Israel armed itself with the "nuclear option" 40 years ago for use as a last resort should Arab countries threaten its existence, one of the men responsible for the state's nuclear programme said in remarks published on Friday.
"The Israeli nuclear option had a single aim -- to demonstrate to the opposing camp that we had the same capacities as it (for) the day when they will have the nuclear option," said former science minister Yuval Neeman in an interview with the daily Yediot Aharonot.
The Jewish state has never formally acknowledged having nuclear weapons although foreign experts believe it used its desert Dimona reactor to arm itself with some 200 nuclear warheads capable of being carried by medium- or short-range missiles.
Neeman added: "We were convinced that Arab states would not hesitate to make use of the nuclear option against us" once they had atomic bombs.
The former minister, who was also a senior military intelligence officer and a distinguished scientist, said: "Never did we see this option as a way to get results which more conventional methods would have enabled us to attain."
In November 2001, Labour party leader Shimon Peres revealed how France had provided essential help from 1956 for Israel's atomic programme. It was thanks to Paris that Israel was able to build the Dimona nuclear reactor in the Negev desert in the south, without the United States being told about it.
Neeman, who attended the French military academy, lived in France for a considerable time during the two countries' period of close military cooperation.
A former technician at Dimona, Mordechai Vanunu was jailed for 18 years after revealing Israel's nuclear secrets to the British Sunday Times newspaper which published them. Since his release in April 2004, he has been subject to a raft of draconian restrictions.
Israel has never signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which allows international checks on nuclear installations.