Israel’s Nuclear Weapons Program

On November 25, Micah Zenko wrote in one of the Foreign Policy blogs (“The Real Nuclear Option”):
“[A]ccording to LexisNexis, since Jan. 1, 2000, ‘Iran’ and ‘nuclear’ appear in New York Times headlines 603 times; ‘Israel’ and ‘nuclear’ appear 21 times.”

I checked this claim as it pertains to Israel.  I used the Nexis database (note that whereas Lexis is the legal side of the database, Nexis is the news side, so there really is no such thing as a “LexisNexis” search) to search all New York Times headlines for the period January 1, 2000 through November 25, 2013 that mentioned both ‘Israel’ and ‘nuclear’ in the headline.

Zenko is partly right: Nexis did generate 21 matches. 
But in substance Zenko is wrong.
Of the 21 matches, no fewer than 10 turned out to be what I regard as false matches—matches in which the headline did indeed mention both ‘Israel’ and ‘nuclear’, but in which the accompanying item was unrelated to Israel’s nuclear program (civilian or military).  For example, “Egyptian Nuclear Engineer Is Charged With Spying for Israel” (April 18, 2007) made no mention of Israel’s nuclear program.  Therefore, to include it in the total is erroneous.  And there are 9 other false matches like this.
Moreover, of the now-remaining 11 true matches, 2 of the headlines were on “World Briefing” items—short blurbs, in other words.  Another 2 headlines were related to Letters to the Editor.  My practice is either to eliminate “World Briefings” and Letters from any carefully constructed final total, or to distinguish among the type of items that wind-up being included—a long front-page article deserves a different weighting than a Letter.  Of course, one doesn’t have to follow my practice.  But I do.  So in my opinion, Zenko’s actual total of 11 true matches could be reduced by 2 (by eliminating the “World Briefings”) or by 4 (by eliminating the “World Briefings” and the Letters).  This would leave us with only 9 or 7 actual true matches, depending on whether we take this additional step.
One last relevant distinction is between those items that mention Israel’s nuclear program (civilian, with no hint of a military dimension) and those that also affirmatively mention Israel’s nuclear weapons program (military), including evasive mentions such as “Israel, the only country in the region believed to have nuclear weapons,” and “For a nation that has never officially acknowledged its nuclear arms capacity….”  Including everything (large or small), here are the 10 items that in my opinion affirmatively mentioned the existence of Israel’s nuclear weapons program under a headline that also mentioned ‘Israel’ and ‘nuclear’ within it:

1. Greg Myre, “In Talks, U.N. Nuclear Chief Says Israel Turns Focus on Iran,” July 8, 2004.  554 words.

2. Greg Myre, “Nuclear Talks End in Israel; Cordial Tone Is Reported,” July 9, 2004.  663 words.

3. Greg Myre, “In a Slip, Israel’s Leader Seems To Confirm Its Nuclear Arsenal,” December 12, 2006.  437 words.

4. David Stout, “Israel’s Nuclear Arsenal Vexed Nixon,” November 29, 2007.  992 words.

5. Reuters, “Israel: Carter Offers Details On Nuclear Arsenal,” May 27, 2008.  125 words.

6. Reuters, “Israel: Plans For 3rd Nuclear Reactor,” March 9, 2010.  87 words.

7. Ethan Bronner, “Vague, Opaque and Ambiguous: Israel’s Hush-Hush Nuclear Policy,” October 14, 2010.  1023 words.

8. One Letter to the Editor, under the common title “Iran’s Nuclear Program: Choices for Israel and the U.S.,” March 2, 2012.  125 words.

9. Two Letters to the Editor, under the common title “Israel, Iran and the Nuclear Challenge,” August 17, 2012.  76 words, 47 words.

10. Harvey Morris, “Netanyahu’s ‘Crazy’ Talk Seen Threatening Israel’s Nuclear Ambiguity,” October 25, 2012.  593 words.

David Peterson
Chicago, USA

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