How Israel Went Nuclear and What That Means for the World

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The Bomb in the Basement tells the fascinating story of how Israel became the Middle East’s only nuclear power and succeeded in keeping its atomic program secret.

As Iran’s nuclear program makes headline news, Israel’s nuclear arsenal remains hidden in the shadows. Israel’s success in keeping its arsenal confidential is due in large part to its calculated refusal to acknowledge its most powerful weapons. From its inception Israel intended its nuclear program to be a weapon of last resort, a bomb in the basement, the silent guarantor of the nation’s existence in the face of hostile neighbors.


The Bomb in the Basement explains how Israel, by far the smallest of the nuclear powers, succeeded in its ambitious effort. David Ben-Gurion saw the need for atomic weapons to offset the numerical superiority of Arab armies at war with Israel. The program relied heavily on French assistance in its early years, until President Charles de Gaulle ended his country’s cooperation. Similarly the financial help of wealthy Jews in North America was crucial to Israel’s success. Since it was exposed by US intelligence, Israel’s nuclear program remained a key issue in the relations between the two countries.

This is a fascinating story of scientists, politicians, spies, and major international personalities who all played a part in an extraordinary undertaking that continues to shape the politics of the world’s most volatile region.


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“In Israel’s eyes – and this has been true of each and every one of its governments over the years, since nuclear capability was attained in the late 1960s – the idea of nuclear weapons in the hands of the enemy is totally unacceptable, because it would immediately wipe out Israel’s deterrent power... There is no chance at all that Israel will reconcile itself to living with a strategic threat posed by the ayatollahs’ regime in Iran, which regularly calls for the destruction of the Jewish state”.

“Almost certainly, when historians look back with the added perspective of another two decades, they will conclude that Israel’s nuclear capability was the decisive element in persuading the Arab world that the Jewish presence in the narrow strip of land at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea was a permanent reality”.

“If the United States had not wanted Israel to have the nuclear option, it is doubtful that Israel would have been able to maintain it. From the early 1960s, all the inhabitants of the White House made it possible for Israel’s nuclear program to progress, as did most of the senior legislators in Congress. On the other hand, the top bureaucrats usually objected to the program, or opposed it outright. But in view of the powerful support of the upper political echelons, officialdom had no chance of eliminating the program, or delaying it”.

“Israel always was careful to meet the conditions set by the United States: It made the purpose of its nuclear capability purely defensive, presenting the world with a display of nuclear ambiguity, and never, even in days of dire emergency, when its leaders feared the country was in existential danger, resorted to warning its enemies that it possessed nuclear weapons; and principally, Israel abstained from carrying out nuclear tests”.

“How is it that Israel actually managed to persuade everyone that it had at its disposal that amorphous entity known as “nuclear capability” and to use it to achieve effective deterrence, without making the rest of the world nervous and compelling it to force Israel to allow inspectors to visit its nuclear installations and threatening it with sanctions, while countries like Iraq and Iran failed to do so?

If Israel decides to launch an operation aimed at destroying the Iranian nuclear program, the man in charge of the preparatory work will be the head of the Mossad, Maj. Gen Meir Dagan. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon assigned him the mission in November 2003... Under Dagan, the Mossad took on a different form and began focusing on two missions:  the war on terror, and thwarting Iran’s nuclear plans, which Dagan described as ‘the gravest existential threat to Israel since the founding of the state.”

“Israel will come to negotiations on arms control and regional disarmament with a set doctrine, conceived by the late Shalhevet Freier. The foundation of the disarmament doctrine conceived by Freier was composed of three principles:
Firstly, Israel opposes the proliferation of nuclear weapons, as it has from the very beginning. Its own acquisition of nuclear capability was a defensive imperative that will fall away when peace is achieved.
Secondly, Israel will give up its nuclear option only when it is proven beyond doubt that peace is an absolute and established fact and it is clear that it no longer needs the ultimate deterrent.
Thirdly, the nuclear demilitarization of the Middle East will be implemented through a regional pact to be reached through negotiations between Israel and each one of the states in the region, and not through joining the Non-Proliferation Treaty”.


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Karpin tells this intriguing story through pithy accounts of the major events and profiles of the key actors, with the scene shifting from Israel to France to Egypt to Washington.” 

George Perkovic, Washington Post, February 19, 2006


“Karpin … provides the most comprehensive and illuminating account of Israel's path and its policy of “strategic ambiguity” about nuclear weapons".

Jacob Heilbrunn, Washington Monthly,
March 2006


“A thrilling narrative with facts and a careful, censor-avoiding detail of Israel's fifty year pursuit of, defense of, use of nuclear weapons capability from Ben-Gurion to Olmert: coldly convincing real-politik.”

John Batchelor,
ABC Radio Network


“Israeli Journalist Karpin’s groundbreaking new book offers an in-depth look at Israel’s acquisition of nuclear arms technology and at the ideology and politics driving it. The stories of the men who played major roles in bringing the bomb to Israel are compelling and finely drawn…This well-researched study is a must.”

Lydia Millet, Publishers Weekly,
November 2005


“Carefully done, and an important resource for observers of the Middle East.”

November 1, 2005 (review 1173)


"This book offers full and careful explanation of historic sequence and background on leaders involved. It is fascinating as the author takes the reader through the convolutions of politics both internal and external to Israel.”

Anne Moise,
The Post & Courier, Charleston, March 26, 2006


"Israeli journalist Michael Karpin explores this policy of ambiguity as he reveals the development of what he calls “the bomb in the basement”—a nuclear option developed as a last resort to an existential threat. “When historians look back,” Karpin asserts, “they will conclude that Israel’s nuclear capability was the decisive element in persuading the Arab world that the Jewish presence in the narrow strip of land at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea was a permanent reality.”

Reform Judaism
, Bonny V. Fetterman,
spring 2007


"Karpin’s The Bomb in the Basement was reviewed by the Israeli military censor, who adds authenticity to his writing. Books about Israel’s nuclear option are not new (about a dozen appear in Karpin’s bibliography), but none traces the history and development of Israel’s atomic bomb capabilities as thoroughly as Karpin’s".

Herb Geduld,
Cleveland Jewish New


"A compelling account of a complicated history, The Bomb in the Basement raises provocative questions about how Israel’s nuclear arsenal may affect not only its own future, but the future of the entire Middle East"., Matt in
January 25, 2007

"The novelty of this account lies in Karpin's ability, as a journalist, to get participants in the project to talk on the record and in its addition of many fascinating details to what was already known".

Lawrence D. Freedman, Foreign Affairs,


“As Karpin asserts with his proven insider’s authority: ‘There is no chance at all that Israel will reconcile itself to living with a strategic threat posed by the ayatollahs' regime in Iran, for example, which regularly calls for the destruction of the Jewish state.’ That decision has already been made, he insists: ‘Clearly Israel would prefer American military intervention – but Israel would not hesitate to take military action.’"           

Max Frankel,
St. Petersburg Times,
January 8, 2006


"This is one of the most intriguing books I have read recently, a history of the nuclear weapons development in Israel written from the Israeli perspective".

Jim Miles,
Palestine Chronicle,
April 5, 2006


"Mr. Karpin is a highly experienced Israeli journalist, and his book demonstrates that he knows the political and security establishment of his country inside out…"
Daniel Johnson,
the New York Sun, January 4, 2006


“The author picks his way carefully but surely through the tangled path of Israel's foreign relations in the 1950s and 1960s, and depicts the tensions within the defense and political establishments caused by Ben-Gurion's commitment to the Dimona project".

Ralph Amelan, Jerusalem Post,
January 26, 2006


"The State of Israel has had a "nuclear option," Karpin writes, since the late Sixties, and a panicked Moshe Dayan was on the verge of unleashing it in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Yet in all the years that Israel has had nuclear weapons it, with the backing of the United States, has never allowed UN inspections or, as Dr. Coles states, signed the NPT".

, posted by sausage,
March 17, 2006


"This book not only updates the story regarding the Yom Kippur War but also explores the characters involved it is a story worth telling again and a brilliant examination of the personalities of Ben-Gurion, Peres and others.

Seth J. Frantzman,
Customers Reviews


"For all those interested in understanding how Israel’s idealistic origins dovetail with its hawkish position in the game of nuclear deterrence and fraught relationship with other countries in the Middle East, this well-researched study is a must-read"., Book Reviews,
January 2006


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ABC Radio Network - February 13, 2006

John Batchelor, host of The John Batchelor Show at speaks with Michael Karpin.

Sunday, November 12, 2007, 10am

Yorktown Jewish Center, Yorktown Heights, Westchester County, NY - "Come hear Michael Karpin one of Israel’s most celebrated television and radio reporters discussing Israel’s nuclear capability and future."

November 4, 2006

Toronto Jewish Book Fair - Opening Night

Michael Karpin speaks about his book: The Bomb in the Basement, How Israel Went Nuclear and What that Means for the World

"Does Israel have nuclear weapons? And if so, why isn't the world pressuring Israel the same way it has pressured Iran or North Korea, to curtail their nuclear program?" Israeli journalist Michael Karpin sought answers to those questions for his book The Bomb in the Basement.

March 7 2006

"Stability may be the last word we think of when we consider the Middle East. One reason is that one of the countries there is already a nuclear power: Israel. We considered how that affects the race for an 'Islamic bomb' and the future of the region with Michael Karpin, author of The Bomb in the Basement: How Israel Went Nuclear and What That Means for the World.

August 11, 2006
Weekend Roundup with Dan Raviv - CBS News
Radio West Wood One, Washington DC
Dan Raviv speaks with Michael Karpin, author of The Bomb in the Basement: How Israel Went Nuclear and What That Means for the World.

The American Enterprise, March 2006's edition

'Will Israel Blast the Iranian Bomb?' / Michael Karpin

The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation's Top Five List of Nuclear Secrets Revealed in 2001:

1. Reports surface about the use of humans as guinea pigs in nuclear experiments from the 1950s to the 1970s.

2. In a documentary, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres goes further than any other Israeli official in confirming that Israel has nuclear capability and discloses for the first time details about Israel's acquisition of nuclear weapons.

3. The UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) admits for the first time partial details of seven politically sensitive accidents involving British nuclear weapon, drawing attention to an institution shrouded in secrecy and cover-up.

4. The French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) admits that Moruroa Atoll is threatened with collapse because of sustained nuclear testing.

5. The Norwegian Radiation Protection Agency (NRPA) reveals that radioactive waste from a nuclear research plant in Norway has been wrongly fed into a town's sewage system for nine years.


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Hardcover, January 2006
Simon & Schuster, New York

Copyright @ 2006 by Michael Karpin

ISBN 978 0 7432 65942

Paperback, January 2007
Simon & Schuster, New York

Copyright @ 2006 by Michael Karpin

ISBN-10: 0743265955

Kindle Edition
File Size: 1731 KB 
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services

Copyright @ 2006 by Michael Karpin


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Regina Ryan is an independent literary agent. Her agency - Regina Ryan Publishing Enterprises – is located in NYC.

Regina Ryan's professional expertise is extraordinary and I appreciate her devotion. Her connections in the industry are outstanding, likewise her openness to the new-media's innovations. Regina's strong editorial background was very useful in helping me develop my projects in the most salable way. Prior to launching her agency, Regina was editor-in-chief of Macmillan Adult Books, the first woman ever to hold that position in a major hardcover publishing house. Before that she was an editor at Alfred A. Knopf Inc. She is a member of the Women's Media Group and the Agents’ Roundtable and a past president and former board member of the American Book Producers Association.

Ryan serves as an agent for authors who write primarily nonfiction for the adult market across a wide variety of topics: History, business, natural history (especially birds), science, the environment, women's issues, parenting, diet and weight loss, psychology, health, fitness and leisure activities including sports, travel, gardening and well-written narrative non-fiction.



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