In Brief

Israel ‘confirms’ atomic arsenal

The timing of Benjamin Netanyahu’s ‘slip of the tongue’ questioned as Middle East tensions rise

Benjamin Netanyahu appears to have accidently confirmed the existence of Israel’s nuclear arsenal after decades of deliberate ambiguity.

In what Reuters described as “apparent slip of the tongue”, Israel’s prime minister labelled his country a nuclear power before correcting himself “with a bashful nod and an embarrassed smile”.

Updating a weekly cabinet meeting on a new subsea gas pipeline, Netanyahu said “the significance of this project is that we are turning Israel into a nuclear power,”, before quickly correcting himself to say “energy power”.

“Israel is widely believed to have an atomic arsenal but has never confirmed or denied that it has nuclear weapons, maintaining a policy of ambiguity for decades,” says the Daily Mail.

Reuters says it represents “a rare blooper from one of Israel’s most polished politicians”, however its timing raised questions about whether it was as innocent a mistake as it first seemed.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is understood to have briefed Israel ahead of time about their plans to kill Iranian general Qasem Suleimani and while the Jerusalem Post notes that Netanyahu has repeatedly stated “that Israel will not be the first country to introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East”, a reminder of its nuclear capability will not have gone unnoticed.

The Times of Israel cites “foreign reports” which “have put the size of Israel’s nuclear arsenal in the dozens to hundreds of weapons”.

Yahoo News, which describes Israel’s nuclear arsenal as “the worst-kept secret in international relations,” says if Iran “appeared to be on the verge of mating nuclear devices with the systems needed to deliver them, Israel might well consider a preventive nuclear attack”.

“In the case of Iran, we can imagine scenarios in which Israeli planners would no longer deem a conventional attack sufficiently lethal to destroy or delay the Iranian program. In such a scenario, and absent direct intervention from the United States, Israel might well decide to undertake a limited nuclear attack against Iranian facilities” it says.

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