Wednesday, President Biden phoned Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In the official read out of the call, no mention was made of Israel’s nuclear program. As a result, it is unclear if Biden committed to pledging not to press Israel to give up its nuclear weapons or to confirm their existence as long as Israel feels threatened. Israel has demanded every American president since Bill Clinton make this pledge in writing.
In the attached Foreign Policy piece, “Biden Should End U.S. Hypocrisy on Israeli Nukes,” Victor Gilinsky and I argue Biden shouldn’t. Israel has a triad of nuclear-armed missiles, submarines, and bombers and was recently rated the world’s eighth most powerful state, just behind Japan. After the Abraham Accords, Israel is unlikely to be pushed into the sea.
On the other hand, pressure is mounting on Washington to uphold its Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) promise to limit its nuclear forces. Last fall, the United States called on China to abide by this NPT pledge and after extending New START, the Biden Administration announced its desire for China to join in follow-on nuclear reduction talks.
The Administration is currently attempting to engage Iran to renew and fortify the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Yet, it will be difficult to do so credibly without acknowledging Israel’s nuclear arsenal — something currently forbidden by Executive order of anyone holding a US security clearance.
The same also is true of dealing with Egyptian threats to hold the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference hostage if Washington refuses to participate in talks to establish a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East. Meanwhile, Israel is expanding its nuclear activities at Dimona. All of this suggests its time the Biden Administration break with the past and stop indulging Israel’s nuclear demands. Washington pretend Israel has no bombs.
All of this suggests it’s time the Biden Administration break with the past and stop indulging Israel’s nuclear demands.
Feb 19, 2021
AUTHOR: Victor Gilinsky and Henry Sokolski
By Victor Gilinsky and Henry Sokolski
Until Feb. 17, U.S. President Joe Biden had delayed making the usual post-inauguration ceremonial call to the Israeli prime minister. Washington insiders concluded that the apparent cold shoulder meant Biden had not yet signed “the letter,” which Israel routinely demands of U.S. presidents to ensure the United States doesn’t mention Israel’s nuclear weapons when discussing proliferation in the region or pressure the Israeli government to reduce its formidable atomic arsenal.
As described by Adam Entous in a 2018 New Yorker article, every U.S. president since Bill Clinton has, at Israeli insistence, signed a secret letter upon entering office that effectively pledges the United States will not “press the Jewish state to give up its nuclear weapons so long as it continued to face existential threats in the region.” Whatever policy the United States adopts toward Israeli nuclear weapons, it’s time it stopped this demeaning rite.
The consequence for U.S. policy has been that the United States does not press Israel to give up its nuclear weapons—when doing so would have been the only course consistent with U.S. nonproliferation policy. However, Washington actively assists Israel, both diplomatically by quashing discussion of its nuclear weapons in international forums and materially by looking the other way at nuclear-related Israeli violations of law, including some within the United States.
This included pretending in 1979 that what was almost certainly an Israeli nuclear test in the South Indian Ocean, which was observed by a U.S. satellite, didn’t happen. Former President Jimmy Carter’s White House and its successors classified documents and debunked what was known, but the signal evidence is extremely compelling, as we and others have detailed in Foreign Policy.
To read the full article, click here.