Prime Minister Shimon Peres drew widespread criticism from opposition leaders criticism from opposition leaders after he said that Israel would give up its nuclear capability in exchange for regional peace.
In remarks to Israeli newspaper editors last Friday in Tel Aviv, Peres said that Israel would be willing to “give up the atom” if it were able to achieve peace with its Arab neighbors.
“Give me peace, we will give up the nuclear capability. That’s the whole story,” he said.
Peres refused to say whether he was referring specifically to Israeli nuclear weapons – the existence of which Israeli nuclear weapons – the existence of which Israeli officials have refused to confirms or deny.
But he added that Israel wanted to keep its neighbors guessing whether it had nuclear weapons, saying that this in itself served as a deterrent.
“As long as the suspicion itself can serve as a deterrent weapon, let them suspect,” he said.
Opposition leaders, along with some media commentators, criticized Peres for what they said was careless talk, and for going too far to appease the Arabs.
The Likud Party issued a statement saying, “The ease with which Peres volunteers to dismantle Israel’s nuclear potential is additional testimony to his illusion of a new Middle East in which this government is imprisoned.”
Knesset member Rehavam Ze’evi, of the far-right Moledet Party, lashed out at Peres for endangering national security in the face of what he said were ongoing nuclear development programs in Iraq, Iran and Libya.
Egyptian-Israeli tension over the nuclear issue reemerged over the weekend, when Foreign Minister Ehud Barak visited Cairo to meet with Egyptian officials.
During a news conference on Sunday, Barak and Egyptian Foreign Minister Amre Moussa openly sparred over the issue.
Barak, who was in Egypt for discussions about the resumption of peace negotiations with Syria, said that Israel’s potential nuclear arsenal was not relevant to current developments in the region.
Moussa, in turn, said the issue was crucial to the future of the Middle East.
Moussa threatened that Egypt would boycott multilateral talks on regional disarmament and security if Israel’s nuclear program was not included in the agenda, Israel Television reported.
The matter came up despite an agreement reached earlier this year between Egypt and Israel to put the issue aside for at least a year. Eghpt has in the past protested Israel’s refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.