The Columbia University Press website has announced the forthcoming release of a new book by Avner Cohen, best known as the author of Israel and the Bomb (1998). His new work is titled, The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel’s Bargain with the Bomb.

The publisher’s text:

The bomb is Israel’s collective ineffable—the nation’s last taboo. This bargain has a name: in Hebrew, it is called amimut, or opacity. By adhering to the bargain, which was born in a secret deal between Richard Nixon and Golda Meir, Israel creates a code of nuclear conduct that encompasses both governmental policy and societal behavior. The bargain lowers the salience of Israel’s nuclear weapons, yet it also remains incompatible with the norms and values of liberal democracy. It relies on secrecy and opacity. It infringes on the public right to know and negates the notion of public accountability and oversight, among other offenses.

Heavy stuff, but seriously, whoever came up with “collective ineffable” deserves some kind of prize.

This book notice came to mind today after the appearance of an essay by Ari Shavit of Ha’aretz, whose prose has some ineffable qualities of its own. Even if it achieves nothing else, the 2010 NPT RevCon has already sparked some of the more interesting discussions on regional nuclear-free or WMD-free zones in some time, which is perhaps not saying a great deal, but still counts. It’s also brought the subject of opacity back for another round of circumlocutions.

Shavit manages the trick of arguing — before a global audience, no less — that the hush surrounding “Dimona” (a polite code word for the Israeli nuclear arsenal) must be maintained precisely because Dimona is necessary and justified. Dimona protects Israel, he asserts, and the “umbrella of opacity” protects Dimona from a fashionable but empty moralism.

Asked what he thought of all this, Avner Cohen responded:

Nobody can take from Ari Shavit his great rhetorical/writing skills. And perhaps nobody can take from him the crown of being Dimona’s popular defender. I told him that personally not long ago.

I agree with most of this op-ed. And yet, in the end, Ari errs and is mistaken: Defending Dimona is not necessarily the same as defending the anachronistic policy of opacity. The two are not synonymous. Ari confused the two.

And surely Cohen is right that the two issues are distinct. Wherever you come out on the matter, whether opacity is still worth the candle is not the same question as the circumstances under which Israel might close the Dimona complex, or give up “Dimona.”

For Israeli views on disarmament, see Ariel Levite’s recent article in the Washington Quarterly, or the second half of this paper by Shlomo Brom at the Stimson website. Still can’t get enough about nuclear opacity? Here’s some of what’s been at ACW lately on NATO, Japan, and Israel. Richard Nixon sure kept busy with nuclear secrecy in 1969…