Sullivan wondered why the United States pretends that Israel does not have the bomb and suggests that this denial complicates the issue of Iran’s desire to have a nuclear bomb and adds to the instability of the region.
Stephen Walt, like Sullivan, expresses no objection to Israel having a nuclear arsenal, but argues that past reasons for not coming clean about it are no longer relevant. However, admitting to having the bomb, will undoubtedly complicate Israel and the United States’ attempts to deny Iran the bomb.
Today, one could argue that the Israeli government could reassure its citizens about a possible “existential” threat from Iran by advertising its own far more impressive nuclear capability and reminding its that any Iranian attack on Israel would be an act of national suicide. The problem, of course, is that calling attention to Israel’s existing arsenal weakens the case for opposing Iran’s nuclear programs. And that might be part of the answer to Sullivan’s query: Israel can’t declare that it is a nuclear weapons state when it’s trying to convince the rest of the world that it’s totally illegitimate for Iran to become one too.
In the article, Walt cites Avner Cohen’s Israel and the Bomb as an excellent study of the history of the Israeli nuclear program. Cohen’s forthcoming title Israel’s Bargain with the Bomb: Democracy, Secrecy, and Taboo examines how the secrecy surrounding Israel’s nuclear program undermines the norms and values of liberal democracy while also being inadequate to deal with a nuclear threat from Iran.