Israel has 150 nuclear weapons in its arsenal

Israel has 150 nuclear weapons in its arsenal, former US President Jimmy Carter said in remarks published Monday, reported dpa.

His statement, quoted by The Times of London, appeared to be the first time a former US president stated publicly the amount of nuclear warheads Israel supposedly has in its possession.

The Israeli government declined to comment on the statement. "Mr. Carter is responsible for what he says," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokesman, Mark Regev, would only tell Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa. But a former head of Israel's military intelligence, Aharon Zeevi Farkash, denounced Carter's remark as "irresponsible."

Israel has for decades clung to its policy of "nuclear ambiguity," refusing to confirm or deny whether or not it has nuclear weapons. The "deterrence" policy aims at keeping enemy Arab states from attacking Israel.

Israel first began developing a nuclear reactor in its southern desert town of Dimona in the 1950s.

It is unclear if and when it developed its first nuclear weapon and how many of them it has since obtained, but foreign intelligence estimates have commonly put the number at up to 200.

Carter was elected president in 1976 and defeated in his 1980 re- election bid by Ronald Reagan.

Since his presidency, he has over the years become known as a fierce critic of Israel's policies.

According to The Times, Carter made the remark at the Hay-on-Wye festival in Wales, which promotes current affairs books and literature. US officials normally do not address the issue, in line with Israel's policy of nuclear ambiguity.

Carter also told the festival that "my advice to the US would be to start talking to Iran now" to persuade it to drop its nuclear work.

Former Israeli military intelligence head Farkash said Carter's remark was "irresponsible" because they came at a time "when an effort is being made on the global level to try and prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb."

"Apparently, during his latest round in Israel and in the region he was so insulted that he saw it fit to say things which I think are irresponsible," Farkash told Israel Radio.

Carter was given the cold shoulder during his latest visit to Israel in April, because of his declared intention to meet with leaders of the Islamic militant Hamas movement. He was denied entry to Gaza, but met with Hamas leader-in-exile Khaled Mashaal in Damascus after leaving Israel.

The retired Israeli major-general nevertheless downplayed the importance of the statement by the former US president, pointing out Carter "was president a long time ago" and saying "remarks like these have been made before."

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