In a private email exchange last year leaked this week by hackers, former US Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed Israel’s nuclear weapons capability with a friend, saying the country has 200 warheads.
Though Israel is widely believed to have developed nukes decades ago, it has never declared itself to be a nuclear state. The existence of its weapons program is considered classified information by both the Israeli and U.S. governments.
Powell, a retired Army general who has served as White House national security adviser and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told The Associated Press on Friday through a spokeswoman he was referring to public estimates of Israel’s nukes.
The statement said,
‘Gen. Powell has not been briefed or had any knowledge from U.S. sources on the existence and or size of an Israeli nuclear capability.’
‘He like many people believe that there may be a capability and the number 200 has been speculated upon in open sources.’
‘This email was written 10 years after he left government and has not received briefings on classified matters.’
Powell, 79, would not say whether he still retains a security clearance.
In the March 2015 exchange from his personal Gmail account, Powell was discussing a speech that day to a joint session of Congress by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The conservative Israeli leader staunchly opposed the deal then proposed by President Barack Obama to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
Powell wrote to Democratic donor Jeffrey Leeds, a hedge-fund founder who serves on the board of the Colin L. Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership at the City College of New York:
‘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.’
Itai Bardov, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, declined to discuss Powell’s email or his nation’s policy of not commenting on whether it has nuclear weapons.
Asked about the issue at a briefing Friday, State Department spokesman John Kirby also declined to comment. Kirby said:
‘I’m not going to discuss matters of intelligence.
‘We support the nuclear nonproliferation treaty.’