YESTERDA'S news that Israel had admitted to possessing nuclear weapons was hardly news at all in one sense; this fact has been known for at least 20 years ago since the London Sunday Times published details revealed by Mordechai Vanunu, a technician at the secret Dimona plant in the Negev desert. The difference yesterday was that the revelation came from prime minister Ehud Olmert during a TV interview when he accused Iran of ”aspiring to have nuclear weapons as America, France, Israel, Russia.” (He apparently had forgotten about Britain.) This is the first open acknowledgement by an Israeli government that the country is a nuclear power; previously Israel has preferred a stance of ”strategic ambiguity” part of which must surely have been its insistence that it would not be the first country to introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle East. The interesting point is not so much what Mr Olmert said but whether it just slipped out or was intentional. His spokesman almost immediately said that Israel's policy ”Had not changed”, suggesting that the prime minister had not intended to give the game away. However, it is surely much better that this pointless pretence is brought to an end. Washington seems to be thinking that way. Last week the new US Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, told a Senate committee that Iran was ”surrounded by nuclear powers, Pakistan to the east, Russia to the north, the Israelis to the west.” Or was that a slip also?


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