacknowledged. The policy known as "nuclear opacity" under which Israel has neither confirmed nor denied its possession of nuclear weapons, but rather committed "not to be the first to introduce nuclear weapons," has been at the core of Israel's exceptionalist bargain with the bomb. Opacity is Israel's distinct and unique contribution to the nuclear age.
Not surprisingly, then, Israelis are skeptical about the old-new vision of a world without nuclear weapons. While Israeli leaders have remained publicly mute on the matter-Israeli leaders have ignored President Barack Obama's Prague speech where he announced his vision of a world without nuclear weapons, as if it had no relevance to their country-privately they dismiss the vision as unrealistic, in fact naïve and dangerous. Israelis do not believe in either the feasibility or the desirability of the vision.
At the bottom, Israelis cannot conceive of themselves dismantling their nation's sacred national insurance. Israel's policy of nuclear opacity is designed to safeguard this view. One of its functions is to keep Israel exceptional and to ensure that Israel would not be engaged in any practical talk about nuclear disarmament.
For the last decade Israel's focus in nuclear matters has been Iran. From an Israeli perspective, any conversation on the nation's nuclear future starts and ends with one subject only, Iran. Israelis have a hard time rising above the horizon of Iran and their own policy of opacity to even consider the vision of a world without nuclear weapons.

Israel and the Iranian Nuclear Challenge

Israel's intense response to Iran reveals a great deal about its own predicament. The consensus within Israel is that the advent of a nuclear Iran-and a great deal depends on how exactly one defines this phrase- would pose a threat Israel has never yet faced in its entire history-a most hostile state in the region in possession of nuclear weapons. The phrase Israeli leaders and strategists often use to characterize the gravity of that eventuality is "existential threat."3
The reference to an existential threat is based on the linkage Israelis make between two key elements: first, the Iranian regime and its pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability and, second, Iran's extreme ideological hostility toward Israel, in particular, its rejection of Israel's legitimacy as a state.
There is abundant evidence of the Iranian government's extreme hostility toward Israel. Such an attitude has characterized the Iranian regime since the Islamic revolution, but it became more pronounced and explicit after the 2005 election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president of Iran. From a historical perspective, Ahmadinejad's statements mean for Israelis a return to the old pan-Arab discourse about the destruction of the Zionist entity, a discourse that hardly exists anymore in the Sunni Arab world (due in part, some would argue, to the existence of the Israeli bomb).
Most Israeli strategists agree that it is near inconceivable that Iran would attack Israel with nuclear weapons out of the blue because Iranians must be aware of the catastrophic consequences of such a suicidal act.4 The risk of a nuclear confrontation between Israel and Iran might arise, instead, from misperceptions and miscalculations during a conventional crisis. Israel would also need to face the possibility (however low) of an accidental or unauthorized nuclear launch by Iran and the risk that nuclear weapons might leak or be transferred by Iran to non-state actors. In the Israeli view, the impact of an Iranian bomb could profoundly change the entire political landscape and dynamics in the Middle East.
Specifically, Israelis perceive three areas of great concern. The first is the way nuclear weapons could exacerbate concerns about other aspects of Iran's foreign and defense policies by giving rise to more risk-prone and aggressive strategies.5 The second concern is that a nuclear Iran, especially if Iran moves to be a declared nuclear state, could ignite a cascading proliferation effect in the entire Middle East.
The third issue is the social and psychological impact that a (MAD)-like balance of terror with Iran might have on the Israeli public and its psyche. Some Israeli public figures who advance the politics of the Iranian scare (such as former Deputy Minister of Defense Ephraim Sneh, columnist Ari Shavit and academic historian Benny Morris) have made the point that a nuclear Iran might be able to "wipe the Zionist state off the map" without actually dropping the bomb. After the Holocaust, Sneh argues, Jews would have no stomach to live in the shadow of an Iranian bomb, another holocaust. Those who have the means to leave would leave.6 Benjamin Netanyahu (when he was opposition leader) pushed this line of reasoning to its limit. He explicitly introduced the Holocaust into the discussion about Iran, making the analogy between Ahmadinejad and Hitler.7

Israel's Dilemmas Vis-à-Vis Iran

The closer Iran is perceived to be to getting the bomb, the more Israel will be forced to redefine some of the fundamental dynamics of its own bargain with the bomb, including opacity. Israel will have to make a series of decisions about whether and how to respond to this eventuality. As Iran passes one technological milestone after another, and as its extensive enrichment program becomes increasingly a fait accompli, those policy dilemmas for Israel will become more acute.8
A dilemma the Israeli government will face will be to decide whether and when Israel should articulate and introduce its own red line about a nuclear Iran or leave them loose and not fully defined, as they are now. In parallel, Israeli leaders will also have to decide how much they are willing to discuss their red lines with others, especially with the United States as well as other international friends. Specifically, since any diplomatic deal with Iran will inevitably entail some "compromise"- a word former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert used in this context - Israel will have to find a way to convey to its close allies, especially the U.S., what kind of compromise will be acceptable.9
While Israeli assessments have determined that Iran was and is involved with various aspects of nuclear weaponization, the overall Israeli concern over the Iranian nuclear program focuses on its fissile material production (currently uranium enrichment) capability. In the past, when Israeli intelligence officials used the phrase "point of no return," it generally meant the point at which Iran would have mastered centrifuge enrichment technology. In the wake of criticisms from inside and outside the Israeli intelligence community that the phrase "point of no return" is conceptually flawed and makes little political sense, it was dropped.10 Israel uses now the phrase "technological threshold." In his July 2009 interview, Israel's national security advisor, Uzi Arad, referred specifically to this terminological/ definitional issue:
The point of nuclear no-return was defined as the point at which Iran has the ability to complete the cycle of nuclear fuel production on its own; the point at which it has all the elements to produce fissionable material without depending on outsiders… Serious obstacles still lie in the way. The international community still has enough time to make it stop of its own volition.11

The second dilemma Israel could/might face is whether and how to act-and non-action is also a kind of action. So far, Iran continues to defy the will of the Security Council which has formulated three resolutions on the matter of enrichment, mastering the enrichment technology to the industrial level. If the international community either proves itself powerless to enforce those Security Council resolutions or reaches a deal with Iran that places it too close to the bomb threshold, Israel would face a difficult decision: either follow the lead of the international community, and, ultimately, accept a situation of a de facto nuclear Iran, or take independent action in order to forestall the Iranian nuclear program. That dilemma would amount to a fundamental strategic choice between prevention and deterrence, war or containment. It would test Israel's commitment to the so-called "Begin Doctrine" of 1981: the commitment to take preventive action, including military action, against any hostile neighbor within reach of the bomb.12
This challenge is considered by Israeli leaders as highly sensitive, and little has been leaked from the behind-the-scenes deliberations. Thus it was shocking that in his final interview before departing from office in late September 2008, Olmert openly dismissed as "megalomania" any thought that Israel should or would attack Iran on its own to halt its nuclear program: "Part of our megalomania and our loss of proportions is the things that are said here about Iran. We are a country that has lost a sense of proportion about itself."13
Of course, if Iran overtly acquired nuclear weapons and clearly signaled its intent by withdrawing from the NPT, it would simplify Israel's choices by posing a more clear-cut causus belli and creating more international support for preemption.
If prevention ultimately fails and a new kind of nuclear order in the Middle East becomes inevitable, how should Israel respond to the making of such a regime? During the height of the Cold War, as the world learned to live under the balance of nuclear terror, as in mutual assured destruction "MAD", the theory and practice of arms control was developed to create measures of stability, robustness and predictability. But those dialogues took place against the explicit and declared presence of nuclear weapons. Would it be possible to have such an arms-control dialogue in a context of opacity on both sides? Notwithstanding the political costs of diplomatically engaging Iran-for which there is almost no current domestic constituency in Israel-there are other difficulties for such diplomatic engagement. Another serious challenge is that such a dialogue would be perceived as accepting and thereby legitimizing Iran's nuclear capability.
If prevention fails, under the present circumstances, it is unlikely that Israelis would look to arms control as a solution. For Israel, a nuclear weapon-free zone (NWFZ) is conditioned on peaceful relations among all the members of the zone, something that does not appear possible under the current regime in Tehran.

The Irony of Opacity

In February 2007, Ali Larijani, the then-secretary-general of Iran's Supreme National Security Council and the head of its nuclear negotiating team, declared that Iran's nuclear program is presently for peaceful purposes, but as far as the future is concerned, nobody knows what is in store. If Iran is threatened, everything is open. It was difficult not to see an intriguing linguistic resemblance between Larijani's statement in 2007 and how Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion responded to President John F. Kennedy's query about Israel's nuclear intentions in their meeting in May 1961.14 Israel then, and Iran now, were in the midst of an ambitious national nuclear initiative designed to create a nuclear-weapons option, but neither yet with a good idea of how far it could push the envelope.
All signs indicate that, at minimum, Iran wants to position itself very close to the weapon threshold by maintaining large-scale enrichment capability (albeit keeping enrichment at low level) while creating a certain ambiguity as to its weaponization activities. The Iranian political leadership may look at nuclear Israel today and hope that they could do likewise. But, in reality, even apart from the 1969 Nixon-Meir political deal that practically relieved Israel of any inhibition in going nuclear, it will be more complicated for Iran to achieve a "bomb in the basement" posture. Only by massive deception ¯ say, by building large-scale undeclared enrichment facilities can Iran achieve a bomb in the basement while still within the NPT. However, under present safeguards, one cannot rule out the possibility that Iran is engaged or will be engaged in massive deception.
Still, the major worry over Iranian enrichment at industrial-scale capacity - what Israeli intelligence refers to as the "technological threshold"- is not necessarily that it can lead to a bomb in the basement, but that large-scale, low-enriched uranium (LEU) enrichment capabilities can create dangerous "breakout" scenarios. The bottom line is that, under current IAEA safeguards, it is a so-called breakout, not a bomb in the basement that is the main worry. In contrast, Israel has never been under safeguards, so nuclear weapons under opacity were an easier option.
Should Israel react to the emergence of opaquely nuclear Iran and how can it do it? Much depends on what we really mean by "nuclear Iran." As long as Iran remains within the boundaries of the NPT, there will probably never be a nuclear Iran, insofar as that means an Iran with actual nuclear weapons, even undeclared à la Israel. It is likely that we will face a different sense of a nuclear Iran; that is, a scenario in which Iran develops a full latent nuclear-weapons capability opaquely, under the guise of its peaceful program within the NPT, and this will ultimately blur the difference between possession and non-possession.
Iran's specific choice of opacity will be a political challenge for the international nuclear system, but a far greater challenge to Israel, which was the first and only country to use opacity as a nuclear posture. At what point in time should Israel and the international community remove the mask of opacity and insist on calling a spade a spade? Is it preferable to remove the mask from Iranian ambiguity and to call it by name, or is an opaque Iran preferable to an openly nuclear Iran? At what point in time should we insist on international nuclear accountability? These are questions that until now have hardly been asked, but they demand a great deal of thinking, both worldwide and in Israel.
Israelis tends to see the conflict with Iran in dichotomous terms: either take harsh action against Iran-preferably some sort of military action or naval blockade-or accept living with a nuclear Iran.

The Robustness of Opacity

At present, Israel's nuclear thinking focuses almost entirely on the Iran issue. Everything else which relates to the future of Israel's nuclear policy is pending on the resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue. Israelis have nowadays little interest or patience to discuss other issues related to the global nuclear order, as long as the Iranian issue remains unresolved. One could press this point even further. The Iranian nuclear situation adds another incentive for Israel to remain conservative in its nuclear policy, namely, to stick to its opacity policy without changing an iota. Israelis believe that their country will have little to gain by coming out of the nuclear closet and ending opacity, while it risks a great deal in doing so, including possibly sparking regional nuclearization and unraveling of the NPT regime.15 Most importantly, Israelis believe that the world, in particular the U.S., wants them to continue with their opacity.


The preceding analysis applies directly to the second item involving Israel on today's international nuclear agenda, the proposal for cutoff on the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons, or what is known as the Fissile Materials Cutoff Treaty (FMCT). The FMCT issue is high on the Obama administration's nuclear roadmap. Yet Israelis see the FMCT issue as incompatible with their national interest. For Israel, unlike the other seven weapons states, there is a unique dimension that it must consider and decide: whether (and how far) the FMCT is compatible with Israel's longstanding commitment to opacity.
Despite its reservations, Israel joined the 1993 General Assembly consensus resolution (48/75L) and participated in the subsequent negotiations in the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament (CD). However, it kept a low profile, calculating that it would be wiser to let others impede the negotiating process, which indeed soon stalled. The strategy proved correct until the summer of 1998 when, due to the consensus rule, Israel's joining the consensus became essential. By early August 1998, after China, India and Pakistan had already joined the consensus, Israel was left as the last holdout in the CD. It was in those days of mid-August 1998 that the otherwise friendly Clinton administration exerted the harshest pressure it ever used against any Israeli government.
Even though no draft treaty was on the horizon, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recognized that an FMCT might have profound longterm implications for the future of Israel's opacity issue. Under intense pressure from Washington, however, Israel joined the consensus, but it also let it be known that Israel would oppose the treaty. In two letters and several conversations with the president, Netanyahu wrote Clinton, "We will never sign the treaty, and do not delude yourselves-no pressure will help. We will not sign the treaty because we will not commit suicide."16 Netanyahu's concerns were premature. During the second Bush administration, disagreements over the scope and purpose of the FMCT and over linkages to other arms control issues stalled the negotiations for nearly a decade.17
On the political front, the main Israeli concern is that an FMCT would be the first stage in a slippery slope pushing Israel towards premature nuclear disarmament. There is a concern that, due to the lack of an explicit agreement, the Arab states would insist that the FMCT is merely an interim step towards, not a substitute for, the establishment of a NWFZ in the Middle East, and it surely should not legitimize Israel's nuclear monopoly, something the Arab states could never accept.
Technically, it would also be difficult for Israel to maintain opacity under an FMCT, especially if the FMCT contained provisions for credible verification.18
During the second Bush administration, Israel upgraded its objections to the FMCT by making them more explicit and by linking them with the Iranian nuclear issue. Evidently, the Iranian nuclear issue created a new context that reinforced Israel's initial objections to the FMCT. Those objections are linked to Israel's old guiding principles on matters of arms control and disarmament: that the nuclear issue has to be negotiated in a regional framework and in close subsidiary linkage to the political situation, and that the FMCT cannot fix Israel's grave concerns about the deficiencies of the NPT. Out of these general principles, one can articulate the two specific Israeli objections to the FMCT:
• The global objection: An FMCT allows the operation of both uranium enrichment and reprocessing facilities as long as the enriched uranium and plutonium are used for ostensibly peaceful purposes, not weapons.
• On the regional level, Israel insists that the only avenue for nuclear disarmament in the Middle East is via the regional NWFZ route, not the FMCT, and such a route could be initiated only in the context of a comprehensive peace process, where the peace issue is the primary driver, not the nuclear issue.

This outlook got a good hearing with the second Bush administration, which was not that enthusiastic about the FMCT in the first place (they supported the FMCT in principle but abandoned the verification requirement). But the Israeli position may become more problematic with the Obama administration, which is committed to reversing the Bush administration's nuclear status quo. In his historic speech in Prague in April 2009, Obama referred to the FMCT issue explicitly when he declared the need for a treaty that "verifiably ends the production of fissile materials intended for use in state nuclear weapons."19

Between Natanz and Dimona: Thinking Outside the Box

While an FMCT in the Middle East is not likely to be a viable nearterm prospect, one could still ask whether there is anything else that Israel could do, apart from military action against Iran, to lessen the dangers of nuclearization in the region and possibly to ultimately contribute to a satisfactory diplomatic deal with Iran.
Israel's answer is in the negative. At present, Israel firmly refuses to see any linkage-legal or otherwise-between the two nation's nuclear programs. It is Iran that defies the international community; it is Iran that rejects Security Council resolutions on the nuclear issue. Israel vehemently resists any linkage between the two cases. Iran itself has never made a direct case to link Natanz and Dimona.
Israel is legally right that there is no formal justification to link the two. In reality, however, for many people such linkage is not only commonsensical and inescapable, but also desirable. It has been argued by some analysts that the dichotomy which governs the way Israelis seem to think of the Iranian issue-"to either accept a nuclear Iran or to bomb Iran before" it produces nuclear weapons - is a deceptive one.20
In a 2008 paper that Marvin Miller and I authored, we suggested that there are, at least theoretically, modalities to engage Israel in a regional nonproliferation/ denuclearization effort, but such an effort will require a great deal of thinking and acting outside the box, both by Israel and by all other states that have an interest in promoting non-proliferation and security in the Middle East. On the side of Israel, such thinking will necessitate some departure from opacity.21
First, we acknowledged the intrinsic causal linkage between the problem of nuclear weapons in the region and the enduring conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
Second, we also argued that short of a just and durable peace in the Middle East, there should be efforts to introduce arms control initiatives that place some constraints on the Israeli nuclear deterrent while simultaneously reducing the risk of proliferation elsewhere in the region, with a special focus on Iran. Specifically, given Israel's opposition to an FMCT, serious consideration should be given to the establishment in the region of a zone free of all "proliferation-sensitive" nuclear facilities, i.e., uranium enrichment and fuel reprocessing plants, as well as large research reactors fueled either with natural or weapons-grade uranium.22 While Israel would retain its nuclear arsenal in such a zone, it would have to verifiably shut down the Dimona reactor and its associated reprocessing plant.23
However, unlike the situation under an FMCT, there would be a significant quid pro quo between Israel and Iran. The establishment of such a zone would eliminate the risk that, e.g., Iran could obtain weapons-useable nuclear materials via misuse of declared and safeguarded enrichment or reprocessing plants. Additionally, credible means to verify that such plants have not been constructed clandestinely, as well as strong measures to ensure that if such plants are found they be destroyed would also be required.24
Like the FMCT itself, this arms control proposal is also incompatible- or at least problematic-with the fundamentals of opacity. Like the FMCT, it requires verification that facilities are shut down and no longer producing. When we noted that our proposed initiatives would require a "sea change" in nuclear thinking both in Israel and in the U.S., we meant that both countries would have to rethink the issue of opacity.25
To make this proposal more attractive, it could be coupled with a re-examination by the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) as a whole, as well as its individual members of the current laws and guidelines that prohibit the transfer of civilian nuclear materials and reactors, particularly natural uranium and power reactors, to Israel.26 Although none of these states would jeopardize its national security to gain fuller access to the benefits of nuclear energy, a "package deal" with the above arms control and peaceful use components should be attractive both to Israel and other states in the Middle East.27


It is time to consider the Israeli nuclear case against the broader nuclear global context, both the vision of a world without nuclear weapons as well the renewed interest in nuclear power. This historic junction could pose long-term challenges for Israeli nuclear policies, in particular to its commitment to the policy of opacity.
It is plain that there is tension, indeed a conflict, between the logic of nuclear abolition and Israel's concept and practice of opacity. There are two major areas of conflict. First, the movement to global nuclear zero must apply to all nuclear weapons states, those under the NPT and those outside the NPT. But at the present time, Israel has no interest whatsoever even in deliberating on the process of nuclear disarmament. Second, the very logic of global zero assumes minimum transparency about nuclear status: all nuclear weapons states must self-declare. Nuclear acknowledgement must be a norm; without such a norm and compliance, it is pointless to even to speak about global zero. Acknowledgement and declaration precede verification.
Israelis believe that the policy of opacity and the U.S. support behind it, is a great strategic asset. It would ensure Israel's exceptional status in the nuclear field, at least for the short and mid-term. In general, Israelis view a world without nuclear weapons in a very similar fashion to the way they view their own official vision of NWFZ in the Middle East. Both are essentially just verbal diplomacy, a vision for a far-into-the-future world that cannot be achieved in our lifetime or even in our children's.
For the longer run, however, a great deal will depend on how the Iranian nuclear issue is finally resolved and on the state of the Arab-Israeli conflict. One can think of two different responses to these new global trends, i.e., the interest in a world without nuclear weapons and the renewed interest in nuclear power. As long as Israel sees itself facing existential threats, or even the possibility of existential threats, it is unthinkable that it would be willing to disarm from its national insurance policy, its nuclear deterrent. It is unrealistic to expect that Israel could move towards a vision of nuclear disarmament unless a just and durable peace is achieved and established. A just and durable peace in the region is a necessary condition for a nuclearfree Middle East.
But one could also conceive of another long-term scenario. If the vision of the revival in nuclear power - what is often referred to as "nuclear renaissance"- were to become a reality in the Middle East, and if there were to be significant progress on the Arab-Israeli peace process front, it is also conceivable that, under certain political conditions, Israel would be interested in cooperating in the establishment of a regional framework of nuclear control. After all, only under a larger regional arrangement one could have a chance to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions. Such cooperation could be seen as part of a roadmap towards NWFZ in the region. A new system of nuclear control might also apply to Israel's own facilities, and in this case it would surely have an impact on opacity. This could be a true first step towards the establishment of NWFZ in the Middle East.
The real lesson that the Israeli nuclear case generates for the vision of a world without nuclear weapons is the close linkage between nuclear weapons and major regional conflicts. Until these conflicts can be resolved, it is unlikely that regional nuclear weapons states would be willing to disarm.


1. For a detailed account of Israel's nuclear history, see Avner Cohen, Israel and the
Bomb (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), pp. 273-276.
2. I elaborated on the notion of "nuclear bargain" in my forthcoming book, The Worst
Kept Secret: Israel's Bargain with the Bomb."
3. International Institute for Strategic Studies, Nuclear Programmes in the Middle
East: In the Shadow of Iran (London: IISS, 2008), pp.136-138.
4. Yet, some Israelis question whether the current religious leadership in Iran could
be at all deterred by others' nuclear weapons, given their views on Israel and their
Shi'ite religious beliefs and the impact these beliefs could have on the leaders'
sense of rationality.
5. But some Israeli leaders, such as Prime Minister Netanyahu, believe that Israeli
deterrence must be fully explicit and crystal clear. In Netanyahu's words: "Against
lunatics, deterrence must be absolute, perfect, including a second-strike capability.
The crazies have to understand that if they raise their hands against us, we'll put
them back in the Stone Age." (Quoted in Ronen Bergman, Secret War Against Iran
[Free Press, 2008], p. 344).
6. Cam Simpson, "Israeli Citizens Struggle Amid Iran's Nuclear Vow," Wall Street
Journal, December 22, 2006.
7. In a speech on November 2006, Netanyahu claimed, "It's 1938 and Iran is Germany.
And Iran is racing to arm itself with atomic bombs. Believe him and stop him."
"Netanyahu: It's 1938 and Iran Is Germany." Ha'aretz, November 14, 2006.
8. The substance and much of the style of this section is taken from my contribution.
"Israel: Nuclear Monopoly in Jeopardy," in Nuclear Programmes in the Middle
East: In the Shadow of Iran, International Institute for Strategic Studies (London:
IISS, 2008).
9. Ehud Olmert, "Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Address at the 2007 Herzliya
Conference," Prime Minister's Office, January 24, 2007, at
10. I was one of the critics of this phrase. See Avner Cohen, "Point of No Return?"
Ha'aretz, May 17, 2005.
11. Shavit, Ari, "There Is No Palestinian Sadat, No Palestinian Mandela," Ha'aretz,
July 11, 2009
12. Shlomo Nakdimon, First Strike: The Exclusive Story of How Israel Foiled Iraq's
Attempt to Get the Bomb (New York: Summit Books, 1987).
13. Ethan Bronner, "Olmert Says Israel Should Pull Out of the West Bank," New York
Times, September 29, 2008.
14. On the Kennedy-Ben-Gurion 1961 meeting, see Cohen, Israel and the Bomb, pp.
15. This possibility became even more explicit with the Arab League announcement
on March 6, 2008, that if Israel acknowledged it had nuclear weapons, Arab states
would collectively withdraw from the treaty.
16. Aluf Benn, "The Struggle to Keep Nuclear Capabilities Secret," Ha'aretz, September
14, 1999 (Hebrew). The rough confrontation between Netanyahu and Clinton over
the FMCT stirred concerns in Netanyahu's circle. There was a fear that Clinton's
commitment to the FMCT could undermine or erode the old American commitment
(from the Nixon era) to opacity. Two months later, in the context of the Wye River
negotiations over Hebron, Netanyahu asked for and received an appendix in the
form of a signed secret letter from Clinton in which the United States was committed
to be sympathetic to Israel's preservation of its "strategic deterrence capabilities."
The letter also assured Israel that the United States would consult Israel in advance
of global arms control initiatives that are relevant to Israel, an implicit and partial
assurance that the U.S. would be sympathetic to Israeli concerns on the matter of the
FMCT. See, Avner Cohen and George Perkovich, "The Obama-Netanyahu Meeting:
Nuclear Issues," Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, May 14, 2009.
17. Although the Bush administration claimed to remain loyal to the FMCT idea, it
dropped the demand that the treaty must be verifiable. In July 2004, the United
States made it official when it expressed "serious concerns" about whether realistic
and effective verification of an FMCT was achievable. Ambassador Jackie Sanders,
U.S. representative to the CD, explained that "the objective of an FMCT is not its
verification, but the creation of an observed norm against the production of fissile
material intended for weapons." The change testified in part to the ideological outlook
of the second Bush administration on matters of arms control and international
treaties. In May 2006, the administration tabled a FMCT draft at the CD which did
not contain any verification provisions; it would ban new production of plutonium
and highly enriched uranium for use in nuclear weapons for 15 years, and would
enter into force with only the five established nuclear weapon states. In 2008, as the
16.3&4 19
Bush administration finished its term, the CD was still unable to agree on a program
of work on the FMCT and, consequently, was unable to establish a forum to begin
negotiations on an FMCT. "Fissile Materials Cutoff Treaty." Reaching Critical Will,
Accessed August 18, 2009,
18. For example, while the shutdown of the Dimona reactor could be in principle
verified remotely, Israel may have difficulties to shut down the reactor because it
is believed that Israel uses it also to produce tritium, a nuclear material (but not a
fissile material and hence not under the FMCT agreement) which is required for
advanced nuclear weapons. Because tritium has a relatively short half-life-12.3
years-shutting down the reactor would eventually lead to a degradation of the Israeli
arsenal. While the FMCT does not preclude the production of tritium, Israel would
have to agree to verification procedures that ensure that the reactor is not used for
the production of plutonium. Such verification procedures would inevitably erode
Israel's opacity, in practice and in symbol.
19. White House. "Remarks by President Barack Obama in Prague." April 5, 2009.
Obama-In-Prague-As-Delivered/ Furthermore, Obama's vision is not entirely a
partisan vision. Senator John McCain has also endorsed a vision of world without
nukes, in which FMCT plays an important role.
20. Mark Fitzpatrick, The Iranian Nuclear Crisis: Avoiding Worst-Case Scenarios,"
International Institute for Strategic Studies, Adelphi Paper 398, November 2008.
21. Avner Cohen and Marvin Miller, "Israel," in International Panel on Fissile Material
(IPFM), Country Perspective on the Challenges to a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty,
Companion Volume to Global Fissile Material Report 2008, pp. 27-33, www.
22. Such a zone has been suggested by Marvin Miller and Lawrence Scheinman, "Israel
and a Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone in the Middle East" in Nuclear Proliferation
and International Security, edited by Morton Bremer Maerli and Sverre Lodgaard
(London and New York: Routledge, 2007), p. 143.
23. Thus, alternative means to produce tritium would be required.
24. In particular, verification means should go beyond implementation of the Additional
Protocol to include the establishment of a wide area environmental sampling network
in the region.
25. This view has received strong support from McGeorge Bundy, William J. Crowe, Jr.
and Sidney D. Drell, Reducing the Nuclear Danger, Council on Foreign Relations,
New York, 1993, pp. 62-72.
26. Glenn Kessler, "Israel Submits Nuclear Trade Plan," Washington Post, September 30,
2007. On the Israeli "criteria-based" document, see also Arms Control Association:
27. Israel has recently reiterated its interest in building nuclear reactors in Israel in
response to the need to meet its growing energy demands in a manner consistent
with global concerns about climate change. See, e.g., the statement by Gideon
Frank to the IAEA General Conference.
The author expresses his gratitude to the editor, Hillel Schenker, for shortening a much
longer draft to this acceptable size.

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