The secret of whether Israel has the nuclear bomb has finally been exposed – after former president Shimon Peres admitted from beyond the grave that he helped develop an atomic weapons programme.
Israeli leaders have always refused to admit having a nuclear arsenal, preferring to keep enemies in doubt.
But in a remarkable interview recorded just before his death last Thursday at the age of 93, the veteran statesman not only confirmed the nuclear capability – but also admitted that he was its architect.
The candid confession follows decades of speculation over whether Israel had managed to build a bomb at its Dimona plant in the Negev desert, which officials insist is used simply for scientific research.
Peres spent much of his 66-year political career campaigning for peace in the region, but he told international interviewer Daphne Barak there was ‘no paradox’ in his position. ‘I wanted first to build the strength, so we can later make peace,’ he said.
‘That is in the briefest way, the clearest way, I can say it. So it was not a contradiction, but a combination. I thought that the fact that we were building it [the nuclear bomb] at that time will stop the danger of the war.’
Peres, one of the founding fathers of Israel in 1948, revealed he persuaded President Ben Gurion to develop a nuclear reactor in 1955, fearing a threat from neighbouring Iran.
‘I believed strongly that Israel needed it,’ he said. ‘Nobody listened to me. But I convinced Ben Gurion; I won his support. Against all, he backed me.’
The interview forms part of a series by Daphne Barak entitled Icons In Their Own Words which also includes talks with Nelson Mandela, Opera singer Andrea Bocelli and John F Kennedy Jr. The documentary will premiere on December 4 and will open the Ca DocuFilm Festival in California. It will air worldwide in 2017.
It is understood, although unconfirmed, that the country’s first bomb was created in 1966.
Speaking in the forthcoming documentary Citizen Shimon, former US National Security adviser Dr Henry Kissinger also confirms he discussed Israel’s nuclear ambitions with Peres, saying he believed ‘this was the way to go to the negotiation table.’
Israeli media are forbidden from reporting on their country’s nuclear ambitions, and politicians refuse to discuss it. Yet external observers estimate that the country has about 80 nuclear weapons.
Peres said ambiguity over the arsenal worked in Israel’s favour, telling Ms Barak: ‘I befriended Amr Moussa, the foreign minister of Egypt. One day he said, “Shimon, we are such good friends.
‘Take me to Dimona – let me see what you are doing there.” I said, “Are you crazy? If I do, you may stop being afraid. I want you to continue being scared.” ’
Ms Barak recorded the ‘unusually emotional’ interviews over the course of a year, the last one four months ago. She said: ‘It was as if he knew this might become his legacy.’