LONDON – Former President Jimmy Carter caused a stir over the weekend when he claimed that Israel possesses a nuclear arsenal of 150 weapons.
While experts have long maintained Israel has a nuclear arsenal, the Jewish state has refused to confirm or deny it.
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 a report of Carter's comments — made on Sunday and reported Monday in the Times of London — whether the former Democratic president 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 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.
Former Israeli military Intelligence chief retired Maj. Gen. Aharon Ze'evi Farkash warned that Carter's comments could be used by Iran to push its nuclear development.
"[Carter] is not the first and he won't be the last to talk about this," Farkash said in an interview Monday with Israel Radio. "It would seem that in [Carter's] latest visit to the region, he was so hurt [by the political establishment shunning him] that he saw fit to say things which I think weren't that responsible.
"He was a president a long time ago, and these kinds of things could do damage, but on the other hand, it could enhance the deterrent," Farkash said, adding that "some of our 'less good' friends, could use these claims against us."
The Associated Press and Jerusalem Post contributed to this report.