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The Impact of the 1991 Gulf War on the Nuclear Dimension of US-Israel Relations

Wednesday, October 18, 2023 @ 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm

The history of Israel’s secretive nuclear program has been at the heart of a growing academic field of study in recent years. This corpus of literature demonstrates that Israel’s material nuclear capabilities, and especially the existence of the unsafeguarded Dimona reactor, have been widely and publicly discussed by scholars, politicians, and journalists since the early 1960s, leading scholar Avner Cohen to dub it ‘the worst kept secret’. Juxtaposed with this ‘open secret’, the existence of the clandestine US-Israel understanding of Israel’s nuclear status and US tacit acceptance of it has been kept stringently secret from its inception in 1969 and until November 1991, when it was publicly exposed in the Israeli press. The aim of this paper, a draft of a book chapter, is to outline the dynamics that led the Israeli government, under Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, to publicly disclose it in 1991. Based on recently declassified archival documents from the US, UK, and Israel, the paper outlines how Gulf War developments, the Bush plan, and the events surrounding the 1991 Madrid conference led the Shamir government to fear a ‘Bush push’ to delegitimize the Dimona reactor. This draft chapter is part of a book project which aims to analyze Israel’s regional counter-proliferation policy in the context of its larger, nuclear strategy.

Ori Rabinovich, Visiting Scholar, Freeman Spogli Institute, Stanford University 

 Or (Ori) Rabinowitz, (PhD), a Chevening scholar, is an associate professor at the International Relations Department of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. During the academic year of 2022-2023 she will hold the post of visiting associate professor at Stanford’s CISAC. Her research interests include nuclear proliferation, intelligence studies, and Israeli American relations. Her book, Bargaining on Nuclear Tests was published in April 2014 by Oxford University Press. Her studies were published in leading academic journals, including International Security, Journal of Strategic Studies, and International History Review, as well as op-eds and blog posts in the Washington Post, Foreign Policy and Ha’aretz. She holds a PhD degree awarded by the War Studies Department of King’s College London, an MA degree in Security Studies and an LLB degree in Law, both from Tel-Aviv University. She was awarded numerous awards and grants, including two personal research grants by the Israeli Science Foundation and in 2020 was a member of the Young Academic forum of the Israeli Academy for Sciences and Humanities.  

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297 Goldberg Room
225 Bancroft Way
Berkeley, CA 94720 United States


Hellen Diller Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies

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