The Dimona nuclear reactor in the south of Israel.
According to the Israeli press, US President Barak Obama promised Prime Minister Netanyahu that he would maintain the current understandings between the two countries regarding Israel’s nuclear program.
Before the Obama-Netanyahu summit, at an International Atomic Energy Agency meeting, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, Rose Gottemoeller, declared that Israel, Pakistan, India, and North Korea should sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. These are the only four recognized sovereign states that are not parties to the treaty.
In Israel, those declarations increased the public sense of insecurity regarding US-Israel relations. The press feared that the Obama administration would review its 40 year old nuclear ambiguity policy and demand international inspection of Israel’s nuclear facilities.
As part of its nuclear ambiguity policies, Israel does not need to confirm or deny the possession of nuclear weapons. However, Israel is believed to have begun full scale production of nuclear weapons following the war in 1967, although it may have had nuclear bomb parts earlier. According to Avner Cohen’s book Israel and the Bomb, a CIA report from early stated that Israel had the materials to construct a bomb in six to eight weeks.
The CIA believed that Israel’s first bombs may have been made with highly enriched uranium stolen in the mid-1960s from the US Navy nuclear fuel plant operated by the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation, where sloppy material accounting would have masked the theft.
The understandings between the US and Israel regarding Israel’s nuclear capabilities date back to 1969, when President Nixon pressed Israel to “make no visible introduction of nuclear weapons or undertake a nuclear test program,” in exchange, the US will not request Israel to joint the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
In 1986, Mordechai Vanunu, an Israeli former nuclear technician revealed details of Israel’s nuclear weapons program in Britain to the press. He was subsequently lured to Italy and kidnapped by Israeli agents. He was transported to Israel and convicted of treason.
Although no official statistics exist, a report published on 14 March by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington based foreign policy think-tank, it is estimated that Israel possesses between 60 to 400 thermonuclear weapons.
Israeli military forces also possess land, air, and sea-based methods for deploying their nuclear weapons, thus forming a rudimentary nuclear triad.
The Israeli nuclear program is part of a deterrence military doctrine that assumes that Israel has to maintain its absolute regional military superiority. Israel’s long-range missiles, nuclear capable aircraft, and its submarines present effective second strike deterrence against unconventional and conventional attacks.
In order to maintain its absolute military superiority, Israel must prevent other Middle Eastern countries from acquiring nuclear capabilities. It also requires Israel to remain outside of the international nuclear non-proliferation system.
According to Haaretz, an Israeli daily newspaper, in the past, Netanyahu asked President Clinton and received a written promise that the US will help to maintain Israel’s strategic deterrent capabilities and make sure that weapons control initiatives will not damage it. President Obama has now ratified this commitment.