Atomic Research and Development

Atomic Research and Development
   During his tenure as prime minister, David Ben-Gurion suggested that Israel's scientists begin to develop atomic energy as a source of power for a country essentially devoid of natural resources and as a component of broader scientific research. In 1956, it was decided that a research reactor would be established at Nahal Sorek. When the reactor went critical on 16 June 1960, it became a major facility for research and teaching. A second experimental reactor near Dimona became operational in 1964. Israeli scientists established an international reputation for their work in the peaceful uses of atomic energy, but there has been more focus on whether Israel has developed a nuclear weapon for potential use by its defense forces.
   It is generally believed that Israel possesses the scientific and technological know-how, the necessary components and nuclear material, and the capability to develop and deliver a nuclear weapon, but Israel has never confirmed (nor specifically denied) the existence of this weapon. Preferring a policy of "constructive ambiguity," successive Israeli governments have echoed the 24 December 1965 sentiments of Minister for Labor Yigal Allon: "Israel will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East, but it will not be the second either." On 18 May 1966, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol told the Knesset: "Israel has no atomic arms and will not be the first to introduce them onto our region." In May 1969, Prime Minister Golda Meir reiterated, "Israel has no nuclear bomb. Israel has no intention of using nuclear bombs." In 1974, President Ephraim Katzir stated that Israel "has the potential" to build nuclear weapons and could do so "within a reasonable period of time," but on 7 September 1975, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin again said that Israel was "a non-nuclear country" and "it will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the area." On 29 September 1980, Israeli foreign minister Yitzhak Shamir stated in the United Nations General Assembly that "Israel will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Arab-Israel dispute." When India and Pakistan conducted nuclear tests in 1998, the reaction in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office was to reiterate the standard Israeli response to any inquiry about its nuclear program—"We will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East"—and to direct attention to Iran, which is believed to be working on a nuclear weapon.
   In its declared policy, Israel has not categorically renounced nuclear weapons, but neither has it chosen to make a demonstration of its nuclear explosive capability, nor has it developed a demonstrable nuclear armament force. Furthermore, at the 35th session of the UN General Assembly, Israel for the first time joined the consensus vote on assembly Resolution 35/147, entitled "Establishment of a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in the Region of the Middle East." More recently, Israeli officials have tacitly linked the reduction or elimination of their country's conventional and nonconventional weaponry to the reduction or elimination of similar weaponry possessed by Israel's Arab and Muslim neighbors; optimally, this reciprocal reduction would be achieved in the framework of a comprehensive regional peace settlement and be based on transparent means of verifiability. There was the sense that the "nuclear ambiguity" introduced by the construction of the Dimona nuclear reactor in the Negev in the 1950s and 1960s has served Israel well in "creating fear without creating anger," as the policy has been defined, and is in no need of change. Israel's possession of nuclear weapons has been widely suspected for decades, but by refusing to acknowledge them, Israel has spared the United States the need to impose sanctions under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Shimon Peres, who as a young official was instrumental in building Dimona, said in an interview: "We managed to create sufficient suspicion for there to be deterrence without having gotten to a status of clarity which would behoove sanctions against us."

Historical Dictionary of Israel. .

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