In This Review

Israel and the Bomb
Israel and the Bomb
By Avner Cohen
Columbia University Press, 1998, 470 pp.

This meticulous study of the origins of Israel's nuclear program is less interested in war plans than in diplomacy. Since the late 1960s, Israel has enjoyed the curious status of being a nuclear state without having to admit it -- a case of "opaque proliferation," in Cohen's words. The book's strength is its well-researched accounts of the early years of the Israeli nuclear program and U.S.-Israeli diplomacy during that delicate period, when the Israelis sought American support but resisted American pressure to commit to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Cohen, however, fails to conceal his open discontent with Israel's ambiguity about the nuclear question. One could argue just as easily that the policy, which has served Israel well in recent decades, stems from highly unusual political and military constraints. Today, the need to deter the use of weapons of mass destruction by states like Iraq or Iran has understandably made Israel reluctant to give up its nuclear program. The author's lack of sympathy with Israeli statesmen may result from his run-ins with Israel's erratic (and now rather mild) military censorship, to which Cohen devotes much attention in his conclusion. Predictably, the censorship question, rather than the argument's substance, has helped boost the book's publicity more than anything else.