Israel: February 4, 2000



Israel held the first public debate on its nuclear weapons on 2 Feb, after an Arab Israeli member of the Knesset threatened to sue in the Supreme Court if he was not allowed to give a speech denouncing his country's nuclear arsenal. Issam Mahoul's speech included several "new facts" about the Israeli arsenal which had been rumored in the past. These included the size of the arsenal (300 weapons) and a claim that Israel's three new German-built submarines would have the capability to fire nuclear-tipped missiles. It remains unclear if Mahoul had actual knowledge of the matters or had assembled a plausible scenario from various leaks and rumors. Jewish members of parliament denounced Mahoul as a traitor and a "spokesman for terrorists" and most of them stormed out of the Knesset chamber. The Israeli government (in the person of Haim Ramon, a cabinet minister) repeated Israel's long-standing position: "Israel will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East". This is generally believed to indicate that Israel has the parts of several (or several hundred) nuclear weapons but keeps them unassembled for safety reasons (as do India and Pakistan; South Africa did so with its now-decommissioned arsenal). Skeptics believe, however, that it refers to the rumored deployment of Russian nuclear weapons to Egypt in 1973. --Stephen V Cole


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