The New Yorker published an investigation Monday revealing that President Donald Trump signed a secret letter last year assuring Israel that it won’t be pressured to give up its nuclear weapons as long as it won’t discuss its nuclear arsenal publicly.
According to the investigation, senior Israeli officials visited the White House on February 13, 2017 and asked to discuss a secret letter which basically continues letters signed by previous presidents, declaring that the Americans won’t intervene in Israel’s nuclear arsenal.
Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer tried to get the letter signed by Trump, but according to the New Yorker, the president’s aides felt blindsided by the Israeli request as they knew nothing about the existence of any letters and were confused by the sense of urgency coming from the Israelis.
The Americans had other pressing concerns, like the resignation of then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn over his links to Russia, and they didn’t appreciate feeling as though the Israelis were telling them what to do. “This is our f*ckin’ house," one of the Americans snapped, according to the report.
Eventually, however, Trump signed the letter. He wasn’t the first president to do so. He was preceded by Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Avner Cohen, a nuclear historian and the author of two books on the origins of Israel’s nuclear program, told the New Yorker that in the fall of 1969 Israel’s Prime Minister Golda Meir reached an unwritten understanding with President Nixon that the Israelis would not declare, test, or threaten to use their nuclear weapons, and the Americans would not pressure the Israelis to sign a landmark international nuclear-nonproliferation treaty known as the NPT.
Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan abided by Nixon’s deal, and the American position remained unchanged.
After the Gulf War, in 1991, the Israelis first started to feel as though the unwritten Meir-Nixon arrangement was no longer sufficient, when world powers talked about the possibility of creating a zone in the Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear arms.
According to the investigation, the first iteration of the secret letter was drafted during the Clinton Administration, as part of an agreement for Israel’s participation in the 1998 Wye River negotiations with the Palestinians. According to former officials, President Clinton assured the Jewish state that no future American arms-control initiative would “detract” from Israel’s “deterrent” capabilities, an oblique but clear reference to its nuclear arsenal.
George W. Bush followed Clinton’s lead, signing a similar letter.
In 2009, when Obama took office, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was completely distrustful of him. “With Obama, we were all crazy,” an Israeli official told the New Yorker. That April, Obama delivered a speech in Prague, setting out “America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” His advisers subsequently learned, according to a former US official, “how paranoid Bibi was that Obama was going to try to take away Israel’s nuclear weapons. Of course, that was never our intent.”
A month later, Obama signed an updated version of the letter.