Making a Mockery of the Censor

Ehud Olmert yesterday did the Israeli media a great service. Thanks to him, there is no longer any need to rely on real or bogus "foreign sources" when referring to Israel's nuclear potential - unless the prime minister himself is a foreign source.

For the second time in a week, Olmert made a mockery of the military censor, who threatens the media with trials and fines for merely hinting at what Olmert announced. First he spoke of the possibility that the kidnapped soldiers were not alive. If Chief Military Censor Colonel Sima Vaknin-Gil fails to file a complaint against him to the attorney general this morning, she can close up shop and return to Air Force Intelligence. There is no need to look for hidden motives in Olmert's statement, like a decision to end Israel's policy of ambiguity since the end of the Ben-Gurion era. Olmert was just chatting. Perhaps he preferred to forget, like many Israelis, that he was prime minister, not another commentator, not some politician, but the man sitting at the head of the table at cabinet meetings. Not that anyone in the world suspected until yesterday that Israel did not have nuclear potential. The world's intelligence services claimed as much close to 40 years ago. The Arab states regarded it as a fact. Anwar Sadat explained his choice for peace with Israel with its nuclear power.

Over the years, a series of official confirmations came from administration and Congress sources in Washington. An abundance of formerly classified documents deal with the issue in detail. For example, Prime Minister Golda Meir's conversations with President Richard Nixon in 1969.

Former Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin marked the limits of Israel's nuclear sector in a memo - no testing, no publicity, no threat.

Some 37 years have passed, Rabin became the prime minister who ratified the understandings with President Ford, as did their heirs down to Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, Bill Clinton and George Bush. The world got used to it. Israel was allowed to get on with it as long as it didn't talk about it.

Olmert's statement cleared only a little of the ambiguity. For now it is clear that Israel has nuclear weapons, but no prime minister.