Israel’s Nuclear Program

Most security experts around the world assume Israel has nuclear capabilities, but that’s just it: an assumption. While Israel’s goal of keeping nukes out of the Middle East, particularly Iran, is public knowledge, its methods are shrouded in secrecy — could Israel be behind Stuxnet as well?

Israeli politicians have been keeping silent on the matter for years. 40 years after the Vela Incident, Israel’s policy of “amimut” (or “deliberate ambiguity”) is still perplexing allies and enemies alike. After watching the video, use the prompts below to learn more and get your students thinking.

  • Review
  • Discussion
  • Activities
  • Reflection
  • Further Learning
  1. What is the meaning of “amimut”?
    • Deliberate ambiguity
    • Nationalism
    • Complete denial
    • Deliberate approval
  2. How many nuclear weapons do experts guess Israel has today?
    • Between 1000-2000
    • None
    • Unknown
    • Between 80-400
  3. Which country did Israel work in conjunction with to develop nuclear capabilities?
    • USA
    • France
    • Czechoslovakia
    • Canada
  4. Which Israeli leader told President Kennedy the following: “I can tell you most clearly that we will not introduce nuclear weapons to the region, and certainly we will not be the first.”
    • David Ben Gurion
    • Golda Meir
    • Shimon Peres 
    • Moshe Sharett
  5. What’s the nickname for the desperate situation in which Israel would use nuclear weapons against its enemies?
    • The Samson Option
    • The Moses Option
    • The Saul Option
    • The David Option
  1. What do you think is the rationale behind the policy of “amimut”? Is it a deterrent for Israel’s enemies or a way of avoiding international scrutiny?
  2. In 1981, after destroying Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor, Prime Minister Menachem Begin laid out the “Begin Doctrine” which explains that any hostile country that calls for Israel’s destruction should be prevented from having the means to do so. In a press conference after the attack, Begin said:

    “We chose this moment: now, not later, because later may be too late, perhaps forever. And if we stood by idly, two, three years, at the most four years, and Saddam Hussein would have produced his three, four, five bombs. … Then, this country and this people would have been lost, after the Holocaust. Another Holocaust would have happened in the history of the Jewish people. Never again, never again! Tell your friends, tell anyone you meet, we shall defend our people with all the means at our disposal. We shall not allow any enemy to develop weapons of mass destruction turned against us.”

    The Begin Doctrine was on display again in 2007 when Israel destroyed Syria’s nuclear reactor and has been trying to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons for years. Do you think Israel has the right to prevent other countries from obtaining nuclear weapons if the entire international community assumes Israel already possesses them? Why or why not? Do you identify with Begin’s quote?

  3. Put yourself in the shoes of David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister in the early years of the state. Can you understand his obsession with obtaining nuclear weapons? Why or why not?
  4. How do you think the trauma of the Holocaust influenced Israel’s desire to develop nuclear weapons? Do you think this is still relevant today?
  1. Read about Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli nuclear technician who revealed secret details about Israel’s nuclear program in 1986 to the British press here. Then, debate the following question: Is Mordechai Vanunu a traitor or a peace activist?
  2. List three pros and three cons for the amimut policy. If you were in the Israeli government, is this a policy you would continue or end?
  3. Read the IDF’s Code of Ethics and debate if Israel’s alleged possession of nuclear weapons fits within these values.
  4. Give your students our Kahoot on Israel’s Nuclear Program!

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