Did the Obama administration declassify documents on Israeli nuclear program?

For decades, the details of Israel’s nuclear defense have remained secret, as has American cooperation with it. According to Arutz Sheva, that changed a month ago, although few noticed it, in a decision to declassify a 1987 report that specifies the US contribution to Israel’s efforts. The Israeli media outlet first reported on this last night, but it hasn’t gained much traction in the US media — yet:


In a development that has largely been missed by mainstream media, the Pentagon early last month quietly declassified a Department of Defense top-secret document detailing Israel’s nuclear program, a highly covert topic that Israel has never formally announced to avoid a regional nuclear arms race, and which the US until now has respected by remaining silent.

But by publishing the declassified document from 1987, the US reportedly breached the silent agreement to keep quiet on Israel’s nuclear powers for the first time ever, detailing the nuclear program in great depth.

If true, is this a victory for transparency? Well, perhaps, but if so it’s an extremely limited victory, according to Ari Yashar and Matt Wanderman:

Another highly suspicious aspect of the document is that while the Pentagon saw fit to declassify sections on Israel’s sensitive nuclear program, it kept sections on Italy, France, West Germany and other NATO countries classified, with those sections blocked out in the document.

The details in the report get very specific about Israel’s program, though:

The report also notes research laboratories in Israel “are equivalent to our Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore and Oak Ridge National Laboratories,” the key labs in developing America’s nuclear arsenal.

Israel’s nuclear infrastructure is “an almost exact parallel of the capability currently existing at our National Laboratories,” it adds.


According to the Arutz Sheva report, the release came from a FOIA request, one that the Pentagon had stalled for some time. The requestor then sued, and a federal court required the Pentagon to respond to the request — but that doesn’t mean that they had to declassify it. FOIA requests can be denied on the basis of national security and to protect international alliances. If this report is accurate, it appears that the Pentagon applied that standard to other US allies, but not to Israel.

I have contacted the Department of Defense to inquire about this release, as well as contacts on Capitol Hill, but have not yet received a response. The Washington Examiner has, however, acquired the same report.

Michael Karpin expresses his “astonishment” at the disclosure for the Forward, not exactly a haven of conservative thought (it hails its own “populist, progressive spirit“). Even though he has written extensively on Israel’s nuclear program, Karpin writes that the revelation can only help Iran in its pursuit of nuclear weapons:

In early February, the Pentagon declassified a 386-page report from 1987, exposing for the first time ever the actual depth of top-secret military cooperation between the United States and Israel — including, amazingly, information about Israel’s unacknowledged nuclear program.

In view of the caustic tension that has increased lately between Washington and Jerusalem, the timing of the publication’s declassification, after a long legal process, might raise a few eyebrows. I have some knowledge about the build-up process of Israel’s nuclear capacity and after reading the report in question I must express my astonishment: I have never seen an official American document disclosing such extensive revelation on subjects that until now were regarded by both administrations as unspeakable secrets. …

Although the report reveals quite a wide compilation of new facts about Israel’s most covert defense industry, to my astonishment its declassification produced no media reverberation whatsoever, not in Israel (except on the Ynet news website), nor in the States. The mainstream Israeli media was probably busy with the dramatic election campaign and in the United States only the progressive weekly magazine, The Nation, and quite a few professional websites and blogs — some of them explicitly anti-Israel — showed any interest.

In the light of Iran’s nuclear talks, the declassification’s timing could prove troublesome for Israel. It makes it much harder to maintain the policy of ambiguity about Israel’s nuclear program and, subsequently, helps Iran’s argument that it shouldn’t be denied its own ambitions.


Karpin’s conclusion certainly gets to the heart of the issue. It seems as if the Obama administration is trying to bolster its efforts at a deal with Iran by drawing an equivalency between Tehran and Jerusalem. If that’s the case, then the White House’s foreign policy is not only utterly feckless, it’s eerily reminiscent of Western failures from a few generations ago, as I write in my column for The Fiscal Times today:

Let’s get this straight. Benjamin Netanyahu, the elected head of government of a US ally, defies Obama on a policy that impacts Israel’s security, then apologizes for it, and yet is considered someone who lacks credibility. However, when the head of state of a nation that has sponsored terrorism for decades openly says, “Death to America,” the Obama administration shrugs off the statement as mere domestic politics and considers him a credible partner for peace.

We are truly through the looking glass with this President.

It has become abundantly clear that Obama wants a deal for the sake of claiming a foreign policy achievement, no matter what the cost, and no matter what it does to our allies, especially Israel. The situation is reminiscent of another confrontation between Western powers and an extremist dictatorship that professed its own destiny to rule the world, and where the dictator even wrote out his plans for world domination and practically begged everyone to read them.

In both cases, Western leaders told themselves that the extremist rhetoric was only intended for domestic consumption. Also in both cases, they treated with contempt their allies whose very existence was threatened by the new hegemon, who kept breaking international agreements and stalling negotiations until the West appeased them by betraying those same allies — even locking their democratic allies out of the negotiations.

At least Neville Chamberlain learned his lesson after Munich, albeit far too late for the Czechoslovakians, Eastern Europe, and millions of Jews.


There is no equivalence between Israel and Iran, not morally, politically, or strategically. Israel developed its defenses because the surrounding nations invaded it not once but multiple times, and wants nothing more than to be left alone. Iran wants to destroy Israel and exert hegemony throughout the region. Israel is a multiparty, multiethnic democracy, while Iran is a theocracy run by Islamist extremists. And yet we’re acting as the air force for Iran while undermining the one democracy in the region that can stand up to the extremists, which seems awfully Munich-ish — and getting more so by the day.

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