The New Yorker staff writer Adam Entous revealed on June 18 that four sitting U.S. presidents beginning with Bill Clinton signed secret letters agreeing never to publicly discuss Israel’s undeclared nuclear arsenal. According to Entous, President Trump’s aides felt “blindsided” by Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer’s urgent demand to sign a fourth letter. Only a small number of “senior American officials” in the previous three administrations even knew about the existence of such letters. Though said not to specifically mention Israel’s arsenal, Israeli leaders interpret the letters as binding American pledges not to publicly mention Israel’s nuclear weapons or press Israel to sign the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The letters add to growing evidence of a longstanding multifaceted executive and federal agency conspiracy to violate the US Arms Export Control Act on Israel’s behalf.
US Foreign Assistance to Israel Since the Clinton Administration (US Billion)
Source: 2018 GAO report “US Foreign Aid to Israel,” MOU commitments, inflation-adjusted, excludes black budgets.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who has FBI-documented personal connections to Israel’s nuclear weapons program smuggling operations – was particularly concerned about newly-elected president Barack Obama. On February 9, 2009, veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas asked if Obama knew “of any country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons.” Obama dodged answering the question before finally replying that he didn’t “want to speculate.” Speaking in Prague in April, 2009 Obama called for strengthening the NPT. However, by May 2009, Obama yielded to Israeli pressure and signed an updated version of the secret Israeli gag letter, according to Entous. On September 6, 2012 Obama’s Department of Energy, in consultation with the Department of State, issued a secret directive called “Guidance on Release of Information Relating to the Potential for an Israeli Nuclear Capability,” or WNP-136 making it a crime for any US government employee or contractor to publicly communicate any information – even from the public domain – about Israel’s nuclear weapons program.
The Israelis, empowered by their $6.3 billion per year US affinity network, are ever eager to curtail informed public discussion and policymaking about Israel’s nuclear weapons stockpile. Entous notes that Israel already had three nuclear devices by 1967 but does not examine how a country with no infrastructure to produce highly-enriched uranium managed to assemble such weapons. According to CIA and FBI files, Israel colluded with Pennsylvania nuclear processing plant administrators, two connected to Israeli intelligence and three with strong connections to the Zionist Organization of America, to divert enough US government-owned highly-enriched uranium to build several devices in the 1960s. The pillage of NUMEC, a privately-held thinly capitalized Atomic Energy Agency contractor, left behind a toxic mess and hundreds of poisoned, uncompensated victims.
More important than avoiding public knowledge about how Israel built its nuclear program, Israel and its lobby wish to preempt overdue enforcement of the 1976 Symington and Glenn Amendments to the Foreign Assistance Act now embedded in the US Arms Export Control Act. US presidents, upon learning that a non-NPT member is trafficking in nuclear weapons technology and testing nuclear weapons, are supposed to publicly notify Congress and cut off US foreign aid to said country. Israel has not signed the NPT and also continually smuggles nuclear weapons-making technology from the US. The President can comply with the AECA by publicly justifying to Congress why continuing foreign aid to non-NPT signatory proliferators serves the US national interest, as was done in the case of waivers for Pakistan. No president has ever complied with any of provisions of the AECA regarding Israel, including waivers. (PDF)
In May of 2018, the US District Court of Appeals of DC upheld a lower court’s ruling that US citizens have no standing to sue the president and executive agencies complicit in failing to enforce the AECA over the many administrations inflict by improperly withholding information sought through the Freedom of Information Act about Israel’s nuclear weapons program and US policy. In a brief, the US Department of Justice argued that the President has sole authority whether or not to recognize Israel’s nuclear weapons program as fact, stating “The legislative history of the [AECA] statute, moreover, makes clear that Congress intended that ‘the determinations under this section. . . be made by the President…the president’s decision whether or not to make a determination…is the epitome of a discretionary judgment…’” (PDF, page 5 and 6).
Most Americans believe Israel has nuclear weapons and that Congress should factor Israel’s nuclear arsenal into congressional discussions about US foreign aid given to Israel to allegedly maintain its “qualitative military edge.” In polls, Americans consistently say the US gives too much aid to Israel.
Excluding clandestine US aid funneled through black budgets, US presidents and Congress have given an inflation-adjusted sum of $222.8 billion to Israel since the Symington & Glenn Amendments became law in 1976. Since Bill Clinton became the first known US president to sign a secret letter to Israel, inflation-adjusted aid to Israel has grown to $99.9 billion.
Grant F. Smith is the director of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy in Washington and the author of the 2016 book, Big Israel: How Israel’s Lobby moves America now available as an audiobook.