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Bennett with Biden in the Oval Office. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney-Pool/Getty

President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett reaffirmed the strategic understandings between the U.S. and Israel regarding Israel’s alleged undeclared military nuclear program during Bennett's White House visit, a senior Israeli official briefed on the meeting tells me.

The big picture: This has become a ritual for every U.S. president since Richard Nixon in their first meeting with the Israeli prime minister.

  • The U.S. commits not to press Israel to join the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or give up its alleged nuclear arsenal, while Israel agrees to maintain its "nuclear ambiguity" and refrain from any nuclear tests or threats of a nuclear strike.
  • Analysts believe Israel has had a military nuclear program since the late 1960s that now includes more than 200 warheads for its long-range Jericho missiles. Israel has never acknowledged any such program and claims it “won’t be the first country to introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East."

Flashback: The strategic understandings were first discussed between Nixon and Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in 1969, at which point the Israeli nuclear capability had crossed the point of no return.

  • Presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Clinton reiterated those oral understandings in their first meetings with their Israeli counterparts.
  • In 1998, during the Wye River peace conference, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked President Bill Clinton to turn the oral understanding to a written document. Clinton agreed and signed a letter committing that the U.S. would allow Israel to retain its “strategic deterrence” capability regardless of any non-proliferation initiative.
  • In 1999, when Ehud Barak replaced Netanyahu, Clinton signed the letter again. So did President George W. Bush when working with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

When Barack Obama assumed office in 2009, Netanyahu's government was concerned he would press Israel on the nuclear issue, but Obama signed the letter during their first meeting in May 2009, the Washington Times reported several months later.

  • Donald Trump signed the letter ahead of his meeting with Netanyahu in February 2017. But according to the New Yorker, Trump's aides hadn't been aware of the understandings or the letter and at that chaotic time, the White House thought the Israelis were blindsiding them.

What they're saying: Bennett and his aides declined to comment on this issue, as did the White House.

Go deeper

Sep 20, 2021 - World

North Korea warns U.S. risks "nuclear arms race" with submarine deal

North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un in 2019. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

North Korea warned of possible "counteraction" if it finds the new U.S. deal to provide nuclear-powered submarines to Australia is a threat to its security, per a statement published by the state-run KCNA news agency Monday.

Details: The North Korean Foreign Ministry statement said both the U.S. security partnership with the U.K. and Australia, known as AUKUS, and the submarine deal were "extremely undesirable and dangerous acts which will upset the strategic balance in the Asia-Pacific region and trigger off a chain of nuclear arms race."

Sep 19, 2021 - World

Israeli forces capture final 2 escaped Palestinian prisoners

An Israeli security forces member on Saturday stands guard at the Gilboa prison in northern Israel, from where the six inmates escaped. Photo: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images

Israeli forces captured the two remaining Palestinian prisoners who tunneled their way out of an Israeli maximum-security prison with four others in a "Shawshank Redemption"-style escape, authorities announced Sunday.

Why it matters: The escape sparked a massive manhunt and turned the prisoners into heroes in the West Bank and Gaza, with Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza threatening an escalation if they were harmed, per Axios' Barak Ravid.

DOJ sues American Airlines, JetBlue to block "unprecedented" alliance

Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Justice Department on Tuesday sued American Airlines and JetBlue to block an "unprecedented series of agreements" that will consolidate the two airlines' operations in Boston and New York City.

Why it matters: The civil antitrust complaint alleges that the planned Northeast Alliance (NEA) "will cause hundreds of millions of dollars in harm to air passengers across the country through higher fares and reduced choice," the DOJ said in a release.