JERUSALEM -- Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel came close to ending four decades of secrecy about the country's nuclear-arms capability, saying in an interview broadcast Friday night that the United States recognizes that his nation needs a credible deterrent to Iran and other hostile countries.
Sharon spoke with Israel's Channel One TV, just two days after whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu ended an 18-year jail term for disclosing details of Israel's nuclear secrets.
"They understand that Israel's existence is still in danger," Sharon said, referring to the United States. "Iran represents an existential threat, one of the existential threats or maybe the main existential threat," he said. "But the recognition of Israel's right -- and of the importance of Israel's ability -- to defend itself, by itself, these things are clearly understood."
Since acquiring a nuclear reactor from France in the 1960s, Israel has maintained a policy of ambiguity, refusing to confirm or deny it has nuclear weapons. But based on information Vanunu gave in a 1986 interview, specialists have concluded Israel has the sixth-largest nuclear arsenal. .
Israel's military censors insist that any reference by Israel-based journalists to the question of the nation's nuclear capacity be attributed to foreign media reports.
"If you read the foreign press you will see that they talk about a whole complex of defensive tools, which Israel needs in its hands," Sharon said.