Prime Minister Ehud Olmert listed Israel among the nations that have nuclear weapons in an interview aired on Monday but his office said the remark was misinterpreted.
Israel has a long-standing policy of ambiguity on nuclear weapons, refusing to confirm or deny whether it has them. But Olmert’s remarks came days after incoming U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in testimony to a Senate committee that Israel was a member of the club of nuclear-armed nations.
The U.S. and Israel suspect Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons. In an interview with a German TV station aired Monday before Olmert arrived in the country, he was asked about Iran’s threat to destroy Israel.
Olmert responded that Israel has never threatened to annihilate anyone and added: “Iran openly, explicitly and publicly threatens to wipe Israel off the map. Can you say that this is the same level, when you are aspiring to have nuclear weapons, as America, France, Israel, Russia?”
Olmert’s office said the quote was taken out of context, noting that in other parts of the interview, Olmert several times refused to confirm that Israel has nuclear weapons. Olmert spoke in English, which is not his first language.
Israel’s policy has always been to declare that it will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East, without confirming or denying it has them.
Foreign experts have concluded that Israel has hundreds of nuclear bombs and is the sixth-largest nuclear weapons power in the world.