End of Israeli ‘Nuclear Ambiguity’ Good For Peace

An Israeli-conceived, U.S.-enforced farce masquerading as "grand strategy" is finally dead. For years the Israeli government refused to confirm or deny its nuclear weapons program. The February release of the Israeli section of the Defense Department-commissioned report "Critical Technology Assessment in Israel and Nation Nations" (PDF) killed off the policy while setting off an Internet conflagration last week (the most vicious unfolding over Twitter). At one side of the political spectrum, the document’s release was evidence of "a shocking breach" by the Obama administration and betrayal of Israel by some media outlets for even reporting it. At the other it revealed a "highly successful partnership of American and military science" despite zero evidence the U.S. intended such "Atoms for Peace" gifts as Israel’s Soreq nuclear reactor to be used for anything but peaceful purposes.

The five tragedies of "ambiguity" and benefits to be gained by its demise are only slowly emerging from the rubble.

  1. Ambiguity was premised on presidential fear of the Israel lobby. The history of so-called "ambiguity" is sordid, which is why it was classified for decades. Until the very end, JFK waged a two-front battle against Israel going nuclear and the undue influence of the Israel lobby. Both the LBJ and Nixon administrations considered withholding conventional military aid in order to keep Israel from going nuclear. In the end, fear of Israel’s US lobby, rather than any legitimate US national security concern, was the linchpin of "ambiguity." As recently declassified administration papers put it, fears of a “Zionist campaign to try to undermine“(PDF) Nixon encouraged him to sign America on.

  2. American presidents lied about Israel. As Professor John Mearsheimer once characterized it, the key question to ask about Israel’s opacity policy was, "who are you fooling?" No Middle East national leader or Western elite ever doubted Israel has nuclear weapons. A statistically significant poll last year reveals that the majority of American adults believe Israel has nuclear weapons. Since nobody is actually fooled by so-called, "ambiguity," compliance by US presidents must have been for some other important purposes. Presently, only a few understand how abusive the policy truly was to non-proliferation, taxpayers and the rule of law.

  3. Nonproliferation undermined. The premise of many self-appointed proliferation experts has been that "ambiguity" reduced nuclear proliferation. They point to the fact of Saudi Arabia and Egypt not going nuclear as an outcome of Israel’s not opening flaunting its nuclear arsenal. Yet proliferation did occur, from Israel, and from the US to Israel.

  4. There is credible evidence that Israel offered South Africa’s apartheid regime nuclear weapons and know-how, a harsh blow to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Worse still, by purloining material, technology and know-how from the United States, which then usually abstains from enforcing its own export control laws and the Atomic Energy Act, Israel’s program puts the US in violation of the NNPT.

  5. Skewed information, skewed debate. The US government gags federal workers, under threat of prosecution, from honestly discussing Israel’s nuclear arsenal. In elite media, the current US debate about nuclear proliferation in the Middle East focuses almost entirely on Iran, a non-nuclear weapons holding signatory to the NNPT. Israeli journalists and foreign correspondents in Israel are gagged by military censors from discussing Israel’s nukes. Elite media networks are beholden to the US government policy due to their need to maintain "access" to sources. But journalists also, as reported in the Washington Post, felt the need not to "out friends."

  6. US taxpayers defrauded. Beyond flouting the NNPT, what is the other real reason Israel, its US lobbying organizations like AIPAC, and presidents have been content to promote and maintain an ambiguity policy nobody actually believed in? Money. All US aid to Israel since 1976 has been delivered in direct violation of the Symington and Glenn Amendments to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 which forbids US aid to nuclear states outside NNPT. By publicly pretending it could not "speculate" about or know the status of the arsenal, the presidential ambiguity policy has been used to violate these important nonproliferation laws. The end victim has been the US taxpayer who, adjusting for inflation, shelled out $234 billion in illegal aid to Israel since 1976.

US taxpayers, all 122 million of them, should immediately (or at least before April 15) begin looking for ways to claim their $1,910 average credit for unlawful taxes transferred to nuclear Israel. It is now the Federal government’s problem figuring out how to "claw back" that illegal aid.

The establishment news media, after recognizing its many decades of failure, should now begin asking the real questions. The first and most obvious is, "precisely who does Israel target with its arsenal of hydrogen bombs?" Are such weapons aimed at regional rivals dominated by Israel’s conventional superiority – or more plausibly – coercing major power support for other policies just as dubious and harmful as "ambiguity"?