The Army has let slip one of the worst-kept secrets in the world -- that Israel has the bomb.
Officially, the United States has a policy of "ambiguity" regarding Israel's nuclear capability. Essentially, it has played a game by which it neither acknowledges nor denies that Israel is a nuclear power.
But a Defense Department study [http://www.jfcom.mil/newslink/storyarchive/2008/JOE2008.pdf] completed last year offers what may be the first time in a unclassified report that Israel is a nuclear power. On page 37 of the U.S. Joint Forces Command report, the Army includes Israel within "a growing arc of nuclear powers running from Israel in the west through an emerging Iran to Pakistan, India, and on to China, North Korea, and Russia in the east."
The single reference is far more than the U.S. usually would state publicly about Israel, even though the world knew Israel to be a nuclear power years before former nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu went public with facts on its weapons program in 1986.
Several years later investigative reporter Seymour Hersh published "The Samson Option," detailing Israel's strategy of massive nuclear retaliation against Arab states in the event it felt its very existence was threatened. Israel's nuclear arsenal has been estimated to range from 200 to 400 warheads.
Yet Israel has refused to confirm or deny it's nuclear capabilities, and the U.S. has gone along with the charade.
As recently as Feb. 9 President Barack Obama ducked the question when asked pointedly by White House correspondent Helen Thomas whether he knew of any country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons. Keeping the blinders on is necessary politically in order to avoid a policy confrontation with Israel.
By law, the U.S. would have to cease providing billions of dollars in foreign aid to Israel if it determined the country had a nuclear weapons program. That's because the so-called Symington Amendment, passed in 1976, bars assistance to countries developing technology for nuclear weapons proliferation.
Given the U.S.'s long history of selective blindness when it comes to Israeli nukes, it's unlikely that the Joint Operating Environment 2008 report compiled by the Army amount to much more than a minor faux pas.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz, in a March 8 article on the report, observed: "It is virtually unheard of for a senior military commander, while in office, to refer to Israel's nuclear status. In December 2006, during his confirmation hearings as Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates referred to Israel as one of the powers seen by Iran as surrounding it with nuclear weapons. But once in office, Gates refused to repeat this allusion to Israel, noting that when he used it he was 'a private citizen.' "