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Israel and the Bomb Paperback – October 15, 1999

4.2 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


A scholarly treatise that includes over 1,200 footnotes, yet reads like a novel.... [Cohen] analyzes in rich detail how this policy of 'nuclear opacity' evolved and what made it possible.

(Lawrence Kolb New York Times Book Review)

Israel and the Bomb should be required reading for those interested in nuclear issues in general and in the complexities of the American-Israeli relationship in particular. For American decision makers, the book should serve as an invaluable case-study of how not to deal with future instances of nuclear proliferation

(Michael Rubner Middle East Policy)

This important volume deserves the attention of Middle East scholars and students of foreign policy, nuclear proliferation, and Israeli politics.

(A.R. Norton Choice)

Cohen's work will necessitate the rewriting of Israel's history, wars, international relations, domestic political crises, economy, psychology, national pride--everything will have to be viewed in a different light.

(Tom Segev Ha'aretz)

For anyone interested in the never-ending struggles in the Middle East and life on the edge in the nuclear age, this book is a must-read.

(Miami Herald)

A compelling and comprehensive account of the development of what he calls Israel's doctrine of 'nuclear opacity.'

(Paul C. Warnke, former Assistant Secretary of Defense)

Cohen's book hits nations sensitivity.

(Dan Ephron Washington Times)

... Avner Cohen's book stands in a class of its own. It is the first scholarly study of the history of this project, it is richly documented, and it unveils some of the major mysteries surrounding events by tapping a large body of previously untouched sources.... It can only be assumed that when this national mood of 'nuclear' ignorance changes, Cohen's book will serve as a solid foundation for this debate.

(Uri Bar-Joseph Jewish History)

Cohen has produced another rich historical narrative that functions as a readily accessible page-turner.

(Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs)


This impeccably documented history of the first two decades of the Israeli nuclear program illuminates the complex domestic and international forces that shaped the activity and gives the reader fascinating insight into the thinking of Israeli, French, and U.S. leaders on the uniquely sensitive subject that only a few participants were fully aware of at the time.

(Spurgeon Keeny, President and Executive Director, The Arms Control Association)

This is an extraordinarily important book. Cohen has produced an amazing piece of historical scholarship on a subject deliberately shrouded in clouds of misdirection, for legitimate raisons d'etat, by both Israeli and American governments.

(Samuel W. Lewis, U.S. Ambassador to Israel (1977-1985))

Cohen lays out as fully as now possible the intricate interplay of domestic politics in Tel Aviv/Jerusalem, Paris, and Washington with the diplomatic interaction of the three countries, formal and informal, that shaped the path of Israel's nuclear program. An unmatched and indispensable contribution to understanding our nuclear age, the lessons of Israel and the Bomb have renewed salience in the context of the movement of more nations into the nuclear club.

(Carl Kaysen, former deputy national security advisor to JFK)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 470 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (October 15, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231104839
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231104838
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,204,946 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I am a Senior Fellow at the Washington Office of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) of the Monterey Institute of International Studies. Prior to that appointment I was a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (2009-10). Since 2000 I have been also affiliated with the Center for International and Security Studies (CISSM) at the University of Maryland. I am on J-street Advisory Board and a board member of Daisy Alliance, an NGO based in Atlanta GA.

After undergraduate study at Tel Aviv University in Philosophy and History (1975), I earned his M.A. in Philosophy at York University (1977) and Ph.D. from the Committee on History of Culture of the University of Chicago (1981). I was a member of the philosophy department at Tel Aviv University from 1983 to 1991 and have held various visiting academic positions at a number of American universities. In 2005 I was the Forchheimer Visiting Professor at the Hebrew University. I am now an adjunct professor at the Monterey Institute of International Studies which has become in 2010 the graduate school of Middlebury College,

I was awarded twice the research and writing award of the MacArthur Foundation (1990, 2004). In 2007-08 and 1997-98 I was a Senior Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). I was was co-director of the Project on Nuclear Arms Control in the Middle East at the Security Studies Program at MIT for five years (1990-95).

I am the co-editor (with Stephen Lee) of Nuclear Weapons and the Future of Humanity (Rowman & Allanheld, 1986), The Institution of Philosophy (Open Court, 1989), and the author of The Nuclear Age as Moral History (in Hebrew, 1989. My most recognized book, Israel and the Bomb, was published in 1998 in its English version and in 2000 in its Hebrew version. The Worst Kept Secret: Israel's Bargain with the Bomb, which came out this month by Columbia University Press is my most recent book

I have published dozens of articles and chapters in academic journals and books, as well as over a hundred of op-ed pieces in major newspapers in the United States and Israel.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
A (long) waiting for the latest shipment of books from Amazon has an upside - I'm left to read books purchased in Israeli bookstores, often in Hebrew, and obviously, often about Israel or Israeli politics.
Avner Cohen's "Israel and the Bomb" is such a book, and, despite some structural flaws it is a well written one. The main focus is not really Israel's Weapons of Mass Destruction, but Israel's nuclear policies, particularly vis a vis the United States. This is the story of Israel's responds to US pressure with two similar but distinct strategies, which Cohen designates "Ambiguity" and "Opacity".
In late 1960, the US government came to realize that Israel was constructing in Dimona a large scale nuclear reactor. The uncovering of that Israeli state secret led to various Israeli announcements that Israel had no intention of building Nuclear WMDs. On the 21st of December, 3 days after a New York Times front page story about Israel's Reactor in Dimona, David Ben Gurion made what is still the only Prime Ministerial speech in the Knesset (Israel's parliament) about its Nuclear Policies, stating that the Reactor is meant for peaceful uses only (p.128).
The Eisenhower administration seemed initially unwilling to pressure Israel about its nuclear facilities, but following the exposure it did demand answers about Israel's plans. In a meeting with US Ambassador Ogden R Reid, David Ben Gurion stated that the Plutonium from the reactor will be returned to the manufacturing country, that Israel will allow visits of scientists from friendly countries in the reactor, but not international inspections, and that Israel did not plan to construct a third nuclear reactor. He also denied any intentions to construct a nuclear bomb (pp. 130-133).
When John F.
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Format: Hardcover
For me, as an Israeli, this book is formally contraband, but thanks to amazon.com, I was able to get it. Although it contains no classified material, the Israeli government banned its publication in Israel and the courts chose not to intervene. It is one of the few scholarly books that reads like a detective novel and as an Israeli who lived through the era up to 1970 depicted in the book, I found it fascinating. The description of the fandango danced by Israel, France and the US through the 1950's and 1960's including the original texts of the diplomatic correspondence provides insight into understanding today's configuration as well as that of the past. Cohen's recommendations for future Israeli nuclear policy and his critique of "opacity" should be considered seriously by Israel's policy makers. I think Cohen did us all a great service by writing it and also by showing up the idiocy of the political establishment and its "security" concerns. I also think that it should be translated into Hebrew and made required reading in Israeli civics classes.
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Format: Hardcover
You don't have to be particularly interested in Israel to enjoy this book. What is interesting is that Israel's posture of "nuclear opacity" (as described by the author) is unique in the world. No where has Israel's nuclear policy been studied so extensively, and explained forthrightly. While the showing of arms was conducive to the ambitions of the "great" nuclear powers, Israel had no such ambitions, and thus developed a unique posture. Fascinating for those interested in nuclear policy (for whom I would suggest comparing with South Africa's nuclear program, which was eventually shut down), as well as for those interested in the emergence of Israel.
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Format: Paperback
Cohen has done an admirable job of putting together a history of the diplomacy regarding Israel's decsion to pursue a nuclear weapons capability. And herein lies the problem. This book should really be titled Israel, America, and the Bomb. Most of the book is dedicated to telling the story of Isreaeli/US diplomacy regarding Isreal's facilities at Dimona. Readers expecting to find any information on how Israel went about actually building the bomb, will be disappointed. Nonetheless in an age were most non-fiction reads like warmed over attempts at mimicing Tom Clancy, it was refreshing to read a well researched, well written, and most importantly well footnoted, work on a topic that is seldom written about. All in all, worth reading, but dont expect to find anything out about Israel's weapons capability or strategies for employment.
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Format: Paperback
Interesting account of the secret development of the Israeli atomic bomb, starting in the fifties with the decision of Ben Gurion, and his persistence. One can hardly exempt Israel from the general charges against proliferation, but at least in this instance there is a certain discipline to the endeavor, and, so far, no mad bomber routines. To be sure, Israel is a special case, the factor of deterrence has surely been more than abstraction. And one can only cheer at the destruction of the Iraq reactor.
But this work is interesting for the description of the insidious tactics of 'opacity' in the public discourse of Israel on the subject, that is, the engineered lack of discourse. We invade Iraq to nix the nukes, while Israel simply slipped into half-invisible mode. That is changing now, and the author ponders the future here. Quo vadis?
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