Israel voiced confidence on Tuesday that U.S. President Barack Obama would not challenge its long-standing policy of neither confirming nor denying it has nuclear weapons.
Asked whether Israel was losing U.S. support for its policy of “nuclear ambiguity”, Defence Minister Ehud Barak told Israeli Army Radio: “I don’t believe so. I spoke at length with President Obama about such issues just 10 days ago.”
Barak met Obama and other U.S. officials in Washington against the backdrop of a U.N. review conference in New York of the parties to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which Israel has not signed.
Hoping to win Arab backing for sanctions against Iran, the United States and other permanent U.N. Security Council members called last Wednesday for ways to be found to implement a 1995 initiative that would guarantee nuclear disarmament in a region where Israel is widely assumed to have the only such weapons.
The declaration followed campaigning by Egypt to focus attention, during the non-proliferation conference this month, on Israel, which has set peace with all its neighbours as a precondition for joining the pact.
Barak said Iran and North Korea — not Israel — were the main focus of international non-proliferation efforts.
“There’s nothing to be alarmed about. There is no real threat to the traditional position and understandings between Israel and the United States,” Barak said.
For the past 40 years, the United States has maintained a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy towards an assumed Israeli arsenal that is believed to include some 200 atomic warheads — a grievance and perceived threat among many Arabs and Muslims.
Israel’s strategy of ambiguity has been billed as a way to ward off enemies while avoiding public provocations that could trigger arms races.
Asked in the interview why Israel, which operates a top-secret reactor outside the southern town of Dimona, just doesn’t come out and acknowledge it is a nuclear power, Barak replied: “I think our position is the right one. There is no reason to change it.”
(Writing by Jeffrey Heller and Dan Williams; Editing by Charles Dick)