Carter is not the first high ranking American official to have publicly spoken on Israeli nuclear weapons. That honor goes to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, when he named Israel among a group of nuclear powers which surrounds Iran (Debkafile, 7 December 2006). Days later, Israeli premier Ehud Olmert inadvertently named Israel in a list of nuclear nations more responsible than Iran (Guardian, 12 December 2006).
Vanunu’s disclosures were shocking to the International community and viewed with contempt within Israel. In Israel, it is widely believed, that deterrence is achieved through its policy of nuclear ambiguity. As articulated in his work “Why do States Build Nuclear Weapons? Three Models in Search of a Bomb”, Scott Sagan writes “States will seek to develop nuclear weapons when they face a significant military threat to their security that cannot be met through alternative means” (International Security, 1996). The perpetual fear which Israel has had to live with since its inception has forced for its self-preservation. This has led Israel into taking extraordinary measures to ensure its security, particularly so with nuclear weapons in its neighborhood.
This resulted in, among others, military and covert operations. For example, in 1981, Israel undertook a first of its kind, military operation against a nuclear facility (Osiraq) in Iraq, believed to be a nuclear weapons factory. Suspicions were that the French built nuclear reactor could be easily modified to allow Iraq, to produce up to four nuclear weapons per year. This measure was taken after a number of attempts to sabotage the plant, including damaging plant equipment in France and the assassination of Yahya al-Meshad, a senior Iraqi nuclear scientist (The Atlantic, December 2005).
Even Mordecai Vanunu’s disclosures are viewed by a section of people to be a work of the Israeli secret service Mossad. Mordecai Vanunu was kidnapped by suspected Mossad agents while vacationing in Rome and brought back to Israel to face prosecution for leaking information related to Israeli National Security. Even the Italian public prosecutor Domenico Sica, was not entirely convinced with Vanunu’s story when he was personally interviewed. It was concluded by the Italian prosecution that the entire situation was an elaborate hoax, in order to surreptitiously acknowledge to the world that Israel was a nuclear power. And therefore no Italian law was broken, for there was no kidnap and the investigation was halted (Payne, 1990, pg.182).
Critics argue that the Israeli position vis-à-vis Iran, is one of hypocrisy. It would serve purpose to note the nature of the Israeli nuclear program as compared to the Iranian. The Israeli program is based on a principle of self-preservation and not a quest for regional hegemony. The Iranian nuclear program has been peppered with virulently anti-Israeli rhetoric including outright threats against Israel. In contrast, Israeli actions against suspected nuclear sites have taken great care in ensuring civilian casualties are kept to a minimum. In Osirak for example, planning ensured according to Amos Perlmutter, “The total destruction of the nuclear reactor would in that case be achieved at the lowest risk to human lives” (FAS, September 2004). It should therefore not be surprising that Robert Gates cautioned “If Iran obtains nuclear weapons no one can promise it would not use them against Israel” (Debkafile, December 7, 2006).