(JTA) — A lawsuit filed in federal court claims that U.S. aid to Israel is illegal under a law passed in the 1970s that prohibits providing assistance to nuclear powers that do not sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Grant Smith, director of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy, who filed the lawsuit Monday in Washington, D.C., District Court, said the United States has given Israel an estimated $234 billion in foreign aid since Congress passed the International Security Assistance and Arms Export Control Act in 1976 with the stipulation regarding countries that did not sign the NPT, according to Courthouse News.
Discussing his Aug. 8 lawsuit in an interview with Court House News, Smith said the litigation has been 10 years in the making.
Though Israel is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Smith noted that it is a known nuclear power and a recipient of U.S. aid. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied possession of nuclear weapons but is widely believed to possess dozens if not hundreds of nuclear warheads.
The U.S. has had a longstanding policy of keeping mum on the existence of Israel’s nuclear weapons program, an open secret that successive U.S. administrations since Gerald Ford’s have refused to publicly acknowledge.
Smith’s lawsuit comes on the eve of a deal that would boost U.S. aid to Israel by between $1 billion and $2 billion per year in the next decade beyond the $3 billion a year it now receives.
In addition to the United States and President Barack Obama, the complaint names as defendants Secretary of State John Kerry, CIA director John Brennan, Defense Secretary Ash Carter, and the secretaries of the Treasury, Energy and Commerce departments.
“Defendants have collectively engaged in a violation of administrative procedure and the Take Care Clause by unlawful failure to act upon facts long in their possession while prohibiting the release of official government information about Israel’s nuclear weapons program, particularly ongoing illicit transfers of nuclear weapons material and technology from the U.S. to Israel,” the 33-page lawsuit states.
To sustain a policy of “nuclear ambiguity” on Israel’s weapons program, Smith says the government uses improper classification and threatens federal employees and researchers with prosecution, fines and imprisonment.
The gag is driven, according to the complaint, by a Department of Energy directive known as WNP-136, Foreign Nuclear Capabilities.
Smith says his digging under the Freedom of Information Act brought a version of the document to light that was “nearly 90 percent redacted.”
“This is an Energy Department directive that demands imprisonment for any federal official or contractor who even mentions that Israel might have a nuclear weapons program,” Smith said in an interview.
In the lawsuit, Smith says foreign aid to Israel violates two amendments of the 1961 Foreign Aid Act, known as the Symington and Glenn amendments, which ban aid to clandestine nuclear powers.
The CIA, White House, State Department and Treasury Department each declined Courthouse News’ request for comment on the lawsuit, the news service reported.