In a piece titled The truth about Israel’s secret nuclear arsenal at the Guardian, Julian Borger writes about how Israel began its nuclear-weapons program.
The list of nations that secretly sold Israel the material and expertise to make nuclear warheads, or who turned a blind eye to its theft [more on that down-post ― RW], include today’s staunchest campaigners against proliferation: the US, France, Germany, Britain and even Norway.
Nor did Israel later have much in the way of
… qualms about proliferating nuclear weapons knowhow and materials, giving South Africa’s apartheid regime help in developing its own bomb in the 1970s in return for 600 tons of yellowcake.
But ever wonder why exactly the United States turned a blind eye to Israel’s proliferation? In fact, a specific reason exists beyond the history between the two states, not to mention the strength of the Israel lobby in the United States. Borger explains:
As more and more evidence of Israel’s weapons programme emerged, the US role progressed from unwitting dupe to reluctant accomplice. In 1968 the CIA director Richard Helms told President Johnson that Israel had indeed managed to build nuclear weapons and that its air force had conducted sorties to practise dropping them.
The timing could not have been worse. The NPT, intended to prevent too many nuclear genies from escaping from their bottles, had just been drawn up and if news broke that one of the supposedly non-nuclear-weapons states had secretly made its own bomb, it [the NPT] would have become a dead letter that many countries, especially Arab states, would refuse to sign.
The Johnson White House decided to say nothing, and the decision was formalised at a 1969 meeting between Richard Nixon and Golda Meir, at which the US president agreed to not to pressure Israel into signing the NPT, while the Israeli prime minister agreed her country would not be the first to “introduce” nuclear weapons into the Middle East and not do anything to make their existence public.
Israel’s Dimona nuclear reactor, c. 1968. Image Wikimedia Commons
Also, a specific reason exists, beyond the two states’ history and the Israel lobby why the U.S. continued to turn a blind eye. Borger again.
At a meeting in 1976 that has only recently become public knowledge, the CIA deputy director Carl Duckett informed a dozen officials from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission that the agency suspected some of the fissile fuel in Israel’s bombs was weapons-grade uranium stolen under America’s nose from a processing plant in Pennsylvania.
Not only was an alarming amount of fissile material going missing at the company, Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (Numec), but it had been visited by a veritable who’s-who of Israeli intelligence.
Borger spoke with
… Victor Gilinsky, who was one of the American nuclear officials briefed by Duckett. “It was one of the most glaring cases of diverted nuclear material but the consequences appeared so awful for the people involved and for the US than nobody really wanted to find out what was going on.”
The investigation was shelved and no charges were made.
Avner Cohen, the author of two books on Israel’s bomb, said. … “At the political level, no one wants to deal with it for fear of opening a Pandora’s box. … it could compromise the very basis of the Israeli-US understanding.”
Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.