Both Israeli and American officials refused to comment Friday on former US Secretary of State Colin Powell’s estimation that Israel has an arsenal of some 200 nuclear weapons, after an email written by Powell to a colleague giving the figure was apparently leaked by Russian hackers earlier this week.
Powell gave the assessment in an email correspondence with US Democratic party donor Jeffrey Leeds on March 3, 2015, the same day that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered his speech to Congress in opposition to the Iranian nuclear deal.
Discussing Netanyahu’s speech, Powell wrote that even if Iran could get an atomic bomb, he doubted the regime would use it because “the boys in Tehran know Israel has 200, all targeted on Tehran, and we have thousands.”
Israel has since the 1950’s maintained a policy of ambiguity related to its nuclear capabilities, neither confirming nor denying whether it possesses a nuclear weapons arsenal.
Itai Bardov, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, on Friday refused to comment on Powell’s email and Israel’s nuclear policy.
US State Department spokesman John Kirby also declined to comment on the issue at a Friday briefing, saying he would not discuss “matters of intelligence.”
“We support the nuclear nonproliferation treaty,” Kirby said.
A spokeswoman for Powell on Friday told the Associated Press that the figure referred to public estimates of Israel’s nuclear arsenal and not classified intelligence.
“Gen. Powell has not been briefed or had any knowledge from U.S. sources on the existence and or size of an Israeli nuclear capability,” the statement said. “He like many people believe that there may be a capability and the number 200 has been speculated upon in open sources.”
“This email was written 10 years after he left government and has not received briefings on classified matters,” it added.
Powell, who also served as White House national security adviser and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would not comment on whether or not he maintained security clearance.