Synopses & Reviews
THE BOMB IN THE BASEMENT
tells the fascinating story of how Israel became the Middle East's only nuclear power and -- unlike Iraq and Iran -- succeeded in keeping its atomic program secret.
Veteran Israeli journalist Michael Karpin explains how Israel, by far the smallest of the nuclear powers, succeeded in its ambitious effort. David Ben-Gurion saw the need for an atomic capability to offset the numerical superiority of Arab armies at war with Israel. The Israeli program relied heavily on French assistance in its early years, until President Charles de Gaulle reduced his country's cooperation. Once it was discovered, Israel's nuclear program cast a shadow over relations between Israel and the United States. The Kennedy administration opposed it, and President Lyndon Johnson approved it only tacitly.
Significant change took place when President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger adopted a new strategy. An Israel that possessed nuclear capability was a more valuable asset to the West than an Israel without such an option. President Nixon ceased to press Israel to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and dropped U.S. surveillance of the Israeli reactor at Dimona. In exchange, Israel committed itself to maintain official ambiguity about its nuclear program. That policy remains in place nearly forty years later. Without American approval and the financial assistance and lobbying of Jews in North America, Israel could not have achieved its nuclear capability.
This is a fascinating story of scientists, politicians, spies, and major international personalities who all played a part in an extraordinary undertaking that continues to shape the politics of the world's most volatile region. Today it remains to be seen whether Israel will permit Iran to build a nuclear bomb and threaten Israel's security.
"[Signature] Reviewed by Lydia MilletUntil recently there were five declared nuclear powers in the world: the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and China. Israel has never admitted to possessing a nuclear arsenal, pursuing a policy of 'ambiguity' and refusing to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but for decades it has been recognized internationally as a nuclear state.Israeli journalist Karpin's groundbreaking new book, following in the wake of a documentary of the same name he made in 2001, offers an in-depth look at Israel's acquisition of nuclear arms technology and at the ideology and politics driving it. The stories of the men who played major roles in bringing the bomb to Israel longtime prime minister David Ben-Gurion, scientist Ernst Bergmann, diplomat and intelligence operative Shalhevet Freier, future Nobel laureate Shimon Peres are compelling and finely drawn. That Israel's technical capacity to produce nuclear weapons should have come through backdoor negotiations with France, rather than from its richer and more powerful American ally, will come as a surprise to many readers not familiar with this complex and intriguing history.Karpin's strength lies in tracing material detail rather than in speculation of a more abstract kind. He avoids exploring the philosophical and moral dimensions of Israel's deployment of nuclear weapons or of its policy of official denial, tending to invoke the horrors of the Holocaust as inspiration for defense of the Jewish state rather than to examine the specific reverberations of the official choice to embrace and hide weapons of mass destruction. The irony that Israel a state created with a very special mission as a utopian refuge for Jews escaping persecution and genocide has chosen to base its security on a weapons system historically used exclusively for the mass killing of civilians is barely examined.This is hardly surprising, since such a discussion could amply fill a second volume; nonetheless, the author's conclusion that achieving the nuclear option, though possibly a 'great mistake,' did have a 'certain justification,' namely the threat of the destruction of Israel by neighboring Arabs, is conceptually underwhelming. Still, for all those interested in understanding how Israel's idealistic origins dovetail with its hawkish position in the game of nuclear deterrence and fraught relationship with other countries in the Middle East, this well-researched study is a must-read. Lydia Millet's most recent novel, Oh Pure and Radiant Heart (Soft Skull), brings atom bomb physicists Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi and Leo Szilard back to life in modern-day Santa Fe." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Karpin presents the untold story of how Israel became the Middle East's only nuclear power, how unlike Iran and Iraq it kept its atomic program secret, and how the Israeli bomb shapes the politics of the world's most volatile region.
Table of Contents
1 A Dreadful Journey
2 The A Team
3 A French Window Opens
4 An Unprecedented Deal"
5 First Nuclear Accident""
6 A Nuclear Complex Grows in the Desert""
7 Dimona Is Uncovered"""
8 De Gaulle Throws a Monkey Wrench in the Works"""
9 The Deception That Worked"""
10 A Mossad Conspiracy
11 The Heir"
12 Cleaning the Stables
13 "We Have the Option"
14 A Secret Compromise
15 The Sadat-Kissinger Axis"
16 Two Scenarios: War (with Iran) or Peace