An independent media site has uncovered documents about Israel’s nuclear weapons programme. They show that the UK government has long believed that Israel possesses an arsenal of nukes. Yet over the years officials have publicly denied this – and in some cases kept information from parliament, and the public.
Israel’s nuclear weapons: decades of covering up
UK investigative news site Declassified UK uncovered files kept in the UK National Archives. They relate to Israel’s nuclear weapons programme. The government released some of them as recently as last year. Declassified UK‘s Phil Miller has written on the cache of documents. You can read the full article here. The information in the files shows UK officials scrabbling to contain information about Israel’s nuclear weapons programme.
For example, as Miller wrote:
a file from 1983 and marked “secret” shows the MoD believed Israel “probably produces enough plutonium for one nuclear weapon per year.” It added: “Thus she may now have a stock of about twenty,” having gone into production in 1964.
A group of British military officers were then told in 1985 by Israeli defence minister (and former PM) Yitzhak Rabin that: “Israel will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons, but she will keep the option in case the Arabs get the bomb.”
A British diplomat in Tel Aviv, Tim Dowse, regarded the second part of Rabin’s comment to be “as close as we are ever likely to come to an explicit confirmation that Israel has a nuclear capability.”
The world’s worst-kept secret
Of course, Israel’s nuclear weapons are one of the world’s worst-kept secrets. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) estimates Israel now has 90 nuclear warheads and is “believed to be modernizing its nuclear arsenal”. While this puts it at the bottom of the table of countries – for a state that claims it doesn’t have any, 90 warheads is damning.
But crucially, Declassified UK and Miller’s work shows just why the UK government has kept quiet about Israel’s nuclear weapons programme. As Miller wrote, one government official in the 1990s:
feared that “openly admitting our suspicions…would do more to undermine the credibility of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty than does the current ambiguity surrounding the status of Israel’s nuclear programme.”
[He] added: “It would also create pressure for action against Israel which would be difficult to satisfy”.
In other words – Israel was considered an ally, so therefore the UK kept quiet. Another official said that:
“the inability of the international community to agree on an effective response would raise a political storm and help legitimise proliferation by other states.”
Moreover, these revelations run contrary to what serving ministers have told parliament over a number of decades – even right up until last year.
Tories: lying for a foreign state?
In February 2022, foreign secretary James Cleverly told MPs that:
Israel has never declared a nuclear weapons programme. The UK Government continues to encourage [Israel and Pakistan] to sign the NPT as Non-Nuclear Weapon States. We continue to monitor all global nuclear developments and will continue to work with international partners to strengthen the non-proliferation regime and advance multilateral nuclear disarmament.
Clearly, Cleverly’s claim reeks of him being utterly disingenuous. However, as Declassified UK has exposed, this has been the approach of successive governments and civil servants for decades. Israel needs to be held to account over its nukes – even more so given its current government’s dangerous far-right agenda.
You can read Declassified UK‘s full article here.
Featured image via Middle East Eye – YouTube
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