LAUSANNE, Switzerland – Last month, the US released documentation from 1987 of its assessment of Israel’s nuclear weapons capabilities, required to do so by law after receiving a request filed under the Freedom of Information Act.
The document, “Critical Technological Assessment in Israel and NATO Nations,” was written by Leading Technologies Inc. for the Institute for Defense Analyses, and commissioned by the US Department of Defense. Its contents are based on visits by US experts, in coordination with the embassy in Tel Aviv and with the guidance of the Pentagon, to facilities and laboratories across Israel.
While Israel has never publicly acknowledged having nuclear weapons, foreign sources say it does. Israel is not a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
This document summarizes in detail Washington’s understanding of the nature and purpose of that program as it stood in the 1980s.
Two of Israel’s nuclear facilities at the time, the Soreq Nuclear Research Center near Yavne and the Negev Nuclear Research Center in Dimona, “are the equivalent of our Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore and Oak Ridge National Laboratories,” the US document reads.
“The Soreq center runs the full nuclear gamut of activities from engineering, administration, and nondestructive testing to electro-optics, pulsed power, process engineering and chemistry and nuclear research and safety,” the paper continues.
“This is the technology base required for nuclear weapons design and fabrication.”
The report goes on to detail Israel’s experimentation with various nuclear fuels, laserbased nuclear weapons detonation devices and the effects of radiation propagation.
While the assessment concluded that, at the time, Israel’s weapons design was “extremely conservative,” it said the Jewish state was experimenting with coding “which will enable them to make hydrogen bombs.”
The document appears to have been categorized as “declassified” upon its submission, suggesting an assessment within the US government that its findings would be low-impact if made public.
That, too, must have been the assessment of the Israeli government in 2014, as it had the opportunity to keep the document secret but declined.
“We did inform the Israeli government of our planned release of the documents and they did not object,” US Army Col. Steven Warren, director of Pentagon press operations, confirmed to The Jerusalem Post.
Upon receiving a Freedom of Information Act request concerning information sensitive to foreign governments, the US informs the relevant partner, giving it the opportunity to formally object.
“The US government was by law required to release the report upon such a FOIA request unless we had a written request from the relevant foreign government – Israel – that the information continue to be withheld,” one senior administration official told the Post on Friday. “Israel did not object to the release of this information.”
Israeli officials declined to comment for this report, neither confirming nor denying concerns over the document, the contents of its assessment or the politics surrounding its release.
While the Freedom of Information Act request was made years ago, the release of the document was first discussed in recent months – in the shadow of debate over Iran’s nuclear weapons work.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has called at the United Nations for a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East, suggesting that his country’s nuclear program may be in response to Israel’s own.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu adamantly opposes a working proposal under discussion here in Switzerland that would aim to cap, restrict, monitor and roll back much of Tehran’s nuclear program for a limited period. The deadline for a framework agreement in those negotiations falls on Tuesday.
Privately, those who acknowledge Israel’s nuclear weapons program tout its effect as a deterrent. Israel’s program is understood to have been developed in the late 1960s, after the young country had already been at war with the forces of eight Arab nations.
The Israeli government fears that Iran’s program serves a different purpose: Not deterrence, but embodiment of aggressive behavior and the protection of a regime that calls for the destruction of the Jewish state.
The Iranian government says its right to develop homegrown nuclear technology – guaranteed by the United Nations – is a point of national pride.
Conservative Israeli and American media, including Fox News, the Drudge Report and The Washington Examiner, have suggested that the timing of the document’s release was an intentional move by the Obama administration to undermine Netanyahu.
The document was indeed released when Israel’s concerns over an Iran deal were first raised at high pitch. The White House considers Netanyahu’s behavior, including his March 3 speech to a joint meeting of Congress attacking Obama’s Iran policy, as disrespectful of the presidency and a politicization of the US-Israel relationship.
US President Barack Obama does not review Freedom of Information Act requests, nor does any president, for unclassified documents.
While Israel has not discussed the document or its release, one official did acknowledge that discussion over the matter began in 2014.