While Israeli officials have maintained 'ambiguity' on the question of
whether Israel has developed a nuclear weapons program, the incoming
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates definitively told a Senate
Committee Thursday that Israel does indeed have a nuclear arsenal, and
that it is the presence of that arsenal that has pushed Iran to try to
develop its own nuclear program.
The Israeli daily, The Jerusalem Post, reported Thursday that they were told by a retired Israeli General that, "Israel is no longer trying to convince anyone that it has no nuclear arsenal", although the official Israeli government line is "no comment" on the issue.
Twenty years ago, Israeli nuclear plant worker Mordechai Vanunu exposed detailed photos to the international press showing the Israeli nuclear program at work. For that act, he was tracked down by Israeli special forces in Europe, and imprisoned in Israel for treason. But despite the overwhelming evidence showing Israel's development and possession of several hundred nuclear warheads, the Israeli government has never openly admitted to having nuclear weapons.
With the possibility of an Iranian nuclear program being developed, the incoming U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates explained the Iranian motivation Thursday by saying, "They are surrounded by powers with nuclear weapons – Pakistan to their east, the Russians to the north, the Israelis to the west and us [US warships] in the Persian Gulf."
Gates is not the first foreign official to have 'outed' Israel's nuclear program in this way. So much evidence exists that Israel has a store of nuclear warheads that the country is widely considered to be a nuclear power. In the mid-1960s, Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol pledged that "Israel will not be the first nation to introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East," all his successors have adhered to this vague policy statement, neither admitting nor denying Israel's nuclear capacity.
By refusing to acknowledge its nuclear arsenal, Israel has been able to avoid signing the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which the declared nuclear powers developed to move toward disarmament and maintain a strategic international balance.