JERUSALEM – Israel has made no secret of the fact that it has a nuclear reactor, which it says it uses for peaceful purposes. But a new television documentary says Israel developed nuclear weapons from French technology acquired in the late 1950s.
While no Israeli official will confirm or deny such reports, the film has not been stopped by Israel's military censor.
It shows a former French Defense Ministry official saying that the head of the French Atomic Energy Commission, Francis Perrin, advised then-Prime Minister Guy Mollet to give Israel a nuclear bomb.
"Francis Perrin called Guy Mollet," says the official, Abel Thomas. "He told him that Israel should be supplied with a nuclear bomb."
Neither Mollet nor Perrin is still alive. Thomas was the chief of political staff for Maurice Bourges-Mounory, France's defense minister at the time.
He said the offer came after Moscow threatened nuclear strikes against France, Israel and Britain for having sent troops into the Sinai peninsula. The deployment came after Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal, which had been owned by British and French businesses.
At the time, France was appreciative of Israel's defense of the French Suez businesses and also sympathetic to the threats facing the Jewish state, following France's own occupation in World War II, the documentary says.
The documentary, previewed by The Associated Press, is to be broadcast in Israel on Sunday. It says France supplied a nuclear reactor and scientists and technicians to set it up in Israel. The French agreed to supply enriched uranium, the documentary says, and cites foreign reports as saying France also supplied a plant for producing plutonium.
Further quoting foreign sources, the documentary says France also sold Israel Mirage jets that had been adapted to carry a nuclear payload.
A French Defense Ministry spokesman in Paris said Friday that he knew nothing about the allegations. He said there would be no comment until ministry officials had seen the documentary.
The film, "A Bomb in the Basement -- Israel's Nuclear Option," marks the first time Israel's nuclear armory has been covered in depth by the Israeli media, which is subject to military censorship, said creator Michael Karpin.
Israel describes its policy as one of "nuclear ambiguity," where it will neither confirm nor deny its nuclear capability but pledges not to be the first in the region to use nuclear weapons.
It says its nuclear plant, at Dimona in the Negev Desert, is for peaceful research and industry.
In the film, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, then deputy defense minister, acknowledges asking "for a nuclear reactor and other things" in his negotiations with the French. But he does not specifically confirm or deny Israel's possession of nuclear weapons.
Mordechai Vanunu, a former technician at Dimona, is serving 18 years in an Israeli prison for giving pictures taken inside the reactor to The Sunday Times of London in 1986.
Based on the photographs, experts concluded Israel had the world's sixth-largest stockpile of nuclear weapons. The CIA estimated more recently that Israel has between 200 and 400 nuclear weapons.
In the documentary, the late Paul C. Warnke, the chief U.S. arms control negotiator at the time, said Washington was opposed to Israel having a nuclear capability because of fears it would force its Arab neighbors to seek one too.
Warnke, who died Wednesday, said that after pressuring Israel, U.S. inspectors were allowed into parts of the Dimona plant but were unable to get a full picture of its activities.
"We inspected Dimona on a couple of occasions, subject to tight Israeli restrictions, but we couldn't really tell," he says in the documentary.
In the film, Karpin quotes foreign sources as saying Israel has prepared to use nuclear weapons three times, the last in 1991 when Iraqi missiles fell in Israel during the Gulf War.
Earlier, he says, Israel was on nuclear alert on the eve of the 1967 Mideast war and during the 1973 war, two days after a surprise Syrian attack on Israel's northern border.