The Washington Post‘s ombudsman, Patrick B. Pexton, writes: Readers periodically ask me some variation on this question: “Why does the press follow every jot and tittle of Iran’s nuclear program, but we never see any stories about Israel’s nuclear weapons capability?”
It’s a fair question. Going back 10 years into Post archives, I could not find any in-depth reporting on Israeli nuclear capabilities, although national security writer Walter Pincus has touched on it many times in his articles and columns.
I spoke with several experts in the nuclear and nonproliferation fields , and they say that the lack of reporting on Israel’s nuclear weapons is real — and frustrating. There are some obvious reasons for this, and others that are not so obvious.
First, Israel refuses to acknowledge publicly that it has nuclear weapons. The U.S. government also officially does not acknowledge the existence of such a program. Israel’s official position, as reiterated by Aaron Sagui, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy here, is that “Israel will not be the first country to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East. Israel supports a Middle East free of all weapons of mass destruction following the attainment of peace.” The “introduce” language is purposefully vague, but experts say it means that Israel will not openly test a weapon or declare publicly that it has one.
According to Avner Cohen, a professor at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California who has written two books about this subject, this formulation was born in the mid-1960s in Israel and was the foundation of a still-secret 1969 agreement between Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and President Richard Nixon, reached when the United States became sure that Israel possessed nuclear bombs.
President John Kennedy vigorously tried to prevent Israel from obtaining the bomb; President Lyndon Johnson did so to a much lesser extent. But once it was a done deal, Nixon and every president since has not pressed Israel to officially disclose its capabilities or to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty. In return, Israel agrees to keep its nuclear weapons unacknowledged and low-profile. [Continue reading…]
Pexton leaves it until the end of his piece to include the most telling statement on this issue and like most journalists who are reluctant to use their own voice to express the truth, he defers to the voice of an expert — in this case, George Perkovich, director of the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who says: “It’s like all things having to do with Israel and the United States. If you want to get ahead, you don’t talk about it; you don’t criticize Israel, you protect Israel. You don’t talk about illegal settlements on the West Bank even though everyone knows they are there.”