Update: The Jerusalem Post reported Saturday that Israel approved of the release of the document about Israel's nuclear program. It quoted U.S. Army Col. Steven Warren, director of the Pentagon press operations, as saying the U.S. "did inform the Israeli government of our planned release of the documents and they did not object."
The Israeli government has declined comment on the matter.
The decision by the Obama administration to declassify sections of a 386-page 1987 report regarding Israel’s covert nuclear weapons program — the first time the U.S. has officially and publicly acknowledged it — has been met with suspicion by Jewish leaders.
“By doing this, it is getting harder and harder to say the U.S. is a strong ally of Israel,” said Mort Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America.
The Obama administration, he said, “wants to harm Israel’s image and distract from the disastrous Iran deal it is on the verge of concluding.”
The release of the documents came after Grant Smith, director of the Institute for Research: Middle East Policy, was stymied in his requests for the report. It was released only after a judge ordered the Pentagon to respond to his request.
Although the report deals also with NATO countries, the sections dealing with France, Germany and Italy have been blacked out and remain classified.
Michael Makovsky, CEO of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, a pro-Israel think-tank that promotes strategic cooperation between the U.S. and Israel, termed the Feb. 12 release of the Israeli portion of the document “highly suspicious.”
The material was released at a time when the Obama administration was attempting to pressure Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cancel his March 3 speech to a joint session of Congress. Netanyahu accepted the invitation from Republican leaders to explain why he believed the U.S. was entering into a “bad deal” with Iran designed to keep it from developing nuclear weapons.
“It seems like the administration wants to equate the Israeli nuclear program with the Iranian program,” Makovsky said. “Part of the campaign is to put Israel in a difficult spot as it makes its case about a dangerous deal with Iran.”
“Why did they decide to release it at this very moment?” Makovsky questioned. “It’s suspicious.”
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said that although “we have a right to be suspicious, I don’t believe it is conspiratorial.”
“We have to be very careful not to overlay everything that happens from now on in the context of the rift between Israel and the United States,” he said. “I think that could only make things worse. … I don’t read into the release an ulterior motive to hurt Israel.”
The fact that Israel possesses nuclear weapons is “an open secret,” Foxman said. “Israeli politicians have told the world this.”
The released Department of Defense report, “Critical Technological Assessment in Israel and NATO Nations,” provides a detailed description of how Israel developed its nuclear infrastructure and research in the 1970s and 1980s. In addition, it reveals alleged details of Israel’s deterrence capabilities and how Israel acquired hydrogen bombs.
Foxman said he is more “disturbed and troubled” that the Obama administration was behind the front page Wall Street Journal story claiming that Israel was spying on the U.S.-Iranian negotiations.
“That is distressing because … it undercuts the trust” between the U.S. and Israel, he said.
“Three Israeli ministers publicly declared that Israel was not spying on the U.S.,” Foxman said. “I hope they [Israel] are spying on Iran, and chances are that part of what they learned is what is going on in the negotiations.”