Powell Acknowledges Israeli Nukes

by Eli Clifton

According to hacked emails reviewed by LobeLog, Former Secretary of State Colin Powell acknowledged Israel’s nuclear arsenal, an open secret that U.S. and Israeli politicians typically refuse to acknowledge as part of Israel’s strategy of “nuclear ambiguity.” Powell also rejected assessments that Iran, at the time, was “a year away” from a nuclear weapon.

The emails, released by the hacking group DCLeaks, show Powell discussing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial speech before a joint meeting of Congress with his business partner, Jeffrey Leeds.

Leeds summarizes Netanyahu as having “said all the right things about the president and all the things he has done to help Israel. But basically [he] said this deal sucks, and the implication is that you have to be an idiot not to see it.”

Powell responded that U.S. negotiators can’t get everything they want from a deal. But echoing a point that many Iran hawks have questioned, Powell said that Israel’s nuclear arsenal and rational self-interest make the construction and testing of an Iranian nuclear weapon a highly unlikely policy choice for Iran’s leaders.

Powell wrote:

Negotiators can’t get what he wants. Anyway, Iranians can’t use one if they finally make one. The boys in Tehran know Israel has 200, all targeted on Tehran, and we have thousands. As Akmdinijad (sic) [said], “What would we do with one, polish it?” I have spoken publicly about both nK and Iran. We’ll blow up the only thing they care about—regime survival. Where, how would they even test one?

Israel, which isn’t a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has long maintained ambiguity about the size, and even the existence, of its nuclear weapons program.

Later in the email chain, Powell acknowledged Iran’s right to enrich uranium for nuclear power, said that sanctions alone wouldn’t be enough to “break” Iran, and pointed out that the assessment that Iran could make a dash for the bomb and construct a nuclear weapon within a year was exaggerated.

Powell wrote:

They say, correctly, that they have every right to enrich for energy. Russians helped build a power reactor at Busher. Can’t get enough sanctions to break them. Lots of bs around about their progress. Bibi likes to say “a year away,” as do our intel guys. They say it every years. I ain’t that easy to do.

Powell ultimately supported the nuclear agreement reached by the Obama administration, telling Meet The Press that “It’s a pretty good deal,” on September 6, 2015. In the lead up to his endorsement, Powell had harsh words for foreign policy experts who stayed on the sidelines or opposed the deal.

On August 30, 2015, Powell wrote to Ken Duberstein, President Ronald Reagan’s former chief of staff, who suggested that Powell might refrain from endorsing the deal in a television interview where he would face questions about Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Powell said he could handle the political questions, defended the deal to Duberstein as a “good one for the country,” and blasted Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass and Ret. Gen. David Petraeus for publicly remaining undecided about the agreement. Powell told Duberstein:

The Iran deal is a good one for the country and our alliances. Retired generals and admirals popping off. I have studied it pretty thoroughly…I have done emails before on tv. Have to deal with ISIS. Richard] Haass, Petraeus et all claiming to be undecided. BS, they are just protecting their future options. I don’t have or want any. Baker, Shultz know what’s right, as does Henry. Brent showed some guts.

But even Duberstein, who had urged Powell to avoid a high-profile endorsement of the deal and hasn’t publicly spoken about the deal, couldn’t resist sharing with Powell his assessment of former George W. Bush administration ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton’s fundraising email, which described the nuclear deal as “the single largest global security crisis.”

Duberstein forwarded the email to Powell, adding a succinct message at the top: “Haha! What is he smoking?”

Eli Clifton

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He is a co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Eli previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.



  1. From Desert Shield to Desert Storm, there was a lot of feet in the isle … mis-info and whatnot. But the play by play bombings 24/7, justifying the technologies and expense, it’s no wonder HRC figured it was public.
    (don’t ask me where I read that, but I get it)
    And why tell the world about Seals Team 6?
    I didn’t think that was need to know …but I’m ex-Navy, so ooh-rah-ish.
    Clearly the Navy had an enlistment shortage, but that peace-time showboat, CV-59 was
    just …. over the top.
    That cruise down the Mississippi to Mardi Gras was just…TACKY and $$$.
    Anyways…. working for jerks with really low standards and morals TANKS our income potentials! Our supervisors were from the old Navy where guys running things were losers who chose Navy over PRISON time!

  2. Underpinning the entire reasoning Mr. Powell uses, is that like the USSR, Iran is a deterrable entity. And THAT, from beginning to end, is the central issue, and the essence of this ‘bet’.

    No one can know this, except PERHAPS, Khameinei.

    Clearly, Powell believes Iran is no different from any other nation, that they will respond as Talleyrand, or Metternich.

    Which, of course, is exactly how LBJ thought about Ho Chi Minh, that HE would respond as rationally as a Meany or John L Lewis.

  3. Powell has a lot more penance to do before he saves his soul. But, speaking out against the senseless conservative neo-con and bi-partisan Democrat war dreams against the Iranians. To no profit, a nation that should rightfully be seen as a buffer against Israel, Turkey, and the Saudis! This nuclear deal is a way to slow down that war until we figure out how to stop it. The neo-cons do not sleep, invading Iran is how they can drown US democracy in a bathtub and keep wages low another generation! They will not quit!

  4. We are threatened all the time by Saudi Arabia and Israel and their allies but they say we must put away our Defenses such as missiles
    then we are finished .
    Anyway Israel should know if any bullet from any were be fired to Iran our missiles will be launched to destroy Israel.

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