Jimmy Carter says Israel has 150 nuclear weapons, newspaper claims


Published: Monday May 26, 2008

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter says Israel has a nuclear arsenal of 150 weapons. Asked at a news conference at Wales's Hay literary festival on Sunday how a future U.S. president should deal with the Iranian nuclear threat, Carter put the risk in context by listing atomic weapons held globally.

"The U.S. has more than 12,000 nuclear weapons, the Soviet Union (Russia) has about the same, Great Britain and France have several hundred, and Israel has 150 or more. We have a phalanx of enormous weaponry ... not only of enormous weaponry but of rockets to deliver those missiles on a pinpoint accuracy target," he said, according to a transcript of his remarks.

While experts have long maintained Israel has a nuclear arsenal, the Jewish state has refused to confirm or deny it. The Times of London reported Carter's estimate earlier Monday.

Most estimates, many based on evidence leaked in 1986 by Israeli nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu, put the number of Israeli nuclear weapons at between 100 and 200. But other experts have said the number is as low as 60 or as high as 400.

It was unclear from the newspaper's account whether Carter was citing those estimates, offering his own independent assessment or drawing on U.S. intelligence he would have had access to as president.

U.S. officials have generally avoided the issue of Israel's nuclear status, although during a 2006 Senate confirmation hearing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates confirmed that Israel was a nuclear power.

The Times, which did not quote him directly, said Carter made the comment Sunday while at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival on the border between England and Wales. He was discussing Iran, and the difficulty it would have in building a secret nuclear arsenal, when he mentioned the Israeli weapons, the paper said.

Reports on Carter's speech from the BBC, The Guardian and The Western Mail did not mention his estimate of Israel's nuclear stockpile.