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Document Friday: 1974 CIA Estimate Declared,“We believe that Israel already has produced nuclear weapons.”

April 9, 2010

The Israeli Dimona nuclear reactor complex. Photographed by Corona satellite on 11 November 1968.

Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu abruptly announced that he has decided not attend President Obama’s Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, sending Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor in his place.  The Washington Post reported this was due to concern over “Arab criticism of Israel’s undeclared nuclear arsenal.”  Attempting to be topical, I’m reposting this 1974 CIA document in which the Agency declared, “We believe that Israel already has produced nuclear weapons.”

The Special National Intelligence Estimate, “Prospects for Further Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons” was originally obtained and posted by Archive analysts Jeffery Richelson and Bill Burr.  The SNIE was produced after the somewhat unanticipated 1974 Indian “peaceful nuclear explosion” and attempted to estimate the future likelihood that “candidates for the development of nuclear weapons” (including Israel, Taiwan, Japan, Argentina, South Africa, and others) would produce nuclear arsenals.

The CIA stated that it believed Israel had produced nuclear weapons because the Israeli government had acquired “large quantities of uranium, partly by clandestine means,” because of  its efforts in uranium enrichment, and because it had made “a large investment in a costly missile system designed to accommodate nuclear warheads.”

Still, the CIA admitted that an Israeli nuclear arsenal “cannot be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.”  The Agency also wisely projected that Israel would maintain nuclear ambiguity: “We do not expect the Israelis to provide confirmation of widespread suspicions of their capability, either by nuclear testing or by threats of use, short of a grave threat to the nation’s existence.”

It has long been speculated that Israel maintained a nuclear weapons program.  A 1999 Defense Intelligence Agency Report estimated that Israel had 60 to 80 nuclear weapons in 1999 and would have 65 to 85 by 2020.  Israel, like nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

In addition to reporting the CIA’s take on Israel’s nuclear weapons program, this 1974 SNIE also warned of the further “spread of nuclear weapons,” of terrorist theft of weapons or fissile materials, and of the “acquisition of nuclear weapons by non-governmental entities.”  35 years later, these threats remain.  Hopefully, President Obama’s Nuclear Security Summit will make headway confronting them.

  1. bLaKouT permalink
    April 10, 2010 5:38 pm

    Had trouble opening that PDF file… wouldn’t do it for me. I’m wondering if the file is correctly cited. I’d love to read it!

    • Nate Jones permalink
      April 10, 2010 11:54 pm

      It works but is a large file. Try right clicking and “saving as.”

  2. May 13, 2010 11:25 am

    Now it also appears that Iran is attempting to develop nuclear weapons. Not a good direction.

  3. June 11, 2010 6:12 pm

    Note that the CIA’s version of this file (just the summary) on their FOIA website is almost entirely blacked out. Even though the summary (first five pages or so, including the line about Israel, with the exception of one paragraph) has been a matter of public record since it was included as part of Senate hearings in 1978.

    Citation: Hearings before the Committee on Governmental Affairs, United States Senate, 95th Congress, 2nd Session (23, 25, 27, 30 January 1978; 22 February 1978; 22, 28 March 1978), on page 719.


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