Shalom focuses on the reciprocal relations between Jerusalem and Washington with regard to Israel's nuclear program. Building on Shalom's and others' research into this topic, Israel's Nuclear Option is the product of an archival search in Israel and elsewhere and is based on original documents, most of which have never been hitherto publicly revealed.
The author depicts the internal political background in the latter part of David Ben-Gurion's prime ministry and correctly directs the reader's attention to developments and upheavals in internal Israeli and U.S. politics. Particularly interesting is the analysis of Levi Eshkol, Ben-Gurion's successor, and how he took advantage of his political weakness to defy U.S. pressure for supervision of Israel's nuclear program. Similarly, the improvement in John Kennedy's political standing helps explain the change in Washington's policy regarding Israel's nuclear initiative—from understanding in 1961 to strong opposition in 1963.
The international context is also explained. Israel's determination to develop nuclear capabilities is presented as a resolute attempt to procure an insurance policy in a very hostile environment. In contrast, Washington comes across as vacillating between different interests, and its unwillingness to offer a security guarantee to Israel was ultimately the main obstacle to the goal of nonproliferation.
The book also improves Eshkol's reputation. The prime minister is seen as a highly talented politician with enormous patience, who exploited his political weakness and the political limits of the United States to avoid acquiescing to U.S. demands—sometimes accompanied by threats—not to build the reactor in Dimona. Moreover, Eshkol succeeded in broadening the foundation of U.S.-Israeli relations, which expanded during his tenure to include the supply of conventional weapons.
Israel's Nuclear Option also presents in-depth the discussions and controversies that arose among Israeli policymakers and intellectuals concerning the nuclear issue, disproving the claim sometimes voiced suggesting a lack of public debate on this critical security issue. (Some go so far as to suggest the government repressed such a debate.) With the benefit of hindsight, Shalom finds that the arguments of those opposed to Israel's development of a nuclear option were proven wrong. Washington did not abandon Israel. Egypt did not initiate a preventive war. Middle Eastern states failed to obtain nuclear weapons from others and did not hurry to develop an independent nuclear capability.
Although the era of Israel's nuclear monopoly in the Middle East may be coming to an end, Shalom is right to assert that this dangerous development did not result from decisions made by Israelis nearly a half-century earlier.