The New York Times has had plenty to say about Iran and nuclear ambitions recently—in op-eds, editorials and news stories; in reports on negotiating sessions and in articles about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coming speech to Congress, at which he will raise the alarm about Iran’s ability to produce a bomb.
In all these venues—opinion pieces and news accounts—one element of this story is taken for granted: A nuclear proficient Iran would be a threat and cannot be allowed. As Israeli politician Isaac Herzog wrote in a Times op-ed published this weekend, “If [Iran] goes nuclear, the Middle East will go nuclear, putting world peace itself in jeopardy.”
Yet, in spite of all the words devoted to this issue, a major piece of information is missing: The Middle East has already gone nuclear. Israel has had the bomb since 1967 and is counted as the world’s sixth nuclear state, with a stockpile of weaponry possibly equal to that of France and the United Kingdom.
As Netanyahu warns against nuclear research in Iran and the Times editorial board insists that Iran allow “even more aggressive inspections” by the International Atomic Energy Agency, there is no mention of the fact that Israel has refused to allow any inspections of its advanced nuclear program and refuses even to confirm that it exists.
There is no compelling reason to prevent the Times from writing about Israel’s nukes. The newspaper has already published at least one opinion piece urging more openness on the issue; similar commentary has appeared in other publications, such as The New Yorker; and academic groups have openly issued assessments of Israel’s program.
Israeli scholar Avner Cohen has published two books on the subject (the second is titled The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel’s Bargain with the Bomb). Seymour Hersh, a former member of the Times’ own staff, has written one (The Samson Option), and Israeli journalist Ari Shavit dedicated an entire chapter in his book, My Promised Land, to the creation of Israel’s nuclear facility. Shavit speaks with pride of this accomplishment and notes that his chapter won the approval of Israeli censors.
The Federation of American Scientists states that “the existence of Israeli nuclear weapons is a ‘public secret’ by now due to the declassification of large numbers of formerly highly classified US government documents which show that the United States by 1975 was convinced that Israel had nuclear weapons.”
It is only left to determine just how many nuclear weapons Israel possesses and how it is capable of delivering them. The estimates vary from 80 (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists) to 300 weapons, which can be launched by land, air and sea.
In 2009 Israel and its nukes made the news when the general conference of the IAEA called on Israel to open its facilities to inspection. The Israeli delegate to the conference rejected the request, saying, “Israel will not cooperate in any matter with this resolution.”
In the face of all this, the Times recently published a lead editorial concerning “the protracted nuclear threat from Iran” and how best to contain it. The piece noted that “Iran’s major nuclear installations are already monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency and watched by the United States.”
But, the editorial insisted, this is not enough. Iran must also ratify the IAEA’s “additional protocol” in order to “ensure materials are not diverted to a covert nuclear weapons program.”
A covert nuclear program is precisely what Israel has had since the 1950s, but the Times has nothing to say about it. Moreover, while Israel has refused to sign the nuclear nonproliferation treaty or allow inspections of its program, Iran has done both. It is a signatory to the treaty and allows IAEA visits to its facilities.
Here is Israeli exceptionalism at its irrational worst. The Times has no problem pointing the finger at Iran, which has signed the treaty and allowed inspections, but it shields Israel, which has done neither and is already capable of launching nuclear weapons against its neighbors in the Middle East.
If it chose to report this issue fully, the Times could rely on expert analysis and testimony as evidence, and it could point to the precedence of publications which have “outed” the program in their writings. The information is readily available, but the newspaper prefers to say nothing.
At the least, the Times could say that Israel is “widely believed” to possess nuclear weapons, but it avoids even this construct. As long as Israel refuses to acknowledge its nuclear arsenal in public, The New York Times remains silent as well.
Readers are entitled to a fully informed treatment of the current debate over Iran and nuclear arms in the Middle East, but there is no sign that this will happen anytime soon. The newspaper places its obligations to journalism behind its loyalty to Israel, and readers are the losers in this game—once again.