The Knesset Debates Israel's Nuclear Program

March 2000

For the first time in its history, the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, held a discussion of Israel's nuclear program February 2. Issam Mukhul, an Arab member of the communist Hadash Party, spurred debate on the controversial and previously off-limits subject by petitioning the Israeli Supreme Court to allow a hearing in the face of stiff opposition from the Knesset leadership. But before the Supreme Court could rule, the leadership agreed to a very limited public airing of the issue.

The abbreviated debate, which lasted just under one hour, featured loud exchanges between angry parliamentarians who objected to public discussion of the nuclear issue, and Mukhul and other Arab members who strongly criticized the program on environmental and security grounds. Chaim Ramon, the government's minister for Jerusalem affairs, reiterated Israel's long-standing policy that it would not be the first nation to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East.

While neither Israel nor the United States has ever officially acknowledged the existence of an Israeli nuclear weapons program, Israel is widely considered a de facto nuclear weapons state. Estimates of the size and composition of the Israeli arsenal vary from 50 to hundreds of warheads. Israel is not a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It has signed but not ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.