Looking at the map in the upper-right of this Wikipedia article, I see that Israel is the only country in the category "states presumed to have nuclear weapons":

Israel is also widely known to have nuclear weapons, though it maintains a policy of deliberate ambiguity regarding this (has not acknowledged it), and is not known definitively to have conducted a nuclear test [...] According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute's SIPRI Yearbook of 2014, Israel has approximately 80 nuclear warheads.

All other states mentioned in the legend clearly have nuclear weapons regardless of their adherence to Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Question: Why does Israel prefers to be the only country to maintain ambiguity when it comes to nuclear weapons existence?

  • 3
    Possible duplicate of Why is Israel refusing to let the International Atomic Energy Agency inspect their facilities?
    – user9389
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 15:24
  • 16
    @notstoreboughtdirt - the actual question in the referenced question is: "Why hasn't the U.S. pressured Israel to have their nuclear program inspected and sign the proliferation treaty?" which is substantially different from this one. Also I am asking about the Israel's official position on the matter (single country position), as opposed to the International Atomic Energy Agency not approving the nuclear inspection (multiple votes from multiple countries).
    – Alexei
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 15:36

3 Answers 3


If it doesn't have any:

  • It gets no benefit in denying it has any. If anything it could backfire in a Yes, Minister kind of way - "First rule in politics: never believe anything until it's officially denied."
  • Nor does it get any benefit in boasting that it does - it would get caught naked should the truth ever come out.

If it does have some:

  • It gets no benefit in saying it doesn't, since that would be a lie and they could get called out if the truth came out.
  • Nor does it get any benefit in saying it does, since others already assume it does already.

Put another way, considering the deterrent effect is already in place, there's no good reason to let the world know they have (or don't have) nukes.

(This is different from, say, the three nations with claims over Kashmir: all three made their nuclear might loud and clear to deter the other two from bullying them diplomatically or militarily.)

  • 3
    Three nations having a claim over Kashmir ? Do you mean China does ? Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 15:10
  • 2
    @user5751924 yes en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aksai_Chin
    – user9389
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 15:36
  • 23
    There's some speculation that, if they don't have any, they have progressed far enough that they could have one with a very small break-out time (something on the order of 1 month). If that's true, they are in a weird Schrödinger's nuke position where they could be considered to both have them and not have them at the same time, depending on how you view that.
    – user5155
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 15:49
  • 3
    @user5751924: China has claims on just about all of its neighbors. Whether these claims have serious merit is of course debatable to an outsider (and even more so for the target nations). But China technically does claim a lot of land around them and further. If anything, one of the potential hotspots for future major wars barely registers on anyone's radar and is up North - an ultra-nationalistic China could very well want chunks of Siberia and Manchuria back. Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 17:19
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    I disagree with the analysis here. As you say, the deterrence arises because everybody believes Israel has nuclear weapons. You claim that Israel would neither lose nor gain by denying it had those weapons but that's simply wrong. Any kind of denial would be convincing to some people, and this would diminish the deterrence. Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 17:56

As mentioned here:

By 1969, U.S. Defense Secretary Melvin Laird believed that Israel might have a nuclear weapon that year.[69][70] Later that year, U.S. President Richard Nixon in a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir pressed Israel to "make no visible introduction of nuclear weapons or undertake a nuclear test program", so maintaining a policy of nuclear ambiguity.[71] Before the Yom Kippur War Peres nonetheless wanted Israel to publicly demonstrate its nuclear capability to discourage an Arab attack, and fear of Israeli nuclear weapons may have discouraged Arab military strategy during the war from being as aggressive as it could have been.1

So, Israel would have wanted to declare their nuclear capabilities for the purpose of having a clear deterrence, but it was overruled on that issue by the US. Israel started to become a lot more dependent on the US during that time, so Israel could not ignore the US on that issue. It may be that Israel and the US have made secret agreements about dealing with an existential threat. One can imagine that Israel would be willing to stick to the US demand to remain ambiguous on its nuclear deterrence as long as the US is willing to cater for Israel's defense needs.

  • 2
    This kinda just pushes the ball forward. Why does the US not want them to acknowledge having nuclear weapons?
    – JollyJoker
    Commented Sep 15, 2017 at 7:34
  • 4
    @JollyJoker Because if Israel openly has nuclear weapons, the neighbouring Arab states are more likely to get some of their own, and that gets the proliferation genie out of the bottle.
    – Guy F-W
    Commented Sep 15, 2017 at 9:06

By not officially acknowledging their possession of nuclear weapons, Israel avoids direct confrontation on the subject, and possible sanctions.

By not officially denying their possession, with some evidence that they do have nuclear weapons, developed jointly with the former white government of South Africa, they get the deterrent effect that nuclear weapons have.

One side benefit: The current 'under the covers' approach hasn't motivated any of the Middle East nations that are hostile towards Israel to develop their own nuclear weapons, other than possibly Iran, but they have other reasons for wanting a nuke - the Sunni nations that are hostile towards them.

So Israel gets a sort-of deterrence effect, without scaring their neighbors into doing likewise. In retrospect, that's a very shrewd policy.

  • Libya and Iraq also had nuclear programs, which did not reach the point of being able to deter their enemies.
    – Jasper
    Commented May 31, 2018 at 7:24

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