The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel's Bargain with the Bomb

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Overview

"Israel has made a unique contribution to the nuclear age. It has created---with the tacit support of the United States---a special "bargain" with the bomb. Israel is the only nuclear-armed state that refuses to acknowledge its possession of the bomb, even though its existence is common knowledge throughout the world. It only says that it will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East." "The bomb is Israel's collective unmentionable---the nation's last great taboo. This bargain has a name: in Hebrew, it is called amimut, or opacity. By adhering to the bargain, which was born in a secret deal between Richard Nixon and Golda Meir, Israel has created a code of nuclear conduct that encompasses both governmental policy and societal behavior. The bargain has deemphasized the salience of nuclear weapons, yet it is incompatible with the norms and values of a liberal democracy. It relies on secrecy, violates the public right to know, and undermines the norm of public accountability and oversight, among other offenses. It is also incompatible with emerging international nuclear norms." Author of the critically acclaimed Israel and the Bomb, Avner Cohen offers a bold and original study of this politically explosive subject. Along with a fair appraisal of the bargain's strategic merits, Cohen critiques its undemocratic flaws. Arguing that the bargain has become increasingly anachronistic, he calls for a reform in line with domestic democratic values as well as current international nuclear norms. Most ironic, he believes Iran is imitating Israeli amimut. Cohen concludes with fresh perspectives on Iran, Israel, and the effort toward global disarmament.

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Editorial Reviews

Ethan Bronner
Unlike most critics of Israel's nuclear policy Mr. Cohen supports its decision to build and maintain the bomb. But he says that refusing to acknowledge this arsenal or foster internal discussion about it is now counterproductive…Agree or not—and Mr. Cohen acknowledges that a vast majority in Israel considers opacity a success—this exploration of the issues is thoughtful, measured and deep, and very much worthy of wide consideration.
—The New York Times
New York Times
[Cohen's] exploration of the issues is thoughtful, measured and deep, and very much worthy of wide consideration.

— Ethan Bronner

Haaretz
A brave, provocative, and very important book.

— Bruce Riedel

Samuel Lewis

Cohen's second outstanding book on Israel's nuclear project, and the veil of ambiguity that has swathed it from inception, provides a richly detailed account of its history and a provocative analysis of its future. Cohen shows how Israel's beleaguered national existence and persistent Holocaust memories led to the taboo on any acknowledgment of its nuclear weapons program, which cannot, in his view, any longer serve Israel's interests. This is a splendid work of historical research as well as a thought-provoking challenge for both current and future Israeli and American policymakers.

Morton H. Halperin

This important book should be read by anyone interested in understanding the changes that Israel will need to make in its nuclear program as the world reduces reliance on nuclear weapons. Cohen makes a compelling case for why it is in Israeli's interest to confirm its nuclear weapons program and participate in efforts to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons.

Seymour M. Hersh

Avner Cohen has written the most informed history of Israel's secret drive to get the bomb, and now he has gone further. In The Worst-Kept Secret, he describes and explains Israel's insistence that all talk or writing about its nuclear arsenal be exorcised from public discourse. The nuclear "taboo," as Cohen depicts it, continues unabated today, undermining Israeli democracy at home and its credibility abroad.

Aluf Benn

Cohen's persistent research and numerous books and articles have set the standard in the field and serve as an unrivaled source for anyone interested in Israel's biggest taboo. The Worst-Kept Secret provides a firm factual basis upon which our knowledge about Israel's nuclear program, with its richness of historic detail and personal anecdotes, rests. Moreover, it lays out a wide-ranging theoretical framework for discussing the pros and cons of Israel's amimut policy and its prolonged effect on the country's democracy and governance and its possible future revision. This book will undoubtedly serve as the new benchmark for studying and debating its topic.

New York Times - Ethan Bronner

[Cohen's] exploration of the issues is thoughtful, measured and deep, and very much worthy of wide consideration.

Haaretz - Bruce Riedel

A brave, provocative, and very important book.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231136983
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 10/15/2010
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 7.40 (w) x 11.80 (h) x 1.17 (d)

Meet the Author

Avner Cohen is a senior fellow at the Washington Office of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies. He has published on subjects as varied as nuclear proliferation and nuclear history, political theory, skepticism, and Israeli history. He is the author of Israel and the Bomb and the coeditor of Nuclear Weapons and the Future of Humanity and The Institution of Philosophy.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

Preface

Acknowledgments

Introduction: Amimut as a National Nuclear Bargain

Abbreviations

1 The Birth of Amimut 1

2 The Case for Amimut 34

3 Israel's Nuclear Path: The Key Decisions 56

4 The Infrastructure of Amimut 88

5 The Citizenry: The Taboo Keepers 121

6 The Democratic Cost of Amimut: The Impact on the Citizenry 147

7 The Democratic Cost of Amimut: Governance 171

8 Domestic Reforms 203

9 Iran, the Fissile Materials Cutoff Treaty (FMCT), and Beyond 214

10 Toward a New Bargain 241

Epilogue 259

Notes 265

Bibliography 333

Index 357

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