The Samson Option: Israel's Nuclear Arsenal and American For

"Science," the Greek word for knowledge, when appended to the word "political," creates what seems like an oxymoron. For who could claim to know politics? More complicated than any game, most people who play it become addicts and die without understanding what they were addicted to. The rest of us suffer under their malpractice as our "leaders." A truer case of the blind leading the blind could not be found. Plumb the depths of confusion here.

The Samson Option: Israel's Nuclear Arsenal and American For

Postby admin » Fri May 26, 2017 5:26 am

The Samson Option: Israel's Nuclear Arsenal and American Foreign Policy
by Seymour M. Hersh
© 1991 by Seymour M. Hersh




For Elizabeth, Matthew, Melissa, and Joshua

Table of Contents:

Inside Cover
Author's Note
1. A Secret Agreement
2. The Scientist
3. The French Connection
4. First Knowledge
5. Internal Wars
6. Going Public
7. Dual Loyalty
8. A Presidential Struggle
9. Years of Pressure
10. The Samson Option
11. Playing the Game
12. The Ambassador
13. An Israeli Decision
14. A Presidential Gift
15. The Tunnel
16. Prelude to War
17. Nuclear Blackmail
18. Injustice
19. The Carter Malaise
20. An Israeli Test
21. Israel's Nuclear Spy
22. An Israeli Asset

Yair Stern considered the Jews' fight against the British to be more important than the world war against the Axis powers. The organization's leaders made a brief attempt in 1940 to broker an agreement with the Third Reich that would permit the illegal passage to Palestine of Jews from Germany and Europe to continue the fight against the British, whose war effort was supported by David Ben-Gurion and even the Irgun, a rival terrorist group that would be taken over by  Menachem Begin in 1943. (Irgun's founder, David Raziel, in fact was serving as a high-ranking officer in British intelligence and wearing a British uniform when he was killed while on a mission in Iraq in 1941.) The Stern group, resisting pressure to fight with the Allies, sought direct negotiations at one point with Otto von Hentig, a representative of the German foreign ministry. Nothing came of it. In his memoirs, von Hentig wrote of meeting with a  Jewish delegation (from Stern) that offered to cooperate with the Nazis and, in essence, go to war against their pro-allied Zionist compatriots, if Hitler guaranteed the post-war independence of Jewish Palestine. Similar talks were held by Stern representatives with Benito Mussolini's Italy, calling on the Italians to provide transit camps and passage for Jewish refugees, as well as arms, in return for the Stern Gang's collaboration in expanding Italy's influence in the Middle East.

-- The Samson Option, by Seymour M. Hersh
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Re: The Samson Option: Israel's Nuclear Arsenal and American

Postby admin » Fri May 26, 2017 5:31 am

Inside Cover

The Samson Option explodes one of the world's most closely guarded secrets -- the secret of Israel's atomic arsenal. It relates, for the first time, the political, diplomatic, and military repercussions that have for decades been concealed from the world.

It is also about America's ability not to see what it does not want to see. All American presidents since John F. Kennedy have turned a blind eye toward Israel's growing nuclear capacity while paying lip service to the goal of nuclear nonproliferation.

In The Samson Option, Seymour M. Hersh, the Pulitzer Prize-winner who wrote the first account of the My Lai massacre in South Vietnam, reveals one of the classic clandestine operations of our time: Israel's spectacular underground nuclear facility in the Negev Desert, where its technicians and scientists began manufacturing nuclear warheads in the late 1960s. It describes the bitter infighting within the Israeli government over the bomb and its huge cost. It tells how the money fur the nuclear program was raised abroad, and how the early technology was acquired with the aid of France. And it shows how and when Israel threatened to use its nuclear power.

The Samson Option reveals many startling events that played a secret and significant role in the history of our times from the early 1960s through the Gulf War:

• How, in the late 1970s, Israel not only stole reconnaissance intelligence from our most secret of satellites, the KH- 11, but used that data to help target the Soviet Union;

• How Jonathan Pollard, the American spy now serving a life sentence in jail, was a key figure in Israel's nuclear program (and how some of Pollard's intelligence was turned over to the Soviet Union at the express direction of Yitzhak Shamir, the Israeli Prime minister);

• How Israel created a false control room at the nuclear reactor at Dimona to give U.S. inspectors the false impression that the facility was solely for research;

• How the Eisenhower administration made a concerted last-ditch effort in December 1960 to force Israel to acknowledge its nuclear ambitions -- and failed;

• How Israel threatened Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon with the use of nuclear weapons on the third day of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, successfully blackmailing the White House to airlift much needed supplies;

• How South Africa cooperated with Israel to create a mysterious 1979 "flash" in the South Atlantic, actually a test of an Israeli-South African nuclear artillery shell;

• How Israel used a top London newspaper editor to help catch Mordecai Vanunu, its nuclear traitor;

• How a prominent American Jewish Democratic party fund-raiser also raised money for the Israeli bomb -- and was able to intervene repeatedly at the White House; and

• How the American intelligence community was finally able to learn what Israel was doing at Dimona -- though it was understood that no one's career would be enhanced by providing such intelligence to the White House.

The Samson Option is ultimately a narrative of how the bomb influenced the diplomatic relations between Israel and America far more than was seen or understood by the press and the public. It shows that, in every sense, Israel was born a nuclear power. Since its founding, some of its leaders, including David Ben-Gurion and Ernst David Bergmann -- the little-known scientist who was the father of the Israeli bomb -- were determined that no future enemy would be able to carry out another Holocaust. Just as Samson brought down the temple and killed himself along with his enemies, so would Israel destroy those who sought its destruction.

The message of The Samson Option is stark: The next Middle East war might very well be nuclear.


SEYMOUR M. HERSH was born in Chicago in 1937 and graduated from the University of Chicago. He began his newspaper career in that city as a police reporter. After army service, he joined United Press International and then the Associated Press. He served as press secretary and speech writer for Senator Eugene H. McCarthy in the 1968 New Hampshire Democratic primary campaign. In 1969, as a free-lance journalist, Mr. Hersh wrote the first account of the My Lai massacre in South Vietnam. He worked for the New York Times in Washington and New York for seven years until his resignation in 1979 to write a book about Henry Kissinger. He has twice rejoined the Times on special assignment.

Mr. Hersh has won more than a dozen major journalism prizes, including the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting, George Polk Awards, Sigma Delta Chi Distinguished Service Awards, the Worth Bingham Prize, the Drew Pearson Award, the John Peter Zenger Freedom of the Press Award, and the Sidney Hillman Foundation Award. He is also the recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Award for The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House.

He lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife and three children.

About the Author

SEYMOUR M. HERSH was born in Chicago in 1937 and graduated from the University of Chicago. He began his newspaper career as a police reporter for the City News Bureau in Chicago. After Army service, he was hired by United Press International in Pierre, South Dakota. In 1963 he joined the Associated Press in Chicago and in 1965 went to Washington for the AP to cover the Pentagon. He served as press secretary and speechwriter for Senator Eugene H. McCarthy in the famed "Children's Crusade" -- the 1968 New Hampshire Democratic primary campaign against Lyndon Johnson. In 1969, as a free-lance journalist, Mr. Hersh wrote the first account of the My Lai massacre in South Vietnam, distributing five newspaper stories on the atrocity through Dispatch News Service. He was hired by the New York Times in 1972 and worked out of Washington and New York until his resignation in 1979 to write The Price of Power. In 1986, he rejoined the Times's Washington bureau to write a series of critical articles about Panama's Manuel Noriega. He again joined the Times in Washington in September 1991, on a special assignment.

Mr. Hersh has won more than a dozen major journalism prizes. For his account of the My Lai massacre he earned the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting, the George Polk Award, the Sigma Delta Chi Distinguished Service Award, and the Worth Bingham Prize. For his reporting on the secret B-52 bombing of Cambodia, he was accorded the Roy M. Howard Public Service Award and a second Polk Award in 1974. The next year he won the Drew Pearson Award, the John Peter Zenger Freedom of the Press Award, the Sidney Hillman Foundation Award, and a third Polk Award for his stories on the CIA and Chile and on CIA domestic spying. In 1981 he received a second Sigma Delta Chi Award and his fourth Polk Award for two articles in the New York Times Magazine on the involvement of former CIA agents in arms sales to Libya. He is also the recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Award for The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House.

Mr. Hersh's previous books are Chemical and Biological Warfare: America's Hidden Arsenal; My Lai 4: A Report on the Massacre and Its Aftermath; Cover-up: The Army's Secret Investigation of the Massacre of My Lai; The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House; and "The Target Is Destroyed": What Really Happened to Flight 007 and What America Knew About It. His articles have appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, the New York Times Magazine, and the New Republic. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife and three children.
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Re: The Samson Option: Israel's Nuclear Arsenal and American

Postby admin » Fri May 26, 2017 5:33 am

Author's Note

This is a book about how Israel became a nuclear power in secret. It also tells how that secret was shared, sanctioned, and, at times, willfully ignored by the top political and military officials of the United States since the Eisenhower years.

In it, you will find many senior American officials being quoted -- most of them for the first time -- about what they knew and when they knew it. These officials spoke to me not because of animosity toward the Israeli government, but because they realized the hypocrisy of the American policy of publicly pretending that Israel's nuclear arsenal does not exist. That policy remains in effect as this is written.

I chose not to go to Israel while doing research for this book. For one thing, those Israelis who were willing to talk to me were far more accessible and open when interviewed in Washington, New York, or, in some cases, Europe. Furthermore, Israel subjects all journalists, domestic and foreign, to censorship. Under Israeli rules, all material produced by journalists in Israel must be submitted to military censors, who have the right to make changes and deletions if they perceive a threat to Israeli national security. I could not, for obvious reasons, submit to Israeli censorship. Those in the past who have broken the rules have been refused reentry to Israel.

Those Israelis who talked were not critics of Israel's nuclear capability, nor would they feel secure without the bomb. They spoke because they believe that a full and open discussion of the Israeli nuclear arsenal -- and of the consequences of its deployment -- is essential in a democratic society.

August 1991
Washington, D.C.
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Re: The Samson Option: Israel's Nuclear Arsenal and American

Postby admin » Fri May 26, 2017 5:38 am

Chapter 1: A Secret Agreement

America's most important military secret in 1979 was in orbit, whirling effortlessly around the world every ninety-six minutes, taking uncanny and invaluable reconnaissance photographs of all that lay hundreds of miles below. The satellite, known as KH-11, was an astonishing leap in technology: its images were capable of being digitally relayed to ground stations where they were picked up-in "real time"-for instant analysis by the intelligence community. There would be no more Pearl Harbors.

The first KH-11 had been launched on December 19, 1976, after Jimmy Carter's defeat of President Gerald R. Ford in the November elections. The Carter administration followed Ford's precedent by tightly restricting access to the high- quality imagery: even Great Britain, America's closest ally in the intelligence world, was limited to seeing photographs on a case-by-case basis.

The intensive security system was given a jolt in March 1979, when President Carter decided to provide Israel with KH- 11 photographs. The agreement gave Israel access to any satellite intelligence dealing with troop movements or other potentially threatening activities as deep as one hundred miles inside the borders of neighboring Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and Jordan. The Israelis were to get the real thing: the raw and spectacular first-generation imagery as captured by the KH-11, some of it three-dimensional-and not the deliberately fuzzed and dulled photographs that were invariably distributed by the American intelligence community to the bureaucracy and to overseas allies in an effort to shield the superb resolution of the KH-11's optics. [1]

It was a significant triumph for the Israeli government, which had been seeking access to the KH-11 since the moment of launch three years before. Jimmy Carter's decision to provide that high-tech imagery was suspected by some American intelligence officials as being a reward for Prime Minister Menachem Begin's successful Camp David summit with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat the year before. These officials understood what many in the White House did not: adding an Israeli dimension to the system was a major commitment-and one that would interfere with the KH-11's ability to collect the intelligence its managers wanted. The KH-11 was the most important advance of its time, explained a former official of the National Security Agency (NSA), the unit responsible for all communications intelligence, and every military and civilian intelligence agency in the government seemed to have an urgent requirement for it. The goal of the KH-11's managers was to carefully plan and "prioritize" the satellite's schedule to get it to the right place at the right time, while avoiding any abrupt shifts in its flight path or any sudden maneuver that would burn excess fuel. With good management, the multimillion-dollar satellite, with its limited fuel supply, would be able to stay longer in orbit, provide more intelligence, and be more cost efficient. Carter's decision to give Israel direct access to the KH-11 completely disrupted the careful scheduling for the satellite's future use; it also meant that some American intelligence agencies were going to have less access to the satellite. "It was an unpopular decision in many, many ways," said the former NSA official.

There were no official protests inside the administration, however: those few who were distressed by the KH-11 agreement understood that any disquiet, or even second-guessing, could jeopardize their own access to such information and thus reduce their status as insiders.

The Israelis, not surprisingly, viewed the KH-11 agreement as a reaffirmation of respect and support from the Carter administration, whose director of central intelligence, retired Admiral Stansfield Turner, had abruptly cut back intelligence liaison with Israel and other friendly nations as part of a restructuring of the Central Intelligence Agency. The Israelis, accustomed to far warmer treatment by Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford, saw the men running the Carter administration as naive and anti-Semitic; as men who perhaps did not fully understand how entwined Israel's primary foreign intelligence service, Mossad, had become with the CIA during the Cold War. The 1979 agreement on the KH-11 was no less than the twenty-eighth in a series of formal Israeli-American cooperative ventures in strategic intelligence since the 1950s.

Nothing has ever been officially disclosed about these arrangements, many of which were financed off-the-books-that is, from a special contingency fund personally maintained by the director of central intelligence. Through the 1960s, for example, one of the most sensitive operations in the Agency was code-named KK MOUNTAIN (KK being the CIA's internal digraph, or designation, for messages and documents dealing with Israel) and provided for untold millions in annual cash payments to Mossad. In return, Mossad authorized its agents to act, in essence, as American surrogates throughout North Africa and in such countries as Kenya, Tanzania, and the Congo. Other intelligence agreements with Mossad revolved around the most sensitive of Israeli activities in the Middle East, where American dollars were being used to finance operations in Syria, and inside the Soviet Union, where the CIA's men and women found it difficult to spy. Some of the Soviet activities apparently were financed by regular Agency disbursements and thus cleared through the appropriate CIA congressional oversight committees-but the complex amalgamation of American financing and Israeli operations remains one of the great secrets of the Cold War.

The Israelis had responded to Admiral Turner's 1977 cutback in liaison-in essence, his refusal to pay for the continuing operations in Africa and elsewhere-by sharply reducing their flow of intelligence back to Washington. In the Israeli view, the KH-11 agreement in March 1979 was made inevitable not by the success of Camp David but by the CIA's failure to anticipate the steadily increasing Soviet pressure on Afghanistan in 1978 and the continuing upheavals in Iran. There were large Jewish communities in both nations-many shopkeepers in Kabul, Afghanistan's capital, were Jewish-and Mossad's information was far superior to the CIA's. Most galling to the President and his top aides was the CIA's embarrassingly inept reporting on Iran, where Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, a U.S. ally of long standing, had been overthrown in February 1979 in a popular uprising-despite a year-long series of upbeat CIA predictions that he would manage to cling to power. [2] The CIA had rejected the Israeli view, provided in a trenchant analysis in 1978 by Uri Lubrani, a former Israeli ambassador to Iran, that the shah would not survive. The CIA had failed the President and forced the American leadership to turn once again to Israeli help in trying to anticipate world events. It was no accident that Lubrani was attached to the Israeli delegation that negotiated the March 1979 KH-11 agreement in Washington.


The KH-11 imagery provided Israel-depicting any military activity inside the border of Israel's four neighbors-is known as I&W, for intelligence and warning, and carries the highest classification marking in the American intelligence community. The photographs, once processed, were to be picked up by Israeli military attaches at a special Pentagon office controlled by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the military's joint intelligence service. There was one significant caveat in all this: Israelis were not to be given any intelligence that could help them plan preemptive strikes on their neighbors.

"I set up the rules," one senior American intelligence official recalled. "The system was designed to provide [the Israelis] with everything they could possibly use within [the one-hundred-mile] striking distance. If it was inside Syria or Egypt, they got it all. If it was Iraq, Pakistan, or Libya, they didn't."

The official added, however, that he and his colleagues anticipated from the outset that the Israelis would do everything possible to get around the restrictions of the agreement. One of the immediate Israeli arguments was that the limitations should not apply to the joint enemy of the United States and Israel-the Soviet Union. In the months ahead, there would be constant Israeli pressure for access to satellite intelligence on the Soviet supply lines to Syria and the Soviet involvement in the training of Iraqi combat divisions in western Iraq. Those requests were flatly turned down by the Carter administration.

Nonetheless, Israel was once again an essential ally, and even if it could not get unfettered access to KH-11 imagery, the 1979 agreement did include language permitting Israel to make specific requests for satellite intelligence. Each request would be handled on a case-by-case basis.

The package was too much for British intelligence officials, involved Americans recalled, who were described as "mad as hell" about Israel's being provided with the chance to obtain intelligence that they -- World War II allies and fellow members of NATO -- could not get. [3]

Israel, as the British may have suspected, did have a secret agenda in its constant maneuvering for KH-11 access, but that agenda only became clear to a few top Reagan administration policymakers in the fall of 1981. The unraveling began with a bombing raid in Iraq.


It was a Sunday afternoon in early June 1981 and Richard V. Allen, President Ronald Reagan's national security adviser, was taking it easy, sipping iced tea on the sundeck of his suburban Virginia home and shuffling through a week's worth of unread cables, many of them highly classified.

An aide in the White House situation room, which is staffed around the clock, telephoned to report that the Israelis had informed Washington that they had successfully bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak, twelve miles southeast of Baghdad. Allen immediately telephoned Reagan, who was spending the weekend at the presidential retreat at Camp David, in the nearby Catoctin Mountains of Maryland.

The President, he was told, had just boarded his helicopter for the trip back to the White House. "Get him off," Allen ordered. It was, after all, the new administration's first Middle East crisis. The President took the telephone call amid the background thumping of the helicopter blades.

"Mr. President, the Israelis just took out a nuclear reactor in Iraq with F-16s." Israel, aided by long-term, low-interest American credits, had been authorized in 1975 to begin the purchase of seventy-five F-16s "for defensive purposes only."

"What do you know about it?"

"Nothing, sir. I'm waiting for a report."

"Why do you suppose they did it?"

The President let his rhetorical question hang for a moment, Allen recalled, and then added:

"Well. Boys will be boys." [4]

The next morning, according to Allen, there was a meeting of Reagan's high command at which Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger proposed canceling the F-16 aircraft sale. Others at the meeting, including Vice President George Bush and Chief of Staff James A. Baker III, agreed that some sanctions against Israel were essential. Reagan glanced at Allen at one point and with a gesture made it clear he had no intention of taking any such step: "He rolled his eyes at me," Allen said.

The President's private acceptance of the raid was not reflected in the administration's public actions. That afternoon the State Department issued a statement, said to have been cleared by the President and Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig, Jr., formally condemning the bombing, "which cannot but seriously add to the already tense situation in the area." Nonetheless, recalled Allen, "Reagan was delighted ... very satisfied" by the attack on the reactor at Osirak. "It showed that the Israelis had claws, a sense of strategy, and were able to take care of problems before they developed. Anyway, what did Israel hurt?" Haig similarly was forbearing in private.

The Israeli bombing triggered worldwide protest, and a few days later the White House announced the suspension of a scheduled delivery of four more F-16s, a continuation of the 1975 sale. Two months later, with little fanfare, the administration's real policy emerged: the suspension was lifted and the aircraft were delivered without incident.


There was controversy inside Israel, too, over the bombing, which had been debated at the highest levels of the Israeli government since late 1979. Yitzhak Hofi, the director of Mossad, and Major General Yehoshua Saguy, chief of military intelligence, both opposed the attack, primarily because there was no evidence that Iraq was as yet capable of building a bomb. [5] They were joined in futile dissent by Yigael Yadin, the deputy prime minister. At a late-1980 planning session, Saguy continued to inveigh against the mission, arguing that the adverse reaction in Washington would be a more serious national security threat to Israel than was the Iraqi reactor. [6] He took exception to the view that any Israeli military steps to avoid a "second Holocaust" were permissible. Saguy suffered for his dissent; the chief of military intelligence was not told of the mission until June 4, three days before it was scheduled to take place. Saguy responded by renouncing any responsibility for the raid and threatening-briefly-to withhold intelligence.

The mission planners, anxious to avoid international protest, had gone to extremes to mask the operation: it was hoped that Iraq and the rest of the world would be unable to fix blame for the bombing on the unmarked Israeli Air Force planes. The attack had been carried out, as planned, in two minutes, and the likelihood of any detection was slight. But Menachem Begin, buoyed by the success, stunned his colleagues on June 8 by unilaterally announcing the Israeli coup. On the next day, as Israel was besieged with protests, the prime minister defended the operation and vowed that Israel was ready to strike again, if necessary, to prevent an enemy from developing the atomic bomb. "If the nuclear reactor had not been destroyed," Begin said, "another Holocaust would have happened in the history of the Jewish people. There will never be another Holocaust. . . . Never again! Never again!"

Two days later, at a British diplomatic reception, Begin again shocked the senior officials of his government, as well as the intelligence community, by bragging that the Israeli planes also had destroyed a secret facility buried forty meters--130 feet -below the reactor at Osirak that was to serve as the assembly point for the manufacture of Iraqi nuclear bombs. The appalled Israeli officials knew that Begin's remarks were descriptive not of the nonexistent underground weapons facility at Osirak, but of one that did exist in Israel. Begin also told newsmen at the reception that the Iraqi government had hidden the facility from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which had inspected the reactor at Osirak in January 1981, under provisions of the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, to which Iraq was a party.

Israeli government spokesmen attempted to recoup the next day by telling newsmen that Begin had misspoken; the underground facility was only four meters, not forty, below the surface. The government's worst fears, however, were not publicly realized in the subsequent days and weeks: Israel's biggest secret remained a secret. [7]

By 1981, Israeli scientists and engineers had been manufacturing nuclear bombs for thirteen years at a remote site known as Dimona, located in the barren Negev region south of Jerusalem. Aided by the French, Israel had constructed a nuclear reactor as well as a separate facility-hidden underground-for. the complex process of chemically separating the reactor's most important by-product: weapons-grade plutonium. Begin had visited the underground facility at Dimona at least once since becoming prime minister in 1977 and, Israeli officials told me, had been provided in the days before the raid at Osirak with a detailed memorandum about it. The officials suggested that Begin, in his public remarks, had simply transferred what he had seen and read about Dimona to Osirak. "He confused one with the other," said one Israeli, acknowledging that his interpretation was a charitable one.

Yitzhak Hofi, the Mossad chief, was not as charitable. Two weeks after the Osirak bombing, he gave an unprecedented newspaper interview-Hofi was cited only by title in the article, under the rules of Israeli censorship--to complain about politicians who were compromising secret intelligence. There was no doubt in the Israeli intelligence community about which politician Hofi was criticizing.


The secrets of Dimona may have been safe from the Western press, but Dimona itself was facing a much more immediate threat. Israeli officials acknowledged that their intelligence services saw evidence in the days after the June 7 raid that Iraq, obviously seeking revenge, had begun moving some of its Soviet-supplied Scud missiles closer to the Iraq- Jordan border. If the Scuds were to be moved farther west into Jordan, Dimona would be in range of a retaliatory strike by the Iraqis. Unlike the reactor at Osirak, which had not yet begun full-scale operation, Dimona had operated around the clock for eight months a year to produce and reprocess weapons-grade plutonium for nuclear weapons. An Iraqi strike could scatter deadly radioactive contamination for dozens of miles.

Well before the bombing at Osirak, however, Israeli officials had ordered the dome-shaped reactor and underground reprocessing plant at Dimona to cease all operations; both were kept out of service through the end of the year. The Israeli Air Force was also instructed to keep intelligence aircraft in the sky on a twenty-four-hour alert. There is no evidence that Washington saw or understood any of the Israeli defensive actions. A few British intelligence officials immediately suspected that Israel had used the high-resolution KH-11 photography to target Osirak, and they complained to their American counterparts about it. In essence, one involved American recalled, they were saying, "We told you so." The brilliant reputation of the KH-11 system was reinforced, ironically, by Israel's successful raid: high-resolution satellite photographs of the destroyed research reactor were on the desks of Washington decision-makers within a few hours of the mission.

The British were right, as a subsequent highly secret investigation showed: Israel had gotten much valuable intelligence from the KH-11. There was evidence that William J. Casey, Ronald Reagan's director of central intelligence, had inadvertently played a key role.

Casey was an enthusiastic supporter of the imagery-sharing program from the moment he took office, and early in his tenure he ordered that the Israeli liaison officers be provided with a private office near CIA headquarters. The goal, apparently, was to give the Israelis direct access to the American intelligence officers who processed the KH-11 imagery to make sure that all essential intelligence was turned over. Only Israelis, so the reasoning went, would know what was important to Israel. "Casey was prepared to show them a little thigh," one high-ranking American official explained. "But he didn't roll over and play dead for the Israelis."

The CIA director, suddenly confronted after Osirak with serious questions about Israel's abuse of the KH-11 intelligence- sharing agreement, authorized a small, ad hoc committee of experts to review the matter. [8] The group was ordered to operate with the heightened security that always surrounded Israeli intelligence issues.

What the review group found was stunning.

In little more than two years, the Israelis had expanded what had been a limited agreement to the point where they were able to extract virtually any photograph they wished from the system. Most surprisingly, the Israelis had requested and received extensive KH-11 coverage of western Russia, including Moscow. "The Israelis did everything except task [target] the bird," one disturbed military man acknowledges. There was anger at the senior officials of the Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency for what some officials considered their "very lax" management of the liaison agreement: "We set up the system and we didn't bother to monitor what they [the Israelis] were doing," the military man said. [9] William B. Bader, who was serving in 1979 as assistant deputy under secretary of defense for policy, recalled his frustration at knowing that the Israelis were "edging deeper into the overhead" and not knowing how to stop it. "You didn't know where to complain," Bader said. "We knew that these guys [the Israelis] had access that went around the colonels and the deputy assistant secretaries." If a complaint got to the wrong office, he explained, "you might get your head handed back to you."

A former high-ranking NSA official recalled his anger upon subsequently learning early in the Reagan administration that Israeli military officers were permitted to attend Pentagon meetings at which future missions and orbital flight paths for the KH-11 were discussed. "People who knew about it wanted to puke," the former official said. "With the care this [the KH-11] got everywhere else, this blew our minds." However, another senior American intelligence officer, agreeing that "a lot of guys were shocked and dismayed," explained that he was less troubled by the Israeli encroachment: "It was in our national interest to make sure in 1981 that the Israelis were going to survive." This officer depicted the direct access provided to Israel as "a compromise. Israel wanted to make sure that nothing important was passed by. It needed to make sure it got all it needed." The Israeli officer assigned to the Pentagon, the intelligence officer said, was only relaying Israel's intelligence needs to the men in charge of the KH-11 program. The Israeli, in return, was allowed to "stand by" as the KH-11 funneled its real-time imagery back to Washington.

A State Department official who was involved said he and Secretary Haig viewed the arguments about Israeli access as "an intelligence community theological debate. Why have a fight? Give them the pictures. It's a confidence builder." It was a zero-sum issue for the Israelis, this official added: if the Reagan administration refused them access to the KH-11, they would turn to Congress "and get the money [inserted into the foreign aid budget] for a satellite, launching pad, and downlink."

To Richard Allen as well, Israel's manipulation of the KH-11 agreement was no big deal: "I figured they had friends" in the Pentagon who informally had provided the expanded access.

It was finally agreed in the White House after the ad hoc review that the photographs could continue to flow to Israel, but with the initial 1979 restrictions emphatically back in force. "We were going to narrow the aperture," Allen said; Israel would no longer be permitted to get KH-11 imagery of the Soviet Union or any other country outside the hundred-mile limit. Allen personally relayed that message in the fall of 1981 to Ariel Sharon, the controversial and hard-line Israeli general and war hero who had been named defense minister in August by the newly reelected Begin government.

Begin and Sharon were in Washington in September to lobby the White House in support of a far-reaching Israeli plan for a U.S.-Israeli strategic cooperation against a shared enemy: the Soviet Union. An Israeli memorandum for Washington argued that the two nations needed to cooperate "against the threat to peace and security of the region caused by the Soviet Union or Soviet-controlled forces from outside the region introduced into the region." To meet that need, the Israelis sought Reagan's approval for the pre-positioning of American military forces, joint use of airfields, joint planning for military and political contingencies in the Middle East and Persian Gulf, and the U.S. financing of a receiving station, or downlink, for the KH-11 satellite imagery, to be located in Tel Aviv.

The Israeli proposals were understandably viewed as excessive and were much watered down during negotiations over the next few months, to Sharon's dismay. Sharon pushed especially hard on the downlink issue, also insisting that the receiving station be "dedicated"-meaning that the encoded signals to and from the satellite to the downlink could be read only by Israel. The United States thus would be in the untenable position of not being able to know what intelligence the Israelis were obtaining from its own satellite system.

It was a preposterous suggestion, and Allen privately told Sharon so. "It was rough," Allen recalled. "He started bitching about American aid being Band-Aids and mustard plaster. He kept on saying, 'You want to give us Band-Aids. If that's what you mean by strategic alliance, we're not interested.'" Allen, a strong supporter of Israel, said he wasn't intimidated: "I saw Sharon as a big tough swashbuckler who did a lot of bellowing."


The bombing at Osirak led to no significant changes in the U.S.-Israeli relationship, nor were any serious questions raised about Israel's need for so many KH-11 photographs from so many places-a need that risked a breach in Israel's relations with the United States. Despite the brief flap over Israeli access, there were no lessons learned and KH-11 photographs continued to flow to Israel. Some far-reaching changes were triggered, however, for Israel.

The French, who had also been the chief suppliers of nuclear materials and expertise to Iraq in return for oil, were embarrassed as well as outraged by the Israeli attack. There were a few officials in Paris who sought revenge by breaking long-held vows of silence, and they began to tell about an earlier French nuclear relationship in the Middle East: as secret partners in the making of the Israeli bomb.

Ariel Sharon concluded after the cabinet room meeting that the United States was not a reliable strategic ally. Returned to a clandestine Israeli intelligence agency controlled by his defense ministry, whose operations at the time were not fully understood by Washington, and stood by as it intercepted intelligence on the Middle East and Soviet Union from the most sensitive agencies in America-the kind of intelligence that Israel had been told it would no longer be able to get. An American Jew working in the U.S. intelligence community had volunteered his services to the agency several years earlier; he would soon be put to work spying on his country for Israel.


It's almost certain that no one in Ronald Reagan's White House considered Sharon's request for a KH-11 downlink in Tel Aviv in terms of Israel's nuclear ambitions. Similarly, the ad hoc review group that William Casey had set up after Osirak to monitor compliance with the 1979 intelligence-sharing agreement blithely accepted Israel's explanation for its violation of the rules: it had obtained the off-limits KH-11 imagery of the Soviet Union solely to monitor the ongoing supply links between Russia and its allies in Syria and Iraq.

Indeed, there were not many, even in the American intelligence community, who understood in 1981 why Israel had collected satellite imagery of the Soviet Union and why Sharon was so insistent on continued access to that intelligence: Israel was itself a nuclear power that was targeting the Soviet Union with its warheads and missiles.



1. The KH-11 was at the time known to be the most significant advance in outerspace reconnaissance. The key element of the sixty-four-foot-long satellite was a downward- looking mirror in front of the camera that rotated from side to side, like a periscope, enabling the satellite to track a single location as it moved across the atmosphere. The result was a stereoscopic image of unusually high quality that could be even further enhanced by computer.

2. In August 1977, for example, the CIA produced a sixty-page study for the President, entitled "Iran in the 19805," that was predicated on the assumption that the shah would "be an active participant in Iranian life well into the 1980s." Five months later, Carter, to his everlasting embarrassment, publicly toasted Iran at a 1977 New Year's Eve state dinner in Tehran as "an island of stability in a turbulent corner of the world."

3. The British were denied full access, American officials explained, in part because of concern about what turned out to be a major leak inside the British communications intelligence establishment, known as GCHQ (for Government Communications Headquarters). American intelligence officials had learned by the end of the Carter administration that the -existence and capability of the KH-11 system were known to the Soviets, and there were suspicions that someone in a senior position in British intelligence was funneling vast amounts of technical information to Moscow. In the fall of 1982, a former high-level GCHQ employee named Geoffrey A. Prime, of Cheltenham, was arrested on sex charges, and he subsequently confessed to spying for the Soviets. Prime, who was sentenced to a thirty-five-year jail term, was said by British authorities to have had access to "matters of the utmost secrecy." There were British newspaper reports that senior British officials had known of Prime's betrayal for two years before the arrest but had not told their American counterparts. The incident led to inevitable tension between the intelligence services of the two allies. "We were holding back the Brits for a definite reason," one American said. "We knew they had a real problem there and we were very, very sensitive about what we gave them." The stern American position was more than a little offset by the fact that a junior CIA clerk named William T. Kampiles had been sentenced to forty years in jail in 1978 after his conviction for the sale of a top--secret KH-11 technical manual to the Soviets. Kampiles received $3,000 for the manual, which included no KH-11 photographs-and thus presumably did not reveal just how good the satellite's optics could be. The trial of Kampiles raised a number of embarrassing questions about security at CIA headquarters, where Kampiles worked; at least sixteen other KH-11 technical manuals were missing, and there was testimony to the effect that Kampiles-and others, if they wished- ere able to leave the premises without any security check.

4. Moments later, Allen added, Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig, Jr., who had competed from inauguration day with all senior officials for influence in the administration, telephoned and excitedly demanded to know where the then-airborne President was: "Dick, I've got to talk to him right away." Allen asked why. "I've just got to talk to him." "Is it about the reactor?" Haig said yes. Allen said he was too late: he had just briefed Reagan. "What?" exclaimed Haig. "How did you find out?" Allen laughed at the recollection and added that Haig wouldn't know it, but he had wasted his time in rushing to tell Reagan: "The fact is you couldn't score brownie points that way. Ronald Reagan never remembered who told him first."

5. That issue also was hotly debated inside the American intelligence community, whose experts on nonproliferation did not have "complete information"-as one involved official put it-about Iraq's capabilities. After the Israeli strike, the American experts concluded that Israel had bombed only one of two major targets at the site; it had destroyed the reactor as planned but left the nearby reprocessing plant untouched. It was in the reprocessing facility that plutonium could be chemically recovered from spent reactor fuel rods.

6. Many in the Israeli military also were glad to see Iraq sink hundreds of millions of dollars into the reactor rather than purchasing more tanks, planes, and other conventional arms.

7. Some American intelligence analysts instantly understood that Begin had made a mistake, but their reports were highly classified and never reached the public.

8. Casey had made his first secret trip to Israel as CIA director a few months earlier and, according to Israelis, put in motion an ambitious list of joint intelligence operations aimed at rolling back Communism-actions, Casey believed, that had all but ceased during the Caner years. These included renewed espionage activities inside the Soviet Union, aid for the anti-Communist Solidarity movement in Poland, and economic and military support-in violation of a congressional ban-for Jonas Savimbi's UNITA resistance movement in Angola. Casey also insisted upon and apparently received Israeli promises of support for what emerged in the early 1980s as one of his near-obsessions-covert aid to the anti-Communist Renamo insurgency in Mozambique. (A 1988 State Department study placed the number of civilians murdered by Renamo at more than 100,000, with an estimated one million Mozambicans forced into refugee status.) Despite the successful visit, Casey was embarrassed and rankled by the fact that his newfound colleagues in Israel had not seen fit to inform him in advance of the planned attack on Osirak. His CIA thus had failed to anticipate the first serious foreign policy crisis in the Reagan administration.

9. Adding to the dismay, surely, was the fact that President Carter, as a security measure, had, shortly after taking office, ordered a freeze on the number of codework clearances in the government. The freeze led to enormous complications throughout the intelligence world, because many analysts were not permitted access to the information-such as that collected by the KH-11-they needed to do their job.
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Re: The Samson Option: Israel's Nuclear Arsenal and American

Postby admin » Fri May 26, 2017 5:40 am

Chapter 2: The Scientist

The scientific father of the Israeli bomb, its J. Robert Oppenheimer, was a slight, pale, chain-smoking scientist named Ernst David Bergmann, a rabbi's son who was a refugee from Nazi Germany.

The international scientific community came to know Bergmann after Israel's successful War of Independence in 1948 -- the first Arab-Israeli War -- as a brilliant organic chemist and director of the chemistry division at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel's preeminent research facility. He was chairman of Israel's Atomic Energy Commission, set up in 1952, and, on those few occasions when he appeared in public, an outspoken advocate of nuclear research for peaceful purposes. Cigarette constantly in hand, Bergmann was a picture of charm and wit at international conferences on nuclear science. His high intelligence seemed obvious. So did Israel's need for nuclear power: there would be no oil available for purchase from Arab neighbors.

By 1947, Bergmann was telling friends that the large phosphate fields in the Negev desert contained meager, but recoverable, traces of natural uranium. Within two years, a department of isotope research was established at the Weizmann Institute and young Israeli scientists were being sent abroad to study the new fields of nuclear energy and nuclear chemistry. A joint research program also was begun with the nascent French Atomic Energy Commission. By 1953, Israeli researchers at Weizmann had pioneered a new process for creating heavy water, needed to modulate a nuclear chain reaction, as well as devising a more efficient means of extracting uranium from phosphate fields.

In November 1954, Bergmann introduced himself to the Israeli citizenry in a radio address and reported on Israel's progress in peaceful nuclear research. He announced-two years after the fact-that an Israeli Atomic Energy Commission had been established. The next year Israel signed an agreement with the United States, under the Eisenhower administration's Atoms for Peace program, for cooperation in the civilian uses of atomic energy. Washington helped finance and fuel a small nuclear reactor for research, located at Nahal Soreq, south of Tel Aviv. The agreement called for the United States to have inspection rights to the small reactor under the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, which provided for an Israeli guarantee, to be verified by inspections, that the nuclear materials would not be diverted to weapons research.

These were years in which David Ben-Gurion-Israel's white-maned "Old Man," who served, with one brief interlude, as prime minister and defense minister from 1948 to 1963-repeatedly bragged to visitors that Israel would build its own atomic reactor, utilizing its own natural uranium and locally manufactured heavy water. Nuclear energy, Ben-Gurion promised, would soon be producing the electricity and creating the desalinated water needed to make the Negev desert bloom.

Bergmann's dream of nuclear power plants was sincere, but it also amounted to a totally effective cover for his drive to develop the bomb. Ben-Gurion was the man in charge of all of this, with the aid of his brilliant young protege Shimon Peres, who was thirty years old when Ben-Gurion appointed him director general of the ministry of defense in late 1953. Bergmann's Israeli Atomic Energy Commission, as the public was not told in the radio address, was under the direct jurisdiction of Peres and the defense ministry. Nuclear power was not Ben-Gurion's first priority; the desert would glow before it bloomed.

These three men would find an international ally to help create the bomb and, equally important, would accept from the beginning that the bomb would have to be privately financed by wealthy American and European Jews who shared their dream of an ultimate deterrent for Israel. Any other approach would make the bomb impossible to keep secret.


Israel's nuclear bomb ambitions in the early 1950s were not foreseen in Cold War Washington. The United States was preoccupied with the Korean War, economic and social conditions in Europe, the strength of the Communist Party in France and Italy, fears of internal Communist subversion, and the continuing political battle with the Soviet Union.

There were crises in the Middle East, too. Egypt's corrupt King Farouk was overthrown in a coup in 1952, and a radical new leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser, emerged in 1954 as premier. British troops, after a stay of more than seventy years in Egypt, were on their way out of North Africa. So were the French. By 1955 the French government was facing insurrection from three former colonies, Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria. Morocco and Tunisia would gain their independence by 1956, but Algeria, whose opposition National Liberation Front (FLN) was strongly supported by Nasser, became the main event. The bloody war, with its 250,000 dead, came close to destroying France over the next five years and provided inspiration to Arab revolutionaries throughout the Middle East.

Nasser, with his talk of Pan-Arabism, also rattled the Israelis, who instinctively turned to the United States. American Jews were Israel's lifeline: hundreds of millions of American dollars were pouring in every year. Ben-Gurion had tried for years to join in a regional security pact with Washington-to somehow be included under the American nuclear umbrella- with no success. Israel had publicly supported the American position in the Korean War and secretly went a step further: Ben-Gurion offered to send Israeli troops to fight alongside the United Nations' forces in South Korea. [1] President Harry S. Truman said no, apparently in fear of backing into a security arrangement with Israel. The United States, England, and France had agreed in their 1950 Tripartite Agreement that all three nations would maintain the status quo in the Middle East by not providing any significant quantity of military equipment to Arabs or Israelis. The Eisenhower administration came into office in 1953 with no intention of changing the policy.

Israel tried, nonetheless, to establish some kind of a special relationship with President Eisenhower, with no luck. In the mid-1950s, a year-long series of renewed talks on a mutual security treaty with Washington went nowhere. At one point, as Ben-Gurion told his biographer, Michael Bar-Zohar, he considered offering Eisenhower American bases in Israel in return for a security commitment. That idea was dropped when the talks faltered. There were equally unsuccessful strategems to purchase fighter planes and other weapons, but Eisenhower essentially maintained the 1950 embargo on arms sales to Israel throughout the eight years of his presidency. The effect was to limit America's influence in the Middle East and deny Washington a chance to have an impact on Israeli foreign policy. The policy suited the men around Eisenhower, many of them Wall Street lawyers who thought that America's oil supply would be jeopardized by arms trafficking with Israel.

Ben-Gurion's private nightmare in these years-as his close aides knew-was of a second Holocaust, this time at the hands of the Arabs. Israel's only security, Ben-Gurion repeatedly warned, would come through self-defense and self-reliance. "What is Israel?" he was quoted by an aide as asking. "... Only a small spot. One dot! How can it survive in this Arab world?" Ben-Gurion believed that he understood Arab character and was persuaded that as long as Arabs thought they could destroy the Jewish state, there would be no peace and no recognition of Israel. Many Israelis, survivors of the Holocaust, came to believe in ein brera, or "no alternative," the doctrine that Israel was surrounded by implacable enemies and therefore had no choice but to strike out. In their view, Hitler and Nasser were interchangeable.

For these Israelis, a nuclear arsenal was essential to the survival of the state. In public speeches throughout the 1950s, Ben-Gurion repeatedly linked Israel's security to its progress in science. "Our security and independence require that more young people devote themselves to science and research, atomic and electronic research, research of solar energy . . . and the like," he told the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, in November 1955. Ernst Bergmann explicitly articulated the ein brera fears in a letter two years later: "I am convinced , . , that the State of Israel needs a defense research program of its own, so that we shall never again be as lambs led to the slaughter."

Ben-Gurion, Shimon Peres, and Ernst Bergmann believed that Israel's independent arsenal finally could provide what President Eisenhower would not-the nuclear umbrella.


No outsider-not the international scientific community, the Israeli public, nor American intelligence-could understand the significance of Bergmann's two other government portfolios in the early 1950s: as scientific adviser to the minister of defense and as director of research and planning for the defense ministry. The Israelis in charge of those posts knew Bergmann to be the most uncompromising and effective advocate for nuclear weapons, the man most directly responsible-along with the French-for Israel's status by the end of the 1960s as a nuclear-weapons state. Bergmann and the French not only got it done in the Negev desert, but they .kept it secret, just as J. Robert Oppenheimer and his colleagues had kept the Manhattan Project undiscovered in the desert at Los Alamos.

The young Bergmann had been introduced in the early 1920s to the world of the atom as a student of organic chemistry at the Emil Fischer Institute of the University of Berlin. He was on the fringe of a circle of eminent scientists, including Ernest Rutherford in England and Marie Curie of France, who were the cutting edge of what would become an international race in the prewar years to unravel the mystery of nuclear fission. Bergmann's colleagues in Berlin included Herman F. Mark, an Austrian who later became an eminent chemist and dean of the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute (and whose son, Hans M., served as secretary of the Air Force in the Carter administration). [2] "We were not theoreticians," recalled Mark, who during his career published twenty books and more than five hundred papers on polymer science. "We were interested in making things. The important thing for us was synthetics. First you have to make something nobody else has-and then you can use it." While in Berlin, Bergmann and Mark worked together and published joint papers on the chemical structure of rubber, paint, and adhesives.

Bergmann's father was one of the most eminent rabbis in Berlin and a close friend of Chaim Weizmann, the Russian- Jewish biochemist and Zionist then living in England. In 1933, when a series of sweeping Nazi decrees made it impossible for Bergmann or any other Jew to continue in an academic job in Germany, Weizmann arranged for young Bergmann to join him On the faculty at Manchester University in England, where he continued his research on synthetics and his close association with those scientists racing to split the atom. Like Weizmann, Bergmann came to the attention of Frederick A. Lindemann, later Lord Cherwell, a German-born Oxford scientist who became Winston Churchill's chief science adviser in the years before World War II.

Little is known of Bergmann's defense work for the British before the war; it is in those years that he first became involved with the defense of Palestine. One of the Weizmann biographies reports that the Hagannah, the military arm of the Zionist movement in Palestine, asked Weizmann in 1936 for a chemist to help produce an effective high explosive for use in the underground war against the Arabs and the British. Dynamite was far too dangerous to handle in the climate of the Middle East. Weizmann assigned the mission to Bergmann, who got it done and then signed on as a member of the Hagannah's technical committee. In 1939, the biography adds, Bergmann traveled to Paris on behalf of the Hagannah and shared his findings with the French, whose army was then operating in North Africa.

Bergmann left England shortly after Germany invaded Poland in the fall of 1939. Weizmann had intervened once again and found him a job with old friends who owned a chemistry laboratory in Philadelphia. It didn't work out, and another old friend from Germany, Herman Mark, came to his rescue: "He had no space. So we invited him to come to Brooklyn." Mark had been driven out of Europe in 1938 and ended up doing research for a Canadian paper company in Ontario. By 1940 he was running a laboratory at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn; two years later he became dean of faculty and turned the institute into a haven for Jewish refugees, including Chaim Weizmann. "The whole gang came to America," said Mark, who, when interviewed for this book, was the sole known survivor of that period.

With the defeat of Hitler, there was one final migration for Bergmann: to Palestine to help establish what would become the Weizmann Institute of Science at Rehovot, south of Tel Aviv. Israeli ambitions seemed unlimited. Oppenheimer and his colleagues in the Manhattan Project, including John von Neumann, the mathematician and early computer theoretician, were being wooed-unsuccessfully-by Weizmann as early as 1947, and were repeatedly asked to spend time doing research in Israel. [3]

Bergmann was Weizmann's first choice to become director of the institute, but Weizmann's wife, Vera, successfully objected on the oldest of grounds: she was offended at Bergmann's longstanding affair with Hani, her husband's private secretary (whom Bergmann eventually married). [4] Bergmann instead was named head of the organic chemistry division. He could take solace, if needed, at the eminence of his colleagues. Amos Deshalit, who headed the physics division, subsequently was considered a quantum researcher in a class with Oppenheimer and Niels Bohr, the Danish Nobel Prize winner. Inorganic chemistry was directed by Aharon Katchalsky, later Katzir, who was a specialist in the electrolytic properties of chain molecules and a pioneer researcher in the related field of muscle-powered robotics. (Like Bergmann, Katzir had a secret life: at his death in 1972, he was one of the driving forces in the then flourishing Israeli nuclear weapons program.) There was one final move for Bergmann, at Ben-Gurion's request, after Israel's Independence in 1948--to the ministry of defense, where, under Shimon Peres, Bergmann established the nation's first institute for defense research. More than forty years later, Peres would tell an Israeli newspaper reporter that Bergmann, even in 1948, was constantly speaking about a missile capability for Israel. "I might be ready to tell the full truth about him in one hundred years, maybe," Peres added. "We worked thirteen years together, perhaps the best years of my life."


Without Bergmann, insisted Herman Mark, there would have been no Israeli bomb: "He was in charge of every kind of nuclear activity in Israel. He was the man who completely understood it [nuclear fission], and then he explained it to other people." Mark became a constant commuter between Brooklyn and Israel after World War II, serving on planning boards and as a scientific adviser to the fledgling Weizmann Institute. He remained close to Bergmann and shared his view of the inevitability of Israeli nuclear weapons research: "We were both of the same opinion-that eventually Israel has to be in full cognizance and knowledge of what happens in nuclear physics. Look, a new type of chemical reaction was discovered at Los Alamos. Whether it's desalination, a power plant, or a bomb makes no difference-it's still fission."

Bergmann had made the same point in a 1966 interview -- after he was forced out of government service-with an Israeli newspaper: "It's very important to understand that by developing atomic energy for peaceful uses, you reach the nuclear option. There are no two atomic energies." That interview, nine years before his death, was as close as Bergmann ever came to publicly discussing the bomb. "Bergmann was anxious, rightly so," said Mark, "that there shouldn't be too much talk. It was super-secret-just like the Manhattan Project."

There was at least one early occasion, however, when Bergmann couldn't resist sharing what he knew. Abraham Feinberg, a wealthy New York businessman and ardent advocate of statehood for Israel, was one of Ben-Gurion's most important and trusted allies in the United States. By 1947, Feinberg was playing a major-and highly discreet-role in fund- raising and White House lobbying for Israel as well as for the Democratic Party. He would operate at the highest levels between Washington and Jerusalem for the next two decades. Bergmann was in New York that fall and, as usual, joined Abe Feinberg and his family at Friday-night synagogue services; the group would later return to Feinberg's apartment. "Bergmann was always hungry," recalled Feinberg. "He loved my wife's scrambled eggs." One night over dinner, added Feinberg, "Bergmann's eyes lit up and he said, 'There's uranium in the desert.'" There was no question about the message-that a path was now cleared for Israel to develop the atomic bomb. Feinberg was astonished at such indiscreet talk: "I shushed him up."


Israel's needs in the late 1940s and early 1950s coincided perfectly with France's. Both nations were far from having any technical capacity to build a bomb, nor was there any internal consensus that a bomb was desirable.

Ben-Gurion, Peres, and Bergmann would spend much of their careers engaged in a bitter fight inside the Israeli government over their dreams of a nuclear weapons program. Most senior members of the ruling Mapai (Israel Workers') Party viewed an Israeli bomb as suicidal, too expensive, and too reminiscent of the horrors that had been inflicted on the Jews in World War II.

The French debate revolved around the Cold War. France's high commissioner for nuclear matters, Frederic Joliot-Curie, a Nobel laureate who had done important research in nuclear physics before the war, was a member of the Communist Party who was opposed to a French role in NATO and any French link to nuclear weapons. In 1950, he was the first to sign the Stockholm Appeal, a Soviet-backed petition calling for a ban on all nuclear weapons. French scientists, despite extensive involvement in prewar nuclear fission research, had been excluded from a major role in the American and British bomb programs of World War II, and Joliot-Curie's politics kept France isolated. Joliot-Curie was dismissed after signing the Stockholm Appeal, and he was eventually replaced by Pierre Guillaumat, who had served during the war with the French secret intelligence service, and Francis Perrin, a Joliot associate who in 1939 had been the first to publish a formula for calculating the critical mass of uranium-the amount needed to sustain a chain reaction. The French plowed ahead with no help from the United States, which viewed France's Atomic Energy Commission as being riddled with Soviet agents.

Perrin also was important to the Israeli connection. A socialist who fled to England in 1940 at the fall of France, he became friendly with Bergmann-how the two met is not known-and traveled to Tel Aviv in 1949. It was after that visit that some Israeli scientists were permitted to attend Saclay, the newly set up French national atomic research center near Versailles, and participate in the construction of Saclay's small experimental reactor. It was a learning experience for the nuclear scientists of both countries.

In an unpublished interview with an American graduate student in 1969, Bergmann spoke elliptically of the ambitions he shared with Ben-Gurion and Peres for the French-Israeli connection: "We felt that Israel ... needed to collaborate with a country close to its own technical level. First it was important to train Israeli experts. Then we would decide exactly what sort of collaboration to seek and what kind of contribution could be made in a joint endeavor, considering Israel's capacities and resources. Every effort was to be made to keep cooperation from being entirely one-directional."

A critical decision for France, and thus Israel, came in 1951 when, over the objections of Perrin, Guillaumat authorized the construction of a natural uranium-fueled reactor capable of producing, after chemical reprocessing, about twenty-two pounds of weapons-grade plutonium a year. The chain reaction would be moderated by graphite, a technique used by the United States and the Soviet Union in their huge plutonium- producing reactors. Surveyors had found large deposits of natural uranium a few years earlier near Limoges, in central France, and that discovery made it easy for Guillaumat and Perrin to discard an alternative method for powering the reactor- using uranium that had been artificially enriched. Enriched fuel, if available at all, would have to be imported, since French technicians did not yet know how to enrich natural uranium. But relying on foreign suppliers-and inevitable international controls-would rob France of any chance to achieve its basic goal of atomic independence. "France," Charles de Gaulle wrote in his World War II memoirs, "cannot be France without greatness." The decision to produce weapons-grade plutonium would irrevocably propel France down the road to a nuclear bomb, as Guillaumat, Perrin, and the Israelis had to know-but the French public and its military leaders did not.

Construction began the next year at Marcoule, in the southern Rhone Valley. Saint-Gobain Techniques Nouvelles (SGN), a large chemical company, subsequently was granted a contract to build a chemical reprocessing plant on the grounds at Marcoule. Such plants are the critical element in the making of a bomb. The natural uranium, once burned, or irradiated, in the reactor, breaks down into uranium, plutonium, and highly toxic wastes. The irradiated fuel needs to be transported, cooled, and then treated before the plutonium can be separated and purified. These steps can be accomplished only by remote control and in a specially built separate facility-the reprocessing plant-containing elaborate and very expensive physical protection for the work force.

Bergmann's men were able to contribute to all of this. There was renewed controversy inside Israel over the constantly expanding Israeli presence in France, but Ben-Gurion held firm. "In 1952," Shimon Peres told an Israeli interviewer, "I was alone as favoring the building of an Israeli nuclear option. I ... felt terrible. Everyone was opposed-only Ben-Gurion said, 'You'll see, it will be okay.' There were people who went to Ben-Gurion and told him, 'Don't listen to Shimon; he and Bergmann are spinning tales. Israel won't be able to launch a project like this.' They said, 'Buy from the Canadians, from the Americans.' But I wanted the French, because Bergmann was well known among the community of French atomic scientists."

French officials reciprocated the Israeli trust: Israeli scientists were the only foreigners allowed access throughout the secret French nuclear complex at Marcoule. Israelis were said to be able to roam "at will." One obvious reason for the carte blanche was the sheer brilliance of the Israeli scientists and their expertise, even then, in computer technology. The French would remain dependent for the next decade-the first French nuclear test took place in 1960 -- on Israeli computer skills. A second reason for the Israeli presence at Marcoule was emotional: many French officials and scientists had served in the resistance and maintained intense feelings about the Holocaust. And many of France's leading nuclear scientists were Jewish and strong supporters of the new Jewish state, which was emerging-to the delight of these men-as France's closest ally in the Middle East.

No Frenchman had stronger emotional ties to Israel than Bertrand Goldschmidt, a nuclear chemist who had served during World War II with the handful of French scientists who were permitted-despite being foreigners-to work directly with the Americans doing nuclear research. He had become an expert in the chemistry of plutonium and plutonium extraction. He also had helped build an experimental reactor fueled with natural uranium and moderated by heavy water. As a first-rate chemist, he had been offered a chance to stay in the American bomb program after the war, but instead chose to return to France and join its Atomic Energy Commission. After intense negotiations, American security officials permitted him to do so, but refused to release him from his wartime pledge of secrecy. "It was tacitly understood," Goldschmidt subsequently wrote, "that we could use our knowledge to benefit France by giving information to our research teams, but without publishing and only to the extent necessary for the progress of our work. That was a reasonable compromise -- and one that was quickly disregarded.

Goldschmidt was a Jew whose family had suffered, as had most Jewish families in Europe, during the war. His ties to Israel were heightened by marriage; his wife was a member of the eminent Rothschild banking family, whose contributions to Israel and Jewish causes were measured in the tens of millions of dollars. Goldschmidt and his wife had made the pilgrimage to Israel in the early 1950s and been taken by Ernst Bergmann for a memorable meeting with Ben- Gurion at his frame home in the Negev. [5] By then, Goldschmidt was serving as director of chemistry for France's Atomic Energy Commission; in the 1970S he would become a widely respected French spokesman on nonproliferation and other international atomic energy issues. He also was among the few outsiders permitted to visit the completed reactor at Dimona in the 1960s-then a classic example of illicit proliferation.

"We weren't really helping them [the Israelis]," Goldschmidt explained years later. "We were just letting them know what we knew-without knowing where it would lead. We didn't know ourselves how difficult it would be." The important fact to understand, he added, with some discomfort, is that "in the. fifties and sixties having a nuclear weapon was considered a good thing-something to be congratulated for. Not like the stigma it is now."

By 1953, the scientific team at the Weizmann Institute had developed the improved ion exchange mechanism for producing heavy water and a more efficient method for mining uranium. [6] Both concepts were sold to the French; the sales led to a formal agreement for cooperation in nuclear research that was signed by the two nations. Goldschmidt recalled that Bergmann himself came to France to negotiate the mining sale with Pierre Guillaumat. He demanded 100 million francs for the new process, but refused to describe it fully in advance, claiming that if he did so it would lose half its value. There was an impasse. Finally, said Goldschmidt, "Guillaumat told me, 'I have the greatest respect for those people,' and we bargained." Bergmann settled for sixty million francs. Israel would remain on a cash-and-carry basis with the French in its nuclear dealings.



1. Israel's position on the Korean War enraged Moscow and led to a rupture in diplomatic relations. The Soviet Union, which had been the first nation to recognize the State of Israel in 1948, would for the next thirty years castigate Israel for its "racist and discriminatory" treatment of Palestinians and ties to American "imperialism."

2. Herman Mark was ninety-five years old when interviewed in 1990 at his son's home in Austin, Texas. Hans Mark, then chancellor of the University of Texas, was himself no stranger to the world of intelligence and nuclear weapons. As Air Force secretary, he also wore what is known in the government as the "black hat": he was head of the executive committee, or Ex-Com, of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), a most-secret unit that is responsible for the development, procurement, and targeting of America's intelligence satellites. As a nuclear physicist, Hans Mark had worked for twelve years beginning in 1955 for the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in California, one of America's main nuclear weapons facilities. For four of those years he served as a division leader in experimental physics.

3. Oppenheimer's personal papers, on file at the Library of Congress, show that he went to Israel in May 1958 to participate in ceremonies marking the opening of the Institute of Nuclear Science in Rehovot. He also took a military flight with Bergmann and Shimon Peres to visit the port city of Elat at the southern reach of the Negev, according to newspaper reports at the time. Israeli officials who worked in 1958 at Dimona. then in the early stages of construction, recall no visit then or in later years by Oppenheimer.

4. It was Bergmann's second missed opportunity to direct a Weizmann research institute. Weizmann had been instrumental in the 1930s in setting up Palestine's first research facility, the Daniel Sieff Institute. According to Shimon Peres, Weizmann approached Albert Einstein, then teaching at Princeton, and asked him to recommend one of his students to run the institute. Einstein instead suggested Bergmann, who didn't get the job for reasons not known.

5. "We had a long discussion about atomic energy," Goldschmidt recalls. "Ben-Gurion asked me how long would it take [for nuclear desalinization] to make the Negev desert bloom?"-a favorite Ben-Gurion question. "I said fifteen years. He started scolding me and said if we brought in all the Jewish scientists we could do it much faster."

6. Israel's much-ballyhooed breakthrough in heavy-water production, which involved distillation rather than the previously used electrolysis method, was a disappointment, however. The procedure did produce heavy water far more easily and much more cheaply than other methods, as advertised, but also much more slowly.
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Re: The Samson Option: Israel's Nuclear Arsenal and American

Postby admin » Fri May 26, 2017 5:44 am

Chapter 3: The French Connection

In late 1953, a disillusioned Ben-Gurion, convinced that Israeli society was losing its pioneering, volunteerist spirit, retired to his desert kibbutz at Sdeh Boker, in the Negev, near the future site of Dimona. He believed he could revive that spirit and set an example by resettling in the desert with his wife. His political control over the Mapai Party remained total, however-like that of a Mafia don-and the government that was left behind was one of his creation. Ben-Gurion would be replaced by not one but two people, for he decreed that his jointly held positions of prime minister and defense minister be separated. Ben-Gurion then appointed Moshe Sharett as the new prime minister. No two men could have differed more in their approach to the Arab question. Sharett, who had lived in an Arab village as a child and who, unlike Ben- Gurion, spoke Arabic, believed that peace with the Arab world was possible, but only through military restraint and with the possible intervention of the United Nations. As prime minister, he would begin secret peace negotiations with Nasser.

Before leaving office, Ben-Gurion also designated Pinhas Lavon, more hard-line than Sharett on the Arab question, as the new defense minister. His goal, obviously, was to ensure that Sharett's views would not go unchallenged. Ben-Gurion also arranged for another hard-liner, Moshe Dayan, to become the new army chief of staff. Shimon Peres would stay on the job as director general of the defense ministry: he was a known Ben-Gurion favorite.

Ben-Gurion's concerns about Sharett did not extend to the nuclear question. Sharett, as his voluminous personal diaries -- as yet unpublished in full in English -- make clear, shared the Old Man's ambition for the "Enterprise," without sharing Ben-Gurion's confidence in Bergmann. In one typical entry, Sharett wrote off Bergmann "as a chemist sunk in research and teaching with no ability to oversee the 'problem' "-one of many synonyms for the bomb. Bergmann's lack of administrative skills, added Sharett, would "limit and disrupt the horizons of the 'Enterprise' and sabotage its development."

How to handle the Arab question was the dominant issue, however, and over the next year there was inevitable tension as Dayan and Peres, in almost constant contact with Ben-Gurion at his kibbutz, sought to stifle Sharett's dovish policies and his secret talks with the Egyptians. Scandal broke in mid-1954 when Egyptian authorities announced the arrest of an Israeli spy ring that had bombed and sabotaged American, British, and Egyptian targets earlier in the year in what became known as the Lavon Affair. The goal of the bombings had been to derail pending British and American negotiations-and possible rapprochement-with the Nasser government; Egypt was to remain isolated from the Western powers. An internal Israeli investigation was unable to determine who had given the order for the sabotage activities, and Sharett, who had not known of the operation, accepted Lavon's resignation in January 1955. Ben-Gurion was recalled a few days later from retirement to replace Lavon as defense minister. [1] Sharett remained as prime minister, although there was little doubt about who would be running the government.

The Old Man's immediate public mission was to restore the army's morale and the citizens' confidence in the government. He entered office, however, more convinced than ever that a policy of military reprisal was essential; any interference with defense planning, he warned Sharett in writing, would force him once again to resign and call for new elections. Six days after taking office, on February 28, 1955, Ben-Gurion responded to a cross-border attack by Palestinian guerrillas, or fedayeen, by authorizing a large-scale retaliation against an Egyptian military camp at Gaza. The Israeli attack, which killed thirty-six Egyptians and Palestinians, was led by Lieutenant Colonel Ariel Sharon, whose reputation for skill and brutality already was well established. The Gaza attack escalated what had been a series of skirmishes into something close to guerrilla war; Arab casualties were four times greater than Sharett had been told to expect. The raid ended the secret contacts between Sharett and Nasser and resulted in an Egyptian decision to step up its fedayeen attacks from Gaza. The Israeli historian Avi Shlaim has written that Sharett viewed the subsequent increases in Gaza Strip border clashes as the "inevitable consequence" of the February 28 raid, while Ben-Gurion saw them "as a sign of growing Egyptian bellicosity which, if allowed to go unchallenged, would pose a threat to Israel's basic security."

Nasser responded to the increased tension by turning to the Communist world for military aid. He traveled in April 1955 to the Bandung Conference of African and Asian nations and received a promise from Chou En-lai, the Chinese premier, for as many arms as Egypt could afford. In July, Soviet delegations arrived in Cairo to offer military aid. In September, Nasser announced that Egypt would receive the staggering total of 200 modern Soviet bombers, 230 tanks, 200 troop carriers, and more than 500 artillery pieces. Soviet advisers also were promised.

In Tel Aviv, there was dismay. Israel's third temple was in danger. [2] Ben-Gurion, still denied American support, turned anew to the French. The Israelis wanted more than guns. The French had their needs, too.

In late 1954, the coalition government led by Pierre Mendes-France, one of fourteen coalitions that held office during the chaotic Fourth Republic, had granted authority for a nuclear weapons planning group to be formed inside the French Atomic Energy Commission. Senior officials of the ministry of defense thus were brought into nuclear planning for the first time. Many French military men had been skeptical of an independent nuclear deterrent, but that attitude was changed by France's disastrous defeat at the hands of Ho Chi Minh at Dienbienphu, North Vietnam, in 1954, and the subsequent collapse of French colonialism in the wars of liberation in North Africa. It was clear to many Frenchmen that France could not depend on its NATO allies to protect purely French interests. This was especially true in Algeria, where the bloody revolution and French repression were turning the casbahs and deserts into a killing field.

In January 1955, the French government fell again and a new socialist government headed by Guy Mollet assumed power. Mollet took a much harder line on the war in Algeria and those Arab leaders, such as Nasser, who supported the revolutionaries. Israel, which had been intensively waging guerrilla war against Egypt, was now widely seen as one of France's most dependable allies. Mollet agreed later in the year to begin secretly selling high-performance French bombers to Israel; the sales, arranged by Shimon Peres, were from one defense ministry to another, with no diplomatic niceties and no involvement of the French or Israeli foreign ministries. Arms continued to flow from France to Israel for the next twelve years.

In return, Israel agreed to begin sharing intelligence on the Middle East, the United States, and Europe with the French. The Israeli intelligence networks in North Africa were particularly good, former Israeli officials recalled, because the Jews there tended to live and work as merchants and businessmen in the Arab quarters. Of special significance were the more than 100,000 Jews in Algeria, many of them trapped by the violence and irrationality of both sides. Those Jews were encouraged by the Israeli government to provide intelligence on the leadership of the National Liberation Front and in other ways to cooperate with the French.

It was inevitable that Bergmann and Peres would conclude that Israel now had enough leverage to seek French help for the Israeli bomb: would the Mollet government match the extraordinary Israeli support in Algeria and elsewhere by agreeing to construct a large reactor-and a chemical reprocessing plant -- in Israel? The Israelis understood that no plutonium weapon could be made without a reprocessing plant, and they also understood that the construction of the plant would be impossible without a French commitment. The French Atomic Energy Commission was scheduled to begin construction in mid-1955 on its own chemical reprocessing plant at Marcoule, and Israeli scientists had been involved at every step along the way.

Having the French say yes could, ironically, trigger a crisis inside the top ranks of the Israeli government. A French commitment would force Peres and Bergmann to inform the cabinet that Israel was going to build a secret nuclear complex. There already were plenty of objections from those few who knew. Levi Eshkol, the finance minister, shared Ben-Gurion's belief in ein brera, but also was convinced that a nuclear-armed Israel would be financial madness. Eshkol would hold on to that view after becoming prime minister in 1963. There were concerns other than financial among the Israeli leadership. How could Israel keep the reactor secret? Was it moral for Israel, whose citizens had suffered so much from indiscriminate slaughter, to have a weapon of mass destruction? What would the American government say? Would America continue to be the land of deep pockets?

The nuclear advocates got a huge break in September 1955. The Canadian government announced that it had agreed to build a heavy-water research reactor for the Indian government. The Canadian offer included no provision for international inspections, since no international agreement on nuclear safeguards had yet been promulgated. India promised to utilize the reactor only for "peaceful purposes." There was now international precedent for an Israeli reactor.

In late 1955, a new Israeli government was formed with Ben-Gurion once again serving as both defense minister and prime minister. Moshe Sharett, despite misgivings, stayed on as foreign minister. National elections that summer had eroded the Mapai plurality in the Knesset and provided more evidence that the Israeli public was dissatisfied with the dovish policies of Moshe Sharett. [3] An American attempt, authorized by Eisenhower, to mediate a settlement between Nasser and Ben-Gurion failed early in 1956 when the Egyptian president refused to negotiate directly with Jerusalem and presented demands, as many Israelis thought, that he knew to be unacceptable. A few months later, the long-standing direct talks between Jerusalem and Washington also collapsed; there would be no American security agreement with Israel. On June 10, Ben-Gurion authorized General Moshe Dayan to open secret negotiations with Paris on a joint war against Egypt. In July, Nasser, as expected, nationalized the Suez Canal, bringing the outraged British government into the secret planning for war. Shimon Peres was now shuttling between Paris and Tel Aviv on behalf of Ben-Gurion; the line between public policy and personal diplomacy was eroding daily, to the muffled protests of many inside each government.

That summer Moshe Sharett quietly resigned as foreign minister. He had sought an open debate on Israel's foreign policy in front of Mapai Party members, but Ben-Gurion fought it off by threatening to resign. The Israeli public would not learn of the deep divisions at the top of its government until the publication of Sharett's personal diaries in 1980. Sharett's replacement was Golda Meir, the minister of labor, whose main qualification, Ben-Gurion would later acknowledge, was her ignorance of international affairs. Meir endorsed Ben-Gurion's argument for preventive war; nonetheless, her ministry would be repeatedly bypassed by Ben-Gurion, Peres, Dayan, and Ernst David Bergmann as Israel broadened its involvement with France.

In mid-September, with the Suez War against Egypt six weeks away and with no international protest over the Canadian reactor sale, Ben-Gurion decided it was time to formally seek French help for the Israeli bomb. Israeli nuclear scientists working at Saclay had been involved since 1949 in planning and constructing the French experimental reactor, known as EL 2, which was powered by natural uranium and moderated by heavy water. Building a similar reactor in Israel was eminently feasible. Uranium was indigenous to Israel, and there was some heavy water available locally in Israel; more heavy water, if needed, as seemed likely, could be supplied by the French or illicitly purchased from Norway or the United States, then the world's largest producers. Ben-Gurion already had picked out a location for the Israeli reactor-in the basement of an old deserted winery at Rishon LeZion, a few miles from the Weizmann Institute.

It was decided to send Shimon Peres with Ernst Bergmann to Paris. Bertrand Goldschmidt vividly recalled a subsequent meeting of the French Atomic Energy Commission: "They came to me and said they'd like to buy a heavy-water research reactor similar to the one the Canadians were building in India. They said that when the Americans will realize we have a nuclear capacity, they will give us the guarantee of survival. All of this was decided before the Suez affair."

Four days later, on September 17, Bergmann and Peres had dinner with Francis Perrin and Pierre Guillaumat at the home of Jacob Tzur, the Israeli ambassador to France. Once again France was asked to provide a reactor. "We thought the Israeli bomb was aimed against the Americans," Perrin later explained. "Not to launch it against America but to say, 'If you don't want to help us in a critical situation we will require you to help us. Otherwise we will use our nuclear bombs.'"

Goldschmidt remained convinced years later that the basic decision to help Israel get the bomb was made during those two meetings in mid-September. There is no written record of the meetings, and it is impossible to determine what happened when. What is clear, nonetheless, is that Israel sought French help for the bomb--and got it-at least six weeks before the shooting started in the Suez War.


Many Israelis viewed the conduct of their partners in the Suez War as a betrayal. Israel's immediate tactical goal in the war was to destroy the Egyptian Army and its ability to support and train the growing Palestinian fedayeen movement. The strategic goal was far more ambitious: to destroy Nasser's ability to achieve Arab unity. Keeping the Arab world in disarray has always been a focal point of Israeli strategy, and Nasser, with his calls for Pan-Arabism-Egyptian hegemony, in Israeli eyes -- was a serious national security threat. The Israelis further believed that a humiliating Egyptian defeat in the Suez War inevitably would lead to Nasser's overthrow.

The battle plan called for Israel to initiate the attack on October 29, sending paratroopers into the Sinai and destroying the ability of Egypt to operate from Gaza. France and Britain would then demand that both sides halt hostilities and withdraw ten miles from the Suez Canal, creating a buffer zone. When the Egyptians, who owned the canal, refused to do so--a refusal that was inevitable-France and England would launch bombing and airborne assaults on November 6 to neutralize and occupy the canal.

The battle plan went much better than scheduled. Israel stormed through the Egyptian Army and had captured all of the Sinai by November 4. There was nothing, other than a United Nations call for a cease-fire, to stop the Israeli Army from crossing the Suez and taking Cairo. Guy Mollet began urging Anthony Eden, Britain's prime minister, to move up the date of their combined assault, but Eden, made anxious by the fast pace of the Israeli Army and the United Nations ceasefire call, refused. The British and French finally landed, as prearranged, on the morning of November 6 at Port Said, only to stop again when the Soviet Union, then involved in the bloody suppression of the Hungarian revolution, issued what was perceived in Israel to be a nuclear ultimatum in separate notes to Ben-Gurion, Mollet, and Eden.

The Soviet telegram to Ben-Gurion accused Israel of "criminally and irresponsibly playing with the fate of peace, with the fate of its own people. It is sowing a hatred for the state of Israel among the people of the east such as cannot but make itself felt with regard to the future of Israel and which puts in jeopardy the very existence of Israel as a State." A separate note signed by Prime Minister Nikolai Bulganin explicitly warned Ben-Gurion that the Soviet Union was capable of attacking with "remote-controlled vehicles." There also was a threat to send troops as "volunteers" into the Middle East.

Anthony Eden, already under extreme pressure to pull out of the war from the Eisenhower administration as well as from the opposition Labor Party at home, was the first to break ranks, informing Paris that he had ordered his troops to cease firing. The French followed. Israel, deserted by its two allies, was forced a few days later to agree to a cease-fire and the eventual deployment of the United Nations' peacekeeping force in the Sinai.

The Israelis were disappointed by the French and enraged by Eisenhower, who, so Ben-Gurion had believed, would never turn away from supporting Israel in the weeks before the presidential elections. There was a widespread belief in Israel and in France that the United States, considered to be Israel's superpower friend, had backed down in the face of the Soviet nuclear threat. [4] For Ben-Gurion, the lesson was clear: the Jewish community in America was unable to save Israel.

"You Americans screwed us," one former Israeli government official said, recalling his feelings at the time. "If you hadn't intervened, Nasser would have been toppled and the arms race in the Middle East would have been delayed. Israel would have kept its military and technological edge. Instead, here comes the golf player Ike, dumb as can be, saying in the name of humanity and evenhandedness that 'we won't allow colonial powers to play their role.' He doesn't realize that Nasser's reinforced and Israel's credibility is being set back."

The Israeli, who has firsthand knowledge of his government's nuclear weapons program, added bitterly: "We got the message. We can still remember the smell of Auschwitz and Treblinka. Next time we'll take all of you with us."

On November 6, after learning of the French and British cease-fire, Ben-Gurion sent Peres, accompanied by Golda Meir, to Paris. Mollet had fought against the cease-fire but, when faced with Britain's insistence on withdrawal, felt he had no choice but to go along. Even worse, Mollet was now going to have to persuade Ben-Gurion to accept a United Nations peacekeeping role in the Sinai. Israel would have to withdraw from the land for which its paratroopers had fought and died.

Peres later told a biographer of his feelings toward Eisenhower at the time: "... [A] man with healthy teeth, beautiful eyes and a warm smile who hadn't the vaguest notion what he was talking about. And what he did know, he couldn't express properly. There was no connection between one sentence and the next. The only question he could answer well was 'How are you?'"

One American defense analyst, in a conversation many years later about Israel's drive for the nuclear option after Suez, posed this rhetorical query and answer: "What is the lesson the United States draws from the Suez Crisis?

"It is terribly dangerous to stop Israel from doing what it thinks is essential to its national security."

Israel's unhappiness with Eisenhower was matched by Guy Mollet's sense of guilt and shame at France's failure to carry out commitments made to his fellow socialists in Israel. There was an obvious trade-off: Ben-Gurion agreed to withdraw his troops from the Sinai and accept a United Nations peacekeeping role in return for France's help in building a nuclear reactor and chemical reprocessing plant. Israel was no longer interested in an experimental reactor, such as at Saclay, but in the real thing-a reactor patterned after Marcoule. Mollet, obsessed with the consequences of France's failure, was quoted as telling an aide at the time of meetings with Peres and Meir: "I owe the bomb to them. I owe the bomb to them." The deal was struck, although it would be nearly a year before Peres would conclude the final negotiations. [5] The formal agreement between France and Israel has never been made public.

Mollet also formally cleared the way later in 1956 for the French nuclear weapons program by establishing a committee on the military use of atomic energy, to be led by the army chief of staff. Israeli scientists were on hand as observers when the first French nuclear test took place in 1960.

Over the next few years, as weapons-grade plutonium began rolling out of Marcoule, the French strategic goal would incorporate the lesson learned in Suez: avoid reliance on the United States-and the NATO allies. The nuclear tests in the South Pacific, although marred by misfires, enabled France to develop its nuclear deterrent, the force de frappe, by the mid-1960s, with ambitions-not reached until the 1980s-of independently targeting the Soviet Union with intercontinental missiles. Charles de Gaulle would stun Washington and its allies by pulling France out of NATO in 1966. The intellectual spokesman for the French nuclear program was a retired general named Pierre Gallois, whose argument, as eventually published, came down to this: "When two nations are armed with nuclear weapons, even if they are unequally armed, the status quo is unavoidable." The Soviets would conclude, so Gallois's reasoning went, that there was no military target in Paris or anywhere in France that was worth the risk of having one nuclear bomb falling on Moscow. A nuclear-armed France would no longer need to wonder, as did all of Europe, whether the United States would come to its defense-and risk a Soviet retaliation-in a nuclear crisis.

Gallois was taken very seriously by the Israelis, and France's force de frappe became the role model for Israel's strategic planning- and its ultimate decision not to count on the American nuclear umbrella. Israel would complement its new reactor with a major research effort to design and manufacture long-range missiles capable of targeting the Middle East and, eventually, the Soviet Union. The reactor at Dimona was just the beginning for Ernst Bergmann; he would now have to begin putting together a nuclear arsenal.

Herman Mark explained years later why Ben-Gurion had picked the right man: "Bergmann was one of the few scientists who saw the lamp and knew how to make a light bulb. He understood that different types of activity would be necessary. The first part is to prepare new and unknown materials. Then you make them in ample quantities and store them. Finally there's delivery-how to put it somewhere."

Bergmann's role in developing Israel's nuclear arsenal remains a state secret today. In the years after his death, as the Israeli nuclear arsenal became fixed, he became a virtual nonperson, a victim of stringent Israeli security and the self-censorship that such security involves. For example, in a book he wrote that was published in the United States in 1979, Shimon Peres eulogized Bergmann, with whom he worked closely for thirteen years, as one of the seven founders of the State of Israel. Peres, of course, did not mention nuclear weapons, but he did report that Chaim Weizmann considered Bergmann to be "a future candidate for the presidency" of Israel. And yet Bergmann is not even cited once in a biography of Peres published in 1982 and written by Matti Golan, a former government official who had access to Peres's papers; nor is he mentioned in the English edition of Michael Bar-Zohar's definitive biography of Ben-Gurion.


By the spring of 1957 it was clear that the old winery at Richonel-Zion wouldn't do and a new site was needed for the larger reactor, known then only as EL 102. It wasn't difficult for Peres to convince Ben-Gurion to locate it at Dimona, near the ancient city of Beersheba in his beloved Negev. Money was transferred directly to Paris from the prime minister's account and Saint-Gobain, the French chemical firm, then two years away from completing the reprocessing plant at Marcoule, was selected to build the Israeli reprocessing facility-underground. As they began work, Saint-Gobain's engineers were given access to the initial construction plans for the reactor, and were stunned by what they learned. The French-Israeli agreement called for the plant to be capable at its peak of producing 24 million watts (twenty-four megawatts) of thermal power, but its cooling ducts, waste facilities, and other specifications suggested that the plant would operate at two to three times that capacity. [6] If so, it could produce more plutonium than the re- actor at Marcoule-more than twenty-two kilograms a year, enough for four nuclear bombs with the explosive force of those dropped at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Ground-breaking for the EL 102 reactor took place in early 1958. Over the next few years, thousands of tons of imported machinery and hundreds of imported technicians, engineers, wives, children, mistresses, and cars turned a quiet corner of the Negev desert into a French boom town. Nothing comparable- or as secret-had been created since Los Alamos.



1. Lavon, one of the intellectual leaders of the Mapai Party, maintained that Dayan and other witnesses against him in the various internal Israeli inquiries had perjured themselves in an effort to shift the blame to him alone. He was exonerated by a cabinet committee inquiry seven years later. Sharett, in his diaries, made it clear that he was convinced that Dayan was involved in both the original unauthorized operations inside Egypt and the subsequent attempt to shift the blame to Lavon. Any involvement of Dayan, of course, inevitably raises the possibility that Ben-Gurion had personal knowledge of the operation and, in fact, bad approved it.

2. The first temple and Jewish state, as every Israeli schoolchild knows, was destroyed in 537 B.C. by the Babylonians. The second temple was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70, although Jews continued to live in the area through the centuries. Modern Zionist resettlement of Palestine began in the 1880s, and Jews had become a political force in Palestine by 1917, when Britain, in the Balfour Declaration, pledged to establish in Palestine "a national home for the Jewish people," with safeguards for the other, i.e., Arab, inhabitants.

3. Pocketbook politics played a significant role in these politically complicated years, along with the always important Arab question. Within the labor movement there were three main parties, the dominant one Mapai, the most centrist and pragmatic faction of Israel's socialist-Zionist movement. Achdut Avodah, the Unity of Labor, was domestically more socialistic than Mapai, and more hawkish and nationalistic in foreign policy. Mapam, the United Workers' Party, was far more dovish in foreign policy, and even opposed the creation of Israel in 1948 as an exclusively Jewish state; it urged, instead, a secular bi-national Jewish and Palestinian state. (The three main elements of the labor movement joined forces in the late 1960s to create the Labor Party.) Ben-Gurion's Mapai Party had lost seats in the 1955 election to the right-wing Herut Party in what amounted to a voter backlash by new immigrants, resentful of their treatment by the Mapai leadership. The General Zionists, conservative on economic matters and moderate on defense and military issues, lost seats. (The free-market General Zionists would merge in 1966 with the Herut Party, Menachem Begin's populist- conservative party, to form the Gahal Party. Gahal, in turn, merged in 197r-after relentless pressure from newly retired General Ariel Sharon-with three right-wing factions to create the Likud Party, which took office in 1977-ending twenty- nine years of Labor control of the government.) The most hawkish political factions in the mid-1950s, in terms of military policy toward the Arabs, were the group led by Moshe Dayan and Shimon Peres, Mapai; Achdut Avodah, led by Yisrael Galili and former 1948 War of Independence hero Yigal Allon; and Herut. Both groups were opposed by moderate members of the Mapai Party such as Moshe Sharett, Levi Eshkol, Abba Eban, and Pinhas Sapir. Even among the hawks there were divisions, with Begin and his Herut Party followers believing the primary task of Israel to be the redemption of biblical lands in order to reestablish Greater, or Eretz, Israel. Ben-Gurion, Dayan, Peres, and Galili (who played a major and secret role in future governments) were hawks of Realpolitik considerations-a belief in force as a necessary ingredient of international relations. They were thus adamantly opposed to the fundamentalist views of Begin and his Herut Party. In essence, the Mapai Party's loss of seats in the 1955 elections reflected economic worries as well as a move within the Labor faction away from the dovish policies of Sharett and toward the more hawkish views of Ben-Gurion, Dayan, Peres, and Allon.

4. Eisenhower's refusal to back the attack on Egypt had nothing to do with the Bulganin threat, which was analyzed at an all-night meeting at CIA headquarters and subsequently discounted as a bluff. The Suez War was viewed by Washington not as an anti-Soviet or anti-Communist move, but as a last-ditch attempt by two powers -- England and France -- to stanch their continuing international decline. Eisenhower and his senior aides believed that Nasser and other Third World leaders much preferred alliances with the United States rather than with the Soviets, and thus were more likely to become pro-American if the administration disassociated itself from the Middle East colonialism of England and France. The President was distressed at the two American allies for continuing to practice what he viewed as their colonialistic policies; he also resented the obvious Israeli belief that he would pander to the American Jewish vote by endorsing the Suez War. (Eisenhower, as the French and British knew only too well, was perfectly prepared to act as a colonialist himself -- as he did in ordering the CIA to help overthrow governments in Iran in 1953 and Guatemala in 1954 -- to protect what he believed to be vital American interests.) CIA officials recalled another point of White House concern in 1956: Eisenhower's realization from the secret U-2 overflights -- the first U-2 spy mission had taken place a few months earlier -- that Israel had purchased sixty Mystere attack aircraft from the French, and not the twenty- four they had publicly announced. No public mention was made of the larger-than-reported Israeli purchase -- the new aircraft were seen on runways -- since the existence of U-2 overflights was then the government's biggest national security secret.

5. A major complication for Peres in working out the official government-to-government agreement was the continuing collapse of the French governments. Guy Mollet's government fell in mid.1957 and was replaced by one led by Maurice Bourges-Maunoury. There were last-minute qualms about the Israeli reactor expressed by Christian Pineau, the new foreign minister. Peres would later tell a biographer that he had overcome Pineau's doubts by insisting that the reactor- already understood by engineers and officials throughout the French nuclear bureaucracy to be for a bomb--would he utilized only for "research and development." Pineau's meeting with Peres and his signed authorization for the reactor came in late September 1957, precisely at the time that the Bourges-Maunoury administration-that is, Pineau's government -- was being voted out of office by the French National Assembly. In essence, the formal authorization for Dimona was signed by an official who was already out of office.

6. The reactor at Dimona did not produce any electrical power; its output is measured therefore in terms of thermal power. It takes three megawatts of thermal power to produce one megawatt of electrical power; Dimona's electrical power output thus would be eight megawatts. The average electricity-producing nuclear power station operates at one thousand megawatts of electrical power (or three thousand megawatts of thermal power). The first U.S. weapons-grade plutonium plants, built during and after World War II, operated at about 250 megawatts. Nuclear scientists have determined that one megawatt-day of production (that is, energy output) will produce one gram of plutonium. Dimona's reported output of twenty-four megawatts would pro duce, if the reactor were operating 80 percent of the time, about seven kilograms of enriched plutonium per year, enough for two low-yield weapons.
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Re: The Samson Option: Israel's Nuclear Arsenal and American

Postby admin » Fri May 26, 2017 5:49 am

Chapter 4: First Knowledge

General Dwight D. Eisenhower's reliance on aerial photography as Allied Commander in Chief in World War II was reaffirmed by the exhaustive postwar bombing surveys of Germany and Japan, which concluded that as much as 80 percent of the most useful intelligence had come from overhead reconnaissance. Eisenhower came into the presidency in 1953 concerned about the lack of aerial intelligence on the Soviet Union and ordered the CIA to do something about it. A Photographic Intelligence Division was promptly set up, and CIA officials selected a University of Chicago graduate named Arthur C. Lundahl to direct it. Lundahl had analyzed reconnaissance photos for the Navy during the war and stayed in the business afterward. One of his first moves was to entice Dino A. Brugioni, then compiling dossiers on Soviet industry for the CIA, to join his staff. Brugioni was another World War II veteran who had served as an aerial photographer and radio and radar specialist in lead bombers with the Twelfth Air Force in Italy. He hay been recruited by the CIA in 1948, the year after it was established; like Lundahl, Brugioni was very good at what he was doing. The two men would remain colleagues and close friends for the next forty years.

Eisenhower's next major step was to authorize a daring reconnaissance program-primarily targeted at the Soviet Union - and assign the development of the revolutionary airplane that would make it work jointly to the CIA and the Air Force. The aircraft, built under cover by the Lockheed Aircraft Company in Burbank, California, and known as the U-2, would be able to fly and glide for almost eleven hours-covering more than five thousand miles-at heights greater than 65,000 feet, while utilizing only one thousand gallons of fuel. Special lenses, cameras, and thin film were developed, enabling the spy plane to photograph a path from Moscow to Tashkent, southeast of the Ural Sea, in one take. The U-2 went operational from a secret base in West Germany on July 4, 1956. Its initial targets: Soviet long-range bomber bases and Leningrad. Moscow was overflown on the next day, and dramatic photographs -- code-named CHESS -- of the Kremlin and the Winter Garden were later shown to the President and his advisers. A second V-2 base was authorized in Turkey; later there would be more bases in Pakistan and Norway.

It was a spectacular asset: Soviet sites were photographed, mapped, and targeted, all within a few days, by American missiles and bombers from the Strategic Air Command. There was, however, an equally essential mission in those first years: to locate and photograph the industrial elements of the Soviet nuclear program. Where were the reactors, the heavy-water-production facilities, and the uranium- and plutonium-processing plants? Where were the Soviets machine- cooling the nuclear warheads and assembling the actual weapons? [1]

By the mid-1950s, it was clear that Soviet technology, to American dismay, had done a brilliant job of catching up in the nuclear arms race. By August 1949, four years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Soviets had managed to explode their first atomic bomb, using plutonium. That first bomb, like its American predecessor, was the most basic in the atomic arsenal-a fission weapon. Such weapons consist of a small core of fissile material surrounded by high explosives. The explosives are triggered inward in a precise sequence (measured in nanoseconds), suddenly and intensely compressing, or imploding, the core. The fissile material goes "supercritical" and begins discharging neutrons at a much faster rate than they can escape from the core. The sudden release of energy produces the violent explosion.

Well before the end of the war, Edward Teller and other American nuclear weapons designers understood that a far more powerful nuclear device, with fission as merely a first step, was theoretically possible. The new weapon, developed under the code name of "Super," was the hydrogen bomb, known to today's physicists as a fusion device. There were two central problems in the development of a high-yield hydrogen bomb: how to ignite the fusion material and how to make it burn efficiently. After much trial and error, scientists at Los Alamos developed a two-stage device, with two separate components inside a single warhead case. A fission bomb would be triggered (the first stage) inside the warhead. Much of the radiation from the fission device would be contained in the warhead case and compress and ignite a special thermonuclear fuel in the separate compartment (the second step). Deuterium, a hydrogen isotope twice the weight of hydrogen, or lithium deuteride could be used as the thermonuclear fuel. Deuterium is the main fuel of the sun, and is burned there at temperatures of 18 to 36 million degrees Fahrenheit. American physicists conducted experiments and came to understand, with appropriate awe, that a thermonuclear fuel, once ignited by fission inside a hydrogen bomb, would burn at a speed, temperature, and pressure greater than it burned at in the center of the sun. A key to the hydrogen bomb was the initial triggering of a fission device, for only fission was capable of generating the heat and, as the scientists later came to understand, the radiation needed to burn the thermonuclear fuel. The thermonuclear device, when successfully tested in 1952 at Eniwetok, an atoll in the western Pacific, produced a crater 6,240 feet in diameter-more than a mile-and 164 feet deep. It was 650 times as powerful as the primitive device dropped at Hiroshima. The Los Alamos team later determined that the fusion of deuterium and tritium, another heavy hydrogen isotope that is a by- product of lithium, could produce a thermonuclear explosion of fifteen megatons -- that is, one thousand times greater than the Hiroshima bomb.

The Soviets, at one point known to be at least three years behind the American thermonuclear bomb program, moved ahead rapidly in the science of making doomsday weapons. The first Soviet two-stage hydrogen bomb was successfully tested in 1955, and six years later Soviet scientists detonated the largest known hydrogen bomb, with an explosive force of fifty-eight megatons. At its height in 1988, the Soviet nuclear stockpile totaled an estimated 33,000 warheads, slightly more than the United States maintained in 1967, its peak year.


In the beginning, everything was secret-even the existence of the CIA as well as its Photographic Intelligence Division.

The first U-2 flights over the Soviet Union had provided dramatic evidence that the Soviets were not nearly as advanced in conventional arms as the Pentagon had assumed. There was no "bomber gap" or "missile gap." These revelations were of the utmost importance and were immediately presented to President Eisenhower himself, as well as to other top officials. Lundahl, as head of the U-2 intelligence unit, soon found himself becoming the American government's most listened-to briefing officer. "I was a courier on horseback," he recalled. "I'd spend my nights soaking up the lore and then gallop around Washington in the morning." [2] The man in charge of providing him with information gained from the U-2 flights was Brugioni.

The United States also was keeping its eyes on the Israeli desert. Eisenhower and the men around him, including John Foster Dulles, the secretary of state, and his brother Allen, the CIA director, had been infuriated by Israel's attempt to mask the extent of its military buildup prior to the 1956 Suez invasion. The administration's truth-teller continued to be the U-2, whose pilots, including Gary Francis Powers, later to be shot down, were usually assigned to overfly the Soviet Union. But there were other standing U-2 targets in sensitive areas and especially in moments of crisis-and that description fit the Middle East in 1958. Egypt and Syria had merged early in the year to form the United Arab Republic, and the Arab world was immediately thrown into political turmoil. Muslim opposition, sparked by Egypt and Syria, led to violence in pro-Western Lebanon, where American marines waded ashore in July to protect the regime of President Camille Chamoun. The Iraqi monarchy, also pro-Western, was overthrown in a bloody coup d'etat and replaced by a military dictator, Abdel Karim Qassem.

Gary Powers and his colleagues, who had continued intermittently to overfly the Middle East, were now steadily back at work in the area. The CIA's photo interpreters were suddenly seeing a lot of activity at an Israeli Air Force practice bombing range south of Beersheba, an old Bedouin camel-trading center.

Photo interpretation was still a fledgling science in 1958, a hands-on business. The developed film from the U-2 missions was rushed to the CIA's Photographic Intelligence Division, printed, analyzed, mounted on boards if necessary, cleared with Allen Dulles, and then immediately taken to the White House. Eisenhower remained an avid consumer until the last days of his presidency, and access to the photographs and briefings often was limited to the President and his immediate aides. Secrecy was paramount, although the Soviet Union eventually learned of the U-2 operations and began to complain bitterly, in private, about the American violations of its airspace. [3]

There also was a continuing and essential need for close coordination between exotic groups such as America's nuclear planners and the men authorizing U-2 operations. Plutonium and tritium, for example, occur in nature only in minute amounts and thus must be manufactured by irradiating lithium in a nuclear reactor. Among the inevitable by-products of the manufacturing process are radioactive gases, which are vented into the atmosphere. The analysts of the early U-2 photography learned to look for huge or distinctive chimneys, or "smokestacks," as the photo interpreters called them, all of which were studied intently to see if they were linked to a nuclear weapons facility.


It was Brugioni who recalled seeing the first signs of what would become the Israeli nuclear reactor. "Israel had a bombing range in the Negev, and we'd watch it," Brugioni said. "It was a military training spot-where they'd stage exercises." One clue, not immediately understood, was the fencing off of a large, barren area a dozen or so miles outside the small desert town of Dimona. Brugioni and the photo interpreters assumed that the Israelis were setting up an ammunition-testing site. A new road from Beersheba, twenty-five miles to the north, was observed, leading directly to the fenced area. Construction workers and heavy machinery suddenly showed up. The site was no longer just another point of reference amid the thousands of feet of U-2 negatives flowing into CIA headquarters. The subterranean digging began in early 1958; soon afterward, cement began to pour into heavy foundations. Brugioni and his colleagues had studied and visited nuclear weapons reactors in the United States and knew something unusual was going on: "We spotted it right away. What the hell was that big of a plant, with reinforced concrete, doing there in the middle of the desert?"

The deep digging was another major clue. "After the '56 war," Brugioni explained, "it was all sub rosa in Israel. But man builds by patterns. For example, you can draw a circle twenty-five miles in diameter in most areas of the world and understand how man spends his life by studying that circle. You see cattle grazing, hog and poultry pens, and conclude that people eat meat. You can also spot industries, schools, churches, homes, etc., by what we call their 'signatures.' The military are even more patterned. Whenever you build something nuclear you build it thick and deep. They were pouring a hell of a lot of concrete. We knew they were going deep."

The Eisenhower administration was sympathetic to Israel's precarious international position in 1958, Brugioni recalled: "The United Arab Republic was seen as a great threat. There was a fear that Nasser would get together [with the Arab world] and they'd take Israel. It'd have been a real coup if Nasser had taken Lebanon in '58." Eisenhower secretly authorized the U.S. Air Force to provide fighter pilot training and courses in aerial reconnaissance and photo interpretation to the Israelis. Some of the Americans operated under cover: "The attitude was help them [Israel] out -- wink, but don't get caught."

There was no way that Lundahl and Brugioni could wink at the imminent construction of a secret nuclear reactor. They and their colleagues in the U-2 shop believed strongly in Israel's right to exist, but were equally convinced that an Israeli bomb would destabilize the Middle East. They also knew that they were dealing with political dynamite, and chose to wait; speculation would be deadly. "Whenever you get something on the Israelis and you move it along," said Brugioni, "you'd better be careful. Especially if you've got a career."

The pouring of concrete footings for the reactor's circular dome was all the evidence Lundahl needed. Lundahl rushed the early raw photographs to the White House; it was late 1958 or early 1959. [4] Lundahl understood the rules: he carried no written report-paper was never to be generated in the U-2 briefings. "Ike didn't want any notes--period," recalled Lundahl. The special secrecy of the U-2 was heightened by the fact that Lundahl's unit had been given unusually broad access to all of America's secrets, including reports from defectors and covert agents in the Soviet Union and elsewhere. The photo interpreters also were provided with communications intercepts and reports of Soviet and Eastern European refugee interrogations, as compiled by special American and Israeli intelligence teams. The assumption was that since most of the nuclear weapons installations behind the Iron Curtain were carefully camouflaged, the photo interpreters needed all the help possible. A refugee's random comment about a secret factory somewhere in the Soviet Union often triggered a major discovery.

The White House briefings on important issues followed a set pattern, Lundahl recalled: he would tell the President, usually accompanied by Allen Dulles, the CIA director, and John Foster Dulles, the secretary of state, what he knew and then get a presidential request for further intelligence. The CIA's Photographic Intelligence Division offered three categories of follow-up. Phase One was the immediate report-presented as soon as possible, as were the early photos of the Israeli reactor. A Phase Two report, to be presented overnight, would require Lundahl's shop to enlarge the intelligence photos and mount them for display. There would be annotation and perhaps some text. A Phase Three report called for extensive analysis based on many more overflights over many weeks. There would be special assignments for the D.2S, and an extensive series of photographs.

Lundahl anticipated a Phase Two or Three request on the Israeli intelligence. Instead, he recalled-still amazed, more than thirty years later-there was "no additional requirement. No request for details." In fact, added Lundahl, over the next years, "nobody came back to me, ever, on Israel. I was never asked to do a follow-up on any of the Israeli briefings."

But no one told him not to do so, and so the D-2 continued to overfly the Negev. Lundahl also relayed the findings on Dimona to Lewis L. Strauss, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, and a few AEC aides who were among the handful of officials in the Eisenhower administration cleared for D-2 intelligence. Lundahl's standing orders called for him to provide all nuclear intelligence to the White House and then, unless directed otherwise, to the AEC commissioner. Something as important as Dimona was rushed over, Lundahl recalled.

"The way I look at it," Lundahl said, "I reported all that I knew to my masters. They sit at a higher place on the mountain."


None of the communications between Eisenhower and Ben-Gurion about the ominous construction in the Negev has been made public, but such letters are known to have been written. In July 1958, at the Israeli height of concern over Nasser's Pan-Arabism, Ben-Gurion privately requested American "political, financial, and moral" assistance as Israel was standing up to Nasser and "Soviet expansion." Eisenhower responded, according to Ben-Gurion's authorized biographer, Michael Bar-Zohar, with a lukewarm note telling Ben-Gurion that "you can be confident of the United States' interest in the integrity and independence of Israel." Ben-Gurion had hoped to be invited to visit Washington for direct talks with the President. A former Israeli government official interviewed for this book revealed that Eisenhower privately raised the issue of Dimona at least once in this period, prompting Ben-Gurion to request that the United States "extend its nuclear umbrella to Israel." There was no subsequent reply from Eisenhower, the former official said. [5]

Brugioni remained fascinated by the Israeli construction at Dimona: "We kept on watching it. We saw it going up. The White House," he confirmed, also mystified, "never encouraged us to do further briefings. It was always 'Thank you,' and 'This isn't going to be disseminated, is it?' It was that attitude."

Brugioni prepared the presidential briefing materials for Lundahl and knew that the intelligence on Israel was getting to the top. "The thing is," Brugioni said, "I never did figure out whether the White House wanted Israel to have the bomb or not."

Lundahl's interpreters had watched, via the steady stream of U-2 imagery, as the construction teams (the Americans did not immediately know, of course, that they were French-led) dug two separate sites in the desert. There was an early attempt to estimate how large the sites were going to be by measuring the "spoil"-the amount of cubic feet of dirt unearthed each day. It was old hat for the American photo interpreters, who had watched in World War II as the Germans moved their industrial plants and factories underground in futile attempts to avoid the heavy Allied bombing. One clue that remained consistent was freshly unearthed dirt: it was always a dead giveaway of an underground operation. The CIA profited from the World War II experience: its team in charge of the 1956 Berlin tunnel that was dug from West to East Germany successfully masked its extensive digging by trucking away the dirt in military C-ration boxes. [6]

One fact became clear over the next few years: Israel knew about the U-2 overflights and didn't like them. At some point after 1958, the Israelis, using covered trucks, could be seen hauling away the dirt and debris from each day's digging. There was very strong circumstantial evidence by then that the second underground site at Dimona was being readied for the chemical reprocessing plant that was essential in order to make weapons-grade plutonium-and the bomb. The best evidence of Israel's intent came from an analysis of the striking similarities in layout, as seen from aerial photography, between Dimona and the French nuclear facility at Marcoule. The French facility was being constantly overflown in the late 1950s by civilian transport planes-equipped with hidden cameras that belonged to American diplomats and military officers assigned to the American embassy in Paris. By 1959, the reactor and the chemical reprocessing plant at Marcoule were known to be in full operation. "It was obvious that the Israelis were following the French pattern," Brugioni recalled. "We saw enough to know that it [the second site at Dimona] was going to be a chemical reprocessing plant," just as the reprocessing plant at Marcoule was separate.

As the Dimona reactor was completed, there was less to be learned from the U-2 overflights. The U-2 imagery could only depict what was on the surface, and the intelligence community would spend years trying to find out for certain whether Israel had taken the next step-construction of a chemical reprocessing plant. American military attaches were assigned to find a reason to travel to the desert-the CIA station even offered to buy the wine for any seemingly casual group that wanted to picnic-and take photographs. Special automatic cameras with preset lens settings were developed by the CIA for the attaches. "All they had to do was push the trigger," recalled Lundahl. In the early years, he added, a few of the attaches "snuck in and got some good shots." Later, in an attempt to determine whether the chemical reprocessing plant was in operation, the CIA began urging attaches to pick up grass and shrubs for later analysis. The theory was that traces of plutonium and other fission products, if being produced, would be in the environment. "A guy would go where there were clumps of grass and pretend to take a crap," recalled Brugioni with a laugh. "While pretending to wipe his butt he'd grab some grass and stick it in his shorts."

The Israelis responded by planting large trees to block the line of vision of any would-be candid photographers and increasing their perimeter patrols around Dimona. One American military attache was nearly shot by Israeli guards after overstepping the ground rules that had been set up by the American embassy in Tel Aviv.

The cat-and-mouse game would continue for the next ten years, with the Israelis shielding the expanding construction at Dimona while the United States remained unable to learn categorically whether the Israelis were operating a chemical reprocessing plant. "We knew they were trying to fool us," said Brugioni, "and they knew it. The Israelis understood [aerial] reconnaissance. Hell, most of them were trained by the U.S. Air Force. It was an Alphonse and Gaston act."

There was much more intelligence, Brugioni believed, that did not filter down to the interpreters: "Allen Dulles would occasionally ask me if I'd seen 'the Jewish information' "-referring to CIA agent reports dealing with the Israeli bomb. "I'd say no," Brugioni added, "and his office would call later and tell me to forget it." One of the most complicated issues involved the question of American Jews who were also intensely committed -- as many were -- to the security of Israel. A few American nuclear physicists were known to have emigrated to Israel after World War II; one was a veteran of the Manhattan Project who had worked until 1956 in the most sensitive areas of nuclear reactor design. "We knew there were Jews going to Israel who were telling them how to do it," said Brugioni. On the other hand, he said, "We were getting information from Jews who went to Israel and never told the Israelis they talked to us." Jewish physicists and scientists began returning from visits to Israel by the late 1950S with increasingly specific information about Israeli interest in nuclear weapons. The CIA had even been tipped off about the fact that Israel was raising large sums of money for Dimona from the American Jewish community.

By the end of 1959, Lundahl and Brugioni had no doubt that Israel was going for the bomb. There also was no doubt that President Eisenhower and his advisers were determined to look the other way.

Brugioni said he and the others also chose in the end not to raise any questions about Dimona: "There was a lot of policy that we didn't know about -- and we didn't care to know. We weren't stupid; we could put two and two together. But the hierarchy decided to play it cool -- and that's the way it was. If you're a senior officer, you learn to read the tea leaves quickly -- and keep your mouth shut. Period."



1. American intelligence had been unable to locate all the Soviet nuclear facilities in the early 1950s, before the U-2 went operational, and the Pentagon's nuclear war planners had to emphasize Soviet airbases and missile fields in their primary targeting. The 1954 war plan of the Strategic Air Command (SAC), for example, called for as many as 735 bombers to hit the Soviets in a single massive nuclear blow. Despite the tonnage, SAC could not guarantee that the Soviets' nuclear retaliatory capacity would be destroyed, leaving American cities open to retaliation.

2. Lundahl briefed President John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office in October 1962, after a U-2 overflight produced evidence of Soviet missiles in Cuba. He recalled standing behind the President, who was studying the enlarged photos- which are essentially meaningless to a layperson-with a magnifying glass: "I showed him the various pieces of equipment that supported the medium-range missiles, about ten items in all. He listened to all that and was obviously unsure. He looked up from the U-2 photos, turned in his chair and looked me straight in the eye, and said, 'Are you sure of all this?' I replied, 'Mr. President, I am as sure of this as a photo interpreter can be sure of anything and I think you might agree that we have not misled you on the many other subjects we have reported to you.'" The Cuban missile crisis had begun.

3. It was widely known that the Soviets were able to track a U-2 flight by radar once it passed over a border point. Much more disturbing to Washington was evidence that the Soviets were aware in advance of the take-off time for each mission. The National Security Agency, responsible for monitoring Soviet signals intelligence, reported -- precisely when could not be learned-that the Soviet military and civilian aviation authorities had established a pattern of abruptly grounding all air traffic before a U-2 flight was scheduled to depart. The elimination of all airplane traffic, of course, made it much easier for the Soviet radar system to plot the U-2 flight paths, and thus provided more time for the intended targets of the U-2 cameras to take countermeasures. How did the Soviets know the approximate schedule of U-2 activity? The mystery was solved early in the U-2 program by a group of Air Force communications technicians at Kelly Field in Texas-none of whom had any knowledge of the U-2 operation or any clearance for such knowledge. The Air Force analysts were able to deduce that a special intelligence operation was in existence as well as predict each flight simply by monitoring the extensive and poorly masked preflight communications between Washington and the U-2 airfields. The U-2 communications system did not change, and, one of the never-ending ironies of the intelligence world, the high-level American intelligence officer who brought the evidence of Soviet awareness to the attention of the U-2 planners was accused of a security violation. The incident reinforces a basic rule of the intelligence community: never bring information that is not wanted -- such as word of an Israeli bomb -- to the attention of higher-ups.

4. The lack of any written notes or documents inevitably made it difficult for Brugioni and Lundahl to recall the dates of specific events, such as the date of Lundahl's briefing on Dimona to President Eisenhower. No declassified documents about such briefings are available to the public in the Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kansas. The dates cited herein are reasonable approximations, based on all the available data.

5. Few of the private messages between Eisenhower and Ben-Gurion on any subject have been made public by the Eisenhower Library. Retired Army General Andrew J. Goodpaster, Eisenhower's military aide in the White House, explained that the diplomatic exchanges between the two were "very closely held" and not available at the time to even close subordinates. Goodpaster, who also served as military aide to President Nixon, added that while there was presidential concern about "what they were doing at Dimona," he could remember no "specific exchange about a nuclear umbrella."

6. The Berlin operation was compromised from within, however, by British intelligence officer and Soviet spy George Blake.
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Re: The Samson Option: Israel's Nuclear Arsenal and American

Postby admin » Fri May 26, 2017 5:52 am

Chapter 5: Internal Wars

Israel's nuclear bomb project was besieged with enemies- from within and without-in its early history. The vast majority of those senior officials who knew what was going on at Dimona thought it folly to waste such prodigious amounts of money on a doomsday weapon that might or might not work when conventional weapons such as tanks, guns, and aircraft were desperately needed. The concept of underdeveloped and underfinanced Israel as a superpower seemed ludicrous. By the early 1960s, Dimona, with its huge manpower needs, had hired many of the most skilled Israeli scientists and technicians away from local research and manufacturing companies, resulting in a much-criticized slowdown in the growth of the nation's industrial base. There also were moral objections from a few members of the scientific and academic community, including two of the original members of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission. By 1957, as construction began on the reactor, four more members of the commission had resigned, essentially because they had nothing to do. The only commission member still on the job was its chairman, Ernst David Bergmann.

Bergmann, David Ben-Gurion, and Shimon Peres were waging what amounted to constant war-all in secret-to keep the Israeli bomb project alive. The most threatening problem came from Israel's partner in secrecy-the French. General Charles de Gaulle had won a seven-year term as president of France's newly constituted Fifth Republic in December 1958 by promising to find an acceptable compromise for ending the war in Algeria. The war, which de Gaulle continued to prosecute, had sharply divided the nation, as the Vietnam War would later divide the United States; all other issues, such as the question of continued support for Israel, seemed secondary. De Gaulle was known to be emphatically in favor of an independent nuclear deterrent for France, but it was not known how he might react to the profound French commitment to Dimona. It was a worrisome matter for those members of the French Atomic Energy Commission who supported the Israeli bomb, and they handled the issue in the time-honored way of the bureaucracy: they did not tell de Gaulle what was going on. Contracts had been signed and money paid, and the work was proceeding at Dimona.


The French on the job at Dimona were also a source of turmoil. Hundreds of French engineers and technicians had begun pouring into the Negev in 1957, and Beersheba bustled with construction as new apartment complexes and residential units were thrown together. Housing also was made available to the thousands of North African Jews (or Sephardim) who emigrated from Morocco and Algeria, hired to do the digging and building of the reactor and reprocessing plant. European Jews were slowly and carefully recruited from government and private businesses throughout Israel to serve as scientists and bureaucratic managers; they, too, were provided with housing in Beersheba. There was a caste system in the desert, and the French were on top, as they repeatedly made all too clear.

"The French were arrogant," said one Israeli who spent part of his career at Dimona. "They thought Jews [in Israel] were inferior. We weren't slick and we didn't dress well -- but we were bright." Some of the French officials were openly anti- emitic, the Israeli recalled, and one--eventually ordered out of Israel-was found to have collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. The French treatment of the Jews from North Africa who had been hired as laborers was even worse, the Israeli added: "They would speak of Jews from Algeria and Morocco like they were stones-inferior beings. It was Nazilike." Even those Frenchmen who were Jewish did little to ease the tension; many considered themselves to be of a different class and social standing than their less sophisticated Israeli colleagues. Ironically, the Algerian and Moroccan Jews also were mistreated by their Israeli employers. One standing rule was that the Moroccans and Algerians would be hired only for fifty-nine days and then dismissed, a strategem that avoided paying any of the many benefits that came with tenure (the Israeli economy was dominated by the labor movement), which was reached after two months on the job. After a few days off, the North African Jewish laborers would be rehired for another fifty-nine days. "Some socialist government," said the Israeli, with a caustic laugh. The North African Jews were "treated like slaves" by French and Israelis alike.

By mid-1960, when there were rumors of a possible French pullout, many Israelis couldn't have cared less: they'd had their fill of the French. The Israeli scientists and technicians had absorbed much of the French technical data by then- any plans were modified extensively on the job--and the reaction was, an Israeli recalled, "Go. We'll do it ourselves." Abraham Sourassi, one of the senior Israelis at Dimona-he was responsible for building the reprocessing plant-endeared himself to his countrymen by declaring, "Good riddance," upon hearing of de Gaulle's disenchantment with Dimona. "It was the typical Israeli attitude-just show us," said the former Dimona official. "We'll copy it and do it better."

The long hours, hard work, and French smugness did not diminish the excitement of being involved with Israel's most important secret. "We felt great," said one of the first Israelis hired to manage the construction in 1958. "We were pioneers." The official recalled his initial interview with Ernst Bergmann: "He tells me, 'We have a big project and we need the best brains. It's going to be something remarkable that you'll never forget.' " Bergmann also assured the young man that his new job would be good for his career-as good as serving with the Israeli Defense Force: "He said it'd be 'a feather in my cap. It's going to be modern.' So I filled out the forms. Took me three months to go through security." Those Israelis who had been members of the Communist Party (as many had been before immigrating to Israel) and those with relatives in Eastern Europe were barred from employment because of growing Israeli fears of Soviet penetration, fanned to no small degree by the growing antagonism between Moscow and Jerusalem. Israel had been racked by a series of spy scandals by the late 1950s, and the intelligence operatives in the sixty-man Soviet embassy in Tel Aviv were believed to especially target the scientific community.

Providing security for the burgeoning nuclear operation was a high priority and led Shimon Peres to insist on the creation of a new intelligence agency, initially known as the Office of Special Tasks. Its director, handpicked by Peres, was a tall, quiet former military intelligence officer named Binyamin Blumberg. The Office of Special Tasks, bureaucratically placed inside the defense ministry, would become one of the most successful intelligence agencies in modern history-and, after Blumberg's resignation more than twenty years later, be responsible for one of Israel's worst mistakes, the recruitment of Jonathan Pollard. Blumberg's sole mission in the late 1950s was protecting Dimona, and he made it a point to be involved in the details. One Israeli responsible for recruiting scientists told of having an excellent prospect rejected by Dimona's security office because of distant relatives in Eastern Europe. He appealed to Blumberg, who had the power to overturn any bureaucratic rule: "I had to beg Blumberg to get him hired. We needed him desperately. He did it-but he said it had to be 'on my life.'"

By early 1960, the reactor at Dimona was taking shape, and many Israeli nuclear physicists and technicians were summoned back from France, where they had spent years in training at Saclay and Marcoule. The top scientists were provided with double pay and subsidized seven-room apartments in Beersheba, space unheard of in those years in Israel. Those who stayed long enough eventually were given possession of the apartments, worth at least $50,000, and permitted to sell them at their leisure.

As the pace and intensity of construction grew, Beersheba inevitably became an international city. The French presence was palpable, as upward of 2,500 French men, women, and children made their life in the Negev. There were special French schools for the children, and the streets were full of French autos. All of this was duly reported by foreign diplomats and military attaches assigned to various embassies in Tel Aviv. There were constantly recurring rumors of the bomb, but the cover stories-usually revolving around seawater desalinization or agricultural research-somehow held.

Ian Smart was a young British diplomat on his first foreign assignment in the late 1950s, as third secretary of his country's small embassy in Tel Aviv. He would go on to become an international expert in nonproliferation, but in those years he was merely curious-and suspicious. "There was a lot of talk by the end of 1960 about Dimona," he recalled years later, "prompted, for one thing, by the sheer progress of the site. It was already very apparent on the skyline. And from the road you could see the cooling tower base of the [reactor] dome and the beginning of the rib structure. Secondly, there was the French presence in Beersheba. There was an apartment block they used with a lot of Renault Dauphins about-all carrying French registration." The Israeli government, when officially asked about the activities at Dimona, told the British embassy a series of stories. One early claim, recalls Smart, was that the area was a desert grasslands research institute. Smart himself heard a second explanation while driving with a group of Israeli Defense Force troops in the Negev. Smart pointed out the cooling tower and an officer replied, "Ah yes. That's the new manganese-processing plant."

Throughout the last year of his stay, Smart adds, "I was reporting the 'suspicion' that this looked like a nuclear reactor. But how do you get more than a suspicion without putting a U-2 over it?"


The Eisenhower administration, as Smart could not know, was in its third year of V-2 overflights of Dimona by 1960, and expanding its coverage. Art Lundahl, Dino Brugioni, and their colleagues in the V-2 shop at the CIA were now requesting systematic overflights of the French nuclear test site near Reggane, Algeria, in the Sahara. The French had successfully tested their first nuclear bomb in February 1960; it had a yield of more than sixty kilotons, three times larger than the first American test at Los Alamos. And the CIA knew that an Israeli scientific team had been at the test site as observers. There was another concern: Israeli scientists also had been tracked to a nearby French chemical and biological weapons (CBW) testing area in the Sahara. "I wondered," Brugioni recalled, "were the Israelis looking at CBW as a stopgap until they got the bomb? We thought they may have a CBW capability." All of this was immediately shared with the Eisenhower White House, Brugioni said.


The Israelis and French continued to monitor the U-2 overflights, but they also continued to operate with the most stringent secrecy at Dimona-as if no outsider understood what was going on.

French workers at Dimona were forbidden to write directly to relatives and friends in France and elsewhere, but sent mail to a phony post office box in Latin America. Mail from France to Israel was routed the same way. The sophisticated equipment for the reactor and processing plant was assembled by the French Atomic Energy Commission in a clandestine workshop in a Paris suburb and transported by truck, rail, and ship.

The heaviest equipment, such as the reactor tank, was described to French customs officials as components of a seawater desalinization plant bound for Latin America. Israel also needed an illicit shipment of heavy water-it was impractical to rely on the heavy-water process invented by the Weizmann Institute, which was too slow-and turned, as did most of the world's nuclear powers, to the Norwegians, who before World War II had invented an electrolysis method for producing large quantities of heavy water. Norway remained among the international leaders in the export of heavy water in the 1950s, and its sales to the French Atomic Energy Commission had only one condition-that the heavy water not be transferred to a third country. That stipulation was ignored as the French Air Force secretly flew as much as four tons of the water-stored in oversized barrels-to Israel sometime in 1960. [1] A French cover firm, the Research Company for Financing and Enterprise, eventually was set up to handle the extensive contacts and negotiations with the Israeli government and various Israeli subcontractors who would actually build Dimona. There was no problem of security among the subcontractors; all contracts were funneled through Peres and his colleagues in Mapai. The largest Israeli engineering company at Dimona, SoleI Bone Ltd., of Haifa, was closely associated with the Mapai Party; Israelis involved in the early stages of construction at Dimona acknowledged that there was an extensive, and traditional, system of diverting contract funds to the party.


All of this cost money, and the huge expense of Dimona was a constant source of dissent inside the Israeli government, which was in a struggle to match Egypt in the rapid arms buildup in the Middle East. Egypt acquired its first Soviet advanced fighter plane, the MiG-21, in 1960, and Israel continued to purchase the most advanced warplanes available from the French. Both countries obtained bombers from their international patrons, and both were continuing research into ballistic missile delivery systems. By 1961, however, Egypt's military expenditures had reached nearly $340 million, twice as much as Israel was spending.

The perennial critics of Israel's nuclear program, who included Levi Eshkol, the finance minister, and Pinhas Sapir, minister of commerce and industry-the two men dominated the Israeli budget process for more than fifteen years-saw the Egyptian arms buildup as the most compelling argument against investing money at Dimona.

Just how much Israel was spending on the bomb in these years is impossible to estimate accurately, and Israel's 1957 contract with the French for the construction at Dimona has never been made public. One rough estimate, published by the Israeli press in December 1960, put the cost of the reactor alone at $130 million. A detailed study of overall nuclear start-up costs was published in 1983 by Thomas W. Graham, a nonproliferation expert and former U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) official. Graham concluded that France had spent between $10 billion and $15 billion to assemble its secure strike capability, including thermonuclear weapons, with as much as half spent on delivery systems. India similarly would have to invest as much as 10 to 23 percent of its annual defense budget in the nuclear area, Graham wrote, if it were to achieve status as a full-scale nuclear power.

Israel's strategic goal was to achieve nothing less than a secure strike capacity, with thermonuclear weapons and missile and aircraft delivery systems capable of reaching targets in the Soviet Union. The cost of those ambitions was heightened by the fact that so much of the facility at Dimona, including its chemical reprocessing plant, was being built underground. The difficulties of working below the surface could only skyrocket the already high costs of ventilation, waste disposal, and worker safety. Other significant cost factors included the obligation to pay workers well in union-dominated Israel, a reliance on foreign nationals such as the French, and the extensive security needed to protect a secret facility. Israel's ultimate commitment undoubtedly amounted to many billions of dollars.

Ben-Gurion understood that getting Dimona complete would be possible only if it were not being financed out of the Israeli budget. The solution was to begin secret fund-raising for the bomb abroad. Israel already was receiving, according to American intelligence estimates, hundreds of millions a year in overall gifts and contributions from American Jews alone. Sometime in 1960, Shimon Peres decided to form a special group of trusted and discreet donors that became known, according to Israeli sources, as the Committee of Thirty. Certain wealthy Jews around the world, including Baron Edmund de Rothschild of Paris and Abraham Feinberg of New York, were asked to quietly raise money for what Peres called the "special weapons" program, and they did so. Years later, Peres would brag to an interviewer that "not one penny [for Dimona] came from the government budget. The project was financed from contributions I raised from Jewish millionaires who understood the importance of the issue. We collected forty million dollars." Peres also said that he "brought Jewish millionaires to Dimona. I told them what would be here." Former Israeli government officials confirmed that at least one group of foreign contributors was permitted to visit Dimona in 1968, after its completion.

The $40 million raised by Peres would not be nearly enough, however. Israeli officials estimated that by the mid-1960s Israel was spending not scores of millions but hundreds of millions of dollars annually on its nuclear program, with the Peres operation producing a small percentage of the funds and the government underwriting the rest. Ben-Gurion's insistence on continuing to invest that kind of money in the bomb remained a severe source of conflict inside his cabinet and the Mapai Party.

There were reasons other than financial for objecting to the bomb. Old-fashioned military men such as Yigal Allon, who had led troops during the War of Independence; Yitzhak Rabin, the army chief of operations who was destined to be chief of staff; and Ariel Sharon, the Israeli general and commando leader, believed that Israel's essential advantage over the Arabs was the quality and training of its military personnel. To these men, nuclear weapons were nothing more than a great equalizer: an Egypt equipped with the bomb was far more dangerous to Israel than an Egypt limited to conventional arms, even in huge quantities. If Israel possessed nuclear weapons, their analysis continued, it would be impossible to deny them to Egypt or other nations in the Middle East. [2]

Another compelling argument against Dimona was made by the nation's industrial managers throughout the early 1960s, as the reactor and chemical reprocessing plant-nearing completion- continued to necessitate the recruitment of additional scientists and technicians. Israel was, in essence, facing what amounted to a domestic brain drain. By the late 1960s, senior officials of the ministry of commerce and industry were publicly critical of the reduced level of industrial research in the nation. Government funding for such research had been drastically cut back, and industry was lagging increasingly behind science. Scientific innovations still took place, but there were few engineering companies capable of turning those ideas into profitable goods that manufacturers could put into production.

Officials who worked at Dimona in those years acknowledged the predatory hiring practices, with the nation's chemical industry being a prime target. "We raided every place in the country," one former official recalled with pride. "We depleted Israel's industrial system." The only facility off-limits was the small research reactor at Nahal Soreq, near the Weizmann Institute. At its height, the former official said, fifteen hundred Israeli scientists, many with doctorates, worked at Dimona.


The first overt sign of de Gaulle's unease over France's nuclear commitment to Israel came in May 1960, when Maurice Couve de Murville, the French foreign minister, informed the Israeli ambassador that France wanted Israel to make a public announcement about the reactor at Dimona and also agree to submit it to international inspection, similar to the inspection of Nahal Soreq. Without such acts, Couve de Murville said, France would not supply raw uranium to the reactor. Ben-Gurion decided to fly to France for a summit meeting. The two leaders got along well: de Gaulle would later characterize Ben-Gurion in his memoirs as "one of the greatest statesmen of our time.... From the very first moment, I felt sympathetic admiration for this courageous fighter and champion. His personality symbolized Israel, which he has ruled since the day he presided over her creation and struggle." Ben-Gurion, in turn, found de Gaulle to be a "lively, humane man with a sense of humor, very alert, and much kindness."

Bertrand Goldschmidt's personal notes of the meeting, provided to the author, show that de Gaulle, embroiled in Algeria, was worried about the potential for international scandal if France's involvement with Dimona became publicly known. De Gaulle explained, according to the notes, that "if France was the only country to help Israel, while neither the United States, Britain, or the Soviet Union has helped anyone else [get the bomb], she would put herself in an impossible international situation." There was a second worry: "No doubt if Israel had the atomic bomb, Egypt would be receiving one as well."

The critical concern for de Gaulle was Dimona's underground chemical reprocessing plant, then being built according to French specifications: he did not want to be responsible for making the Israeli bomb inevitable. French help in building the plant would have to cease. Ben-Gurion gave his view of the Arab threat, but de Gaulle insisted that the Israeli prime minister was "exaggerating the danger of destruction that threatens you. In no way will we allow you to be massacred. . . . We will defend you. We will not let Israel fall." De Gaulle offered to sell Israel more fighter aircraft.

De Gaulle came away from his meeting convinced, as he wrote in his memoirs, that he had ordered all work to stop on the reprocessing plant: "I put an end to abusive practices of collaboration established on the military level, after the Suez expedition, between Tel Aviv and Paris, and which introduced Israelis permanently to all levels of staff and French services. Thus in particular there was a stop to the aid provided by us near Beersheba, for a plant to transform uranium into plutonium from which some fine day atom bombs could arise." De Gaulle's order, if issued, was ignored. Saint- Gobain's work on the underground reprocessing plant was delayed for more than two years, but in 1962 a new French contractor arrived and finished the job.

Ben-Gurion was pleased with de Gaulle's promises of continued military aid, but he was not willing to trade an Israeli bomb for French warplanes. Over the next few months, Shimon Peres was able to work out a compromise in talks with Couve de Murville that centered on what amounted to an Israeli lie, one that would dominate Israel's public stance on nuclear arms for decades. The Israelis assured France that they had no intention of manufacturing an atomic bomb and would not do any reprocessing of plutonium. A compromise of sorts was reached: French companies would continue to supply the uranium ore and reactor parts that already had been ordered and not demand any foreign inspection. Israel would make public the existence of its nuclear reactor and continue its construction at Dimona without any official French government help.

With the friendly summit behind him, Ben-Gurion did nothing to change the status quo at Dimona. Neither did de Gaulle or the French government. The privately owned French construction firms and their employees maintained a vigorous presence at Dimona until 1966 and continued to be well paid under the existing contracts.



1. Details of this and many other areas of French cooperation with Israel were initially reported by Pierre Pean, a French journalist, in his richly documented 1982 book Les Deux Bombes (Fayard), which was not published in the United States. The essential facts in Pean's book were verified by the author of this book in subsequent interviews with French and Israeli officials. Those officials raised questions, however, about the motives of some of those who had aided Pean. Many of the French companies, they said, that had been involved in the construction of Dimona in the early 1960s were working under contract for Iraq, with the approval of the French Atomic Energy Commission, at the time of the bombing of Osirak in 1981. It was the subsequent political and economic anger at the Israelis that led a few private and public officials to cooperate fully with Pean and provide him with documentation of the French role at Dimona.

2. Moshe Dayan, as one of the few military men who supported the bomb in these early years, was an anomaly. American nonproliferation experts eventually came to understand that there was a correlation between the attitude of military officers toward the bomb and a national commitment to going nuclear. Many senior military officers in both Israel and India objected bitterly to the nuclear weapons arsenal in its early development. However, once the bomb joined the military arsenal, as it did in India in the late 1970s and in Israel a few years earlier, dissent ceased.
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Re: The Samson Option: Israel's Nuclear Arsenal and American

Postby admin » Fri May 26, 2017 5:54 am

Chapter 6: Going Public

By December 1960, John W. Finney had been a reporter for three years in the Washington bureau of the New York Times, covering nuclear issues and the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). Finney, hired away from United Press International by bureau chief James A. Reston, was considered a solid addition to the news staff-but he had yet to bust a big one.

Finney's story came late that month and was, as Finney recalled, "handed to me on a platter."

The messenger was the Times's redoubtable Arthur Krock, then the patriarch of Washington columnists, who approached Finney's desk late one afternoon. Krock was known to young bureau reporters such as Finney for his remoteness and for his daily long lunches with senior government officials at the private Metropolitan Club, a few blocks from the White House.

"Mr. Finney," Krock said, "I think if you call John McCone, he'll have a story for you." John A. McCone, a very wealthy Republican. businessman from California, was chairman of the AEC, and Finney had established good rapport with him. Finney immediately understood the situation: "They were looking to plant a story. I was the right person and Krock was the intermediary." Finney made the call and was promptly invited to McCone's office.

"McCone was mad, sputtering mad," Finney recalled. "He started talking and saying, 'They lied to us.'"


"The Israelis. They told us it was a textile plant." [1] There was new intelligence, McCone said, revealing that the Israelis had secretly built a nuclear reactor in the Negev with French help; McCone wanted Finney to take the story public. Finney's subsequent article, published December 19 on page one in the Times, told the American people what Art Lundahl and Dino Brugioni had been reporting to the White House for more than two years: that Israel, with the aid of the French, was building a nuclear reactor to produce plutonium. "Israel had made no public announcement about the reactor, nor has she privately informed the United States of her plan," Finney wrote, faithfully reflecting what McCone told him. "There is an ill-concealed feeling of annoyance among officials that the United States has been left in the dark by two of its international friends, France and Israel."

Finney's story also noted that McCone had "questioned" Israel about the new information but then added: "Mr. McCone refused to go into details." It was standard operating procedure for official Washington: Finney got the story and McCone was able to duck responsibility for giving it to him.

McCone's leak to Finney would be his parting shot as AEC commissioner; a few days later he announced his resignation on Meet the Press, the NBC Sunday television interview show. The Finney story was being written that same day. Finney was convinced, as McCone wanted him to be, that the commissioner's anger stemmed from recently acquired knowledge, some new intelligence about the Israelis. "McCone left me with the impression," Finney recalled, "that they'd suddenly appreciated that the Israelis were lying to them."

Finney paid a higher price than he realized for his big story; the Eisenhower administration was using him and the New York Times to accomplish what its senior officials were publicly apprehensive about doing themselves-taking on the Israelis over Dimona. McCone, as he did not indicate to Finney, had been briefed regularly on the Israeli nuclear program after replacing Lewis Strauss as AEC commissioner in July 1958; there is no evidence that Strauss, who also received regular briefings on Dimona from Art Lundahl and Dino Brugioni, personally shared his knowledge with McCone. But Lundahl and Brugioni did. McCone, as AEC chairman, was a member of the U.S. Intelligence Advisory Committee, the top-level group at the time, and was, according to Walter N. Elder, a former CIA official who was McCone's long-time aide, "in on the action from the beginning. He sat at the table."

What made McCone (who died in early 1991 after a long, incapacitating illness) join the administration in suddenly reacting to intelligence that had been around for years? Walt Elder, who wrote the still-classified history of McCone's CIA tenure, described McCone as being committed to the concept of nuclear nonproliferation and also aware of the convenient fact that Eisenhower was a month away from ending his eight-year reign in the White House. There could be no better time to act. "He figured, 'I'm through and this is my duty-to let the public know about this,'" said Elder. Another issue, he added, was McCone's frustration at the constant Israeli lying about Dimona: "There was an impetus to do them in."


By December 1960, work at Dimona had progressed to the point where the reactor dome had become visible from nearby roads in the Negev, and thus was more susceptible to being photographed by military attaches. By this time, too, the U-2 program was in disarray: its decline began in May 1960, when Gary Francis Powers was shot down over the Soviet Union. Premier Nikita Khrushchev's rage at the incident, which caught the White House in a series of lies, ruined Eisenhower's Paris summit meeting scheduled for a few weeks later and led him to order an end to all reconnaissance flights over Russia. Arthur Lundahl recalled those months as being "full of fingerpointing and turbulence." The Powers fiasco did not diminish the fact that Eisenhower and Khrushchev had made steady progress over the previous year in drafting a comprehensive treaty banning all nuclear tests; such testing was suspended by both nations until September 1961. That success had led to an overall heightened sensitivity about nuclear proliferation, and also may have played a role in the sudden concern over Dimona. Another factor may have been timing: with the administration coming to an end, there was no longer any compelling reason to worry about domestic pressure from Jewish lobbying groups.


Whatever the reason, even before McCone's summoning of John Finney, there was a coordinated effort at the top levels of government to make Israel acknowledge what it was doing at Dimona. Such unanimity of purpose and widespread access to sensitive intelligence about Dimona wouldn't happen again -- ever.

By the date of McCone's appearance on Meet the Press, Washington had been awash for at least ten days with new information about Dimona and a new desire to do something about it. Even Christian A. Herter, the usually detached and preoccupied secretary of state, was in on it. Armin H. Meyer, a senior foreign service officer soon to be posted as ambassador to Lebanon, recalled his surprise in early December at finding Herter seemingly upset upon being given a photograph of the reactor, as taken from a highway. Herter, the under secretary who had been given the top job after the death of John Foster Dulles in May '959, had gone so far as to call in Avraham Harman, the Israeli ambassador, for an explanation. "I remember being amazed that he felt he could take on the Israelis," Meyer said. "It was the only time I really saw him burn. Something must have happened in the nuclear field that gave him the safety to raise the issue. He felt he was on sacred ground." [2]

Herter, in fact, had done some independent checking of his own. Shortly after receiving the intelligence, he asked an aide to approach the French and find out whether they indeed were helping the Israelis. The aide, Philip J. Farley, had been around -he'd served since '956 as a special assistant to John Foster Dulles for arms control-and knew that a direct approach would be "pointless." Farley quietly raised the issue with a deputy to the French ambassador and came away convinced, as he reported to Herter, that the fears about a French connection were warranted. The ambassador's deputy "said all the right things," Farley recalled, referring to his pro forma denials, "but the way he acted ..." The next step was a discussion with the ambassador, who insisted that Dimona was "merely a research reactor." Farley was enough of an expert to know that the reactor at Dimona was obviously too large for pure research, and, after a discussion in the National Security Council, Herter was instructed by the White House to give a formal diplomatic protest (known as a demarche) to the French.
As luck would have it, Couve de Murville, the French foreign minister, was in Washington for a meeting. He was approached, Farley recalled, but assured the State Department that the Israeli reactor was benign and that any plutonium generated in its operation would be returned to France for safekeeping. "He just plain lied to us," said Farley, still indignant in an interview thirty years later. At the time, of course, Farley added, he and his colleagues in the bureaucracy did not begin to realize the extent of Couve de Murville's dissembling; they had no idea that it was France that had made the Israeli bomb possible.


The summoning of Israeli Ambassador Harman had taken place on December 9; within days, the administration had escalated the question of what was going on at Dimona to a near-crisis level. House and Senate members of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy were summoned urgently from Christmas recess to a secret briefing on Dimona by CIA and State Department officials. CIA Director Allen Dulles also arranged for President-elect John F. Kennedy to be briefed. It seems clear that none of this-the demarche to the French, the briefing of the joint committee, and the briefing of the President-elect -- could have taken place without the explicit approval of Dwight Eisenhower.

Washington also was sharing its concern with its allies, and it was that communication that moved the diplomatic concern about Dimona onto the front pages. The story broke in the world's press on December 16, when the London Daily Express, a tabloid, published a major story saying that "British and American intelligence authorities believe that the Israelis are well on the way to building their first experimental nuclear bomb." The dispatch was written by Chapman Pincher, known for his close ties to the British intelligence and nuclear communities. Pincher had indeed gotten a tip from a senior figure in British atomic weapons research, whose concern was that an Israeli bomb would necessarily be "dirty"- that is, generate a lot of radioactive fallout. Pincher, in a telephone interview, said that his next step was to call an old contact in Mossad and verify the story. "I had a very good connection to Mossad," Pincher said. "I had good Jewish friends here [in London]. They did make use of me for quite a long time -- feeding me anti-Palestinian information." Pincher's relationship with Mossad was predicated on the understanding that, as he recalled, "if they ever fed me a bum steer, I'd blow them out of the water."


McCone's leak to John Finney, his strong statements on Meet the Press, and his later actions in the Kennedy administration -- he replaced Allen Dulles as CIA director in the fall of 1961would get him labeled by some as anti-semitic. There was no known basis for such allegations, however: McCone, as he would demonstrate anew as CIA director, was dead set against any nuclear proliferation and repeatedly railed against the French as well as the Israelis. He also was offended by the Israeli and French lying about their collaboration in the Negev, and he viewed Washington's acquiescence in those lies with contempt. Myron B. Kratzer, the AEC's director of international affairs in December 1960, recalled being telephoned a few hours before McCone's farewell appearance on Meet the Press by a State Department colleague and told to urge McCone to downplay the Israeli issue. Kratzer relayed the request, and McCone blew up. "He said to me," Kratzer recalls, " 'I haven't lived all these years to go out of office telling anything less than the truth.'" [3] One of McCone's goals, Kratzer says, was to force the Israelis to accept international inspection of Dimona.


In Israel, Deputy Minister of Defense Shimon Peres, forewarned by Ambassador Harman and perhaps by Mossad, began working up the cover story. There was a widespread suspicion in the prime minister's office that the truth about Dimona had been leaked to the British press by some of the men around de Gaulle; the French had continued to urge the Israelis to make public the existence of the reactor since the June summit meeting between de Gaulle and Ben-Gurion. Betrayal by an ally was, for the Israelis, always the expected; Peres's immediate goal was to keep his and Ben-Gurion's dream on track. The stakes were high: any extended publicity about Dimona threatened one of Israel's most significant international successes-the purchase from Norway the year before of twenty tons of heavy water, to be used, Israel had assured the Norwegians, to fuel what was said to be an experimental nuclear power station at Dimona. Norway had been given a pledge of peaceful use and the right to inspect the heavy water, which it would do only once in the next thirty-two years. The twenty-ton purchase of heavy water was obviously much more than required to fuel a twenty-four-megawatt reactor; a Norwegian complaint, with its resulting publicity, would be devastating in the wake of the worldwide protests over Dimona.

On December 20, Peres met with those defense ministry staff aides who knew of Dimona and summarized the various cover stories that would become David Ben-Gurion's public stance on the issue: the reactor at Dimona was part of a long- ange program for development of the Negev desert and existed only for peaceful purposes. Those who called for inspection of the reactor, Peres said, "are the same people who advocate the internationalization of Jerusalem." [4]

On the next day, Ben-Gurion publicly described to the full membership of the Knesset what was being built, in the name of Israel, in the Negev: a twenty-four-megawatt reactor "dedicated entirely to peaceful purposes." There was another facility on the grounds of Dimona, the prime minister added: "a scientific institute for arid zone research." When completed, Ben-Gurion said, the entire facility "will be open to students from other countries." It was the first time members of Israel's parliament had been officially told about the reactor construction. Asked specifically about the published reports in Europe and the United States, Ben-Gurion casually denied them as "either a deliberate or unconscious untruth."

Ben-Gurion was treating the Knesset as he always did when it came to issues of state security: as a useless deliberative body that debated and talked instead of taking action. He and his colleagues simply did not believe that the talkative Knesset had a prominent role to play when it came to security issues. They were not contemptuous of the Knesset, whose deliberations on other issues were accepted with respect, but saw themselves as pragmatists who-unlike the Knesset-believed in acting first, and then talking. Knesset members, for their part, accepted Ben-Gurion's view that it would be inappropriate to assert their legislative rights in a debate over Dimona. Not one member dared to ask the obvious question: if the reactor at Dimona were nothing more than a peaceful research tool, as Ben-Gurion publicly insisted, why did it need to be swathed in such secrecy? The Knesset was only too eager to accept any government statement denying the intent to produce nuclear weapons.

Even Ernst David Bergmann's categorical denial of any plan to make the bomb was accepted without challenge, although Bergmann's total involvement with the bomb was widely known. Bergmann was in the embarrassing position of still serving as chairman and sole member of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission, although there had been no commissioners for him to chair for years. The six other members all had left their posts by the mid-1950s; the departures have repeatedly been cited by scholars and in American intelligence files as evidence of serious disagreement inside the Israeli scientific community over Bergmann's plans for Dimona. For the most part, they were not. The commission members moved en masse to the physics department at the Weizmann Institute, according to Israeli sources, because senior government officials hostile to nuclear development, including Levi Eshkol and Pinhas Lavon, then the defense minister, refused to allocate research funds for them. Two of the former commissioners would emerge in the 1960s as critics of the nuclear programs; others, such as Amos Deshalit, Israel's most eminent nuclear physicist, ended up being closely involved with Dimona.

The Israeli statements were not challenged in subsequent days and weeks by the Eisenhower administration, which, having triggered the first public discussion of the Israeli bomb, immediately retreated in the face of Israeli's shameless denials. In a statement released to the press on the day after Ben-Gurion's speech, the White House joined with the Knesset in accepting the Israeli cover story for Dimona at face value: "The government of Israel has given assurances that its new reactor is dedicated solely for research purposes to develop scientific knowledge and thus to serve the needs of industry, agriculture, health and science.... Israel states it will welcome visits by students and scientists of friendly countries to the reactor upon its completion." The statement, personally approved by the President, added, "It is gratifying to note that as made public the Israel atomic energy program does not represent cause for special concern."

The administration's retreat continued on the next day: it was now concerned with limiting the worldwide criticism directed at Israel. A private State Department circular sent on December 22 to American embassies around the world, written in cablese, noted that the government "believes Israel atomic energy program as made public does not represent cause for special concern." Officials of the department, who had been involved in the initial decision earlier in the month to pressure Israel, were now said, according to the circular, which was released under the Freedom of Information Act, to be "considerably disturbed by large amount of info re USG [United States Government] interest in Israel's atomic program which has leaked into American and world press. Effort has been to create more excitement than facts as revealed by Israelis warrant. Department will do what it can in Washington and hopes addressee posts can assist in stilling atmosphere." The notion of "stilling atmosphere" would define America's enduring policy toward the Israeli bomb.

There was one final protest, in secret. On January 6, 1961, Christian Herter gave his farewell briefing as secretary of state to a closed session of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (the transcript was declassified in 1984). Dimona came up, and Herter was discussing the "disturbing" new element in the Middle East when Senator Bourke B. Hickenlooper, the conservative Republican from Iowa, interrupted testily. "I think the Israelis have just lied to us like horse thieves on this thing," Hickenlooper said. "They have completely distorted, misrepresented, and falsified the facts in the past. I think it is very serious ... to have them perform in this manner in connection with this very definite production reactor facility which they have been secretly building, and which they have consistently, and with a completely straight face, denied to us they were building." Hickenlooper knew what he was talking about: at the time he was chairman of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy.

The powerful senator also knew that he was just blowing off steam in a secret hearing. No one in the lame-duck Eisenhower administration was going to do anything more to take on Israel. "I'm not going to ask you as secretary of state to answer," Hickenlooper added limply. "I hope I am wrong."

Dimona would be left for the New Frontier of John F. Kennedy.



1. There is no evidence that the Israeli government ever claimed to Washington that the construction at Dimona was a textile plant. Those American and European diplomats who inquired invariably were informed that Dimona was a research facility (usually for agriculture) or a chemical plant. McCone's comment to Finney became widely accepted as fact, nonetheless, and prompted a whimsical column by Art Buchwald in the New York Herald Tribune on January 10, 1961. Buchwald told of an Israeli cab driver who six months earlier had driven an American diplomat to Dimona in search of a suit, at wholesale prices, from the textile plant. The technicians at Dimona decided to let him in and pretend that "nothing was going on." When the diplomat inquired about buying a suit, he was told: "'Perhaps you would like something in cobalt blue? Or maybe a nice uranium brown? How about a cosmic gray, double-breasted, with pinstriped particles?' " The diplomat was measured for his suit behind a six-foot wall of lead. Another scientist "rushed in with a Geiger counter, a slide rule, and two robot arms. The head of the plant took a pad and said: 'Shimshon, call off the customer's measurements.' Shimshon yelled out: 'Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, oil' " There were more measurements: "'Waist U-235; relatively good chest; there is a hexagonal prism in the left shoulder; the right sleeve needs reactor.''' As the diplomat left, Buchwald wrote, he was told: " 'Please, kind sir, do not tell your friends about us because we have too much work now, and if we take any more orders the plant will explode.'"

2. Herter had stunned America's European allies during his April 1959 confirmation hearings by declaring that he could not "conceive of any President engaging in all-out nuclear war unless we were in danger of all-out devastation ourselves." The statement, while undoubtedly correct, played into the hands of de Gaulle's ambitions for the force de frappe. The historian Richard J. Barnet, writing about Herter's statement in 1983, commented: "In a sentence the new secretary had blown away the solemn assurances of a decade."

3. McCone, perhaps anticipating a return to public life, did play the game nonetheless, saying on television that there was only "informal and unofficial information" about Dimona. He also said he did not know whether any of the nuclear powers (France, England, the United States, and the Soviet Union) had aided Israel. McCone's discretion was made easier, of course, by the knowledge of the Pincher dispatch and the fact that the New York Times was a day away from publishing John Finney's much more complete story.

4. Ben-Gurion and his immediate associates were prepared to say whatever was necessary for what they believed to be the good of the state. In his biography of Ben-Gurion, Michael Bar-Zohar tells of the prime minister's determination to shield his and the Israeli Army's responsibility for the brutal 1953 slaying of seventy Jordanians in the border village of Kibiya. The retaliatory raid had been led by Ariel Sharon. A statement was issued in Ben-Gurion's name blaming the atrocity on the inhabitants of nearby Jewish border settlements. Asked by a confidant to explain his action, Ben-Gurion cited a passage from Victor Hugo's Les Miserables in which a nun lies to a policeman about the whereabouts of an escaped prisoner. The nun committed no sin in lying, Ben-Gurion argued, "because her lie was designed to save human life. A lie like that is measured by a different yardstick." Moshe Sharett, Ben-Gurion's longtime rival, subsequently was depicted by Bar-Zohar as being "astounded" by the lie: "I would have resigned if it had fallen to me to step before a microphone and broadcast a fictitious account of what happened to the people of Israel and to the whole world."
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Re: The Samson Option: Israel's Nuclear Arsenal and American

Postby admin » Fri May 26, 2017 5:56 am

Chapter 7: Dual Loyalty

Lewis Strauss, John McCone's predecessor as chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, was the epitome of the 1950s Cold Warrior, an American booster who was adamantly opposed to the spread of nuclear weapons. Strauss certainly knew as much about Dimona as anybody in the intelligence community by the time he left the AEC in 1958. There is no evidence, however, that he raised questions about the Israeli weapons program while in government; nor was he known to have ever discussed Dimona after leaving office. He most certainly did not tell McCone, a devout Roman Catholic, about it.

Strauss chose not to talk about the Israeli nuclear program because, as a Jew with deep feelings about the Holocaust, he approved of it. His strong private feelings about Israel and its need for security were in sharp contrast to his public image of a thoroughly assimilated Jew who offended many-and amused others-by insisting that his name be pronounced "Straws."

A conservative investment banker from Virginia who rose to admiral in the Navy Reserves during World War II, Strauss viewed America's nuclear arsenal as essential to survival against the Soviet Union; those who disagreed with him were not merely wrong, they were Communist dupes. He had left his Wall Street firm after the war to serve until 1950 as one of the original members of the Atomic Energy Commission, an independent federal agency set up to be custodian of America's nuclear materials, just as the Army's Manhattan Engineering District had been administratively in charge of Oppenheimer's secret work in Los Alamos. Strauss and his five fellow commissioners now found themselves the proprietors of all fissionable materials; they also were responsible for operating the nation's nuclear reactors and developing atomic bombs. Civilian control of the nuclear arsenal was so total that the commission initially did not tell the military either the number or the yield of the bombs being manufactured, creating havoc with the Joint Chiefs of Staff's early nuclear war planning. (The Department of Energy is in charge of nuclear weapons production today.)

Strauss quickly emerged as the strongman of the commission, and he became even more powerful in 1953 when Eisenhower asked him to return to the AEC as its chairman. Strauss supported loyalty oaths for citizens with access to nuclear information. He was insistent on continued nuclear testing and publicly took issue with those who claimed that fallout from the tests was dangerous to human health. He also fought against attempts by the Eisenhower administration to negotiate a nuclear test ban treaty or any other nuclear arms agreement with the Soviet Union. Strauss sided with those in the government and Congress who sought to prevent the passing of weapons information to the European allies in fear that the Soviet bloc would gain access to it.

At the same time, he championed Atoms for Peace, the Eisenhower administration program that called for America's allies to be provided with American nuclear technology and nuclear fuel-under international safeguards-to promote the peaceful use of atomic energy. The assumption, which turned out to be dreadfully wrong, was that smaller nations, once supplied with the enriched uranium or plutonium needed to drive a nuclear power plant, would have no incentive or desire to develop nuclear weapons. Strauss was, not surprisingly, a proponent of private enterprise and worked hard to ensure that industry-and not the government-would be permitted to build and operate nuclear power plants.

The AEC commissioner became best known to most Americans, however, for his dislike of J. Robert Oppenheimer, who had sparked a furor in the early 1950s by calling on the United States to abate the arms race by forgoing the hydrogen bomb. In 1954, Strauss led a bitter and successful fight to strip Oppenheimer of his security clearance; the hearings, which eventually centered on Oppenheimer's loyalty and integrity, captivated the nation. Strauss's activities against Oppenheimer were not always in the open; evidence subsequently was revealed showing that Strauss had directed the FBI to monitor Oppenheimer's movements and tap his telephone, including calls to his attorney, in an effort to make sure that the clearance would be denied.

Strauss's tactics and his prickly public demeanor ensured that he would never be well liked, despite his playing a major role in American nuclear policy until his death in 1974, at age seventy-seven. Even close associates viewed him as aloof, arrogant, and calculating; many others viewed his demand that he be called "Straws" as a sign that he was defensive about being Jewish. None of this seemed to matter to Dwight Eisenhower, who trusted, his judgment and would later describe him as among the "towering governmental figures" of Western civilization. Eisenhower offered him a series of top jobs after Strauss decided in 1958 to leave the AEC-as secretary of state and White House chief of staff, both of which Strauss refused-and finally got him to agree to become secretary of commerce. The 1959 confirmation hearings were a disaster-Strauss was caught• being less than candid with the Senate Commerce Committee -and led to a humiliating rejection. He was the only cabinet nominee not to be confirmed during Eisenhower's two terms, and only the eighth such rejection in American history.

Strauss remained undaunted in his hostility to the Soviet Union after leaving public life, telling a congressional panel during hearings on the Kennedy administration's proposed nuclear test ban, "I'm not sure that the reduction of [U.S.- USSR] tension is necessarily a good thing." He also continued to advocate the use of atomic energy, and in 1964 made a visit to Israel -apparently his first-to consult with the government on a proposed nuclear-powered water desalinization plant.

At some point in his AEC career, Strauss, who attended most of the international conferences on the peaceful uses of the atom, met and befriended his Israeli counterpart, Ernst David Bergmann. It was a relationship shared with few; neither Strauss's biographer nor his son, Lewis, who has had access to all of his father's personal papers, knew that the two had met.

The friendship with Bergmann provides the strongest evidence of Strauss's sympathy for the Israeli nuclear weapons program. In the fall of 1966, Strauss used his influence to get Bergmann a two-month appointment as a visiting fellow at the prestigious Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton. Strauss, who never graduated from college, had joined the institute's board of trustees during World War II, and he continued to be one of its major contributors and fund-raisers. The institute rarely dealt with chemists-its fellows are. physicists and mathematicians-but the rules were bent for Strauss. Bergmann was a bitter man at that point; he had been forced to resign his posts at the defense ministry and as head of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission after his continued objections to Prime Minister Levi Eshkol's decision-in part because of pressure from President Lyndon B. Johnson-to delay full-scale nuclear weapons production.

"Strauss had nudged me about Bergmann," recalled Carl Kaysen, then the institute's newly appointed director. "He told me he was a very distinguished scientist." It was only after Bergmann arrived, Kaysen added, that he learned who he was and what he did. Bergmann wasn't very busy, and "he would come by and talk to me. It became clear that he and Strauss were close, and also clear that he was working on [the Israeli nuclear] weapons program. He was very relaxed about it." It was also obvious that Bergmann was telling Kaysen all that he had told Strauss. Kaysen, a distinguished political economist who had been deputy assistant to the President for national security affairs, wasn't surprised to learn that Israel was interested in nuclear bombs, but it was a jolt to realize that Strauss -seemingly so ambivalent about his Jewishness and so opposed to any spread of nuclear weapons technology-privately was in favor of a nuclear-armed Israel.


Perhaps because Strauss's political life was so mired in turbulence, the public and the press never had a chance to get more than a glimpse of his private feelings about being Jewish and his guilt about not doing more in the 1930s to save Jews caught up in the Holocaust.

There was really no secret about his Jewishness--Strauss had been a leader since 1938 of Congregation Emanu-El, the largest and most prominent Reform synagogue in New York City. In 1957, Eisenhower had briefly toyed with the idea of naming him secretary of defense, but decided that his Jewishness would cause too many problems with the Arab nations in the Middle East. Yet Strauss's activities on behalf of a Jewish homeland apparently were not known, not even to his close associates in the Atomic Energy Commission. In his memoirs, published in 1962, Strauss wrote bitterly about the Nazi Holocaust and those -including himself-who did not do enough: "The years from 1933 to the outbreak of World War II will ever be a nightmare to me, and the puny efforts I made to alleviate the tragedies were utter failures, save in a few individual cases-pitifully few."

In 1933, Strauss had been asked by the American Jewish Committee to attend an international conference in London on the Jewish plight. There he met Dr. Chaim Weizmann and listened as the conferees agreed that an "astronomical sum" of money from the United States must be raised to help resettle what could be millions of Jews. Strauss, then fervently opposed to a Jewish state in Palestine, was the only delegate to raise his voice in dissent during the conference, a position he came to• regret. Six years later, Strauss would spend much time and effort in an unsuccessful attempt to convince the British government to donate a large chunk of colonial Africa for resettlement by European refugees, Jews and non-Jews alike. With the Nazi blitzkrieg only months away, money was no longer an object: Strauss and his American colleagues, who included Bernard Baruch, the financier, were agreed that as much as $300 million could be raised. [1] It was too late; Strauss's strong feelings about that failure-and the failure of world leadership -- are explicit in his memoir: "The tidal wave of war swept over the continents and across the ocean and a world in shock closed its eyes, figuratively and literally, to the plight of the unfortunate beings who were engulfed." [2]

Like many Jews, Strauss remained hostile to Zionism all of his life, but he won the confidence of his colleagues in the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission by publicly joining them in prayer in Geneva during the 1955 United Nations Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, at the time the largest international scientific conference ever held. More than fifteen hundred delegates from seventy nations, including Israel, whose delegation was led by Ernst Bergmann, took part. Moshe Sharett, then foreign minister, received a full report-as he noted in a diary entry for September 18, 1955-from a deputy, who characteristically thought it important to tell Sharett that at least three hundred of the delegates were Jewish. Despite that large number, Sharett wrote, when the Jewish community of Geneva arranged for a special Friday-night service, "present only were the Jewish delegation [to the conference] and the head of the U.S. delegation, Admiral Strauss."

Strauss, nonetheless, worked hard while in Washington at reining in his intense feelings about being Jewish and about the Holocaust, although many of his former subordinates from the AEC remarked in interviews about his unrelenting hostility to Germans and his reluctance to deal with Germans on any issue. Yet the longtime AEC official Myron Kratzer, who is also Jewish, did not find out until Strauss had left the AEC that the former chairman followed the tradition of fasting during Yom Kippur, the holiest Jewish holiday. Strauss had been asked by Eisenhower after his retirement to head the American delegation to an international meeting in Vienna, and on Yom Kippur, Kratzer recalled, "Strauss did not show up. He simply closed himself in his room on that day."


Strauss's background and his strong feelings about the Holocaust cannot be disregarded in analyzing why he did not tell anyone-especially John McCone-about Dimona. Fair or not, the issue of "dual loyalty"-exemplified by Strauss's actions -- has been a very real concern to the American intelligence community since the creation of Israel in 1948. American Jews, for example, were routinely barred for many years from dealing with Israeli issues inside CIA headquarters; none of the early station chiefs or agents assigned to Israel was Jewish. One Jew who served decades later in a high position in the CIA angrily acknowledged that when he arrived, "every fucking Jew in the CIA was in accounting or legal." The official wasn't quite right, but even those few Jews who did get to the top, such as Edward W. Proctor, who served as deputy director for intelligence in the mid-1970s, were not given access to all of the sensitive files in connection with Israel. Jews also were excluded from Hebrew language training (at one time called "special Arabic") in the National Security Agency; such training, of course, is a prerequisite for being assigned to NSA field stations hat intercept Israeli communications. There was a flat ban in the Navy communications intelligence agency (known as the Naval Security Group) on the assignment of a Jew to a Middle East issue.

There was-and still is-a widespread belief among American foreign service officers that any diplomatic reporting critical of Israel would somehow be delivered within days to the Israeli embassy in Washington. In 1963 the Kennedy administration informally agreed with Israel that neither country would spy on or conduct espionage activities against the other. The agreement was sought by American officials, a former Kennedy aide recalled, in an attempt to limit the extent of Israeli penetration of America.

The truth is that Jews and non-Jews alike looked the other way when it came to Israel's nuclear capability. The notion of dual loyalty solely as a Jewish problem is far too narrow; the Jewish survivors who became Israelis, with their incredible travails and sufferings during World War II, had and still have enormous appeal to Americans of all backgrounds. The primary effect of "dual loyalty" has been a form of self-censorship that has kept the United States government from dealing rationally and coherently with the strategic and political issues raised by a nuclear-armed Israel. The issue is not whether rules or laws have been broken, but that very few officials who supported Israel, Jewish or not, have used their position to try to obtain a complete and accurate picture of the Israeli nuclear program. And no one tried to stop it. Those few government bureaucrats in the nonproliferation field who even tried to learn all there was to learn about Dimona were often accused of being "zealots"-and thus not fully trustworthy.

Yet, being Jewish inevitably raised questions, even among the most fair-minded of men. Dino Brugioni briefed Strauss regularly on U-2 nuclear intelligence, but found him inscrutable when it came to information on the Israeli nuclear reactor: "I never knew what he was thinking; never understood him. I'd get the reaction 'That's all right.'" Brugioni had his own reasons for wondering about Strauss. He knew there was evidence inside the CIA suggesting that American and European Jews had been directly involved in the financing and construction of Dimona from the start. "There was a fervor, especially among New York Jews," Brugioni added. "The attitude was 'You had to protect Israel,' and anybody [in the intelligence community] who did not suffered."

In interviews for this book with senior officials of the American nuclear weapons program-men similar to Lewis Strauss, who spent part or all of their life making bombs-none expressed any doubt about Israel's nuclear ambitions. Most told of close personal friendships with Israeli physicists who were working on the Israeli weapons program. No one with the sophistication and expertise of Lewis Strauss could have had any question about the significance of a secret reactor in the Negev. His widow, Alice, still spry in 1991 at the age of eighty-eight, acknowledged that her husband, who was very closemouthed about his work, "would have approved of Israel trying to defend itself. No question of that." Strauss also had to know that a Jewish nuclear physicist named Raymond Fox had created high-level consternation by emigrating to Israel in 1957 from California, where he had access to weapons design information at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the nuclear research facility operated by the University of California for the Atomic Energy Commission. Fox's secrets could be invaluable to the Israelis at Dimona.

Strauss's failure to discuss Dimona with John McCone may have been done in the belief that he had an obligation to ensure that what happened to the Jews of Europe under Hitler could not happen again. Perhaps he thought he was atoning for what he did not do, or could not do, to help the Jews of Europe before World War II. Similar choices were made over the next thirty years by Jews and non-Jews in the American government, who looked the other way when it came to Dimona. Were they guilty of a double standard, as Dino Brugioni and others in the intelligence community suggest? Did Lewis Strauss, who so eagerly assumed the worst when it came to the loyalty of men such as J. Robert Oppenheimer, fail to fulfill the obligations of his office in terms of the known intelligence on Dimona and his obligation to tell his successor about it?


Many American Jews, perhaps understandably, believe the question of "dual loyalty" is an issue that should never be raised in public. They fear that any discussion of Jewish support for Israel at the expense of the United States would feed anti-Semitism; the fear seems to be that non-Jews are convinced that any Jewish support for Israel precludes primary loyalty to the United States. A second issue, in terms of American Jewish support for Israel, is that any public accounting of Israel's nuclear capacity would trigger renewed fears among Arab nations of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy and a redoubling of Arab efforts to get the bomb.

Weighing against those concerns are several questions. Can the world afford to pretend that Israel is not a nuclear power because to do otherwise would raise difficult issues? Can any international agreement to limit the spread of nuclear weapons be enforced if Israel's bombs are not fully accounted for? Can the Arab nations truly be expected to ignore Israel's possession of atomic weapons simply because the weapons are not publicized? Should Israel, because of its widespread and emotional support in America, be held to a different moral standard than Pakistan or North Korea or South Africa?

Many senior nonproliferation officials in the American government were convinced by the early 1990S that the Middle East remained the one place where nuclear weapons might be used. "Israel has a well-thought-out nuclear strategy and, if sufficiently threatened, they will use it," said one expert who has been involved in government studies on the nuclear issue in the Middle East for two decades.


Some of Strauss's former subordinates in the AEC find it difficult to believe that his Jewishness would have been the reason that Strauss would or would not tell John McCone about Dimona. Algie A. Wells, who was director of international affairs for the AEC in mid-1958, at the time McCone replaced Strauss, suggested that there were far more trivial reasons for Strauss to have ignored his statutory responsibility as AEC chairman: "Why would Strauss have told McCone? The men weren't close. They both had colossal egos. I can't imagine them being buddy-buddy and having a drink together." In Wells's view, whether Strauss did or did not tell McCone wasn't that important. Wells had been in Israel in 1958, he recalled, and learned then-as had any government official who chose to do so-that Israel was building a nuclear reactor. If McCone was surprised to learn about the reactor in late 1960, added Wells, "he shouldn't have been."



1. The goal was to convince the British to cede a tract of land in Kenya, Tanganyika (now Tanzania), or northern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Strauss carried a letter to London from Baruch in the late summer of 1939 noting that the land to be ceded in Africa could be "cleaned up with modern equipment. The world has not always been as clean as it is now. Our own country was full of morasses. Panama and Cuba were cleaned up, and Africa can be cleaned up, too. ... [I]n this new land there would be a place for tens of millions and they would be the best, the strongest and the most courageous peoples... ," Missing from the Baruch-Strauss proposal is any thought or concern about the Africans who lived in the areas to be ceded. Any such resettlement would have inevitably resulted in internal conflict similar to that raging then-and now-between the Israelis and those Palestinians who were ousted from their homelands by the Zionist movement.

2. Neither Strauss nor the CIA's Dino Brugioni knew it at the time, of course, but reconnaissance aircraft of the Mediterranean Allied Air Force and the Fifteenth U.S. Air Force repeatedly overflew and photographed the Nazi crematoriums at Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland in the last year of the war, where twelve thousand Jews and gypsies were being murdered daily by 1944. The death camps were about five miles from an LG. Farben synthetic oil and rubber complex that was bombed four times in World War II. In 1978, Brugioni and Robert Poirier, a CIA colleague, noticed that the camps were in direct alignment with the reconnaissance path for the Farben complex. Brugioni knew from his own experiences that reconnaissance cameras were always turned on well before the target was reached. Were there aerial photos of the camps buried in Pentagon World War II archives? In a subsequent essay, Brugioni wrote: "We found that the extermination complex had been photographed at least thirty times. Analyzing the photographs, we could see the four large complexes of gas chamber and crematoriums.. . Bodies were 'being buried in trenches or burned in large open pits. Some of the photos showed victims being marched to their deaths, while others showed prisoners being processed for slave labour." The photographs were invaluable as a historical record-the Nazis had forbidden any photography while the camps were in operation -and President Jimmy Carter personally presented a monograph based on them to the President's Commission on the Holocaust. During the war, Brugioni added, there was no historical or social background that would have enabled Air Force photo interpreters, intent on targeting the IG. Farben plant, to understand what they were seeing: "Anytime a line of people near a building were seen in a picture, it was usually labeled 'mess hall.'" There were other factors that prevented a close study of the camp photographs at the time, insisted Brugioni, most significantly the intense intelligence needs of the June 1944 D-Day invasion of Europe, which resulted in heavy workloads for all Allied photo interpreters. Allied warplanes also were attempting to break the back of the Luftwaffe in late 1944 by heavy raids on all of the synthetic fuel plants in Germany, Brugioni said, creating yet another demand for photo interpretation and bomb damage assessment.
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