Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons was reported for the first time by the British Sunday Times on this date in 1986, based on information and photographs leaked by Mordechai Vanunu, a former nuclear technician. Vanunu would be kidnapped in Italy by the Mossad and jailed in Israel for eighteen years, eleven of them in solitary confinement. After his release in 2004, he was frequently rearrested for violating restrictions on his speech and movement. Daniel Ellsberg (of Pentagon Papers fame) has described Vanunu as “the preeminent hero of the nuclear era,” while many Israelis regard him as a traitor for his whistle-blowing. Israel today is thought to possess some 400 nuclear weapons, including a second-strike capability.
“[F]or many states in the world, the idea that we can distinguish between the Israeli bomb, which in the West is seen as legitimate, and the Iranian bomb, which is seen as illegitimate, is losing ground . . . . And that’s why we feel that Israel has to, if not abandon completely this policy which is called opacity, at least modify it.”
—Avner Cohen and Marvin Miller, Foreign Affairs