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.

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

Postby admin » Fri May 26, 2017 6:00 am

Chapter 8: A Presidential Struggle

Abraham Feinberg shared Lewis Strauss's belief in operating behind the scenes on behalf of Israel, but Feinberg operated in a way Strauss could not-with single-mindedness and abandon. Feinberg, a New Yorker who made his fortune in the hosiery and apparel business, had helped bankroll Harry S. Truman's seemingly doomed 1948 presidential campaign; by the presidential campaign of 1960 he was perhaps the most important Jewish fund-raiser for the Democratic Party. There was nothing subtle in his message: the dollars he collected were meant to ensure continued Democratic Party support for Israel.

Feinberg also had been a "player"-to use his word-who shared the early dreams of his good friend Ernst David Bergmann of a nuclear-armed Israel. He served publicly as president of the Israel Bond Organization, while privately helping to raise some of the many millions of dollars needed to build the controversial reactor and reprocessing plant at Dimona. Feinberg accepted the fact that the expanding and expensive operations at Dimona had to be financed outside of the normal Israeli budget process; there were too many critics of the nuclear program inside and outside Israel to raise money any other way. The unwanted publicity at the end of the Eisenhower administration had only added to Ben-Gurion's and Shimon Peres's determination to protect the secret. Feinberg was more than just a fund-raiser in all this; he became an inside advocate for Ben-Gurion and Peres as President Kennedy, who brought in John McCone as director of central intelligence in September 1961, established himself as firmly opposed to the Israeli bomb. There was a particularly close association with Peres: "He came to me often for money. If he gave the assignment to me, I helped him."

Feinberg remains proud of his support for Israel and its secret weapons program. His most pitched battle on behalf of Israel came in the early days of the Kennedy administration when he successfully helped fight off the initial Kennedy insistence that an American inspection team be permitted full and unfettered access to Dimona. Feinberg's success was rooted in the American political process. "My path to power," he explains, "was cooperation in terms of what they needed-campaign money."

Feinberg's first taste of political power had come in the waning days of the Truman campaign against Thomas E. Dewey, the New York Republican governor who was seemingly running away with the 1948 election. "From the beginning of my political affiliation with Truman," he explained, "I felt it was the duty of every Jew to help Israel." Feinberg, as a member of a Democratic campaign finance committee, was invited to a White House meeting with the President, who had won the worldwide admiration of Jews for his decision to recognize the State of Israel earlier in the year. "If I had to bet money," Feinberg recalled Truman saying, "I'd bet on myself-if I could go across the country by train." At least $100,000 would be needed, the President said. Feinberg told Truman's aides that he would be able to guarantee the money by the end of the day, and subsequently he arranged for Truman's whistle-stop train campaign to be met by local Jewish leaders at each stop "to be refueled"-that is, provided with additional contributions as needed.

Among Feinberg's prize possessions is a seven-page handwritten letter of thanks and praise from Truman. Feinberg estimates that he and his Jewish colleagues raised "in the neighborhood of $400,000" during the 1948 whistle-stop campaign. Truman understood the rules and at some later point discussed naming Feinberg ambassador to Israel. Feinberg declined: "I told him no Jew should be ambassador to Israel until the peace was solved."

Feinberg's account of his bankrolling of Harry Truman is found in none of the contemporary histories of that period, [1] and-like some of his later special fund-raising activities for Dimona-cannot be fully verified. Strong evidence is available, however, that Feinberg's role was as pivotal as he suggests. For example, Clark Clifford, the eminent Washington attorney who was a Truman aide and poker-playing crony, has a vivid recollection of a crucial Feinberg intervention during the whistle-stop campaign. Clifford was not involved in Democratic Party fund-raising, but he did know that midway through the train trip, the presidential campaign was out of money. Keeping the campaign alive, he recalled, was "as difficult a task as anybody ever had. We couldn't find anyone who thought we'd win." Disaster loomed in Oklahoma City when one of the radio networks- this was the pre-television era-informed the campaign that it would not nationally broadcast a much-touted Truman foreign policy speech unless "it was paid for in advance. This put us in shock," Clifford added. "It would have been embarrassing beyond measure." Something like $60,000 in cash was needed-immediately. "Truman thought about who he could turn to," continued Clifford. "The fellow he later spoke about who came through for him was Abe Feinberg. I always gave credit to Abe for saving that particular program and saving us that embarrassment. He really came through."

Feinberg was also active in fund-raising for Adlai E. Stevenson, the losing Democratic candidate in 1952 and 1956, and was a strong backer of Senator Stuart Symington, Democrat of Missouri, for the Democratic presidential nomination. (Symington would emerge later as an ardent supporter of a nuclear-armed Israel and, paradoxically, as author of key Senate legislation to limit the spread of such weapons.) He played no role in John Kennedy's primary campaign for the Democratic nomination: like many Jews, Feinberg was convinced that Kennedy's father was anti-Semitic. Joseph P. Kennedy, a self-made millionaire and prominent Catholic, had fought against going to war with Germany while serving as Franklin D. Roosevelt's ambassador to England before World War II. A few weeks after Kennedy's nomination by the Democrats, however, Feinberg was contacted by Governor Abraham Ribicoff of Connecticut, who had been Kennedy's floor manager during the Democratic convention. "I was the only Jew for him," Ribicoff recalled. "And I realized that Jews were for anybody but Jack Kennedy. I told Kennedy I was going to get in touch with Abe Feinberg, who I thought was a key Jew. I arranged a meeting [with Kennedy] in Feinberg's apartment in the Hotel Pierre and we invited all the leading Jews." About twenty prominent businessmen and financiers showed up. [2]

It was a rough session. Kennedy had just returned from a brief vacation at the family compound at Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, and it was a prominent Bostonian, Dewey D. Stone, who set the tone with the first question, as recalled by Feinberg: "Jack, everybody knows the reputation of your father concerning Jews and Hitler. And everybody knows that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree." Kennedy's response was to the point: "You know, my mother was part of that tree, too." Ribicoff, who would join Kennedy's cabinet, understood the message: "The sins of the father shouldn't fall on the son." Fortunately for Kennedy, that message was enough for the men at Feinberg's apartment. Kennedy had gone upstairs to a separate room with Ribicoff to await their judgment, Feinberg recalled. The group agreed on an initial contribution of $500,000 to the presidential campaign, with more to come. "I called him [Kennedy] right away," said Feinberg. "His voice broke. He got emotional" with gratitude.

Kennedy was anything but grateful the next morning in describing the session to Charles L. Bartlett, a newspaper columnist and close friend. He had driven to Bartlett's home in northwest Washington and dragged his friend on a walk, where he recounted a much different version of the meeting the night before. "As an American citizen he was outraged," Bartlett recalled, "to have a Zionist group come to him and say: 'We know your campaign is in trouble. We're willing to pay your bills if you'll let us have control of your Middle East policy.'" Kennedy, as a presidential candidate, also resented the crudity with which he'd been approached. "They wanted control," he angrily told Bartlett.

Bartlett further recalled Kennedy promising to himself that "if he ever did get to be President, he was going to do something about it"-a candidate's perennial need for money and resulting vulnerability to the demands of those who contributed. Kennedy, in fact, kept that promise before the end of his first year in office, appointing a bipartisan commission in October to recommend ways to broaden "the financial base of our presidential campaigns." In a statement that was far more heartfelt than the public or the press could perceive, he criticized the current method of financing campaigns as "highly undesirable" and "not healthy" because it made candidates "dependent on large financial contributions of those with special interests." Presidential elections, Kennedy declared, were "the supreme test of the democratic process" in the United States. Kennedy was ahead of his time, however: the campaign financing proposals went nowhere. [3]

It is impossible to reconcile the differing accounts of Kennedy's attitude toward the meeting in Feinberg's apartment in the Hotel Pierre. But the fact remains that despite Kennedy's tough words to Bartlett, Abe Feinberg's influence inside the White House was established by the end of Kennedy's first year in office, and the young President did little to diminish it over the next two years. One factor obviously was political: a higher percentage of Jews (81 percent) voted for Kennedy in 1960 than did Roman Catholics (73 percent); it was the Jewish vote that provided Kennedy's narrow plurality of 114,563 votes over Nixon. Feinberg got a specific reward after the election: his lawyer brother, Wilfred, was given a federal judgeship by the President. [4] "Feinberg only wanted one thing-to put his brother on the federal bench," Ribicoff recalled. "I sat in on the meeting with Kennedy and recommended that he do it. The President said, 'Look, Abe, when all is said and done, the only Jew who was for me [early in the campaign] was Abe Feinberg.'"

The issue of Jewish political power and the Israeli bomb was complicated during these years by the fact that John Kennedy was intellectually and emotionally committed to a halt in the spread of nuclear weapons. Carl Kaysen, who moved from the Harvard faculty to the National Security Council in 1961, recalled: "There were two subjects that you could get the President started on and he'd talk for hours. One was the gold standard, the other was nonproliferation." The political expediencies that forced him to be ambivalent about Dimona had to be frustrating. Kennedy eventually agreed to a series of face-saving American inspections of the Israeli nuclear facilities, although the label "inspection" hardly does justice to what the Israelis would permit.

Kennedy's complicated feelings about Jewish political power and the Israeli issue were summarized in his appointment of former campaign aide Myer (Mike) Feldman as the presidential point man for Jewish and Israeli affairs. The President viewed Feldman, whose strong support for Israel was widely known, as a necessary evil whose highly visible White House position was a political debt that had to be paid. Feldman recalled being summoned by the President the day after the inauguration and authorized to monitor all of the State Department and White House cable traffic on the Middle East: "I said, 'Mr. President, I come with a strong bias toward Israel.' He told me, 'That's why I want you to look at them.' " Feldman's special relationship and his special access created havoc inside the White House, as Kennedy had to know it would. The President's most senior advisers, most acutely McGeorge Bundy, the national security adviser, desperately sought to cut Feldman out of the flow of Middle East paperwork; the result often was bureaucratic chaos. "The White House staff under Kennedy was not harmonious," acknowledged Kaysen, who is Jewish. "Bundy was very suspicious of Feldman, and anxious about me and Bob Komer"-another Jewish National Security Council staff member, assigned to monitor South Asia. "He worried about us handling Israeli issues." [5] Robert W. Komer, who would later run the pacification program in South Vietnam for Lyndon Johnson, recalled the tension: "Mac Bundy had a standing rule. He sent nothing to Feldman, because Feldman was getting involved in issues in which he had no business. It was hard to tell the difference between what Feldman said and what the Israeli ambassador said."

The White House staff aides might well have been taking their cues on treating Feldman from their young President. Kennedy, having provided special access for Feldman, couldn't resist making wisecracks behind his back. Charles Bartlett recalled Kennedy interrupting a pleasant moment in Hyannis Port by pointedly remarking-it was a Saturday morning, the traditional time for synagogue services-"I imagine Mike's having a meeting of the Zionists in the cabinet room." An equally cynical view of Feldman was publicly expressed by Robert Kennedy in an interview published in 1988 by the John F. Kennedy Library. Speaking of Feldman, Kennedy noted that his older brother, the President, had valued Feldman's work but added: "His major interest was Israel rather than the United States."

Feldman had no illusions about the backbiting inside the White House, but his obvious influence made it all tolerable: he continued to operate as Kennedy's special envoy to the Israeli government on a variety of sensitive issues, including nuclear weapons. He had been allowed to visit Dimona in 1962 and knew firsthand, as those around the President only suspected, that Israel was intent on building the bomb.


Israel's bomb, and what to do about it, became a White House fixation, part of the secret presidential agenda that would remain hidden for the next thirty years. None of the prominent John F. Kennedy presidential biographies, including those written by insiders Arthur Schlesinger and Theodore C. Sorensen, who was the President's special counsel and chief speechwriter, say anything about a nuclear-armed Israel or even mention Abe Feinberg. The U-2 intelligence collected by the CIA's Arthur Lundahl and Dino Brugioni continued to be treated as higher than top-secret, leaving a huge gap in knowledge between the bureaucracy and the men at the top. There were inevitably farcical results.

Shortly after Kennedy's inauguration, the State Department appointed William R. Crawford, a young foreign service officer, as director of Israeli affairs. Early on, Crawford recalled, the Air Force attache in Israel managed to snap yet another long-range photograph of the reactor dome at Dimona. "It was as if there was no previous information," Crawford said. "As if the whole thing was a total surprise to the White House, intelligence community, and so forth." Meetings were held on the critical new intelligence. "This was very hot stuff. We decided that this was not what Israel was telling us."

Crawford was asked to draft a letter for the President to Ben-Gurion. The letter emphasized that America's worldwide position on nonproliferation would "be compromised if a state regarded as being dependent on us, as is Israel, pursues an independent course." Other key points, Crawford said, "were a demand for inspection and the right to convey the results to Nasser." The idea was to reassure the Egyptian president that Dimona was not a weapons plant and to prevent Egypt from beginning its own nuclear research. The inspection of Dimona was to be carried out by an independent team of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the nuclear safeguarding agency based in Vienna; Israel had agreed in principle to permit the IAEA to replace the United States in the twice-a-year monitoring of its small research reactor at Nahal Soreq. "I drafted it very carefully," Crawford recalled. "It was the most important letter of my life at this point in my career." The letter was forwarded to the office of George Ball, then the under secretary of state, rewritten [6] and dispatched. "In due course," recalled Crawford, "in comes a long, long reply from Ben-Gurion, pages and pages." Ben-Gurion's letter to Kennedy has not been made public, either by the United States or by Israel, but Crawford, nearly thirty years later, had no trouble recalling its tone. "It was very hard to see what he was saying. It seemed evasive; didn't say he was going the nuclear route: 'We're a tiny nation surrounded by enemies,' et cetera, et cetera. There may have been an allusion to a nuclear umbrella -language like 'Were we able to rely on the United States,' et cetera." In that first exchange, Crawford said, Ben-Gurion did not agree to the IAEA inspection of Dimona.


Israel's bomb program, and the continuing exchange of letters about it, would complicate, and eventually poison, Kennedy's relationship with David Ben-Gurion. The Israeli prime minister had been rebuffed in seeking a state visit to Washington but, with the aid of Abe Feinberg, contrived a May 1961 visit to the United States. The specific occasion was an evening convocation in his honor at Brandeis University near Boston. Feinberg managed to get the President to agree to a private meeting with Ben-Gurion at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. A nervous Kennedy asked Abe Feinberg to sit in. Feinberg refused, but agreed to make the introductions. Ben-Gurion similarly was anxious about the session, in fear that the continued American pressure over Israel's nuclear weapons project would lead to an unwanted flare-up. Dimona already was on politically shaky ground among the various factions inside Israel, and a flap between Ben-Gurion and Kennedy on the issue could be devastating to the concept of a nuclear-armed Israel. This concern had prompted the Israeli government to assign physicist Amos Deshalit to accompany two equally distinguished American physicists, I. I. Rabi of Columbia University and Eugene Wigner of Princeton, to visit the still-incomplete reactor at Dimona sometime early in 1961. Neither reported seeing evidence of a weapons facility. [7]

The meeting with Kennedy was a major disappointment for the Israeli prime minister, and not only because of the nuclear issue. "He looked to me like a twenty-five-year-old boy," Ben-Gurion later told his biographer. "I asked myself: 'How can a man so young be elected President?' At first, I did not take him seriously." (Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, who met Kennedy a month later at the Vienna summit, also was struck by Kennedy's youth and inexperience.) No public record of the Kennedy-Ben-Gurion meeting has been released, and it is not reliably known what transpired on the nuclear issue. Ben-Gurion later recalled that he once again asserted that Dimona was being constructed solely for research purposes. Kennedy brought up the Rabi-Wigner visit to Dimona and expressed satisfaction with their conviction that the reactor was designed for peaceful purposes. Ben-Gurion was relieved: "For the time being, at least, the reactor had been saved."

Another important summit issue was Egypt. Kennedy was intent on improving relations with the Nasser government, and the President outlined his new policy. Ben-Gurion renewed a standing Israeli request for the sale of U.S. Hawk surface- to-air missiles: the Hawk was needed to match the arrival of Soviet-built MiG fighters in Egypt. Kennedy promised to look into it.

The most memorable moment for Ben-Gurion came when he was leaving the hotel room. Kennedy suddenly walked him back inside to tell him "something important." It was a political message: "I know that I was elected by the votes of American Jews. I owe them my victory. Tell me, is there something I ought to do?" Ben-Gurion had not come to New York to haggle with the President about Jewish votes. "You must do whatever is good for the free world," he responded. He later told his aides: "To me, he looks like a politician." Ben-Gurion, known to his associates as E.G., made similar complaints to Abe Feinberg. "There's no way of describing the relationship between Jack Kennedy and Ben-Gurion," Feinberg said, "because there's no way B.G. was dealing with JFK as an equal, at least as far as B.G. was concerned. He had the typical attitude of an old-fashioned Jew toward the young. He disrespected him as a youth." There was an additional factor: Joseph Kennedy. "E.G. could be vicious, and he had such a hatred of the old man."


Ben-Gurion's complaints about Kennedy and the continuing pressure about Dimona unquestionably were also linked to an all-important agenda that was remaining on track. In April, a Norwegian official named Jens C. Hauge had spent two weeks conducting Norway's first-and only-inspection of the heavy water that had been sold to Israel. The inspection, closely monitored by Ernst Bergmann, couldn't have gone better. Dimona was not yet in operation, and the water, still in its original shipping barrels, was safely stored near the small and totally innocent Nahal Soreq research reactor at Rehovot. Hauge's report to the Norwegian foreign ministry was astonishing in its uncritical acceptance of all of Bergmann's assertions. "As far as I know," Hauge wrote, "Israel has not attempted to keep secret the fact that they are building a reactor.... Professor Bergmann at an earlier point had given in formation to his colleagues in the U.S. about the reactor, but Israel had not kept America officially informed about the reactor. This was possibly the background for the uproar that took place in America about the reactor." At another point, Hauge quoted Bergmann as explaining that Norway's heavy water would be used to power a twenty-four-megawatt "research reactor" that would be a model for a planned much larger power reactor. In a second memorandum to the foreign ministry, Hauge added: "Israel is interested in keeping the location of reactor building quiet and wants any commotion about it ended."

Two months after the visit with Kennedy, in July 1961, Ben-Gurion and his top advisers attended the widely publicized launching in the Negev of Israel's first rocket, known as Shavit II. [8] Such military events normally were kept secret, but Mapai Party leaders-with general elections scheduled for mid-August- decided to go public after receiving reports that Egypt was planning to fire some of its rockets on July 23, the ninth anniversary of the coup that had eventually brought Nasser to power. The multistage, solid-propellant Shavit II, which soared fifty miles into the upper atmosphere, was said to be designed to measure upper atmospheric winds as part of a series of experiments for the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission. Ernst Bergmann subsequently told a scientific journal: "We are not particularly interested in the prestige of space, but in the scientific aspects of it." The American intelligence community -and Israel's Arab enemies-got the message: it was only a matter of time and money before Israeli developed a missile system capable of delivering nuclear warheads. Bergmann had created another light bulb for his nuclear lamp.


Kennedy, despite his remarks to Ben-Gurion, was far from persuaded by the inspections by Rabi and Wigner that Dimona was anything but a nuclear weapons production facility. A nu clear-armed Israel seemed to be looming, and it could threaten Middle East stability as well as the President's strong desire for a treaty with the Soviet Union to ban the testing of nuclear weapons in rhe atmosphere. And there was no indication that Ben-Gurion, who was admitting nothing, would back off. The Israeli prime minister, in subsequent private communications to the White House, began to refer to the President as "young man"; Kennedy made clear to associates that he found the letters to be offensive.

The President's apprehension about the Israeli bomb undoubtedly was a factor in his surprising appointment of John McCone to replace Allen Dulles as CIA director in the wake of the Bay of Pigs debacle. There was every political reason not to appoint him: McCone not only was a prominent Republican but had spoken out against the White House's much- desired test ban treaty with the Soviet Union. Arthur Schlesinger writes that Kennedy, obviously sensitive about his preference, invited McCone to a private two-hour meeting "on the pretext of asking his views on nuclear testing." There is no public record of what the two men discussed, although Ben-Gurion's latest annoying letter had arrived only days before and the Soviet Union had announced the resumption of nuclear testing, ending the informal U.S.-USSR moratorium. In any case, McCone subsequently told Walt Elder, his executive assistant in the CIA, that Kennedy had complained to him about the fact that he was "getting all sorts of conflicting advice on the whole range of nuclear issues," including the Israeli bomb. Kennedy asked McCone to prepare a written analysis of the issue and report back within a few weeks. McCone did so and, upon his return, as he told Elder, the President tossed the report aside" Give it to the staff"-and offered him the CIA job. He also asked McCone to keep word of his pending appointment "quiet. Those liberal bastards in the basement [on Bundy's National Security Council staff] will complain about it."

Foreseen or not, Kennedy had found a soulmate. McCone had his own policy goals, and they meshed closely with the young President's, said Elder: "McCone was most adamant about American nuclear superiority, but his trinity included the Catholic Church and nonproliferation." A nuclear-armed Israel did not fit into that vision: "He thought an Israeli bomb would lead to escalation and then you could just cross off oil from the Middle East for years." There were other virtues, of course, that appealed to Kennedy: McCone would join the administration with enormous credibility with the press, with the Congress, and especially with Dwight Eisenhower, who was quietly going about life in retirement in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. "Kennedy never took a major foreign policy move without checking it out with Eisenhower," recalled Elder, who, when he retired from the CIA in 1983, was executive secretary of the National Foreign Intelligence Board. "He was terrified of having Ike on the other side."

In one of their first meetings after McCone took the job, Kennedy complained about the most recent of Ben-Gurion's letters, which continued to shrug off the issue of international inspection of Dimona, the White House's key demand that had been initially articulated by Bill Crawford. Ben-Gurion's letter was "a waffle," Walt Elder recalled. "It wasn't strong. Kennedy talked to McCone about it and McCone said, 'Write him a stiff note. Mention the United States' international obligations, and our suspicions of the French. Lay it on the line.'" The President followed McCone's advice and received what he perceived as yet another rude response: "Ben-Gurion in effect said, 'Bug off, this is none of your business,'" said Elder, who spent years after McCone left the CIA preparing and indexing all of his still-classified personal files. [9] At that point, McCone insisted to the President that he could "take care of it. The attaches and the State Department can't do it," Elder recalled McCone telling the President, referring to the need to get an answer to the most important question about Dimona: was there an underground chemical reprocessing plant at Dimona? "Turn it over to me." Kennedy did so, and McCone began a two-track operation.

The first step was another series of U-2 missions; its far more risky and ambitious counterpart was an attempt to infiltrate spies into Dimona and, with luck, into the suspected reprocessing plant. "It was one hell of an operation," Elder said. "Even the station chiefs [in Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East] didn't know of it. We ran it right out of McCone's office." McCone's orders were, in retrospect, almost cavalier, his former executive assistant said: McCone, recognizing that the Israelis were keeping close watch over the American intelligence officers inside their country, told his men, "We can't do our job without leaving traces. Do the best job you can." Running American intelligence operatives inside Israel posed an extraordinary risk, as McCone and Kennedy had to know: any exposure would have led to a violent domestic backlash inside America. It also could end the debate about what Israel was, or was not, doing at Dimona.

The operation was not compromised-but it also didn't work. The CIA's on-the-ground agents, obviously recruited from a foreign country, were unable to get inside. "I could not say we had an agent who physically saw a bomb inside Dimona," Elder acknowledged.

The U-2 once again proved that photographs--even sensational ones-weren't enough. By December 1961, CIA officials had set up a new agency, the National Photo Interpretation Center (NPIC), with Arthur Lundahl in charge, and assigned it the mission of providing more sophisticated photo intelligence. NPIC came through early with a huge photographic mosaic of Israel, capturing not only Dimona but all other possible nuclear facilities. "It was as big as two French doors," Elder recalled. "Kennedy loved it." The only problem was that the new set of photographs did little to move the basic issue: there was no way to see underground in Dimona. "McCone said that based on his evidence," Elder said, "there is no external evidence of a nuclear capability. There's no evidence of a weapons plant." McCone was still skeptical, Elder added, telling the President, "Given their [the Israelis'] attitude toward inspection, you can't trust them."


Dimona remained a major impediment to another of Kennedy's early foreign policy ambitions-rapprochement with Nasser's Egypt. Increased economic aid and a series of private letters had led to a warming of relations by mid-1962, and senior Egyptian officials were reassuring the White House that they also desired improved relations, within the context of nonalignment. Nasser, badly rattled by the prospect of a nuclear Israel, had responded to the December 1960 revelations about Dimona by publicly insisting that Egypt would never permit Israel to be its superior; if necessary, he said, Egypt would attack and "destroy the base of aggression even at the price of four million casualties." The question of Dimona was repeatedly raised at Arab League conferences on defense and foreign ministry issues during 1961, with no resolution- except for a shared Arab determination to build up conventional arms. The Kennedy administration reassured the Egyptians that it would continue to press until it obtained IAEA inspection rights to Dimona, and would provide a summary-with Israel's agreement-of the findings to Nasser.

But securing inspection rights remained impossible. Ben-Gurion had no intention of permitting a legitimate inspection -- for obvious reasons. His first line of defense was straightforward: political pressure, in the person of Abe Feinberg. "I fought the strongest battle of my career to keep them from a full inspection," Feinberg recalled. "I violently intervened not once but half a dozen times." He had been tipped off about the inspection demands by Myer Feldman and relayed his political complaints through him; he said he never discussed the matter directly with the President. The message was anything but subtle: insisting on an inspection of Dimona would result in less support in the 1964 presidential campaign. This message, Feinberg said, was given directly to Robert S. McNamara, the secretary of state, and Paul H. Nitze, then a senior defense aide: "I met with them together and said, 'You've got to keep your nose out of it.'"

Nitze, in a subsequent interview, did not recall that meeting, but he did remember a later one-on-one confrontation with Feinberg over Dimona. The Israelis wanted to purchase advanced U.S. fighter aircraft: "I said no, unless they come clean about Dimona. Then suddenly this fellow Feinberg comes into my office and says right out, 'You can't do that to us.' I said, 'I've already done it.' Feinberg said, 'I'll see to it that you get overruled.' I remember throwing him out of the office."

Three days later, Nitze added, "I got a call from McNamara. He said he'd been instructed to tell me to change my mind and release the planes. And I did." Nitze hesitated a moment and added: "Feinberg had the power and brought it to bear. I was surprised McNamara did this." McNamara, subsequently asked about. the incident, would only say cryptically: "I can understand why Israel wanted a nuclear bomb. There is a basic problem there. The existence of Israel has been a question mark in history, and that's the essential issue."

In the end, however, Feinberg and Ben-Gurion could not overcome the continued presidential pressure for inspection of Dimona. Ben-Gurion's categorical public denial of any weapons intent at Dimona had left the Israeli government few options: refusing access would undercut the government's credibility and also lend credence to the newly emerging antinuclear community inside Israel. In late 1961 a group of prominent Israeli scholars and scientists-including two former members of Bergmann's Atomic Energy Commission-had privately banded together to form the Committee for the Denuclearization of the Middle East. The new group's agenda was straightforward: to stop Israel's search for the nuclear option and to defuse the secrecy surrounding the activities at Dimona. In April 1962, the committee went public, stating that it considered the development of nuclear weapons "to constitute a danger to Israel and to peace in the Middle East." It urged United Nations intervention "to prevent military nuclear production." Others, who knew precisely what was going on at Dimona, were equally critical: Pinhas Lavon, former defense minister, eager to build housing for the constant stream of refugees, sarcastically complained to a Dimona official in the early 1960s, "We're taking five hundred million dollars away from settling the Galilee [in northern Israel] and instead we build a bomb."

The most important factor, clearly, in Ben-Gurion's decision to permit the inspections was the Kennedy administration's decision in mid-1962 to authorize the sale of Hawk surface-to-air missiles to Israel. The United States had provided Israel with specialized military training and sensitive electronic gear in the past, but sale of the Hawk-considered an advanced defensive weapon-was a major departure from past policy of selling no weaponry to Israel, and, as Israel had to hope, could lead to future sales of offensive American arms. The administration had spent months secretly reviewing and analyzing the Hawk sale and carefully laying the political groundwork in an attempt to avoid a political explosion in the Middle East. Armin Meyer, now the deputy assistant secretary of state for Near East and South Asian affairs, recalled that a special presidential message about Israel was sent in June to a regional meeting in Athens of American ambassadors serving in the Middle East, in which Kennedy reported that "it was necessary for him to do something special for Israel." The President solicited the group's advice on four options, all of which, Meyer recalled, "would have adverse effects in the Arab world." The ambassadors chose the Hawk sale as "least damaging" to American interests, and it was agreed that Egypt and other Arab nations would be informed in advance.

What Kennedy did not tell his ambassadors was that inspection rights to Dimona were at stake. That message was personally relayed to Ben-Gurion by Myer Feldman, who was dispatched in August to inform the Israeli government of the sale and what Jack Kennedy wanted in return. Feldman, asked about his mission, said that it would be "too strong" to suggest that the inspection of Dimona was a "quid pro quo" in return for the Hawks. "It was more like," explained Feldman, " 'We're going to show you how accommodating we are. This is what we want.' Israel said, 'This is a good friend and we're going to let you in.' " Feldman himself was taken on a private tour of the reactor at Dimona that week.

There was one major concession by Washington. Dimona did not have to be inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Ben-Gurion had insisted in his private exchanges with Kennedy that such inspections would violate Israel's sovereignty. The White House eventually agreed to send a specially assembled American inspection team into Dimona. That agreement was further softened by a second concession that, in essence, guaranteed that the whole procedure would be little more than a whitewash, as the President and his senior advisers had to understand: the American inspection team would have to schedule its visits well in advance, and with the full acquiescence of Israel. There would be no spot checks permitted.


Ben-Gurion took no chances: the American inspectors-most of them experts in nuclear reprocessing-would be provided with a Potemkin Village and never know it.

The Israeli scheme, based on plans supplied by the French, was simple: a false control room was constructed at Dimona, complete with false control panels and computer-driven measuring devices that seemed to be gauging the thermal output of a twenty-four-megawatt reactor (as Israel claimed Dimona to be) in full operation. There were extensive practice sessions in the fake control room, as Israeli technicians sought to avoid any slips when the Americans arrived. The goal was to convince the inspectors that no chemical reprocessing plant existed or was possible. One big fear was that the Americans would seek to inspect the reactor core physically, and presumably discover that Dimona was utilizing large amounts of heavy water -- much of it .illicitly obtained from France and Norway-and obviously operating the reactor at far greater output than the acknowledged twenty-four megawatts. It was agreed that the inspection team would not be permitted to enter the core "for safety reasons." In Abe Feinberg's view, Kennedy's unyielding demand for an inspection had left Israel with no option: "It was part of my job to tip them off that Kennedy was insisting on this. So they gave him a scam job."

The American team, following a pattern that would be repeated until the inspections came to an end in 1969, spent days at Dimona, climbing through the various excavations-many facilities had yet to be constructed-but finding nothing. They did not question the fact that the reactor core was off-limits and gave no sign that they were in any way suspicious of the control room. The Israelis even stationed a few engineers in a concealed area in the control room to monitor the machinery and make sure that nothing untoward took place.

Another aspect of the cover-up was made much easier by the fact that none of the Americans spoke or understood Hebrew. One former Israeli official recalled that his job was to interpret for the American team. "I was part of the cover- up team. One of the engineers would start talking too much" in front of the Americans, the official said, and he would tell him, in seemingly conversational Hebrew, "'Listen, you mother-fucker, don't answer that question.' The Americans would think I was translating."

The Americans were led by Floyd 1. Culler, Jr., a leading expert in the science of nuclear reprocessing who was then deputy director of the Chemical Technology Division at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, where the first uranium for American nuclear weapons had been enriched. At the time, Culler said, he reported to the White House that the reactor he and his colleagues inspected was nothing more than a "standard reactor. All the elements were counted and tagged." Culler, who retired in 1989 as president of the Electrical Power Research Institute in Palo Alto, California, seemed surprised but not shocked upon being informed that his team had been duped by a false control room. "It's possible to make a system appear that it's controlling something when it's not," he explained, adding that simulated control rooms have been widely and effectively used for training purposes in reactor systems worldwide. Culler was far more disturbed to learn that by 1960 the CIA's photo interpretation team had concluded that a site was being excavated at Dimona for a chemical reprocessing plant and had even attempted to measure the amount of dirt being scooped. Such intelligence had not been provided to him, he said, and should have been.

Culler shrugged off the Israeli cheating as inevitable, but not necessary. "It's not possible to make archaeological findings about what was going on just by seeing footprints," he explained. "No one really has that much wisdom." He viewed his inspection as "part of the game of wearing away, of finding ways to not reach the point of taking action" against Israel's nuclear weapons program. He is not at all convinced today, he said, that Israel was wrong to develop its own independent deterrent.

"They were terrified that they'd be bombed," Culler recalled. After the first inspection in 1962, he said, "I was asked by an Israeli to raise the question" of an American nuclear umbrella upon his return to Washington. Culler wrote his secret report on the inspection during stopovers in Athens and Rome, and dutifully included an account of the Israeli concern. The CIA "got to me as soon as I got off the plane" in Washington, he added, and he was rushed into a debriefing. There was no further talk of nuclear umbrellas on subsequent inspections, and Culler eventually came to ask himself the following rhetorical question: Would the United States initiate nuclear war to protect any country in the Middle East, or India, or Pakistan, or Argentina? "We were all in a bind," Culler said. "We have to be careful in assigning blame. It may be a story, but there is no right or wrong."


The constant bargaining over Dimona was a factor in aborting an ambitious Kennedy administration initiative to resolve the Palestinian refugee issue. Like all American Presidents since 1948, Kennedy came into office with a belief that he could find a way to bring long-term peace to the Middle East. As a House and Senate member, Kennedy had always been a public supporter of Israel, but he had repeatedly expressed understanding of the aspirations of Arab nationalism and sympathy for the plight of the Palestinian refugees. For example, in a February 1958 speech before a Jewish group, he declared that the refugee question "must be resolved through negotiations, resettlement, and outside international assistance. But to recognize the problem is quite different from saying that the problem is insoluble short of the destruction of Israel ... or must be solved by Israel alone."


State Department Arabists were pleasantly surprised early in 1961 to get word from the White House, according to Armin Meyer, that "just because 90 percent of the Jewish vote had gone for Kennedy, it didn't mean he was in their pocket." Kennedy asked for innovative ideas, and the department suggested that another try be made to resolve the Palestinian refugee problem in the West Bank and Gaza Strip stemming from Israel's victory in the 1948-49 Arab-Israeli War. The United Nations had approved Resolution 194 after the war, directing that the refugees had to be given the option of returning to Israel if they wished to do so.

The State Department came up with a new twist, in which individual refugees would be asked in a confidential questionnaire if they wanted to return to a former home in Israel. Those who ruled out a return would be compensated by Israel for the seizure of their property and be given a chance to emigrate to another Arab country or anywhere else in the world. There had been bitter protests by Arabs during the Eisenhower years over the failure to implement the United Nations resolution. State Department studies on the resettlement issue showed that no more than 70,000 to 100,000 Palestinians would opt to return to their seized Israeli homesteads over ten years, a number that was deemed to be manageable. The Israelis also would be given veto power over every returning Palestinian, in an attempt to minimize the security risk.

Kennedy had discussed his Arab initiative with a far from enthusiastic Ben-Gurion in their May 1961 New York meeting. A few weeks later, President Kennedy authorized a major -- and highly secret-State Department effort to implement the new variant of Resolution 194; over the next eighteen months, said Armin Meyer, a workable compromise was accepted by the Arab states and endorsed by the White House. Meyer, who served as ambassador to Jordan, Iran, and Japan before retiring from the Foreign Service in 1972, is convinced today that Ben-Gurion's decision not to torpedo the resettlement project was based on his belief that the Arabs would never accept direct negotiations on any issue with Israel; any discussion of repatriation, in their eyes, would be tantamount to formal recognition. When the expected last-minute Arab rejections did not come, Meyer said, "Israel panicked," and provoked a wave of intense political pressure from American Jews upon the White House. In the end, President Kennedy-already in a war with Ben-Gurion over Dimona-backed down, bitterly disappointing his State Department supporters by doing so. [10] The Palestinians would remain stateless refugees in their squalid homes in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. "I think we could have been spared all this terrorism business and other miseries," said Meyer, "if we had gone ahead with that project at that time."

But, at that time, getting Dimona inspected seemed more important.



1. Campaign historians were not the only ones who missed the Feinberg story; none of the contemporary daily press or television journalists covering events in 1948 wrote about the financial ties between Feinberg and the Truman campaign.

2. Kennedy's social friends and colleagues agreed that Kennedy, like many wealthy Irish Catholics of his time, had gone through prep school at Choate and Harvard College with few close Jewish friends. One especially close schoolboy friend, according to Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., the presidential biographer, was Alan J. Lerner, with whom Kennedy traveled widely as a youth. There were few other Jewish childhood friends, as Benjamin C. Bradlee, Jr., the longtime editor of the Washington Post and close Kennedy friend, acknowledged: "I don't remember a whole lot of Jewish buddies." That changed quickly once Kennedy got into national politics after World War II.

3. The commission, headed by Alexander Heard, then dean of the Graduate School at the University of North Carolina, recommended, among other things, the use of federal tax credits to encourage political contributions by individuals. The goal was to broaden the base of a candidate's financial support and reduce dependence on special interest groups and the wealthy. In 1961, Kennedy submitted five draft bills to reform presidential campaign financing to Congress; none survived. Kennedy tried again in 1963, submitting two more draft bills to Congress; again neither survived.

4. Wilfred Feinberg, a legal scholar who had been editor in chief of the Columbia Law Review, served from 1961 to 1966 as a federal judge in the Southern District of New York. In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson, anxious to do something for his good friend Abe Feinberg, promoted Wilfred to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. To do so, he had to override the recommendation of Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York, the late President's younger brother, who had resigned as attorney general to run, successfully, for the Senate. Robert Kennedy pushed for the nomination of Edward Weinfeld, widely considered to be the most distinguished jurist on the lower federal court, but Kennedy understood that he could never match Abe Feinberg's influence with Johnson. "It was pure politics," recalled Peter B. Edelman, then a senior Kennedy aide, "but not one of those cases where politics produced a poor judge." Wilfred Feinberg served with distinction and went on to become chief judge of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 1980.

5. Jerome B. Wiesner, the President's science adviser, who also was Jewish, had a different concern: he was totally cut out of the intelligence about Dimona and "assumed" that Ben-Gurion had requested that he not deal with that issue in the White House. Wiesner, who played a major role on disarmament issues for the Kennedy administration, had served as a board member of the Weizmann Institute and repeatedly ran into Ben-Gurion on visits to Israel. "Ben-Gurion would always ask me two questions," Wiesner recalled: "Can computers think? And should we build a nuclear weapon? I'd always say no." That answer, Wiesner thought, marked him as a liberal in Ben-Gurion's eyes and limited his access.

6. Ball's office held on to the letter for days, Crawford said, eventually provoking a complaint from the White House. Crawford asked a friend on Ball's staff to check into it and was told that "Mr. Ball wants me to understand that this letter sounds as if it had been translated from the original in Sanskrit." When Ball's rewritten version finally emerged, Crawford said, it had the same message but "in JFK prose." Crawford was impressed.

7. Wigner, who won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1963, was visiting Israel when he was asked-seemingly spontaneously-by the Israelis to visit Dimona. He "vaguely" recalled, he said in telephone interviews in 1989 and 1991, being accompanied by Rabi, a 1944 Nobel laureate. "We didn't see much of it," Wigner, who was born in 1902, added. "I thought it was practically completed." Israeli scientists already may have begun some experimental work, he said: "They played with it." Wigner, who had joined with Albert Einstein in urging the United States to begin building the atom bomb before World War II, cautioned the author that his memory had faded with age. Rabi, a longtime consultant on technical and scientific issues to the United States government, died in 1988; neither his wife, friends, nor officials in charge of Columbia University's oral history project dealing with his career had information about his visit to Dimona.

8. There was no Shavit I, Shimon Peres told a political rally on the night of the launch, because of the possibility that the name would be corrupted to Shavit Aleph, since aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Aleph also was an electoral symbol for the Mapai Party. If the rocket had been named Shavit It Peres said, "we would be accused of making propaganda."

9. McCone, said Elder, ended up being very close to Kennedy: "He saw him literally whenever he wanted. He would call the White House and say, 'I'm on my way to see the President.'" After such meetings, McCone would immediately dictate a detailed memorandum to the file, which was eventually made available to Elder for further action and safekeeping.

10. There were many in the State Department, however, who understood. from the outset that the resettlement plan had little chance. "We were struggling with bigger issues at the time," explained Phillips Talbot, then Armin Meyer's boss as the assistant secretary of state for Near East and South Asian affairs. "It was not at the top of my priority list." Talbot recalled President Kennedy's comment after an early briefing: "Phil, that's a great plan with only one flaw-you've never had to run for election."
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Re: The Samson Option: Israel's Nuclear Arsenal and American

Postby admin » Fri May 26, 2017 6:03 am

Chapter 9: Years of Pressure

John Kennedy, profoundly committed to the principle of nonproliferation, continued throughout 1962 to pressure Ben-Gurion about international inspection and continued to receive the prime minister's bland and irritating assurances that Israel had no intention of becoming an atomic power. The President was far too politically astute not to understand, as he angrily told his friend Charles Bartlett, that the Israeli "sons of bitches lie to me constantly about their nuclear capability." One solution was to help get Ben-Gurion, then embattled in the most serious crisis of his political career, out of office.

A few days after Christmas 1962, Kennedy made what amounted to a direct move against the prime minister's leadership. He invited Foreign Minister Golda Meir, one of Ben-Gurion's leading critics inside the cabinet and the Mapai Party, to his Palm Beach, Florida, home for a seventy-minute private talk. Meir made no secret of the fact that she resented Ben-Gurion for permitting his acolytes, Shimon Peres and Moshe Dayan, to operate behind the back of the foreign ministry; she and other party members who had been born in Eastern Europe, such as Levi Eshkol, the treasury minister, were convinced that Ben-Gurion chose to rely on young men such as Peres and Dayan only because they would be more reluctant to stand up to him.

The declassified memorandum on the Kennedy-Meir meeting contains no specific mention of nuclear weapons (some paragraphs were deleted for national security reasons), but there is little doubt that Kennedy pointedly raised the issue. The memorandum further shows that Kennedy made an extraordinary private commitment to Israel's defense. "We are asking the cooperation of Israel in the same way that we are cooperating with Israel to help meet its needs," Kennedy told Meir. "Israel doubtless thinks of itself as deeply endangered. . . . Our position in these matters may seem to be asking Israel to neglect its interests. The reason we do it is not that we are unfriendly to Israel; but in order to help more effectively. I think it is quite clear that in case of an invasion the United States would come to the support of Israel. We have that capacity and it is growing." It was language no Israeli had ever heard from Dwight Eisenhower.

Moments later, according to the memorandum, Kennedy -- anticipating the chronic crisis that would be created by the refugees of the West Bank and Gaza Strip-expressed his regret that the Arab resettlement plan had failed and said his administration would not give up trying to find some solution to the refugee situation. He added that the United States "is really interested in Israel. ... What we want from Israel arises because our relationship is a two-way street. Israel's security in the long run depends in part on what it does with the Arabs, but also on us."

Kennedy's commitment to Golda Meir, along with his decision to sell the Hawk missiles, amounted to a turning point in American foreign policy toward Israel -- one little noted even today. The Kennedy offer might have been enough, if Israel's goal had been to forge a military partnership with the United States. But Israel's needs were far more basic.


John McCone remained agitated about the Israeli bomb and the failure of his agency to determine whether a chemical reprocessing plant was buried underground at Dimona. He also was more outspoken than any other Kennedy insider on the issue; at a 1962 Washington dinner party he publicly reprimanded Charles Lucet, a senior French foreign ministry official, for France's role in the Israeli bomb. Lucet, who had served as deputy ambassador in Washington in the late 1950s (and would become ambassador in 1965), was seated near McCone, who at one point abruptly asked: "So, Mr. Lucet, your country is building a reprocessing plant for the Israelis?" Lucet replied with what was France's public position on the issue: "No, we are building a reactor." McCone then turned his back on Lucet and did not speak to him for the rest of the evening; it was, given France's high standing with the President and his wife, who were both Francophiles, a pointed rebuff. [1]

Kennedy was constantly raising the nuclear issue in his discussions with senior Israelis-and constantly getting boilerplate answers. In early April 1963, Shimon Peres flew to the capital to meet at the White House on the still-pending Hawk sale, and was directly asked by the President about Israeli intentions. An Israeli nuclear bomb, Kennedy said, "would create a very perilous situation. That's why we have been diligent about keeping an eye on your effort in the atomic field. What can you tell me about that?" Peres's answer was a fabrication that would become the official Israeli response for years to come: "I can tell you forthrightly that we will not introduce atomic weapons into the region. We certainly won't be the first to do so. We have no interest in that. On the contrary, our interest is in de-escalating the armament tension, even in total disarmament."

The administration's lack of specific information about Israeli intentions was complicated by the fact, as the President had to know, that many senior members of Congress supported the concept of a nuclear-armed Israel. A few days before his meeting with the President, Peres had discussed nuclear weapons with Senator Stuart Symington, a Kennedy supporter and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and had been told, as Peres told his biographer: "Don't be a bunch of fools. Don't stop making atomic bombs. And don't listen to the administration. Do whatever you think best."


Israel was doing just that. The physical plant at Dimona continued to mature. The reactor went critical-that is, began a sustained chain reaction-sometime in 1962 with no significant problems, and was capable of being operated at more than seventy megawatts, far greater than the twenty-four megawatts publicly acknowledged by the Ben-Gurion government. Running the plant hotter would create more plutonium by-product to be reprocessed, and a larger nuclear weapons stockpile than any outsider could anticipate. Later that year, the private French construction companies at Dimona, always eager for business, began once again to work on the vital chemical reprocessing plant underground at Dimona- despite de Gaulle's insistence that France would have nothing more to do with the Israeli bomb. The French would build at a furious pace for the next three years, at high pay, finishing the reprocessing plant and the elaborate waste treatment and safety facilities that were essential. French technicians and engineers, who had begun drifting away, were back in force in Beersheba, whose population was growing steadily (it reached seventy thousand by 1970).

Israeli and French scientists continued to cooperate at the French nuclear test site in the Sahara, as the experiments became more weapons-oriented. By late 1961, the French had begun a series of underground tests and were perfecting a series of miniaturized warheads for use in aircraft and, eventually, missiles. There were further tests in the early 1960s of a more advanced Shavit rocket system, with no more public announcements; CIA analysts assumed that the long-range rocket was meant for military use. And in 1963 Israel paid $100 million to the privately owned Dassault Company of France, then one of the world's most successful missile and aircraft firms, for the joint development and manufacture of twenty-five medium-range .Israeli missiles. It was anticipated that the missile, to be known to the American intelligence community as the Jericho I, would be able to deliver a miniaturized nuclear warhead to targets three hundred miles away.


By spring of 1963, Kennedy's relationship with Ben-Gurion remained at an impasse over Dimona, and the correspondence between the two became increasingly sour. None of those letters has been made public. [2] Ben-Gurion's responses were being drafted by Yuval Neeman, a physicist and defense ministry intelligence officer who was directly involved in the nuclear weapons program. "It was not a friendly exchange," Neeman recalled. "Kennedy was writing like a bully. It was brutal."

The President made sure that the Israeli prime minister paid for his defiance. In late April, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq united to form the short-lived Arab Federation; such unity was Ben-Gurion's recurring nightmare. He instinctively turned to Washington, and proposed in a letter to the President that the United States and Soviet Union join forces to publicly declare the territorial integrity and security of every Middle Eastern state. "If you can spare an hour or two for a discussion with me on the situation and possible solutions," Ben-Gurion asked, "I am prepared to fly to Washington at your convenience and without any publicity." Kennedy rejected Ben-Gurion's offer of a state visit and expressed "real reservations," according to Ben-Gurion's biography, about any joint statement on the issue with the Soviets. Five days later, a disappointed Ben-Gurion sent a second note to Kennedy: "Mr. President, my people have the right to exist ... and this existence is in danger." He requested that the United States sign a security treaty with Israel. Again the answer was no, and it was clear to the Mapai Party that Ben-Gurion's leadership and his intractability about Dimona were serious liabilities in Washington. Golda Meir acknowledged to Ben-Gurion's biographer, "We knew about these approaches.... We said nothing, even though we wondered."

A few weeks later, on June 16, 1963, Ben-Gurion abruptly resigned as prime minister and defense minister, ending his fifteen-year reign as Israel's most influential public official.

The many accounts of Ben-Gurion's resignation have accurately described the resurgence of scandal, public distrust, and polarization that marked his last years. The Lavon Affair, stemming from the series of pre-Suez War sabotage activities inside Egypt, had come by the early 1960s to dominate much of the public agenda inside Israel, as new revelations came to light suggesting that low-level officials in the defense ministry might have falsified documents and given misleading testimony in an effort to accuse Pinhas Lavon, the former defense minister, of authorizing the operation. Lavon, still one of the most influential members of the Mapai Party, was serving as head of the Histadrut, the powerful federation of labor unions (85 percent of the work force in Israel belonged to unions) that also controlled a large segment of Israeli industry. Lavon asked Ben-Gurion for exoneration. Ben-Gurion refused, and Lavon took his case to the Knesset's foreign affairs and defense committee. Once at the Knesset, he charged that Ben-Gurion, Peres, and Dayan had undermined civilian authority over the military; then he made sure that his allegations were leaked to the press. With those actions, Lavon broke two cardinal rules of Israeli politics: he discussed defense matters in public and he failed to keep the party dispute behind closed doors. The next step was a cabinet-level committee, set up at Levi Eshkol's instigation, that was to recommend procedures for investigating the Lavon allegations. But the committee, instead of dealing with the procedural issue, cleared Lavon of authorizing the failed operation in Egypt.

Ben-Gurion accused the committee of overstepping its mandate, resigned once again, and called for a new government in an unsuccessful effort to annul the decision. Many of those who opposed Ben-Gurion, especially Levi Eshkol and Pinhas Sapir, also opposed Lavon's violation of political norms and successfully moved for his dismissal from the Histadrut job. The primary goal of the Mapai Party leaders at that moment was to get the tiresome affair behind them before the Israeli citizenry, distressed by the continuing discussion of so many government secrets, became convinced that Mapai was unable to manage the country effectively. Ben-Gurion, arguing that someone had lied, continued to insist, however, that a judicial inquiry be convened. The public came to see him as a stubborn old man who was trying to keep the issue alive; the affair tarnished his reputation and made what seemed to be his dictatorial methods of running the government more vulnerable than ever. The clear victors in the scandal were Eshkol, Sapir, and Golda Meir, who emerged with higher public standing and with renewed determination not to permit Ben-Gurion to bypass them in favor of Dayan and Peres. Dayan and Peres joined Ben-Gurion as losers: Dayan never became prime minister, and Peres waited twenty years for the job.

A second public scandal surfaced in 1962 and 1963 when it was reported that Egypt had developed-with support from some West German scientists-what were alleged to be advanced missiles capable of hitting Israel. Golda Meir and her supporters took a hard line on the Egyptian-West German activities, warning that the coalition posed a danger to Israel's national security. Ben-Gurion was far more skeptical of the threat posed by Egypt's dalliance with West German scientists and, in his public statements, emphasized the contribution that West Germany had made to Israeli security. What the public did not know was that Ben-Gurion had just completed a successful, and secret, negotiation with West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer for modern weaponry, including small arms, helicopters, and spare parts. For Ben-Gurion, there now was "another Germany," profoundly different from the Germany of Hitler's time and far more willing than France and America to keep Israel armed. Ben-Gurion's point of view was ignored in the wake of press hysteria over the German aid to Egypt, with newspaper talk of German "death rays" and renewed "final solutions"-all of which turned out to be exaggerated. The public campaign over the West German help for Egypt soon evolved into a wave of criticism and scorn for Ben-Gurion and his notion of "another Germany." Ben-Gurion's colleagues in the Mapai Party-especially Golda Meir, who, like many Israelis, wanted nothing to do with Germans-joined in the attack. [3]

The controversy over Lavon and West Germany appeared to be more than enough to convince Ben-Gurion to leave public life and return once again to his kibbutz in the desert. Tired and distracted after years of leadership, the Old Man was looking forward to writing his memoirs and telling his version of the history of Israel and Zionism. There was no way for the Israeli public, surfeited with accounts of Lavon and the German scandal, to suspect that there was yet another factor in Ben-Gurion's demise: his increasingly bitter impasse with Kennedy over a nuclear-armed Israel.


Levi Eshkol, the new prime minister, was, like Ben-Gurion, a product of Eastern Europe (he was born in 1895) who turned to Palestine and Zionism at an early age. There were few other similarities. Eshkol was far more democratic, both in politics and in personality; the notion of compromise -- so foreign to Ben-Gurion-returned to the leadership of the government and the Mapai Party. Eshkol moved quickly to lighten government control of the press and also set up an independent broadcasting authority to ease the government's monitoring and censorship of the state-run television network-reforms that Ben-Gurion had bitterly resisted. Most significantly, Eshkol had spent the last eleven years as finance minister, much of it in a struggle against funding for Dimona, and was far less committed emotionally than Ben-Gurion to the concept that hundreds of millions of dollars should be spent each year on nuclear activity to the detriment of what he and his supporters saw as Israel's most immediate need-better weapons and training for the army and air force.

Kennedy, confronted with intelligence reports showing that Israel, far from slowing down its nuclear program during his presidency, had been expanding it, wasted little time in urging nuclear restraint on the new Israeli government; private presidential messages reiterating the need for international inspection of Dimona began arriving shortly after Eshkol took office. The President's belief in arms control had been strengthened in the early fall of 1963 by the positive American response to the Senate ratification of the Limited Test Ban Treaty, which banned nuclear testing in the atmosphere, underwater, and in outer space. [4] Continued political support for nuclear disarmament meant less reason to fear the Jewish lobby. Israel's Jericho I missile was another factor in the continued White House pressure on Eshkol. American experts considered the Jericho's guidance system to be highly unstable and inaccurate, suggesting- so the analysts concluded-that only one type of warhead made sense.


Kennedy's persistent pressure on Israel stemmed from his belief that Israel had not yet developed any nuclear weapons; that it was not yet a proliferator. There is evidence that once Israel actually began manufacturing bombs-as the French had done -the President was prepared to be as pragmatic as he needed to be. While Kennedy remained resolutely opposed to a nuclear Israel to the end, he did change his mind about de Gaulle's bombs. Daniel Ellsberg, who would later make public the Pentagon Papers on the Vietnam War, was involved in high-level nuclear weapons issues in 1963 as a deputy in the Pentagon's Office of International Strategic Affairs: He recalled seeing one morning a "Top Secret, Eyes Only" memorandum from McGeorge Bundy to the President summarizing a change in policy toward the French: "We would, after all," Ellsberg recalled Bundy's memorandum stating, "cooperate with the French and allow them to use the Nevada test site for underground testing." At the time, the French had refused to sign the Limited Test Ban Treaty, and de Gaulle had announced that France would continue to test its bombs in the atmosphere. [5] Kennedy's obvious goal was to bring France in line with the test ban treaty, whether officially signed or not. The Bundy memorandum remained fixed in Ellsberg's memory: it was dated November 22, 1963, the day of Kennedy's assassination in Dallas, Texas.

Kennedy's successor, Lyndon Johnson, like many Vice Presidents, had been left in the dark on sensitive national security issues by the President and his top aides. "Johnson went berserk upon being briefed in by the Agency," a former high- level American intelligence official recalled. "He didn't know anything about the problem and he cursed Kennedy for cutting him out." [6]

Johnson's ties to Israel were strong long before he became President. Two of his closest advisers, lawyers Abe Fortas (later named to the Supreme Court) and Edwin L. Weisl, Sr., while not particularly religious, felt deeply about the security of Israel. Johnson also had known of Abe Feinberg and his fund-raising skills since the Truman years; Feinberg was among those who had raised money for Johnson's successful 1948 campaign for the Senate.

There was a much deeper link, however, that had nothing to do with campaign funds: Johnson had visited the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau while on a congressional fact-finding trip at the end of World War II. His wife, Lady Bird, told a Texas historian years after Johnson's death that he had returned "just shaken, bursting with overpowering revulsion and incredulous horror at what he had seen. Hearing about it is one thing, being there is another." There are no photographs of the visit, but Johnson's congressional archives contain a full set of U.S. Army photos taken two days after the liberation of the death camp on April 30, 1945.

Johnson's sensitivity to the plight of European Jews had begun even before World War II when, as a young congressman from Texas, he was urged by Jewish supporters in his home district to cut through Washington's red tape and get asylum in America for German refugees running for their lives. Once the refugees got into the country, Johnson had worked hard to keep them in, and his congressional files show that Erich Leinsdorf, the eminent conductor, was among those whose deportation Johnson had prevented. Leinsdorf had made a stunning American debut with New York's Metropolitan Opera in 1938, but was scheduled to be deported late in the year when his six-month visa was up. Deportation to Austria after the Nazi Anschluss in Vienna meant slow death in a concentration camp. Johnson won the respect and the financial backing of the Jewish community in Texas by taking on the Leinsdorf case, and others, and finding a way to circumvent the rules. [7]

President Johnson stayed loyal to his old friends. Five weeks after assuming office, he dedicated a newly constructed Austin synagogue, Agudas Achim, as a favor to James Novy, a longtime Texas political ally and Zionist leader who was chairman of the building committee. He was the first American President to do so, yet only a few newspapers took note of the event. In his introduction, Novy, once the Southwest regional chair- man of the Zionist Organization of America, looked at the President and said, "We can't ever thank him enough for all those Jews he got out of Germany during the days of Hitler." Lady Bird Johnson later explained: "Jews have been woven into the warp and woof of all his years."


Lyndon Johnson was quickly consumed by the Vietnam War, and what he saw as the struggle of a small democratic nation against the forces of Communism. But Israel likewise was perceived as a besieged democracy standing up to the Soviet Union and its clients in the Arab world. Johnson's strong emotional ties to Israel and his belief that Soviet arms were altering the balance of power in the Middle East drove him to become the first American President to supply Israel with offensive weapons and the first publicly to commit America to its defense. The American Jewish community eventually would be torn apart by Johnson's continued prosecution of the Vietnam War, with many Jewish leaders insisting that Johnson's steadfast support of Israel entitled him to loyalty on Vietnam, while others continued to oppose the war on principle. In the early years of his presidency, however, Johnson echoed Kennedy's policy by urging Israel to submit Dimona to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection. His support for nonproliferation and his desire to end the Cold War were motivated by his belief that only by a relaxing of international tensions could he achieve his ultimate goal-the extension of the New Deal to all Americans. A nuclear Israel was unacceptable: it could mean a nuclear Egypt, increased Soviet involvement in the Middle East, and perhaps war.



1. Lucet was offended by McCone's action and, upon his return to Paris, relayed the incident to Bertrand Goldschmidt. "He asked me if we could separate France from responsibility for the [Israeli] bomb," Goldschmidt recalled with a laugh. "I said, 'No. Not only did we take the girl when she was a virgin, but we made her pregnant.'"

2. The Kennedy exchanges with Ben-Gurion also have not been released to U.S. government officials with full clearances who have attempted to write classified histories of the period. "The culminate result" of such rigid security, one former American official lamented, "is a very poorly informed bureaucracy -- even if there are people willing to buck the system and ask taboo questions."

3. The German issue was a never-ending and emotional one for a nation led by survivors of the Holocaust; any diplomatic contact resulted in a crisis. There had been street riots in front of the Knesset in 1952 to protest the initial Israeli-West German talks over compensation for the loss of Jewish lives and property in the Holocaust. Cash-starved Israel eventually accepted more than $800 million in reparations. Tensions remained, despite the flow of money: an Israeli violinist was later stabbed on the street after performing the music of Richard Strauss in public. In June 1959, a furor over the sale of Israeli munitions to West Germany resulted in another brief resignation by Ben-Gurion and yet another call for new elections. The Mapai Party held on to its Knesset majority, and Ben-Gurion, confidence vote in hand, returned to office.

4. Arthur Schlesinger described in A Thousand Days how Kennedy, "almost by accident," raised the nuclear test ban during a speech in Billings, Montana. The President casually praised Senator Mike J. Mansfield, the majority leader from Montana, for his support for the treaty. "To his surprise," wrote Schlesinger, "this allusion produced strong and sustained applause. Heartened, he [Kennedy] set forth his hope of lessening the 'chance of a military collision between those two great nuclear powers which together have the power to kill three hundred million people in the short space of a day.' The Billings response encouraged him to make the pursuit of peace increasingly the theme of his trip."

5. The French had been cut out from any postwar nuclear cooperation by the 1946 Atomic Energy Act, which prohibited the transfer of American nuclear weapons information to any other country. In 1958, President Eisenhower recommended, and Congress approved, an amendment to the 1946 act that permitted the United States to exchange nuclear design information and fissionable materials with the British; France, of course, was enraged by the exclusion. (Britain ended up completely dependent on the United States by the early 1960s for its strategic nuclear delivery vehicles, a status that existed into the early 1990s.) The Kennedy administration continued to antagonize the French on nuclear issues. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, distressed at France's nuclear independence and its continued testing in the Sahara, went on a public campaign in 1962 against the force de frappe. In a famous spring commencement address at the University of Michigan (in which he announced that the United States was moving away in its targeting from massive retaliation to limited nuclear war), McNamara criticized "weak national nuclear forces" as being "dangerous, expensive, prone to obsolescence, and lacking in credibility as a deterrent." Instead, he insisted, the nations of Europe should buy American arms and rockets to build up their conventional forces and let the United States handle the issue of nuclear deterrence. He had delivered essentially the same message a few weeks earlier in Athens, enraging not only de Gaulle, but America's NATO allies. "... [A]ll the allies are angry," British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan wrote in his diary, "with the American proposal that we should buy rockets to the tune of umpteen million dollars, the warheads to be under American control. This is not a European rocket. It's a racket of the American industry.... It's rather sad, because the Americans (who are naive and inexperienced) are up against centuries of diplomatic skill and finesse." Continued U.S. opposition to the force de frappe was one reason for de Gaulle's 1966 decision to remove France from NATO's military organization and evict NATO headquarters and all allied military facilities from French territory.

6. Johnson similarly had been excluded from the intense meetings and discussions during the Cuban missile crisis the year before, and it was left to John McCone to tell the Vice President about the issue just hours before it was to be made public. "Johnson was pissed," McCone later told Walt Elder, and, "harrumphing and belching," threatened not to support the President on the issue if the Senate leadership did not. McCone assured the Vice President that the Senate was indeed backing the President, and the placated Vice President reversed course.

7. Jews in Europe found it extremely difficult in the 1930s to get visas for the United States, although American immigration quotas went unfilled. Between 1933 and 1938, for example, only 27,000 German Jews were granted entry visas to the United States, far less than the 129,875 permissible under the quotas. More on Johnson's early role in support of Jews can be found in "Prologue: LBJ's Foreign Affairs Background," an unpublished 1989 University of Texas doctoral thesis by Louis S. Gomolak.
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Re: The Samson Option: Israel's Nuclear Arsenal and American

Postby admin » Fri May 26, 2017 6:06 am

Chapter 10: The Samson Option

Levi Eshkol's goal was to find a middle ground between the White House, with its insistence on international inspections, and the pro-nuclear faction of the Mapai Party, led by David Ben-Gurion, who, from retirement, turned his insistence on an Israeli nuclear arsenal into a political Last Hurrah.

The prime minister's dilemma was not whether to go nuclear, but when and at what cost, in terms of the competing need to equip and train the conventional units of the army, navy, and air force.

The debate over the nuclear option had surfaced in the nation's newspapers, in deliberately innocuous language, long before Eshkol took office. In mid-1962, for example, Shimon Peres and former army chief of staff Moshe Dayan, then Ben-Gurion's minister of agriculture, took advantage of the funeral of a prominent Zionist military leader to warn their peers that Israel's existence was linked to the "technological achievements of the 1970s" and investment in "equipment of the future." In April 1963, Dayan wrote an article for Maariv, the afternoon newspaper, urging the Israeli arms industry to keep pace with Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser's effort to build nuclear weapons. "In the era of rockets with conventional and unconventional warheads," Dayan wrote, "we must diligently develop those weapons so that we don't lag."

Ben-Gurion was even more explicit in an interview with columnist C. L. Sulzberger of the New York Times five months after leaving office. Sulzberger quoted Ben-Gurion's concern about a rocket-armed Egypt and added: "As a result he [Ben-Gurion] hints grimly that in its nearby Dimona reactor Israel itself may be experimenting with military atomics." Nuclear energy cannot be ruled out, the ex-prime minister was quoted as saying, "because Nasser won't give up. Nor will he risk war again until he's sure he can win. That means atomic weapons-and he has a large desert in which to test. We can't test here." Sulzberger's column was published on Saturday, November 16, 1963. It got to Ben-Gurion in a hurry, for on that same day he wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times denying that he in any way had suggested or hinted of nuclear weapons during the interview with Sulzberger.

The Eshkol government, under pressure first from President Kennedy and then from Johnson, worked at keeping the lid on, and had no qualms about stretching the truth to do so. In December 1963, Shimon Yiftach, director of scientific programs for the defense ministry, publicly told a group of Israeli science writers that, as they had assumed, the advanced reactor at Dimona would produce plutonium as a by-product. However, Yiftach insisted that the Israeli government had no plans to build a separate plant for chemically reprocessing plutonium. Yiftach, who had been trained at the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, was then one of Israel's leading experts in the chemistry of plutonium and knew that French construction companies had started up once again on the underground reprocessing plant at Dimona.

Eshkol's apprehension about committing Israel to the mass production of nuclear weapons did not impede the steady progress at Dimona. By mid-1964, the reactor had been in operation for almost two years and the reprocessing plant, with its remote-controlled laboratories and computer-driven machinery, was essentially completed and ready to begin producing weapons-grade plutonium from the reactor's spent uranium fuel rods. Israel's nuclear facilities eventually would include a weapons assembly plant in Haifa, to the north, and a well-fortified nuclear storage igloo at the Tel Nof fighter base near Rehovot. Extreme security is a way of life inside the nuclear complex, and especially at Dimona, which is under the constant watch of Israeli troops, electronic detection systems, and radar screens linked to a missile battery. All aircraft, including those belonging to the Israeli Air Force, are forbidden to overfly the facility-and do so at perilous risk. [1]

Well-placed Israeli sources say that the physicists and technicians at Dimona conducted at least one successful low-yield nuclear test sometime in the mid-1960s at an underground cavern near the Israeli-Egyptian border in the Negev desert. Such detonations, known in the weapons community as "zero yield," produce a fission yield that is low, but discernible, and are considered to be a perfectly reliable measurement of the overall weapons assembly system. [2] The test was said to have shaken parts of the Sinai.

In early 1965, completion of the underground reprocessing plant removed the last barrier to Israel's nuclear ambitions; it also heightened the ongoing debate inside the government over the issue. Completion of the reprocessing plant also made it even more essential that Floyd Culler's annual visits to Dimona continue to produce nothing, and the Israeli cover-up was constantly being improved and embellished by Binyamin Blumberg and his colleagues in the Office of Special Tasks. (International inspections by the IAEA were, of course, considered and rejected in the Kennedy years.) In the mid-1960s, Dimona's managers came up with a new method of hiding its underground world. Members of the Israeli Defense Force's 269th General Staff Reconnaissance Unit, the most elite undercover group in the nation, were ordered to the nuclear facility a few weeks before the arrival of a Culler inspection and told to bring with them, one former 269th member recalled, "eight semitrailers loaded with grass. It was sod -- all for camouflage," he added. "Our job for ten days is to cover the walks and bunkers with dirt, sod, and bushes. When the delegation comes, I'm standing watering grass that looks like it's been there for years." The scene remains vivid in his memory, the former officer said, because he'd never before seen sod. [3]

There is no evidence that the American intelligence community, and President Johnson, had any idea how close Israel was to joining the nuclear club; the available documents show that the President's men somehow managed to convince themselves that by continuing to focus on IAEA inspection as the solution, all of the nagging questions about Dimona and Israeli nuclear proliferation would go away. [4] Eshkol was invited for a state visit in June t964-the first visit to Washington by an Israeli prime minister-and declassified presidential documents on file at the LBJ Library at the University of Texas show that the White House believed that Eshkol could be induced by the promise of American arms to open up Dimona to the International Atomic Energy Agency. The President's men were, in essence, operating in self- inflicted darkness when it came to Dimona: they were convinced that Israel had the technical skill to build a bomb and install it on a warhead, but no one seemed to know whether Israel seriously intended to do so or not. It was as if the White House believed there really were two atoms, one of which was peaceful.

McGeorge Bundy, the national security adviser, who had been involved with the Israeli weapons question since early 1961, professed to Johnson not to have any intelligence about Israel's nuclear intentions, according to the White House documents, in a memorandum summarizing the potential threat to Israel posed by Egypt's missile systems. Both nations could make missiles, Bundy told the President on May 18, two weeks before the Eshkol visit, but "the difference was that the Israelis could make nuclear warheads to put on their missiles, while the UAR [United Arab Republic] couldn't. The real issue was whether Israel was going for a nuclear capability." It's inconceivable that Bundy and his colleagues did not know what Israel was doing with a secret nuclear reactor in the Negev.

Eshkol wanted to buy American M-48 tanks, and was delighted when Johnson agreed before their summit meeting to use the prestige of his office to persuade West Germany to sell Israel the M-48 out of its NATO stockpiles. Such a purchase, even if circuitous, would be a first for offensive weapons, and would open the American arms pipeline. The Johnson men had a fallback in case Eshkol did not agree to international inspections, as many must have expected he would not: they wanted Israel's permission to brief Arab nations on the results of the annual Floyd Culler inspections.

Eshkol's mission in coming to America was to get what he could-in the way of U.S. arms and commitments-without making any real concessions on Dimona, which, of course, he could not. He had told the White House prior to his arrival that he would continue to accept the Culler inspections of Dimona, but he wanted nothing to do with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Israel offered the public argument, as did other putatively nonnuclear nations, that it should not be forced to place its national laboratories under IAEA aegis until all of the world's nuclear powers did so. China and France were not parties to the agreement. There was a second issue, equally contrived: the contention that the IAEA, like the United Nations, had systematically discriminated against Israel in favor of the Arab nations. There were perhaps some inside Israel who profoundly believed that such discrimination existed, but it had nothing to do with the reason the IAEA was not welcome. Eshkol also drew the line at any briefing of the Arabs.

The White House staff had to anticipate hard bargaining on the Arab and IAEA issues; Eshkol's delegation included Peres, who was violently opposed to international inspection and to the sharing of anything about Dimona with the Arab world. Nonetheless, NSC aide Robert Komer, in his pre-summit memorandum to Johnson, suggested that the President try to change Eshkol's mind on both issues. "We hope you'll personally tell Eshkol they should bite the bullet now," he said of the IAEA inspections. "Without in any way implying that Israel is going nuclear, one has to admit that a functioning ... reactor plus an oncoming missile delivery system add up to an inescapable conclusion that Israel is at least putting itself in a position to go nuclear. This could have the gravest repercussions on U.S.-Israeli relations, and the earlier we try to halt it the better chance we have. This is why your raising a to-do ... even if unsuccessful, will at least put Israel firmly on notice that we may be back at it again."

Turning to the relaying of information about Dimona to the Arabs, Komer wrote, "We're firmly convinced that Israel's apparent desire to keep the Arabs guessing is highly dangerous. To appear to be going nuclear without really doing so is to invite trouble. It might spark Nasser into a foolish preemptive move."

Komer, who served for years with the CIA before joining Bundy's National Security Council staff, had few illusions at the time about what was going on underground at Dimona. He vividly recalled discussing the Israeli nuclear bomb project with John McCone, his boss: "We knew the program was continuing. They never told us they would stop."

His recommendations to the President, as he had to know, had no chance of being accepted by the Israelis, nor could they even serve as a negotiating device. Raising a "to-do" to put Israel "firmly on notice" was not going to stop the bomb.


A declassified summary of the June 1 Johnson-Eshkol conversation shows that Johnson indeed did follow his staff's advice to the letter, as if he, too, believed that Washington could negotiate Israel out of its nuclear arsenal. Johnson was emphatic in telling Eshkol that international inspection of Dimona would calm the Arabs and slow the Middle East missile race. "The President pointed out that the Arabs will inevitably tie Israeli missiles to Israel's nuclear potential," the official memorandum of conversation said. "This is why we see IAEA control as in Israel's interest. We should like to remind the Prime Minister that we are' violently against nuclear proliferation."

The President also reminded Eshkol that the Soviet Union was becoming more of a factor in the Middle East, and an Israeli reassurance on Dimona could go a long way toward keeping the Russians out. Komer summarized the issue for the President on the day after the Eshkol meeting: "Peres said yesterday Israel wasn't worried so much about present UAR missiles but about better stuff Soviets might give Nasser. This is our whole point too--if Nasser thinks Israel is getting better missiles than he has, and is not reassured on Dimona, he'll be forced to pay Soviet price to get missiles. Therefore, you urge Eshkol to agree both to Dimona reassurances, and to IAEA controls. These two acts would help diminish Nasser's incentive to get exotic weapons help from the USSR. Eshkol's argument, 'Why reassure an enemy?' is short-sighted."

Komer added, "All in all, we understand why Israel, being under the gun, is more fearful of its future than Washington. But Israel can count on us. All we ask in return is that Israel recognize our Arab interests and our common aim of keeping the Soviets out of the Middle East."

Israel, of course, was willing to play along in any way to get more American arms. But it would never "count" on America to protect its future. Komer's comment referred to the main message of the June I summit meeting, one that echoed the assurances that John Kennedy had privately given Golda Meir two years earlier: the United States would become Israel's supplier of arms as long as Israel did not produce nuclear weapons. It was this proposal, not found in any of the declassified documents in the Johnson Library, that drove the June I summit meeting. The White House's offer soon became known to David Ben-Gurion and Ernst David Bergmann, who viewed any such commitment by the Eshkol government, according to a former Israeli official, "as compromising the security of Israel."


Johnson's pleas about IAEA inspection and the sharing of information with the Arabs went nowhere, but his promise of continued arms support became a factor in what emerged by the fall of 1964 as a major strategic issue for the State of Israel: when to begin the mass production of a nuclear arsenal. Eshkol obviously was far from a pacifist; he had, for example, no ambivalence about continuing Israel's ongoing chemical and biological weapons programs. "Maybe he looks now to you as a moderate, but he was-like all our leaders then-a pragmatic son of a bitch," a former aide recalled with pride. "This was a man who grew up in a generation that saw the Holocaust, the Communists in Russia, the Arabs-all wanting to destroy Jews."

Eshkol's only doubts about Dimona were practical ones: Dimona was costing upward of $500 million a year, more than 10 percent of the Israeli military budget. It was money not being spent elsewhere, the former aide added: "Eshkol would say, 'I don't have the money for it. How many children will go without shoes? How many students will not go to university? And there's no threat. None of our neighbors are going nuclear. Why should we go nuclear?'"

Eshkol's questions led to a series of high-level and highly secret conferences on the bomb in late 1964 and early 1965 at the Midrasha, a Mossad retreat outside Tel Aviv. The meetings were attended by senior officials of the leading Israeli political parties, as well as many defense experts. "The issue was not whether to go nuclear or not," one participant recalled. "But when."


Dimona's supporters had convinced most of the leadership that only nuclear weapons could provide the absolute and final deterrent to the Arab threat, and only nuclear weapons could convince the Arabs -- who were bolstered by rapidly growing Soviet economic and military aid -- that they must renounce all plans for military conquest of Israel and agree to a peace settlement. With a nuclear arsenal there would be no more Masadas in Israel's history, a reference to the decision of more than nine hundred Jewish defenders -- known as the Zealots -- to commit suicide in A.D. 73 rather than endure defeat at the hands of the Romans.

In its place, argued the nuclear advocates, would be the Samson Option. Samson, according to the Bible, had been captured by the Philistines after a bloody fight and put on display, with his eyes torn out, for public entertainment in Dagon's Temple in Gaza. He asked God to give him back his strength for the last time and cried out, "Let my soul die with the Philistines." With that, he pushed apart the temple pillars, bringing down the roof and killing himself and his enemies. For Israel's nuclear advocates, the Samson Option became another way of saying "Never again." [5]

The basic argument against the nuclear arsenal went beyond its impact on the readiness of the military: these were years of huge economic growth and business expansion inside Israel, and Dimona still was absorbing far too much skilled manpower, in the view of many industrial managers-whose constant complaints to government officials on that issue went nowhere. Dimona continued to distort the economy and limit development. There was, for example, no private computer industry in Israel by the late 1960s, although American intelligence officials had rated Israel for years as an international leader-with Japan and the United States-in the ability to design and program computer software.

The long-range social and military costs of Dimona were most certainly the concerns of Yitzhak Rabin, the new army chief of staff, and Yigal Allon, a close Eshkol adviser and former commander of the irregular Palmach forces before the 1948 War of Independence. Less compelling to the military men was the moral argument against the bomb raised by some on the left and in academia: that the Jewish people, victims of the Holocaust, had an obligation to prevent the degeneration of the Arab-Israeli dispute into a war of mass destruction. Those who held that view did not underestimate the danger of a conventional arms race, but believed that, as Simha Flapan, their passionate spokesman, wrote, "the qualitative advantages of Israel-social cohesion and organization, education and technical skills, intelligence and moral incentive--can be brought into play only in a conventional war fought by men."

A major complication in the debate, seemingly, was the Arab and Israeli press, which routinely published exaggerated accounts of each side's weapons of mass destruction. In Israel, there were alarmist accounts of Soviet and Chinese support for an Egyptian nuclear bomb. Egypt, in turn, publicly suggested that it had received a Soviet commitment to come to its aid in case of an Israeli nuclear attack, and President Gamal Nasser warned in an interview that "preventive war" was the "only answer" to a nuclear-armed Israel. It was a period, Simha Flapan later wrote, when both Israel and Egypt "were trapped in a vicious circle of tension and suspicion and were doing everything possible to make them a self- fulfilling prophecy."

The officials at the top in Israel understood the difference between public perceptions and private realities. Before the Midrasha conference, for example, Binyamin Blumberg prepared an analysis estimating that the Arab world would not be able to develop sophisticated nuclear weapons for twenty-five years-until 1990. The paper was important to Eshkol, who, as he told the conference, was considering three postures: a ready-to-go bomb in the basement; the nuclear option, with the weapons parts manufactured but not assembled; and further research. "He said," an Israeli recalled, "'We're not in a hurry. It'll take the Arabs twenty-five years.'" Eshkol's choice was to merely continue research and use that added time to "jump a stage"-to bypass the crude plutonium weapon detonated by the United States at Nagasaki and go directly to more efficient warhead designs. There was a second compelling argument, along with the issue of money, for temporarily limiting the work at Dimona to research: Israel as yet had no long-range aircraft or missiles in place that were capable of accurately delivering a bomb to targets inside the Soviet Union, which was always Israel's primary nuclear target; no Arab nation would dare wage war against Israel, so the Israeli leadership thought, without Soviet backing.

Levi Eshkol parlayed the Midrasha decision into a strategic asset: he told Washington that he would defer a decision on the nuclear arsenal in return for a commitment to supply offensive arms that would match the quality of arms being supplied to Egypt by the Soviet Union. It was more than good enough for Johnson, who was losing interest with each passing year in waging political war with Israel over the bomb. The President rewarded Eshkol's pledge of a delay by authorizing the sale to Israel in 1966 of forty-eight advanced A-4E Skyhawk tactical fighters, capable of carrying a payload of eight thousand pounds. Johnson's refusal to ask more of the Israelis on the nuclear issue was eased by the strong evidence of renewed Soviet economic and military commitments in the Middle East: Moscow was moving to encourage Arab socialism and unity. For Johnson, this meant that the Cold War was moving to the Arab world, with Israel serving as a surrogate for America.


Eshkol's decision to put a hold on the nuclear issue enraged Ben-Gurion, still smarting over the Mapai Party's handling of the Lavon Affair; Ben-Gurion eventually would publicly compare Eshkol to Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who attempted to appease Adolf Hitler before World War II. In June 1965, Ben-Gurion, talking darkly of Eshkol's "endangering the nation's security," dramatically resigned from the Mapai Party and created a new party, known as Rafi (an acronym for the Israel Workers' List). He was joined by a reluctant but loyal Peres, who became Rafi's power broker, and the restless Dayan, who had recently resigned as agricultural minister. Ben-Gurion's hope was that Rafi could capture as many as twenty-five seats in the 120-member Knesset and emerge as a major power broker in Israeli politics.

Ben-Gurion and his followers changed forever the political structure of Israel. Rafi would now become an opposition party, and play the role that had traditionally belonged to right-wing groups. Ben-Gurion's immediate reason for splitting with the Mapai leadership was his continued anger over Lavon, but the Rafi Party, under Peres's leadership, stood for a more aggressive position across the spectrum of defense issues, and especially on nuclear weapons. Ernst Bergmann was another founding member of Rafi, and once again had Ben-Gurion's ear: "Ben-Gurion was quoting Bergmann all the time," recalled an Israeli, about the dangers of not initiating the production of a nuclear arsenal. The issue emerged as a dominant one in the 1965 elections, although it was played out in code language. Israeli newspapers were full of criticism from Peres and Ben-Gurion over what was referred to in Hebrew as ha 'anoseh ha'adin, "the sensitive topic," or b'chia ledorot, "a lament for generations"; the Rafi leaders also constantly criticized what they euphemistically called Eshkol's "big mistake," language understood by many inside Israel as referring to Eshkol's hesitations about opening a nuclear weapons assembly line at Dimona. None of this was reported by American or other newspapers: the foreign correspondents in Israel apparently did not understand what really was at stake. [6] Neither did the American intelligence community.

It was an ugly election, with insults and accusations from all parties. One prominent lawyer with close ties to Golda Meir referred publicly to Ben-Gurion as a "coward" and Rafi as a "neo-Fascist group." Many Israelis understood, in a way that no outsider could, that the debate was not only about defense policy or the bomb, but about Ben-Gurion's profound belief that Israel could survive only by relying on the state-and not on the traditional volunteerism of the Zionist movement. In Ben-Gurion's view, the kibbutzim, the Mapai Party, the Hagannah of the 1948 war-all populated by volunteers who believed in the cause-had to give way to the more impersonal institutions of universal military service, universal public education, and promotion on the basis of competence and merit rather than party affiliation. Many aspects of this debate coalesced- at least for his critics-in Ben-Gurion's unwavering support of the nuclear arsenal. Some of his opponents in the 1965 election viewed Dimona as nothing more than a collection of competent scientists and bureaucrats, with unclear ideological affiliations, who had created a powerful weapon away from public scrutiny and approval. For many, the election was perhaps a last-ditch struggle between an Israel that continued to utilize the willing spirit of dedicated volunteers and an Israel that relied on the use of science, objective knowledge, and the state.

Ben-Gurion and his Rafi Party were sorely disappointed by the election, winning only ten seats in the Knesset, not enough to provide Ben-Gurion with a power base. The election amounted to a brutal referendum on his dream of returning to power, and the end of his role in the public policy of Israel. [7]

The election also was interpreted by Levi Eshkol as a referendum on his handling of the nuclear issue; Dimona would remain a standby operation. The country seemingly had rejected the efficient "can do" approach of Ben-Gurion, Dayan, and Peres in favor of the social-democratic and volunteerist goals of the Meir-Eshkol wing of Mapai. It was a low point for Ben-Gurion and his followers.

By the spring of 1966, Ernst David Bergmann had had enough: he resigned under pressure as director of the commissionerless Israeli Atomic Energy Commission, as well as from his two high-level defense science posts. Many in the Eshkol cabinet viewed his departure as long overdue, and it showed; Bergmann was angered and hurt when a ministry of defense official came to his apartment within an hour of his resignation to retrieve his government car. Eshkol moved quickly to make the Bergmann portfolio less independent: bureaucratic responsibility for the AEC was shifted from the defense ministry to the prime minister's personal staff, and Eshkol himself became chairman of an expanded and revitalized commission. Decisions about the future of nuclear weapons in Israel would now be made by the highest political authority. A pouting Bergmann retreated, with the aid of Lewis Strauss, to the Institute of Advanced Studies at Princeton University, but not before granting an interview to Maariv, the popular Israeli newspaper. The New York Times account of that interview provides a classic example of the public doubletalk and doublethink that then surrounded the nuclear issue in Israel and the American press: "The scientist [Bergmann] suggested that the Eshkol Government was less sympathetic to long-term scientific planning than former Premier David Ben-Gurion, with whom Professor Bergmann was closely associated. He spoke of the lack of funds for research and the risk of dependence on foreign sources."

Nonetheless, the nuclear weapons issue, even if depicted as "long-term scientific planning," had moved into the open inside Israel. In the United States, where all foreign policy was rapidly becoming consumed by the Vietnam War, Israel's nuclear option continued to be an issue solely for government insiders, who weren't talking.



1. During the 1967 Six-Day War, an Israeli Mirage III was shot down when its pilot, either confused or dealing with equipment problems, ventured into Dimona's airspace. In February I973, a Libyan airliner flew off course over the Sinai because of a navigational error and also, after ignoring or failing to see signals to land, was destroyed by fighter planes of the Israeli Air Force, killing 108 of the 113 people aboard. Israel claimed, without evidence, that the plane was headed for Dimona.

2. Theodore B. Taylor, a physicist who designed weapons for the American nuclear program, has written that such low- yield events are, in fact, ''more stringent" than full-yield tests because any failings or imperfections in the weapons design show up more readily at very low yield than at high yield. Taylor, in a 1988 paper presented to an arms control seminar in London, noted that low-yield tests are reliable enough to be useful to countries with considerable weapons testing experience. "But," he added, "they can also be useful to countries starting nuclear weapons development, if they want to test without detection."

3. The CIA's photo interpreters, recalled Dino Brugioni, were far from fooled by the sudden appearance of seemingly new grass. "It was a foolish move on their [the Israelis] part and confirmed what we knew," he said. "You could see what they were doing in the aerial photos. They planted sod, trees, and bushes. Nothing grows in Beersheba like that. I mean, why in hell would you plant that stuff' there and not around their homes? It just spotlights activity."

4. Washington may have gotten the wrong signal when the Eshkol government, after extended negotiations, finally went forward in April 1965 with an American request to shift responsibility for inspection of the Nahal Soreq reactor to the IAEA. American teams had conducted the inspection two times a year until then, without incident, under the original 1955 agreement that had set up the small research reactor -- which, unlike Dimona, was constantly being used for medical and scientific research by the staff of the Weizmann Institute. The American request was consistent with the Johnson administration's policy of strengthening IAEA safeguards by insisting that all countries participating in the Atoms for Peace program submit to international, and ot American, inspection. Another factor in the switch to international safeguards, a former nonproliferation official explained, was the widespread belief that the bilateral American inspections were weak. In return for the Israeli acquiescence, the United States agreed to provide forty more kilograms of enriched uranium, under safeguards, for Nahal Soreq's research program.

5. In a 1976 essay in Commentary, Norman Podhoretz accurately summarized the pronuclear argument in describing what Israel would do if abandoned by the United States and overrun by Arabs: "The Israelis would fight ... with conventional weapons for as long as they could, and if the tide were turning decisively against them, and if help in the form of resupply from the United States or any other guarantors were not forthcoming, it is safe to predict that they would fight with nuclear weapons in the end. ... It used to be said that the Israelis had a Masada complex ... but if the Israelis are to be understood in terms of a 'complex' involving suicide rather than surrender and rooted in a relevant precedent of Jewish history, the example of Samson, whose suicide brought about the destruction of his enemies, would be more appropriate than Masada, where in committing suicide the Zealots killed only themselves and took no Romans with them." Podhoretz, asked years later about his essay, said that his conclusions about the Samson Option were just that-his conclusions, and not based on any specific information from Israelis or anyone else about Israel's nuclear capability.

6. John Finney of the New York Times did a little better with the Floyd Culler inspections. Finney, who remained on the nuclear beat for the Times, reported on June 28, 1966, that the American team had arrived at "the same tentative conclusion as a year ago, that the reactor is not being used at this time for producing plutonium for weapons." The reporter wisely cautioned, however, that the team's conclusion "was tentative because it is difficult to establish in once-a- ear inspections that none of the reactor fuel rods have been removed for extracting the plutonium...."

7. Ben-Gurion was an inveterate diarist and spent many hours in his later years -- he died in early 1974 -- assembling his papers and helping his biographer, Michael Bar-Zohar. Myer Feldman recalls being accompanied on one of his last scheduled meetings with Ben-Gurion by Teddy Kollek, the mayor of Jerusalem and longtime associate of the Old Man. The two men stood waiting as Ben-Gurion scribbled away in his notebook. "I said to Kollek, 'What's he doing?'" Feldman recalled. Kollek replied, with a smile, "Oh, he's falsifying history."
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Re: The Samson Option: Israel's Nuclear Arsenal and American

Postby admin » Fri May 26, 2017 6:09 am

Chapter 11: Playing the Game

The ambivalence and hypocrisy at the top of the American government about a nuclear-armed Israel inevitably was mirrored by the bureaucracy. By the middle 1960s, the game was fixed: President Johnson and his advisers would pretend that the American inspections amounted to proof that Israel was not building the bomb, leaving unblemished America's newly reaffirmed support for nuclear nonproliferation.

The men and women analyzing intelligence data and writing reports for their higher-ups understood, as Arthur Lundahl and Dino Brugioni had learned earlier, that there was little to be gained by relaying information that those at the top did not want to know. Nonetheless, the information was there.

There was much known, for example, about the Israeli Jericho missiles, rapidly being assembled by Dassault. "We had a direct line to God," a middle-level CIA technical analyst recalled. "We had everything-not only from the French but also from the Israelis. We stole some and we had spies. I was able to draw a scale model of the system. I even designed three warheads for it-nuclear, chemical, and HE [high explosive]-as a game. We were predicting what they could do." What Israel could do, the former CIA official said, was successfully target and fire a nuclear warhead. The problem arose in conveying the intelligence. "I was never able to get anything officially published" by the CIA for distribution throughout the government, he said. "Everybody knew" about the Israeli missile, he added, "but nobody would talk about it." The official said he decided to bootleg a copy of the intelligence report-risking his job by doing so--to senior officials in the Pentagon and State Department. "I remember briefing a DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency] admiral. He wasn't ready to believe it. I got him turned around, but he retired and no one else cared."

Even James Jesus Angleton, the CIA's director of counterintelligence, who also was responsible for liaison with Israel, had his problems when it came to the Israeli bomb. The moody Angleton was legendary-and feared-for his insistence on secrecy and his paranoia about Soviet penetration of the Agency. He was a master of backchannel and "eyes only" reports, and his increasing inability to deal with the real world eventually led to his firing in late 1974, but his glaring faults in counterintelligence apparently did not spill over to Israel. [1] Former Agency officials, who, in prior interviews with me, had been unsparing in their criticism of Angleton's bizarre methods in counterintelligence, acknowledged that he had performed correctly and proficiently in his handling of Israel. Angleton had worked closely with members of the Jewish resistance in Italy while serving with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) at the end of World War II; it was a dramatic period when thousands of Jewish refugees and concentration camp survivors were being illicitly funneled from Europe into Palestine, then under British control.

One of Angleton's closest colleagues was Meir (Meme) Deshalit, a resistance leader and Israeli intelligence official who had been posted to Washington in 1948. Deshalit was the older brother of Amos Deshalit, the physicist who had done much to develop Israel's nuclear arsenal before dying of cancer in 1969. Angleton shared Meir Deshalit's view of the Soviet and Arab threat to Israel; his personal contacts and strong feelings made him the logical choice to handle liaison between the CIA and the Israeli government. His was one of the most important assignments in the 1950s and early 1960s, the height of the Cold War, because of the continuing flow of Soviet and Eastern European refugees into Israel. Angleton and his Israeli counterparts ran the "rat lines," as the Jewish refugee link became known. It was the Jewish refugee operations, as many in the CIA understood, that provided the West in the early postwar years with its most important insights into the Soviet bloc. Some of the programs were financed off the shelf by CIA contingency funds, as part of KK MOUNTAIN.

Angleton's love for Israel and his shared views on the Arab and Soviet question, however, did not keep him from investigating, as a counterintelligence officer, any Israeli or American Jew he suspected of trafficking in classified information. One of the big question marks was nuclear technology. The CIA knew from its analysis of the fallout of the ongoing French nuclear tests in the Sahara that the increasingly modernized and miniaturized French warheads were based on United States design. A former American nuclear intelligence official recalled that he and his colleagues "were driven crazy" by the suspicion that Israel's quid pro quo for the French help at Dimona included access to design information purloined from the government's nuclear laboratories at Los Alamos and Livermore, California.

No evidence of such a link was found, but intelligence community investigators were surprised to discover at the end of the CHAOS inquiry a cache of Angleton's personal files, secured with black tape, that revealed what obviously had been a long-running- and highly questionable-study of American Jews in the government. The files showed that Angleton had constructed what amounted to a matrix of the position and Jewishness of senior officials in the CIA and elsewhere who had access to classified information of use to Israel. Someone in a sensitive position who was very active in Jewish affairs in his personal life, or perhaps had family members who were Zionists, scored high on what amounted to a Jewishness index.

One government investigator, talking about the Angleton files in a 1991 interview, recalled his surprise at discovering that even going to synagogue was a basis for suspicion. "I remembered the First Amendment," the investigator added sardonically. "You know, Freedom of Religion." The Angleton matrix suggested that at some point a suspect who measured high enough on the Jewishness scale was subjected to a full-bore field investigation. "Was there simply a background check, or was there physical or electronic surveillance?" the investigator asked rhetorically. "I don't know. I was angry but at the same time thought it wasn't irrational because a lot of Jews were giving help to Israel." In the end, the Angleton files were not investigated further or even brought to the attention of the House or Senate intelligence committees: "We decided not to do anything with it."

Samuel Halpern, a Jew who served for years as executive assistant to the director of the CIA's clandestine services, was under constant investigation by Angleton. Halpern's position, the highest reached by any Jew in the clandestine service, gave him access to the name and background of every foreigner who had ever been recruited by the CIA. His father, Hanoch, was a Pole who had become active in Zionism before World War II and, after emigrating to Palestine, had worked closely with Ben-Gurion and Moshe Sharett, among others, after the State of Israel was formed in 1948. "Jim looked at me real hard," Halpern recalled with a laugh, "but I told him, 'I'm not going to muck up your desk.' The Israelis never approached me. Why should they when I'm sitting on the third floor [of the CIA] and Jim's on the second?"

Angleton did more than just collect information on American Jews. He also was a sponsor, through the CHAOS program, of a highly secret CIA operation involving the Agency's purchase of a Washington trash collection company. The firm, known in the CIA as a proprietary, had contracts to pick up garbage at various Third World embassies, including the Israeli embassy. Another of its stops was the downtown Washington offices of B'nai B'rith, the powerful Jewish social and volunteer organization with worldwide activities. The trash would be systematically sorted and analyzed for any possible intelligence.


Angleton's close personal ties with the Deshalit family and others in Israel made it inevitable that he would learn about the construction in the Negev. One senior official recalled that Angleton's first intelligence report on Israel's plans to build the bomb was filed routinely in the late 1950s, and not by backchannel, and thus could be made available to those who needed to know inside the CIA's Directorate of Operations, the unit responsible for clandestine action. "I have no idea who his sources were," the senior official said. "He probably never told the director." Over the next few years Angleton continued to produce intelligence on Dimona, also based on information supplied by his personal contacts, but never learned-or, at least, never reported-the extent to which Israel was deceiving Washington about its nuclear weapons progress.

Angleton, of course, had been given periodic briefings in the late 1950s and early 1960s by Lundahl or Brugioni on the intelligence collected by the U-2 overflights of the Negev, but never evinced much interest. His forte was human intelligence, or HUMINT, as the intelligence community calls it, and not technical intelligence, such as the U-2 imagery. "He was a real funny guy," Brugioni recalled. "I'd meet with him, brief him; he'd ask a few questions, you'd leave--and never know what he's holding. Sometimes he'd have his office real dark and have a light only on you. He was a real spook."

For all of his mystique and freedom to operate, Angleton, too, was stymied by the Israeli bomb. His reports on Dimona, buttressed by the U-2 data, did not even result in an official CIA estimate that Israel was going nuclear. Such formal estimates, which are distributed to the President and other key government officials, were the responsibility of analysts in the CIA's Office of National Estimates (ONE). "Jim kept saying, 'Yes, they've got it,' and the analysts would say, 'I don't believe it,' " one former intelligence official recalled. The analysts simply did not think Angleton's HUM1NT sources were reliable, the official said, adding that tension and second-guessing over human intelligence sources were a way of life in the CIA. By 1965, an extensive dossier of HUMINT reports on Dimona had built up, the official said, and the nuclear issue was again raised with the ONE analysts: "They told me that even if Israel did have the bomb, they'd never use it."

The intelligence official, recalling the issue in an interview, got angry again at the analysts: "They were so stupid. You'd have to put the bomb under their noses before they'd believe it. They didn't have any understanding of Israel; didn't know what made them think. They were so stupid."

It is not known how many CIA analyses on the Israeli bomb were produced in the early 1960s by the Office of National Estimates, but the one memorandum that does exist was astonishingly inept about Israeli attitudes. The paper, entitled "Consequences of Israeli Acquisition of Nuclear Capability," was dated March 6, 1963, and was made available nearly twenty years later at the John F. Kennedy Library without any deletions. The national estimate concluded that Israel, once having attained a nuclear capability, "would use all the means at its command to persuade the U.S. to acquiesce in, and even to support, its possession. . . . Israel could be expected to use the argument that this possession entitled it to participate in all international negotiations respecting nuclear questions and disarmament." The staggering flaw in the CIA analysis was its basic assumption: that Israel would make public or otherwise let its nuclear capability become officially known. The reality was precisely the opposite: Israel had no intention of going public with the bomb in fear of American and worldwide Jewish disapproval that would result in international reprobation and diminished financial support from the Diaspora.


Such flawed intelligence analyses went a long way toward keeping the men at the top officially ignorant of what no one wanted to know. In public, the Johnson administration, as were its predecessors, was firmly opposed to the spread of nuclear weapons anywhere in the world; official acknowledgment of an Israeli bomb would have presented Washington with an unwanted dilemma-either sanction Israel or be accused of a nuclear double standard.

Israel was not considered a nuclear weapons state on October 18, 1964, when China exploded its long-awaited first nuclear bomb. President Johnson, three weeks away from his over whelming election triumph over Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, the Republican presidential candidate, reaffirmed his commitment to nonproliferation in a nationally televised speech: "Until this week, only four powers [the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and France] had entered the dangerous world of nuclear explosions. Whatever their differences, all four are sober and serious states, with long experience as major powers in the modern world. Communist China has no such experience.... [Its] expensive and demanding effort tempts other states to equal folly," the President said. "Nuclear spread is dangerous to all mankind. . . . [W]e must continue to work against it, and we will." [2]

The President may have believed his impassioned words, but not all of his senior advisers did. Six weeks later, McGeorge Bundy, Robert McNamara, and Secretary of State Dean Rusk discussed what they considered the administration's real policy options at a secret meeting on nonproliferation. Among those taking careful notes was Glenn T. Seaborg, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, who recounted the session in his little-noted 1987 memoir, Stemming the Tide:

"Rusk said he thought a basic question was whether we really should have a nonproliferation policy prescribing that no countries beyond the present five might acquire nuclear weapons. Were we clear that this should be a major objective of U.S. policy? For example, might we not want to be in a position where India or Japan would be able to respond with nuclear weapons to a Chinese threat? Rusk mentioned the possibility of having an Asian group of nuclear weapons countries, pointing out that the real issue was among Asian countries and not between northern countries and the Asians.

"McNamara thought it would take decades for India or Japan to have any appreciable deterrent. Nevertheless, he thought the question Rusk had raised should be studied. He pointed out that adoption of a nonproliferation policy by the United States might require us to guarantee the security of nations that renounced nuclear weapons.

"I [Seaborg] expressed doubt that a policy condoning further proliferation should be considered, saying that, once a process of making exceptions was started, we would lose control and that this would inevitably lead to serious trouble. . . .

"Bundy warned about the need to keep very quiet the fact that we were discussing the basic questions of whether U.S. policy should be nonproliferation, because everyone assumed that this was our policy. Any intimation to the contrary would be very disturbing throughout the world. McNamara added that we had to the stop the leaks that come out of meetings like this. He agreed with Bundy that the fact that the U.S. commitment to nonproliferation was being questioned simply must not be allowed to leak." [3]

One senior American who resisted the persuasive talk about expanding the nuclear club was John McCone, the increasingly frustrated CIA director. McCone sorely felt the loss of John Kennedy; his relationship with Lyndon Johnson was much less intimate and his advice not always welcome. McCone's solution to the Chinese bomb (and to the problems with North Vietnam) was to send in the Air Force. "McCone just raised hell" about the Chinese bomb, recalled Walt Elder. "He wanted permission to fly U-2S over the test site and was turned down." The CIA director wasn't daunted: he next floated "the idea of what if we got in and took out the Chinese capability?" Daniel Ellsberg recalled similar talk at high levels in the Pentagon: "We were saying, in essence, that if we could have stopped the Russian bomb, we would have saved the world a lot of trouble. It's too bad the Soviets got the bomb." One thought was to use unmarked bombers to strike at the Chinese, thus avoiding identification. Cooler heads prevailed, Ellsberg recalled: "The mission just looked too big to be plausibly denied."

McCone resigned as CIA director in 1965, despite his support for Johnson's continuing escalations in Vietnam. He explained to a colleague: "When I cannot get the President to read my reports, then it's time to go." McCone knew that Floyd Culler's inspections were accomplishing little; he also understood what Israel's continuing refusal to permit full- fledged international inspections meant. But, said Elder, the CIA director found that Johnson "didn't understand the implications" of the inspection issue and didn't want to hear about it. By the end of McCone's tenure, Elder added, he believed Lyndon Johnson as President had three basic concerns: "His standing in polls. 'Can I sell it to Congress?' And 'How can I get out of Vietnam?'"

There was yet another concern: Johnson's understanding that good nonproliferation policies made for bad politics. The President needed no one to remind him that any serious move to squeeze the Israelis on their nuclear weapons program would lead to a firestorm of protest from American Jews, many of whose leaders had consistently supported his presidency and the Vietnam War. He got another reminder of the political danger of nonproliferation from a special panel on that subject he convened a few weeks after the Chinese test. The distinguished panel, headed by Roswell L. Gilpatric, who had served John Kennedy as deputy secretary of defense, returned on January 21, 1965-the day after Johnson's inauguration-with a report that amounted to an indictment of past and present policy. [4] It warned that the world was "fast approaching a point of no return" in opportunities for controlling the spread of nuclear weapons and urged the President, "as a matter of great urgency, [to] substantially increase the scope and intensity of our effort if we are to have any hope of success." The report also advocated the establishment of nuclear-free zones in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East, including Israel and Egypt. Most significantly, it suggested that the President should reconsider-in terms of nonproliferation-a controversial American plan to create a multilateral force (MLF) that would give NATO members, including the West Germans, a joint finger on the nuclear trigger. The raising of any question about the MLF issue was especially sensitive, for the Soviet Union was insisting that any proposed nonproliferation treaty prohibit a separate European nuclear force, which it viewed as nothing more than a vehicle for providing the West Germans with the bomb.

At a White House meeting with the President, individual members of the panel listed a sweeping series of priorities -- including encouraging France to turn its force de frappe into a NATO nuclear missile battery-that prompted the President to note caustically, according to Glenn Seaborg, that implementation of the committee's report would be "a very pleasant undertaking." Johnson and his aides at the meeting, who included McGeorge Bundy and Dean Rusk, warned Gilpatric and the committee members not to discuss the report with any outsiders or even to acknowledge that a written document had been presented to the White House (the Gilpatric report remains highly classified today). Seaborg, who attended the meeting, noted in his memoir that Rusk, when asked by the President for his views, depicted the report as being "as explosive as a nuclear weapon." Its premature release, Rusk added, "could start the ball rolling in an undesirable manner"- in terms of the MLF and future negotiations on a nonproliferation treaty. The report went nowhere, despite the President's promise of further consultations with Gilpatric.

Political disaster, from the White House's point of view, struck in June, when newly elected Senator Robert Kennedy based his maiden Senate floor speech on many of the until then unknown and ignored recommendations of Gilpatric's panel. Kennedy, often invoking his dead brother, urged the President to rise above the immediate issues and begin dealing with nuclear proliferation: "Upon the success of this effort depends the only future our children will have. The need to halt the spread of nuclear weapons must' be a central priority of American policy." Kennedy specifically called for Johnson to immediately open worldwide negotiations for a comprehensive test ban treaty; such talks, he proposed, should include Communist China, one of North Vietnam's allies, and he indirectly criticized Johnson for his preoccupation with Vietnam by stating: "We cannot allow the demands of day-to-day policy to obstruct our efforts to solve the problems of nuclear spread. We cannot wait for peace in the Southeast-which will not come until nuclear weapons spread beyond recall." [5] Johnson, of course, was made apoplectic by what he was convinced was Gilpatric's leaking of the report to Kennedy and responded by deleting material on nonproliferation from a speech he was scheduled to deliver the day after the Kennedy speech. Over the next months, Glenn Seaborg recalled, there was nothing more heard about the Gilpatric report from the White House, and nonproliferation continued to be treated as a topic fit only for the arms controllers in the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), whose advice-no matter how prudent -- rarely carried weight with the White House. President Johnson held out for two years before agreeing in secret talks with the Soviets to drop the MLF, clearing the way for the 1968 Nonproliferation Treaty and giving the government's arms controllers an important victory.


In the mid-1960s, the Soviet Union had begun to step up its military and economic aid programs in the Middle East, and Israel was increasingly seen by the Johnson White House as a regional American bulwark. It was inevitable that high-level interest in the perennial and profitless issue of international inspection for Dimona began to wane in 1967-as the A-4E Skyhawks began arriving in Israel, as the routine Floyd Culler inspections proceeded, and as America got more and more enmeshed in the Southeast Asian war.

There were strong public clues, nonetheless, that Israel never stopped planning to build its bombs. In mid-1966, the Israeli government delayed in accepting nearly $60 million in possible American aid for the construction of a much-needed nuclear desalinization and power plant because the aid was contingent on an Israeli commitment to permit IAEA inspection of Dimona. Johnson and Eshkol had announced a preliminary agreement to build the plant in 1964, amid much fanfare, and subsequent studies showed the facility could produce two hundred megawatts of power and 100 million gallons of desalted water daily. Continued American insistence on IAEA inspections made the Israelis walk away, without any explicit explanation, from the project. The proposed desalinization plant was studied for the next decade, but the American conditions were never accepted, and the plant was never built. The pro-nuclear advocates in the Rafi Party, including Peres and Bergmann, urged Israel to refuse American aid for the plant and publicly accused the United States of attempting to violate Israeli sovereignty by linking its support to Dimona's IAEA inspection.

Privately, Peres and Bergmann-still influential, although out of office-suspected that the United States had a hidden agenda in its support of the nuclear desalinization plant: to divert Israeli funds, manpower, and resources from Israel's nuclear arsenal, in the hope that Israel would at some point be forced to make a choice between nuclear weapons and nuclear energy.

A second clue came in July 1966, during a debate in the Knesset on the most recent inspection of Dimona by Floyd Culler, whose conclusion-that there was still no evidence of a bomb facility-had again been made available by American officials to John Finney of the New York Times and, so some Israelis thought, also to Egypt. During the debate, Shimon Peres told of his recent participation at an international conference on nuclear weapons where, he said, the Middle East was discussed: "I found that there is unfortunately no possibility of limiting the spread of nuclear weapons in the near future-not because of Israel, but because big powers are not agreeing among themselves.... I was glad to discover that most experts on the subject do not believe it possible to envisage nuclear disarmament or the Middle East in isolation from the conventional arms race...." [6] Peres was, in essence, defending Israel's decision not to give in to Washington's IAEA inspection demands on the ground that the Arabs had conventional superiority. The same argument-Warsaw Pact tank and troop superiority -had been used a few years earlier by the United States and its allies to justify the deployment of nuclear missiles in Europe.

By the late 1960s, much of the United States' primary analysis of nuclear intelligence had been shifted from the CIA to the design and engineering laboratories for nuclear weapons at Los Alamos and Sandia and, later, Livermore, where intelligence units dealing with the Soviet Union and China had been set up after World War II. The growing danger of proliferation became starkly clear during the Kennedy administration, when a group of scientists awaiting clearance before beginning work at Los Alamos successfully designed a nuclear bomb from the open literature. The laboratories' primary targets continued to be the reactors and research centers in the Soviet Union and China, but the intelligence units eventually began monitoring the transfer of nuclear technology and those countries that were viewed as "nth" nations, as near-nuclear countries came to be known. "We had tremendous data" that went beyond satellite photography and intercepted communications, a closely involved official said. "We had people who had worked inside plants in the USSR and China. We were even able to do mock-ups of their weapons system-go from the warhead back through the plant. As part of the drill, I was required to summarize who's got the bomb and who was next, in near-term capability." Israel was always at the top of his list, the official recalled, followed by South Africa. "We were watching the relationship between France and Israel and between Israel and South Africa," he added. "Those were the links."

His assignment also included monitoring the flow of uranium ore into Israel from supplier nations such as Argentina and South Africa. Such ore, known as yellowcake, served as the raw fuel for the heavy-water reactor at Dimona; by the mid-1960s, its sale was a highly competitive and profitable business whose transfer in lots under ten tons was not monitored by the IAEA in Vienna. The first known shipment of ore from South Africa to Israel had arrived in 1963 and, since it totaled ten tons, was duly reported. In subsequent years, however, clandestine shipments of South African yellowcake began to arrive at Dimona, often escorted by a special operations unit of the Israeli Defense Force. Israel's goal was to prevent outsiders from learning that the reactor was operating at two to three times greater capacity than publicly acknowledged, utilizing that much more uranium ore-and therefore capable of reprocessing greater amounts of plutonium. At least some of those later clandestine shipments from South Africa became known in the late 1960s to the intelligence officers in Los Alamos and Sandia, who were carefully watching-by satellites and other means -- most of the major uranium mines in the world. But after Israel's overwhelming victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, the intelligence about Dimona and its nuclear potential became highly compartmentalized, as the White House decided to side more openly with Israel in the Middle East, and thus much harder to access. "We knew about the yellowcake," the official recalled, "but we weren't allowed to keep a file on it. It simply wasn't part of the record. Anytime we began to follow it, somebody in the system would say, 'That's not relevant.'"

The U-2 was still flying, but Lundahl and Brugioni had gone on to new assignments in photo interpretation and were no longer directly involved in Israeli nuclear matters. Far more intelligence was being collected by America's CORONA and GAMBIT satellite systems, which, after much trial and error, had by the mid-1960s begun consistently to produce high- resolution photography from their orbital perches in outer space. Any interesting intelligence on Israel was now being routed to Livermore and Los Alamos through the CIA's Office of Science and Technology, headed by Carl E. Duckett, to which Lundahl's National Photo Interpretation Center was now reporting.

Duckett, a college dropout, had been recruited to the Agency in 1963 from the Army's Missile Command headquarters at the Redstone Arsenal in Alabama. As a civilian Army expert on Soviet missile systems, he had been regularly consulted in prior years by Lundahl and Brugioni on U-2, photo intelligence, but had been told nothing about the findings on Dimona. That process reversed once Duckett joined the CIA, where he got his own special access to the Israeli intelligence. In the beginning, Brugioni recalled, there were long meetings in the late afternoon, usually over a few drinks, at which Duckett and his colleagues would openly discuss the day's findings. Eventually those faded away. Duckett was a quick study, Brugioni said: "By the mid-1960s, it was all his baby." Lundahl and Brugioni soon came to understand that Duckett was no longer sharing all of his information about the Israeli bomb -- the U-2,'s spy flights were no longer as important, and there was no longer any need for them to know. It was the end of an era.

The screening out of Lundahl and Brugioni was perhaps more of a loss than Duckett and his colleagues in the Office of Science and Technology could understand: those two were the institutional memory of the U-2, intelligence on Dimona- almost none of which had been reduced to writing prior to 1960. "Duckett knew very little about what went on before," Brugioni said. "He never asked me and I never told him. Lundahl always said, 'This is very, very sensitive.'" In subsequent years, even the most senior officials of the American government would learn little about the pre-1960 U-2, flights over Dimona; the lack of written history meant that there was nothing in the files. It was the first of many disconnects that would come to dominate the processing of U.S. intelligence on Dimona.



1. The first prominent public mention of Angleton's role in counterintelligence came in a major front-page expose by the author in the New York Times of December 12, 1974. The story linked Angleton and his office to Operation CHAOS, the massive and illegal spying by the CIA on antiwar dissidents in America. Angleton, in a telephone conversation with me before the story was published, suggested that he could provide better stories, dealing with Communist penetration of the antiwar movement and CIA operatives in the Soviet Union, if the domestic spying story was not published. On the day of its publication, a Sunday, as I later wrote in the Times, Angleton telephoned me very early at home and complained that Cecily, his wife of thirty-one years, had learned only by reading my story that her husband was not a postal employee, as Angleton claimed he had told her. He added: "And now she's left me." The call shook me up; the upset in his voice seemed real. I mumbled something about a newsman's responsibility to the truth, hung up, and telephoned an old friend who had served in the CIA with Angleton. He laughingly told me that Cecily of course had known from the beginning what her husband did for a living, and had left him three years earlier to move to Arizona, only to return.

2. Johnson also reassured the nation that his administration had not been surprised by the Chinese test. The President perhaps did not know it at the time of his talk, but the American intelligence community was aghast to learn from air sampling that the Chinese bomb had been fueled by enriched uranium, and not, as predicted by the CIA, by far-easier-to- produce plutonium. The American guess had been that China would chemically reprocess plutonium from the spent uranium rods in a reactor, as at Dimona. Confronted with evidence to the contrary, some in the CIA believed that China might have stolen or otherwise misappropriated the enriched uranium for its bomb.

3. Rusk carried his fight to other bureaucratic forums, with the focus on a nuclear India. Daniel Ellsberg recalled being told by his Pentagon superiors after the Chinese test in 1964 that Rusk's position was that "India needed a nuclear weapon as a deterrent and there was no reason for them not to have it." Rusk's basic approach, Ellsberg added, was "Why shouldn't our friends have nuclear weapons now that our enemies have them?" It should be noted that there was no mention of this extraordinary debate in McGeorge Bundy's seemingly comprehensive history of the atom bomb, Danger and Survival, published in 1988. India's drive for the bomb, wrote Bundy, "remains a doubt ful prize in that something about this apocalyptically destructive standard of greatness is not truly Indian." Bundy could have added that there were a few Americans in high Washington positions in 1964 who had no doubt then that India's desire for the bomb was quite truly Indian.

4. Panel members included the retired Allen Dulles, the former secretary of state Dean Acheson, the former defense secretary Robert A. Lovett, the former White House science adviser George B. Kistiakowsky, and IBM chairman Arthur K. Watson.

5. Kennedy also warned that Israel and India "already possess weapons-grade fissionable material, and could fabricate an atomic device within a few months." Further Israeli progress on the bomb, he added, "would certainly impel the Egyptians to intensify their present efforts." The senator's remarks caused a sensation in Israel, but were little noted elsewhere. The New York Times's page-one account of the Kennedy speech included no mention of Israel.

6. Peres misstated the conference's findings. His Knesset statement was initially reported in Israel and Nuclear Weapons, by Fuad Jabber, published in 1971 by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London. Jabber wrote that the conference, known as the International Assembly on Nuclear Weapons and sponsored in part by the IISS, had, in fact, issued a call for "a serious effort" to negotiate a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. The assembly took place June 23-26, 1966, in Toronto, Canada.
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Re: The Samson Option: Israel's Nuclear Arsenal and American

Postby admin » Fri May 26, 2017 6:11 am

Chapter 12: The Ambassador

Walworth Barbour, the American ambassador to Israel, was a compelling presence to the Israelis-a tall, shy hugely overweight diplomat with a gluttonous appetite and acute emphysema. He constantly sprayed his throat with a vaporizer, wore yellowing white suits with brown-and-white shoes, and walked with a shambling gait, an outsized Sydney Greenstreet. Barbour spoke no Hebrew and by the end of his stay in Israel still had little to do with the people of the country, rarely attending educational, cultural, or social events. And yet he was beloved by Israel's leadership, and had been since his appointment in 1961 by John F. Kennedy; he remained on the job for the next twelve years. Only three American ambassadors ever served longer in one post. [1] A life long bachelor, Barbour retired quietly in 1973, along with his spinster sister, to the family home in Gloucester, Massachusetts, taking with him an extensive knowledge of Israel's nuclear capability.

Barbour's long assignment as ambassador was not a testament to his intelligence and competence, which were exceptional, but to his understanding of when and when not to accept every Israeli assertion at face value and his willingness to operate the American embassy as a subsidiary, if necessary of the Israeli foreign ministry. The ambassador often reminded his questioning subordinates that he was not a servant of the Department of State or its secretary, but a President's man with a personal mandate in an important embassy-a functionary who would stand aside when ordered to do so, and permit the White House and the Israeli ambassador to Washington to run the real policy behind his back.

A graduate of Exeter and Harvard, Barbour was unfailingly courteous and correct to his subordinates, and in his first six years as ambassador, when some of the most accurate reporting on Dimona was forwarded to Washington, rarely interfered with the job of those working in his embassy. But the field reports had no impact; they simply disappeared into the bureaucratic maze. Barbour did nothing to keep them alive, and after the 1967 Six-Day War ordered his staff-over the objection of one key aide-to stop reporting On nuclear weapons in Israel. Barbour's assignment at that moment was to insulate Lyndon Johnson and his men from those facts that would compel action, and he did his President's bidding. He was the best, and the worst, of American diplomacy.

Barbour's important role in the history of U.S.-Israeli relations- and his knowledge of Israel's nuclear capability-was hidden by his insistence on a low profile. He was a virtual nonperson to the American correspondents assigned to Israel; he rarely met with them, unlike most ambassadors, and he never spoke on the record. His name occurs only six times in the New York Times Index for the years 1961 to 1966, a period of political turmoil in which the United States, after intense diplomatic activity, emerged as Israel's chief arms supplier. His reclusiveness was legendary in his embassy, a five-story building located near the beach at Tel Aviv. Barbour's daily pattern was inviolate, and interrupted only by international crises or the visits of the traveling secretary of state and senior White House advisers: he was chauffeured to the embassy's basement garage around nine in the morning, rode an elevator to his top-floor office, stayed there until noon, rode the elevator down to the garage, and returned home. There were afternoon rounds of golf, weather permitting, dips in his pool, and an occasional evening of bridge. When Barbour did entertain-he did so less frequently over the years- his guests often included prominent visiting Jews, such as Abe Feinberg and Victor Rothschild of London. [2] Such events, Barbour once explained to William N. Dale, who arrived in 1964 as deputy chief of mission, were his way of fulfilling a direct assignment from Lyndon Johnson: "I'm here under orders from Johnson, who told me, 'I don't care a thing about what happens to Israel, but your job is to keep the Jews off my back.' Everything I do is designed to keep Jews off the President's back," Barbour added. "To keep them happy." He told another newcomer to the embassy, upon being asked why he did not respond to messages from the State Department, "I go back to Washington every year to see the President and I get my orders directly from him-not from those pipsqueaks [at State]." Barbour also was phobic about using a newly installed State Department telephone scrambler system, designed to protect conversations from being intercepted. "If they can talk to you over a secure telephone line," he told an aide, "then you have to do what they want." He repeatedly urged Bill Dale to send embassy reports by mail, especially if the intelligence was adverse to Israeli interests, because "Israel has friends all over the State Department" and would intercept the information.

Most junior members of the embassy staff had no contact with the ambassador and could go for months or longer without even seeing him; Barbour's weekly staff meetings were only for senior subordinates. One personal aide recalled being asked by Barbour in 1967, six years after he became ambassador, whether it was possible to cash a check in the embassy. "He had never been on the second floor," the aide added, where the cashier's office was located. Still, many subordinates viewed him with awe. "He was the finest man I've ever known in the government," said John L. Hadden, who served as CIA station chief in Tel Aviv in the mid-196os. "He was a real professional. He was Boston Back Bay and friendship was not in the books with him. Respect is a better word. He didn't bother with friends." Barbour's closest associates were not his fellow Americans, but senior officials of the Israeli government, including Golda Meir, who became prime minister in 1969, and Major General Aharon Yariv, director of military intelligence from 1964 to 1972.

Of course, no senior Israeli official would talk to an outsider about nuclear weapons, and Barbour, in the end, shared that taboo.

Yet it was Barbour's men who reported before the June 1967 war that Israel had completed its basic weapons design and was capable of manufacturing warheads for deployment on missiles. Israel also may have had a crudely manufactured bomb or two ready to go, but-as the embassy could not know-no decision had been made by Prime Minister Eshkol to begin mass production.


Spying on Dimona was not the responsibility of the Central Intelligence Agency, as in most foreign countries, but left to the U.S. Army, Air Force, and Navy attaches assigned to the embassy; the Agency's espionage functions included the monitoring of Soviet activities and the providing of special cameras, film, and free bottles of wine to any officer who wanted to picnic on the weekend with his family in the Negev. The 1963 restrictions on the CIA's operations inside Israel, American officials acknowledged, were a sop aimed at avoiding any undue embarrassment for the Israeli government, whose extensive penetration of the United States government needed to be curbed. "We were helpful to the Israelis" in terms of supplying essential intelligence, explains a senior American diplomat, "but we knew that if we weren't-they'd get it anyway." The few espionage attempts organized by the CIA before 1963 had gone nowhere, in part because of the nature of Israel's close-knit society but also because of Israel's ability to monitor the activities of the Americans assigned to Israel. All of the U.S. embassy contacts with Israeli citizens and government officials were-and continue to be-- funneled through a special liaison office of the Israeli foreign ministry. It was understood that American intelligence and military officials who tried to evade the liaison system would be carefully watched. Given the difficulty of operating clandestinely inside Israel, the function of the CIA station chief was reduced to writing political assessments and staying in close touch with his counterparts in Mossad and in military intelligence, Aman. Israel, with its steady stream of Soviet and Eastern European Jewish refugees, remained tae most important country for collecting intelligence on the Soviet Union, but those operations were left to James Angleton and his men in Washington. It was sometimes hard for a newcomer, like John McCone, to keep things straight.


McCone was still eager to have his agency prove what he knew to be true: that a chemical reprocessing plant did exist underground at Dimona. Peter C. Jessup, the CIA station chief in the early 1960s, recalled being peremptorily ordered to fly to Rome early in McCone's tenure, where the director-then on a grand tour of CIA facilities in Europe-was scheduled to see the pope. The trip, in the days before jet travel, had taken many hours, but McCone had only a moment to spare. "He was in a great hurry," Jessup recalled, "and told me that President Kennedy thinks the most serious problem facing us is the proliferation of nuclear weapons." McCone wanted the questions about Israel put to rest, and urged the station chief to put "his staff" to work. At the time, the bemused Jessup added, his "staff" at the CIA station consisted of two aides.

Despite the difficulties, the men in the U.S. embassy-wanting, like most people, to do their job as well as possible-kept on trying to find out what they could about Dimona. Getting close was fun and a little dangerous--one American officer was chastised by Barbour after being caught by the Israelis with a butterfly net outside Dimona's barbed-wire fence-but occasionally added something useful to the intelligence. Colonel Carmelo V. Alba was the U.S. Army's military attache to Israel in the mid-1960s and, like the other attaches from Western embassies, spent many weekends cruising in the Negev with his long-range telescopic camera. "All I was doing was taking pictures," Alba recalled. He did so at least once a month, shipping the film off to Washington, with no reaction-until one of his photographs showed "evidence of activity at Dimona. Smoke was coming out of the dome," Alba added. "Finally, the CIA got excited."

Dimona had gone critical, and the embassy continued its watch. John Hadden, who began his tour as CIA station chief in 1963, sent Alba one weekend to Beersheba to do a census of French names on the mailboxes of the city's apartment complexes. [3] A constant goal was to try to determine who was doing what at Dimona. Barbour did not interfere with the hunt; William Dale, as the second-highest-ranking American diplomat, was given wide latitude in the day-to-day management of the embassy, and he encouraged his staff to find out what it could. The embassy's scientific attache was a physicist named Robert T. Webber, who shared Dale's interest in Dimona. Webber, who had earned a doctorate in physics at Yale University, worked closely with John Hadden-in clear violation of a State Department decree forbidding scientific attaches to engage in intelligence work. [4] Webber also relied on the intelligence gathered by Mel Alba and encouraged the Army colonel to collaborate with his British and Canadian counterparts in collecting more.

It was a hunt, and the men in the embassy got a break sometime in 1966 from an unlikely source-an American Jew living in Israel. Dale and the rest of the embassy staff stayed on good terms-as American diplomats do all over the world-with the many American citizens who chose to live abroad. Americans in Israel were routinely invited to embassy parties and picnics, as well as to screenings of American movies. Dale and his wife had become especially friendly with Dr. Max Ben, a Princeton-trained pharmacologist who was helping the Israelis set up a pharmacology institute under United Nations auspices. "One morning," Dale recalled, "Max came into the embassy and said, 'I have a story to tell you. I've been down to Dimona and I was shown the nuclear facilities. I'm convinced that Israel is making nuclear warheads.' " Ben, contacted later, vividly recalled his trip to Dimona. He had become a close friend and confidant of Ernst Bergmann's while in Israel, and it was that friendship, he claimed, that led to the invitation to take a firsthand look at the reactor. Though he had studied physics at Princeton, Ben found the visit to be "exciting" but confusing: "A lot of it I didn't understand." What troubled him, however, was not any concern about proliferation, but his belief that the United States was not helping Israel in its serious pursuit of the bomb: "I thought we ought to do something about it-to give them an assist." He talked to Dale and then agreed to discuss what he knew on a more sophisticated level with Bob Webber. Dale arranged the meeting. Ben explained years later that his purpose in taking up the issue with Dale and Webber had not been to inform on Israel's nuclear progress, as Dale obviously assumed, but to try to pass word of the accomplishments at Dimona to Washington. "My goal," he recalled, "was to see how the U.S. could help Israel. I tried to walk a line."

Dale felt he had enough to report. He brought Webber and others into the embassy's most secure room-a lead-sealed facility known as the "bubble"-and the group drafted a highly classified dispatch to Washington summarizing their intelligence. Its essential message, Dale recalled, was: "Israel is getting ready to start putting warheads into missiles so they can be quickly assembled into weapons for delivery by plane." The paper had to be approved by the ambassador, who was approached with trepidation. "Barbour harrumphed," Dale recalled, "and said, 'Well, I suppose it's time. Go ahead, they deserve it. Let it go.'" Dale forwarded it with a sense of accomplishment. It was, Dale thought, the embassy's most definitive report by far on Dimona.

"So what happened?" asked Dale. "Not a damn thing. No body responded." Webber eventually was replaced as science attache by someone much less interested in Dimona, and Colonel Alba was reassigned as an aide to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Adding to the frustration, Dale said, was the fact that more revealing information about Israeli intentions was provided early the next year by another American Jew. The embassy was entertaining a group of American government officials who were en route from India after attending a regional meeting of American economic and commercial attaches. There was a party set up in Tel Aviv with Israeli trade officials. On the next day, Eugene M. Braderman, then a deputy assistant secretary of state for commercial affairs, approached Dale, "looking ashen. He said, 'One of the Israelis at the party told me that my primary duty, as an American Jew, was to help the United States government accept Israeli nuclear weapons.' Braderman was very agitated," Dale added. "He said to me: 'I'm an American first, not a Jew first.' He told me to do whatever was right with the information." [5] By that point, Dale understood that Braderman's story had nowhere to go. "I didn't do anything with it," he said. "I knew it'd not do any good."


There were other issues, of course, for the embassy. Israel decided in early June 1967 to preempt the increasing Arab buildup in the Sinai and go to war. A year of steady tension had culminated two weeks before in an Egyptian blockade of the Israeli port city of Elat. An increasingly confident Nasser had sent his troops to occupy Sharm el Sheikh on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula, blocking the access of Israeli shipping to the Strait of Tiran, which leads from the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba and then to Elat.

Israel considered the Egyptian move to be an act of war, but -under pressure from the Johnson administration not to attack- the Eshkol government wavered. The prime minister, confronted by a public that wanted to initiate war with the Arabs, was viciously criticized for his indecisiveness and lack of military experience. To maintain political control -- intelligence reports reached the White House of military coup plotting -- Eshkol was forced in late May to turn to his political enemies, including Moshe Dayan and Menachem Begin, and form a government of national unity. For Begin, now a minister without portfolio, the appointment meant that he was serving in the Israeli government for the first time in his political career. Dayan's nomination as defense minister had to be much more difficult for Eshkol; it amounted, in essence, to an acknowledgment that he was unable to lead the nation in wartime. Dayan, with his romantic image, was as admired among the population as the hesitating Eshkol was not. Dayan came to the defense portfolio with enormous political strength, raising the possibility that the hard-line pro-nuclear Rafi Party of David Ben-Gurion would once again be dominant in Israeli military affairs.
The army, led by Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin, was ready. Israel struck first on June 5 and achieved Its stunning victory in six days, humiliating the Soviet-supplied Arabs and seizing Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, Jordan's West Bank, and Syria's Golan Heights, and, most stirring of all, fulfilling a two-thousand-year-old dream by bringing the Old City of Jerusalem under Jewish control. But Israel suddenly found itself in control of one million more Palestinians.


Wally Barbour spent much of the war in the Israeli war room, and he shared the jubilation throughout the nation-and in much of America--over the stunning Israeli victory. There was no pretense of objectivity in his reporting to Washington; his views and those of the Israeli leadership were identical. For example, Barbour urged that Washington downplay the Israeli Air Force's rocket and strafing attack on the USS Liberty, a naval intelligence ship, on the third day of the war. The Liberty, flying the American flag, had been monitoring Middle East communications traffic in international waters off the coast of Israel and had been identified as an American ship before the attack, which resulted in a death toll of thirty- four with 171 men wounded. The incident triggered resentment throughout the United States government. Barbour, however, was anything but angered. A declassified cable on file in the LBJ Library shows that hours after the incident he reported that Israel did not intend to admit to the incident and added: "Urge strongly that we too avoid publicity. [Liberty's] proximity to scene could feed Arab suspicions of U.S.-Israel collusion.... Israelis obviously shocked by error and tender sincere apologies." [6]

At war's end, Bill Dale was summoned by Barbour and told of a change in policy regarding the collection of intelligence about Dimona. Dale was to inform the embassy's military attaches, Barbour said, that they were no longer to report on Dimona and no longer to undercut the Israelis by conducting operations with their British or Canadian counterparts. "Israel is going to be our main ally," Barbour told Dale, "and we can't dilute it by working with others." There was a second message, Dale recalled: "Barbour said, 'Arab oil is not as important as Israel is to us. Therefore, I'm going to side with Israel in all of my reporting.' And maybe he was right," added Dale. "From that time on, it was a different Wally Barbour." [7]

Dale objected to the policy change, "and our relationship soured." Barbour subsequently attempted to amend a favorable fitness report he had turned in on Dale's behalf; Dale remains convinced that his disagreement over Dimona set back his career (he was named ambassador to the Central African Republic in 1973 and retired from the Foreign Service in 1975). Dale did, however, file one more embassy intelligence report on Dimona. In the fall of 1967, Henry A. Kissinger, then a Harvard University professor and a consultant on Vietnam to the Johnson administration, showed up in Tel Aviv to teach for a week at the Israeli Defense College. At the end of the course, Kissinger went to Dale's office in the embassy and announced that he needed to send an urgent, top-secret message to the White House. "He wrote it in longhand," Dale recalled, "and gave it to me to send." It was a warning about Dimona, and Dale vividly recalled its conclusion: "As a result of my course here, I am convinced Israel is making nuclear warheads." Dale also vividly recalled a Kissinger warning to him: "'I'll have your ass if this gets out.' Those were my first words from Kissinger."

After leaving Israel, Dale gave a series of perfunctory end-of-the-tour debriefings in Washington to W. Walt Rostow, Johnson's national security adviser, and other senior government officials; not surprisingly, he said, "Nobody asked me about the Israeli bomb." In his next post, with the State Department's Policy Planning Council, he again tried to raise questions about Dimona, with similar results. One of his early assignments on the council, the State Department's in- ouse think tank, was to do a paper on nonproliferation. He wanted to include a chapter on Dimona, but was refused permission to discuss that issue with members of Congress or members of the Atomic Energy Commission. When he protested, said Dale, a senior State Department official, declaring that the Israeli bomb "was the most sensitive foreign policy issue in the United States," threatened to discuss his conduct with the secretary of state. His final paper, Dale said, did not mention Dimona.


With Barbour staying on and on, the Israeli bomb disappeared after 1967 as a significant issue in the American embassy. Dimona became a nonplace and the Israeli bomb a nonbomb. Sometime that year the Israelis invited Arnold Kramish, an American expert on nuclear fuel cycles, to visit the reactor. "I made a mistake," recalled Kramish, who was then visiting Israel as a fellow at London's International Institute of Strategic Studies. "I paid a courtesy call on Barbour. He said I couldn't go-it would imply U.S. recognition of Dimona." Kramish had read about the American inspections in the New York Times and raised the obvious argument: "I'm not even an official visitor." The ambassador didn't budge, and Kramish decided not to challenge his dubious theory: "I didn't go."

Joseph O. Zurhellen, Jr., Bill Dale's replacement as deputy chief of mission, followed the ambassador's cue and was also much less interested in the subject. "Barbour was not well versed in anything technical-words such as 'reprocessing plant,' et cetera," Zurhellen explained. "Of course, he knew something screwy had gone on in Dimona. The French had pulled wool over our eyes, and so had the Israelis." But, Zurhellen added, the embassy's view was that much of the international concern about Dimona had been deliberately fostered by Israel. "A strong element of their policy is to convince others they have the bomb. It's disinformation." Anyway, he added, "the nuclear issue was not on our mind. We had a war of attrition." Zurhellen was referring to the steadily escalating air and artillery battles in the late 1960s and early 1970s between Israel and Egypt, whose army and air force had been dramatically reinforced by the Soviet Union after the Six-Day War.

After the inauguration of President Richard M. Nixon in January 1969, Barbour was even less than uninterested in Dimona-he exorcised the issue. A senior American intelligence officer recalled summoning a group of staff aides to provide Barbour, then in Washington, with a special briefing on the Israeli nuclear weapons program. "Barbour listened to it all," said the intelligence official, "and then said, 'Gentlemen, I don't believe a word of it.' " The official was astonished: he had given the same briefing in Israel to Barbour without challenge a few months before. He privately took Barbour aside. "Mr. Ambassador," he recalled saying, "you know it's true." Barbour replied: "If I acknowledge this, then I have to go to the President. And if he admitted it, he'd have to do something about it. The President didn't send me there to give him problems. He does not want to be told any bad news."

Barbour had many good reasons for not wanting to tell President Nixon bad news. His emphysema was getting worse. He was increasingly phobic about death, Zurhellen said, and kept an oxygen tent near his bed. The ambassador also continued his easygoing work habits; Zurhellen recalled only two occasions in their five years together when Barbour stayed at the embassy after his usual noon departure time.

The overweight ambassador had a huge scare early in the Nixon presidency upon being informed that he had been selected to serve in the Foreign Service's most prestigious ambassadorial post-in Moscow. The appointment, as were all such assignments, was contingent upon medical approval, but, said Zurhellen, Barbour hadn't had a State Department physical in years, and knew he'd never pass one. "We'd finessed it by having a local Israeli physician write a note every two years saying, 'You're capable of carrying out your mission.' I drafted the answer, thanking State for its confidence, but saying that 'in seven years here I have carved out a unique situation.' " Barbour was allowed to stay on the job.

In 1970, Barbour made one of his rare public appearances, sharing a podium with Prime Minister Golda Meir at the opening of an American school in Tel Aviv. The ambassador congratulated Meir for attending and said, "I wish I knew how to influence the premier to do what I ask her to do." She replied: "I will now reveal the secret to you-you must only ask me to do what I want to do."

When it came to Dimona, Barbour did what Israel wanted -- without asking. His support for Israel was profound and heartfelt; nonetheless, many of his former colleagues in the Foreign Service were confounded and distressed when on April 3, 1974, a year after retirement, he agreed to become a board member of the American branch of Bank Leumi, the Israeli state bank. There was nothing illegal in doing so, but many State Department officials consider such appointments to pose an obvious conflict of interest. Barbour, characteristically, couldn't have cared less about what his peers thought, and he remained on the board until his death.



1. The State Department's historical office lists George P. Marsh, minister to Italy from 1861 to 1882; Edwin V. Morgan, ambassador to Brazil from 1912 to 1933; and Claude G. Bowers, ambassador to Chile from 1939 to 1953.

2. His sister, Ellen, served as embassy hostess during her extended annual visits to Israel. Barbour kept photographs of Ellen and one other woman on his desk; a personal aide recalled Barbour explaining, when queried, that the other woman was someone he'd known in Cairo, where be was serving as political officer during World War II. "What happened to her?" "I asked her to marry me and she said no," Barbour replied. The young aide was astonished: "She said no and he kept her picture there twenty years later."

3. Alba got Hadden in trouble with the Israeli foreign office by inadvertently putting Hadden's American license plates on a jeep before taking one of his weekend jaunts to the Negev. All diplomatic cars in Israel were required to have special license plates, and the embassy mechanics routinely removed the American license plates from the private cars of newly arrived diplomatic personnel and placed them on the walls for decoration. Alba had asked the embassy car pool for a black jeep. It arrived with no plates, and the colonel, in a hurry, ordered the mechanic to grab a set at random from the walls and throw them 00. The plates turned out to be Hadden's. The jeep, of course, was monitored by the Israelis, leading to a stiff protest: why was the CIA station chief sneaking around in the Negev?

4. "We were very strict," recalled Herman Pollack, then the director of the State Department Bureau of International Scientific and Technological Affairs. "No intelligence work by science attaches. He was supposed to keep his hands very clean." Hadden, who retired from the Agency a few years after returning from Israel, acknowledged with a laugh that he "never paid any attention to organizational charts and titles. Life seemed to be better run if people worked together to accomplish joint goals that made sense."

5. Braderman, now retired and living in Washington, recalled the 1967 visit to Israel and said it was "possible that I'd said something like that" to Bill Dale. He added that Dale's recollection certainly reflected his general view of the issue of Jewish loyalty.

6. The Johnson Library documents also show that Clark Clifford, a key presidential adviser and later secretary of defense, complained about the government's initially tepid response at a National Security Council meeting the next day: "My concern is that we're not tough enough. Handle as if Arabs or USSR had done it." It was "inconceivable," Clifford added, according to the NSC notes, that Israel destroyed the Liberty by error, as it claimed.

7. It was a different CIA, too. A former senior intelligence officer recalled that "a big change took place" inside the Agency after the Six-Day War. "All of a sudden a lot of people were saying the Israelis were wonderful," the former official added. "Israeli intelligence became untouchable, and the professional suspicion you should have about another intelligence service--even a friendly one-disappeared." This became especially true in the Nixon administration; Nixon and Henry A. Kissinger, his national security adviser, became renowned inside the CIA for preferring Mossad's intelligence assessments on the Middle East to those supplied by the Agency.
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Re: The Samson Option: Israel's Nuclear Arsenal and American

Postby admin » Fri May 26, 2017 6:13 am

Chapter 13: An Israeli Decision

In early December 1967, Yigal Allon, the 1948 war hero and advocate of West Bank resettlement, was given a private look at Israel's nuclear future. It moved him to tears. He and a group of aides had been invited to inspect the early work on Israel's first nuclear missile field, under construction at an obscure site known on the map as Hirbat Zachariah, in the foothills of the Judean Mountains west of Jerusalem. The expertly concealed shelters, not identified for years by the American intelligence community, were to be burrowed into the ground at the end of an unmarked road lined with closed- circuit cameras.

The shelters represented the best of Israeli technology and ingenuity. They were being built by Tahal, the government- owned water planning corporation, which was then negotiating with the shah of Iran to build a forty-two-inch oil pipeline to relay Iranian crude to the Israeli port cities of Elat and Ashdod. The smooth barrels through which the missiles would be launched had been imported into the country marked as lengths of pipeline. [1] Israel was many years away from anything amounting to a nuclear missile capability-the first field test of the Jericho I had been held, with mixed results, only a few months before. The missile, jointly being developed with France's Dassault Company, had guidance problems: it wasn't yet capable of going where it was aimed.

Nonetheless, those first shelters represented, as Allon clearly understood, a new kind of military security for the nation. "Allon got all excited," one Israeli observer recalled. "Here's a man who had fought in 1948 with only a British submachine gun, and now-twenty years later-here is Israel building nuclear missiles. We're a people," added the observer, "who have come back from the dead. In one generation we have become the warriors-the Sparta of our time."

Allon couldn't resist boasting about what he had seen. A few days later, he stunned his cabinet colleagues by warning Egypt in a public speech at Haifa that Israel would reply in kind to any Egyptian attack on a population center using advanced weapons. "Every weapon Egypt can produce or purchase with the aid of a great power," he said, "we can match, sometimes with and sometimes without the aid of a big power." As a member of the prime minister's select committee on national security issues, Allon had great credibility. But no Israeli official had ever publicly acknowledged the existence of a nuclear missile system, and Allon's cryptic assertions were privately attacked by other government officials as a breach of security and publicly criticized in the press for creating a panic.


Israel's missile program, code-named Project 700, had been envisioned years earlier by Ernst David Bergmann as the final, costly step toward the Samson Option. One former Israeli government official recalled seeing figures indicating that the overall long-range price of Project 700, if fully authorized by the prime minister's national security committee, would be $850 million-more than was budgeted for all Israeli defense expenditures in 1967. The staggering price of the missiles was more than matched by other elements of the nuclear system, and the overall cost of the nuclear program continued to be the major barrier to the bomb and the biggest hurdle for the official who emerged in the late 1960s with responsibility for Israel's nuclear future, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan.

Allon's visit to Zachariah had had a strategic purpose: he was being proselytized by Dayan, who, with his black eye patch and flair for the dramatic, had emerged from the Six-Day War as an international hero. The war's aftermath also gave Dayan and his pro-nuclear colleagues a renewed opportunity to publicly condemn the major target of their prospective bombs-the Soviet Union. Dayan was among the first in the Eshkol cabinet to predict that the Soviets, searching for any foothold they could get in their ideological struggle with the United States, would fill the power vacuum in the Middle East and become the major threat to Israel. In early July, Dayan warned in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper of West Germany that if the Soviets chose to unite with the Arabs against Israel, he would not "hesitate an instant to advise his government to fight and defeat the Russians just like the Arabs. . . . Israel need be intimidated by no one."

Dayan was articulating the sense of isolation that had worked its way into the top levels of the Israeli leadership, in a way not felt since the 1956 Suez Crisis. Charles de Gaulle had responded to the war by accusing Israel of being the aggressor and canceling all of France's arms sales to Israel, abrogating twelve years of close French support for Israel. De Gaulle also delayed the pending shipment of fifty previously purchased Mirage III jet fighters. He even claimed to newsmen that he had not known of Dassault's contract with Israel until the first field test in 1967 of the Jericho I (although the French firm would continue to work with Israelis on the missile program for another year).

The Soviets and their satellites in the Eastern bloc, with the . exception of Romania, had gone further: all diplomatic relations with Israel were severed. The Soviets also immediately began rearming their Arab clients. President Nikolai V. Podgorny made a triumphant state visit to Cairo in late June and was greeted by hundreds of thousands of cheering Egyptians. Planeloads of Soviet arms began arriving shortly thereafter, initiating an extensive and rapid buildup of the depleted Egyptian war stores, all of which would be renewed within a year. Moscow eventually sent Soviet advisers and high-performance MiG fighters to Egypt; in return, the Russians were granted preferential treatment at four Mediterranean harbors as well as virtual control of seven Egyptian air bases. The Soviets were similarly generous in their support for Syria and Iraq, the other losers (along with Jordan) in the Six-Day War.

Israeli intelligence intercepted high-level communications between Cairo, Damascus, and Moscow that were replete with boastful talk about the next war in the Middle East, and little discussion of the last one. The Soviet fleet was suddenly being deployed in greater force in the Mediterranean, with two or three ships-obviously attempting to intercept Israeli communications- parked off the Israeli coast. There was no response to these provocations, as seen by the Israelis, from the world's other great superpower, the United States.

In late August 1967, the Arab nations, buoyed by the Soviet support and guided by Soviet advice, gathered for the first postwar summit at Khartoum and agreed on what became known as the "three no's"-no peace, no negotiations, and no recognition.


Dayan's drive for the bomb was heightened by his conviction that Israel could not depend on America to deter a Soviet attack. In 1966, he had spent time as a journalist in South Vietnam and come away "very much worried," as he later told NSC adviser Walt Rostow, about "the steadiness of the United States in honoring its commitments." In a crisis, Israel either would or would not-as in Suez-be supported by Washington, depending on the White House's assessment of its international and regional interests. Dayan believed Moscow similarly would be willing to come to the aid of the Arabs not because of a deep concern for the Middle East, but to protect its prestige and international interests. Whatever their motives, Dayan was convinced that the superpowers would dictate events in the Middle East unless Israel took steps to arm itself fully. Israel's survival, in Dayan's view, was now dependent on its ability to mass-produce nuclear weapons and target them at the Soviet Union-just as the French goal was to target its force de frappe at Moscow.

Dayan's mission in late 1967 and early 1968 was to convince his fellow cabinet members that if the Soviets could be persuaded that the Israeli threat was credible, they might decide that there was no Middle East war worth fighting. A credible Israeli bomb also would deter the Soviets from taking any steps in the Middle East that would jeopardize Israel's survival -- such as agreeing to supply an Arab nation with a nuclear weapon. In Dayan's scenario, Israeli intelligence agents would secretly inform their Soviet counterparts as soon as Dimona's assembly line went into full production. And when Israel developed its first bomb in a suitcase, Moscow also would be told -and reminded that there was no way to stop Mossad from smuggling a nuclear weapon across the border by automobile or into a Soviet port by boat. As for the rest of the world, including the United States, there would still be studied ambiguity oh the question of whether Israel had the bomb. The argument for an Israeli "bomb in the basement" was born.

Dayan got a boost in his lobbying sometime in the last few months of 1967 when the Israelis learned from American intelligence that the Soviet Union had added four major Israeli cities -Tel Aviv, Haifa, Beersheba, and Ashdod-to its nuclear targeting list. This most sensitive information was apparently obtained unofficially, according to a former member of Prime Minister Eshkol's staff: "We got it in a nonkosher way," the Israeli explained, without amplification. [2]

A second boost was supplied by Henry Kissinger, then New York Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller's foreign policy adviser in the campaign for the Republican nomination. Kissinger met privately in February 1968 with a group of Israeli scholars at the Jerusalem home of Major General Elad Peled, director of Israel's Defense College, where Kissinger had taught the year before. His message, according to Shlomo Aronson, an academic who has written on Israeli nuclear policy, was electrifying: the United States would not "lift a finger for Israel" if the Soviets chose directly to intervene by, "say, a Soviet missile attack against the Israeli Air Force bases in Sinai." Aronson, who attended the meeting, quoted Kissinger as making three declarations: "The main aim of any American President is to prevent World War III. Second, that no American President would risk World War III because of territories occupied by Israel. Three, the Russians know this."

By early 1968, it was obvious that the overwhelming victory in the Six-Day War had solved none of Israel's basic political and military problems in the Middle East. Yitzhak Rabin, the army chief of staff, flew to Washington in mid-December 1967 and said as much in a meeting with General Earle G. Wheeler, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "Rabin opened the conversation by stating that Israel finds itself in the peculiar position of having won the war, but not the peace," Wheeler noted in a memorandum for the record, later declassified and put on file in the LBJ Library. "Israel was in a less favorable position now than prior to 5 June [when the war began]. The Soviets do not want a peaceful settlement," Rabin told Wheeler. "[T]heir objective is to maintain a climate of tension, whereby they can continue to foster an increasing Arab dependence on Soviet power and influence ... with a view toward maintaining Soviet access to port and air terminal facilities and, ultimately, control of Arab oil."


America's Jewish community responded to the dramatic June victory with showers of money and increased visits; tourism was booming in late 1967, and so was the Israeli economy. Israel's success, as Ambassador Walworth Barbour told his doubting staff in the American embassy in Tel Aviv, had cemented its relationship to Washington. Yet for Dayan and many of his supporters at Dimona and elsewhere, America had proved its basic unreliability as an ally a month before the Six-Day War when it failed to respond to Nasser's closing of the Strait of Tiran and blockade of Elat. Israeli foreign ministry documents showed that Dwight Eisenhower had promised in writing after the Suez debacle in 1956 that the United States would use force, if necessary, to keep the strait open. Israel called on Johnson to keep that commitment after Nasser's blockade and felt betrayed upon learning that the State Department considered Eisenhower's commitment to have expired when Eisenhower left office in early 1961. Only a treaty ratified by the U.S. Senate was binding on subsequent administrations, the Israelis were told. Washington, without knowing it, was playing into the hands of Moshe Dayan and his nuclear ambitions.


But Israel was not yet a full nuclear power: no senior official had authorized the reactor and reprocessing plant to begin systematically turning out plutonium. Financial fears continued to haunt the leadership. One Israeli official recalled seeing estimates indicating that by the early 1970s a full-scale nuclear weapons program, including warheads and missiles, would be chewing up more than 10 percent of Israel's overall budget -- nearly $1 billion. Pinhas Sapir, renowned among Israel's leadership as the economic boss of the newly formed Labor Party, [3] was a strong believer in government loans and investments to promote economic development; dollars for Dimona never made much sense to him. In his view, an Israeli bomb would only lead to conflicts with the United States and a lessened flow of American contributions.

Dayan, one Israeli official recalled, made a critical decision early in 1968. He telephoned Sapir and asked him to spend a day with him, just as he had done with Allon. The two men went to Dimona. "He showed him the whole thing, from A to Z," the Israeli said. "Nobody had seen the whole [reprocessing] facility. Sapir was like a cat with sour cream. He came back and said to Allon, who was still resisting a full nuclear commitment: 'Have you seen it all? I've seen it and you don't know shit. [4] There will be no more Auschwitzes.'"

Sometime early in 1968, Dimona finally was ordered into full-scale production and began turning out four or five warheads a year-there were more than twenty-five bombs in the arsenal by the Yom Kippur War in September 1973. There is no evidence that the Israeli cabinet ever made a formal decision about Dimona. Nonetheless, production of the first assembly line bomb, whether officially sanctioned or not, was quickly known to the top layer of national security officials and widely applauded. An Israeli recalled that champagne was broken out at Dimona, and in some government offices in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, at word that the first bomb had been assembled. It was widely believed, the Israeli added, that the first warhead had the following phrase welded, in Hebrew and English, onto its exterior: NEVER AGAIN.

One former Israeli government official explained the bureaucratic procedure behind the decision to open Dimona's assembly line by saying, with a shrug and a smile, that Moshe Dayan had unilaterally decided that he had received the support of the key money men and had all the authority he needed-as defense minister-to turn Israel into a nuclear power. A similar suggestion was made at the time to Dr. Max Ben, Ernst Bergmann's American friend, by Amos Deshalit. "We were talking about Dayan," recalled Ben, "and Amos said, 'He's the guy who's acting on his own.'" [5]

With the decision finally taken, the bureaucracy closed ranks, as Israelis always do in matters of state security. The first necessity was the acquisition of uranium ore-lots of it. Mossad knew that there were hundreds of tons of ore sitting in a warehouse near Antwerp, Belgium, available for purchase in Europe, but that option theoretically did not exist: such sales in Europe were controlled by Euratom, the Common Market nuclear agency, and it was inconceivable that approval would be forthcoming for a large sale to Israel. Dimona was, after all, under no international supervision. Even if such a sale could be arranged, no one in Israel was willing to let the world know that Dimona, ostensibly a twenty-four-megawatt reactor capable of consuming no more than twenty-four tons of ore in a year, was purchasing an eight-year supply of uranium. Mossad's solution was to approach one of its agents in West Ger- many in March 1968 and ask him to make the purchase of the uranium-for $4 million-allegedly on behalf of an Italian chemical company in Milan. The sale was approved by Euratom in October, and the uranium was shipped out of Antwerp aboard a vessel renamed the Scheersberg A. The Scheersberg A had been purchased, with Mossad funds, by another Israeli agent-in-place in Turkey. Once at sea, according to published accounts that were confirmed by Israeli officials, the uranium ore was transferred to an Israeli freighter guarded by gunboats and taken to Israel. The disappearance of the huge shipment of uranium ore was known, of course, within months to Euratom; it wasn't much longer before U.S. and European intelligence agencies were reporting internally that the Israelis were involved. It took nine years, nonetheless, before word of the uranium hijacking reached the press, and the affair eventually became the subject of a 1978 book, The Plumbat Affair. Israel's response to the book and to the earlier newspaper accounts was to continue to deny that it had a nuclear capability. No one, except for a few public-interest advocates and a few reporters, seemed to care.



1. A Tahal representative was appointed in 1966 by Prime Minister Eshkol to the expanded and revamped Israeli Atomic Energy Commission, to serve on the new power and water subcommittee. Missile tubing also may have been shipped to Israel described as water mains.

2. American intelligence officials subsequently told me that the United States did not obtain a physical copy of the Soviet nuclear targeting list until the early 1970s. Some human intelligence about Soviet targets did exist, however, and it was that information, known only to a few in the CIA and elsewhere, that conceivably could have been passed along to the Israelis.

3. In 1965, Mapai and Achdut Avodah had agreed to join forces to run as a bloc for seats in the Knesset. After the Six- ay War, the two parties merged with Rafi to create the Labor Party. The next year, Mapam decided to join forces with the unified Labor Party and stand for election on the same ticket, but did not formally join the party.

4. It should be noted that there is no such expression in Hebrew as "You don't know shit." The Israeli who used that phrase in an interview was fluent in idiomatic English and, in his translation, was trying to describe the essence and import of Sapir's comment to Allon.

5. In April 1976, Time magazine reported that shortly after the Six-Day War, Dayan "had secretly ordered the start of construction" on a reprocessing plant. Prime Minister Eshkol then decided, said the magazine, that "they could only rubber-stamp a project already under way." The article, despite its confusion about the reprocessing plant, which was already finished by 1967. provided the world with its first hard information about the Israeli weapons program. The story carried no byline, apparently because it was reported by David Halevy, who, as an Israeli citizen, was subject to government censorship. Halevy, a former intelligence and army officer, was known for good contacts inside the Israeli government and intelligence community; it was widely believed inside the Israeli government, which officially denied the story, that his basic source was Moshe Dayan.
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Re: The Samson Option: Israel's Nuclear Arsenal and American

Postby admin » Fri May 26, 2017 6:16 am

Chapter 14: A Presidential Gift

After the Six-Day War, and despite Israeli complaints about the increased Soviet threat in the Middle East, the Johnson administration turned out once again to be a fitful ally in Israel's eyes, as the President-anxious to avoid a break with the Arab world-joined de Gaulle and embargoed all arms deliveries to Israel for 135 days. America did so, bitter Israelis noted, while the Soviets continued to resupply their allies. Johnson also publicly eschewed any firm commitment to defend Israel in a crisis. He was asked by CBS newsman Dan Rather at an end-of-the-year press conference whether the United States had "the same kind of unwavering commitment to defend Israel against invasion as we have in South Vietnam." His answer satisfied few Israelis: "We have made clear our very definite interest in Israel, and our desire to preserve peace in that area of the world by many means. But we do not have a mutual security treaty with them, as we do in Southeast Asia."

Nonetheless, Prime Minister Eshkol was eager to make a second state visit to Washington in January 1968 to plead for the sale of F-4 jet fighters to balance the Soviet introduction of MiGs into Egypt. The F-4 was the most advanced fighter in the American arsenal, and the Pentagon and State Department argued that Israel did not need such aircraft to maintain a military advantage against the Egyptians, whose MiG-21S had a much more limited range and bombing capacity. Introducing the top-of-the-line F-4S into the Middle East would be an unwarranted and unnecessary escalation; Israel would remain superior with the previously supplied A-4 Skyhawk bombers.

But Johnson, or some of his senior staff, apparently still hadn't given up on persuading Israel to accept the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and were willing to trade fifty F-4S for it. In a pre-summit memorandum for Johnson on January 5, 1968, Walt Rostow discussed two lists-"What We Want" and "What We'll Give." The want list included the Rostow reminder "We think we have an acceptable NPT. We believe this will serve Israel's long-range security. We expect Israel to sign." The give list included twenty-seven more Skyhawks and a promise to "cut lead time if Israel needs Phantoms."

Rostow's suggestion that it would be possible to link the Phantom sale to the NPT was farcical, given Israel's commitment to Dimona and the ample U.S. intelligence-much of it supplied by Wally Barbour's embassy in Tel Aviv-about that commitment. Many years later, in an interview, Rostow acknowledged that he had had few doubts about Israel's nuclear goals: "If you were to ask me what I thought in the sixties, I thought they were moving to put themselves in a position to have a bomb. Everybody and his brother knew what Israel was doing."

There was a similar lack of realism in the White House's approach to the broader Middle East picture, as summarized in Rostow's January 5 memorandum: "[W]e can't support an Israel that sits tight.... The Arabs need hope of Israeli concessions- on refugees, Jerusalem, letting new refugees return to the West Bank, avoiding permanent moves in occupied lands." The issues would stay the same for at least the next twenty-three years.

Rostow had to know that the Israeli military had gone on a virtual rampage at the end of the Six-Day War in the newly occupied areas of Jerusalem, the West Bank and Golan Heights, ransacking and destroying Arab homes in an obvious attempt to drive Palestinians and other Arabs off their land and into Jordan and Syria. More than one hundred Arab homes were demolished in the Old City of Jerusalem on the first night after the war by Israeli troops, operating under floodlights with bulldozers. Teddy Kollek, Jerusalem's mayor, explained in a 1978 memoir why such speed was necessary: "My overpowering feeling was: do it now; it may be impossible to do it later, and it must be done." Bulldozers and dynamite were used with especial ferocity throughout the West Bank; the village of Qalqiliya, west of Nablus, had 850 of its 2,000 homes destroyed during three days of Israel occupation. Moshe Dayan later accused the Israeli soldiers of taking "punitive" action in the village and ordered cement and other goods to be provided to the villagers for rebuilding.

There was a brief period after the war in which many senior Israelis, among them Dayan and David Ben-Gurion, openly questioned the wisdom of holding on to the occupied lands. [1] They saw the war as offering Israel a chance to trade land for lasting peace; Jews, Ben-Gurion often said to his followers, made lousy rulers. "Sinai? . . . Gaza? The West Bank? Let them all go," Ben-Gurion told an American reporter. "Peace is more important than real estate. We do not need territories." Levi Eshkol expressed his own doubts to the visiting Abe Feinberg a few weeks after the war, saying in Yiddish, "What am I going to do with a million Arabs? They fuck like rabbits."

Competing against those practical concerns were the religious and philosophical views of many Revisionist Zionists• who believed, along with Menachem Begin and his mentor, the late Vladimir Jabotinsky, that Israel's expansion into the West Bank was not an issue of politics, but a historical necessity; the West Bank was the birthplace of the Jewish people, and the area, part of Eretz Israel, had not been occupied during the war but "liberated." The Revisionists' position emerged as the government's policy over the years. The Israeli intransigence over return of the territories, coupled with the rearmed Arabs' desire for revenge, doomed United Nations Resolution 242, which called for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories in return for Arab commitments of territorial integrity and peace. It had been unanimously approved by the United Nations Security Council in late November 1967.

Things couldn't have gone worse, from the Israeli point of view, at the Johnson-Eshkol summit meeting in early 1968 at the President's ranch in Texas. Eshkol and his advisers, including Ephraim (Effy) Evron, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, who was a Johnson favorite, had sat through a day of briefings at which a series of Senate and Defense Department officials argued against selling F-4S to Israel. "Johnson was stiffing them on the Nonproliferation Treaty," recalled Harry C. McPherson, one of the President's advisers. "Finally he gets up and said, 'Let's all go piss.' So we all go into a huge bathroom and piss. As Johnson's leaving he sees Effy looking hangdog. 'What's the matter, Effy?' Effy said, 'We're not going to get our F-4s.' 'Oh goddam, Effy,' Johnson said, 'you're going to get the F-4S. But I'm going to get something out of Eshkol. But don't tell him.'"

McPherson and Evron thought that Johnson's comment amounted to a commitment, but what Johnson wanted to get, Israel could not give. One of Dayan's followers recalled the despair over the seemingly relentless American pressure for IAEA inspections: "We realized we were out there alone."


Dayan's men were too pessimistic. Israel had the best friend it could have-the President. Within weeks of the summit meeting with Eshkol, Johnson was presented with a CIA estimate concluding-for the first time-that Israel had manufactured at least four nuclear warheads. He ordered CIA Director Richard M. Helms to bury the report, and Helms obeyed the order, as he always did.

The CIA estimate was not a result of any intelligence breakthrough, explained Carl Duckett, who, by 1968, had become the Agency's assistant director for science and technology, but arose out of a dinner he had with Edward Teller, the eminent nuclear physicist who had devoted much of his life to weapons building. Duckett had briefed Teller in the past and, as he acknowledged, stood in awe of him. Teller had arranged for the private dinner to deliver a pointed message, Duckett recalled: "He was convinced that Israel now had several weapons ready to go." Teller explained that he had just returned from Israel -- he had a sister living in Tel Aviv and was a frequent visitor there-where he had many contacts in the Israeli scientific and defense community. "He'd talked to a lot of his old friends," Duckett said, "and he was concerned." Teller was careful to say that he had no specific information about Israeli nuclear weapons. But it was his understanding, Teller told Duckett, that the Agency was waiting for an Israeli test before making any final assessment about Israeli nuclear capability. If so, the CIA was making a mistake. "The Israelis have it and they aren't going to test it," Duckett recalled Teller explaining. "They might be wrong by a few kilotons [on the yield of an untested bomb], but so what?"

Duckett was as impressed as Teller wanted him to be: "It was the most single convincing piece of evidence I got the whole time I was in the CIA." [2] He reported the conversation to Helms the next morning: "I can tell you that everybody was very concerned." The Office of Science and Technology had just distributed a top-secret estimate on nonproliferation, and Duckett decided that an update, known inside the intelligence community as a "Memo to Holders," would be dispatched. "It was very brief," Duckett recalled. "The conclusion was that they [the Israelis] had nuclear weapons."

Another factor in that conclusion was the widespread belief inside the Agency that the Israelis were somehow behind the reported disappearance of some two hundred pounds of weapons- grade uranium from the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC), a privately owned nuclear enriching plant in Apollo, Pennsylvania. The company's owner, Zalman Mordecai Shapiro, a devout Jew with close ties to Israel, insisted that the uranium loss-first reported by Shapiro in 1965 -was routine, an inevitable by-product of the difficult task of enrichment. Duckett and many others in the intelligence community thought otherwise. Duckett acknowledged that he had no evidence that Shapiro's uranium had been diverted to Israel, but "made an assumption" that it had while preparing the updated Israeli estimate. "Assuming a crude device, Israel could have made four weapons with the Shapiro material," Duckett said, and the initial draft of the Memo to Holders revealed that there was new evidence suggesting that Israel had three to four nuclear weapons.

Without the Teller report and the suspicions about Shapiro, Duckett acknowledged, the CIA didn't have much to go on. The Agency had been unable to determine whether Israel had built, as suspected, an underground chemical reprocessing plant at Dimona. The Agency also had not been able to penetrate any of the military commands or intelligence services of Israel. And no Israeli had defected to the United States with nuclear information. The National Security Agency and its electronic eavesdropping also had not been much help, Duckett said, although it had provided early evidence suggesting that some Israeli Air Force pilots had practiced bomb runs in a manner that made sense only if nuclear weapons were to be dropped.

Thin as its evidence was, Duckett was now willing to state in a top-secret written report that Israel was a nuclear power. The revised estimate was more than a little bit sensitive, Duckett knew, and he cleared it first with Dick Helms. The CIA director told Duckett not to publish the estimate in any form and also declared that he himself would be the messenger with bad tidings. Helms walked the Duckett information into the Oval Office and gave it to the President. Johnson exploded, as Helms later recounted to Duckett, and demanded that the document be buried: "Don't tell anyone else, even [Secretary of State] Dean Rusk and [Defense Secretary] Robert McNamara" Helms did as he was told, but not without trepidation: "Helms knew that he would get in trouble with Rusk and McNamara if they learned that he had withheld it." [3]

Johnson's purpose in chasing Helms -- and his intelligence -- away was clear: he did not want to know what the CIA was trying to tell him, for once he accepted that information, he would have to act on it. By 1968, the President had no intention of doing anything to stop the Israeli bomb, as Helms, Duckett, Walworth Barbour, William Dale, and a very few others in the U.S. government came to understand.


Moshe Dayan's unilateral action to push Dimona into full-scale production carried what should have been a huge risk-a nuclear- armed Israel would find it impossible to sign the Nonproliferation Treaty, and Israel thus would not get its F-4S from the Johnson administration. The pressure from the Washington bureaucracy on that issue remained intense, especially at the Pentagon, where Clark Clifford, who had replaced Robert McNamara as secretary of defense at the end of January, and his senior aides were adamant. Clifford and his colleagues had no idea where their President really stood on the question of Israel and the NPT. In October 1968, one month before the presidential election, Johnson formally approved the F-4 sale in principle, but left the bargaining over delivery dates and other details to be negotiated. Paul C. Warnke, the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, recalled thinking there still was "an outside chance" Israel could be forced to sign the NPT in exchange for immediate delivery. "It was worth doing," he added, as a sign of a more even-handed approach to the Middle East.

Warnke called in Yitzhak Rabin, newly named as Israel's ambassador to Washington, and began asking some tough questions about the bomb-direct questions that, obviously, had never before been posed to him by a high-level American official. "I was trying to find out what they had," recalled Warnke, "and then stop it." The discomfited Rabin asked Warnke for a definition of a nuclear weapon: "I said," added Warnke, "'It's if you've got a delivery device in one room and the nuclear warhead in another room.'" The ambassador then asked: "Do you have a nuclear weapon unless you say you do?" A Warnke aide, Harry H. Schwartz, also was at the meeting and recalled an even tougher Warnke remark. "Mr. Ambassador," Schwartz quoted Warnke as saying, "we are shocked at the manner in which you are dealing with us.... You, our close ally, are building nuclear bombs in Israel behind our back." Rabin denied it, said Schwartz.

The ambassador, of course, was enraged by the encounter, which he subsequently claimed had nothing to do with nuclear weapons. In his memoirs, published in 1979, Rabin depicted the basic issue as Warnke's insistence that the United States, as a condition of the F-4 sale, be permitted to have on-site supervision of every Israeli arms manufacturing plant and every defense installation engaged in research and development. "To say I was appalled would be a gross understatement," Rabin wrote. "I sat there stupefied, feeling the blood rising to my face." He left the meeting, he added, and began passing "broad hints" to Israel's supporters in Congress and elsewhere to generate support for the F-4 sale.

Rabin did more than just pass hints. He and Major General Mordecai Hod, the Israeli Air Force's chief of staff, went to see one of the few Americans who could get the President to change his mind-Abe Feinberg. "They were agitated," Feinberg recalled. "Needed to see me right away. 'Everything you've done about the Phantoms is going down the drain. Clifford is insisting on the NPT.'" Feinberg had met privately a few weeks earlier with Johnson and Walter Rostow and heard the President declare that there would be "no conditions" to the F-4 sale. "So I picked up the telephone," he said, "called the White House, and asked for Rostow." The national security adviser was having dinner at Clifford's house, and Feinberg, who was well known to the White House switchboard operators, was patched through. "Walt gets on the telephone," continued Feinberg, "and I say, 'Walt, you and I and the President were together and Johnson said no conditions.' Walt agrees. I say, 'When you get back to the table, tell that to Clifford.'"

Clifford, who did not recount the incident in his 1991 memoir, Counsel to the President, telephoned the President and got the message. Paul Warnke arrived at a later meeting of his staff, all of whom favored tying the F-4 sale to Israeli acceptance of the NPT, and dramatically drew his hand across his neck. The NPT was' out. Harry Schwartz recalled Warnke's account of the Clifford-Johnson dialogue: "Clifford called Johnson and LBJ said, 'Sell them anything they want.'

"'Mr. President, I don't want to live in a world where the Israelis have nuclear weapons.'

"'Don't bother me with this anymore.' And he hangs up." Johnson had given essentially that same message at the beginning of the year to Dick Helms'.


In his memoirs, President Johnson recounted with pride the formal White House ceremony in which the United States, the Soviet Union, and more than fifty other nations signed the NPT. The treaty, he wrote, was "the most difficult and most important ... of all the agreements reached with Moscow" during his presidency. Why, then, did he make it possible for Israel to flout the NPT and keep its F-4S? Johnson's decision had nothing to do with domestic politics or the heavy lobbying on the issue from Israel's supporters in the Congress: his abrupt conversation with Clark Clifford took place after Nixon had won the 1968 Presidential elections. There's also no evidence that Johnson felt he was in debt to the Israeli government for its support of his policies in Vietnam; American Jews, despite that support, were overwhelmingly hostile to the war. "A bunch of rabbis came here one day in 1967 to tell me that I ought not to send a single screwdriver to Vietnam," the President complained to Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban in late 1968, "but on the other hand, [the U.S.] should push all our aircraft carriers through the Strait of Tiran to help Israel."

There is no ready explanation for Johnson's refusal to deal with the Israeli nuclear bomb. His decision not to stop the F-4 sale had given Israel, as Johnson had to know, a high-performance aircraft capable of carrying a nuclear weapon on a one-way mission to Moscow. It was, perhaps, nothing more than his farewell gift to the Israeli people and his way of repaying the loyalty of Abe Feinberg.

There is no question that Feinberg enjoyed the greatest presidential access and influence in his twenty years as a Jewish fund-raiser and lobbyist with Lyndon Johnson. Documents at the Johnson Library show that even the most senior members of the National Security Council understood that any issue raised by Feinberg had to be answered. In late October 1968, for example, Rostow was given a memorandum by a White House aide about Israeli press coverage of the "NPT-Phantom problem ... just to give you a factual basis for your continued dealings with Feinberg. . . ." By 1968, the government of Israel had rewarded Feinberg for his services by permitting him to become the major owner of the nation's Coca-Cola franchise. It would quickly become a multimillion-dollar profit center. [4]

Feinberg's role as a fund-raiser was nonpareil in the Johnson White House: his cash was, on occasion, supplied directly to Walter W. Jenkins, the President's most trusted personal aide, and his fellow political operatives in the White House-and not to the Democratic Party. There were others in the Jewish political establishment, men such as Arthur B. Krim, the New York attorney and president of United Artists, who raised large amounts of money specifically for the Democratic Party. Feinberg's status was different, recalled Myer Feldman, Johnson's aide for Jewish affairs: "Abe only raised cash- here it went only he knows."

Feinberg acknowledged that he had a special cache: "A lot of people were afraid publicly to give as much as they could, so they arranged sub rosa cash payments. It had to be done laboriously -- man-to-man. Raising money is a very humiliating process," he added. "People you don't respect piss all over you." Feinberg's special status became clear to some in the White House after the press revealed on October 14, 1964, that Walter Jenkins had been arrested a week earlier in the bathroom of a Washington YMCA on homosexual solicitation charges. The arrest took place three weeks before the 1964 presidential election. Johnson, in New York when word of the arrest-which he had attempted to suppress-became public, insisted that he and others in the White House distance themselves from the potentially scandalous incident. There was one immediate problem: at least $250,000 in cash that had been raised by Feinberg was in Jenkins's safe and needed to be removed. Johnson telephoned Feldman and ordered him and Bill Moyers, another trusted aide and sometime speechwriter, to clean out Jenkins's safe. Feldman was not surprised by the assignment: "Jenkins is the only person who knew everything that was going on. He took shorthand notes-reams of notes-ever since Johnson came into the Congress." Feldman also knew that Jenkins was especially trusted on national security issues. What he and Moyers did not know was that they would find the Feinberg money. "Bill said, 'What do we do with this?' I said, 'I don't know. You handle it.' " The cash was in a briefcase.

Moyers, asked about the incident in early 199', said his memory was vague, but acknowledged that "circumstances did lead me to believe" that Jenkins had a private cache of money in his safe. "I think there was a private fund. There was a lot of cash washed around in Washington in those days." Asked specifically whether the cash was meant for the Democratic campaign, Moyers said, "I don't know and 1 don't know what happened to it. Anybody who smelled of money was always routed to Walter. He was the contact man for the contributors and he took his secrets to the grave with him."

Moyers, now a prominent television personality, recalled the time in the Johnson White House when "a guy from North Carolina came to see me. He'd been routed from Walter-who wasn't in-to me. He had a leather satchel and left it in my office. 1 ran out and told my secretary to find him." The man was grabbed just as he was leaving the West Entrance, but refused to take back the briefcase. "He said," Moyers recounted, " 'Oh no, I left it for Jenkins and Moyers.' I told her to take it to Mildred [Walter Jenkins's secretary]."

President Johnson, Moyers added, "was an equal opportunity taker. He'd take from friends and adversaries just because he thought that's the way the system worked. No decisions were made on the basis of cash," Moyers added, "but cash did give you access." Asked about Feinberg, Moyers said, "I always thought Abe Feinberg had a lot of impact on Johnson; he had a big role to play."


Harry Schwartz, Paul Warnke's deputy, who died in early 1991, had a special reason to be frustrated by the Johnson administration's inability to get Israel to sign the NPT. He had been stunned a year earlier when a group of Israeli military attaches had come into his Pentagon office and asked for a Low Altitude Bombing System (LABS) for nuclear weapons. The computerized bombing system provided time for an aircraft to drop its weapons and roll away to avoid the blast effects. "I just laughed at them," recalled Schwartz. The Israelis cited the buildup of the Egyptian Army across the Sinai Canal and insisted that the LABS was needed only to "lob" high-explosive bombs onto the Egyptian emplacements. "I told them," said Schwartz, "that any American who sells you a bombsight for that purpose is crazy, and I'm not crazy."

There was a friendly private lunch early in the Nixon administration with Ambassador Rabin, well after Israel began receiving the F-4S. Schwartz decided to bring up the Israeli bomb, which Israel was still publicly insisting was only an option: "I think what you should do is what you're doing now. Don't ever haul one out, because your little government will disappear. The Soviets almost assuredly have your country targeted."

"Mr. Schwartz," calmly replied Rabin after a moment, "do you think we are crazy?"



1. James Critchfield, a longtime CIA official who was chief of the Near East Division in 1967. recalled that Dayan and Zvi Zamir, then head of Mossad, joined forces with him and James Angleton at the end of the Six-Day War in a brief and ill-fated attempt to stop the abuse in the West Bank and elsewhere. The goal, said Critchfield, was to reach a quick accord on trading land for peace before the Israelis began settling the occupied territories. Dayan and Zamir were convinced that such a step would be "a disastrous development," said Critchfield. "We had to reverse it immediately, or it'd be a fait accompli." The goal was to start negotiations with Jordan's King Hussein, who had entered the war reluctantly and late, and was eager to negotiate an end to Israeli attacks on his country and his palace. "We started talking and we were making progress," said Critchfield. "I'd kept Mac Bundy [who had returned briefly to the White House as Johnson's special national security assistant for the Middle East] informed and he'd approved it, Twelve days after the end of the war, I thought we ought to remind Mac that we were doing it." A White House meeting was arranged with Bundy and Nicholas D. Katzenbach, then the under secretary of state. "We were told to knock it off," Critchfield said, "They thought it was not well prepared. Angleton argued that if we do not act now with Dayan's and Zamir's support, there will be settlements in the West Bank. As we walked out, Mac said to me, 'I'd forgotten how passionable Angleton could be. We were at Yale together.''' Katzenbach subsequently said he had no recollection of the meeting. Critchfield, who retired from the Agency in 1974, wasn't surprised at the loss of memory: "They made a dumb act, and wanted to forget it."

2. Duckett acknowledged that his faith in Teller was shaken more than a little, however, a few years later when Teller arranged another meeting to confide that he was convinced that the Soviet Union would conduct a first strike with thermonuclear weapons across the United States on July 4, 1976 -- the two hundredth anniversary of American independence.

3. Helms, despite his public image as a suave spymaster, was more of a bureaucrat than most newsmen and government officials in Washington could imagine. One of Helms's senior deputies recalled the occasion in the last year of the Johnson administration when an angry President, ordered a twenty-four-hour halt to all CIA intelligence collection and reporting on Vietnam. The President's goal was to prevent a leak, and his assumption seemed to be that if he could stop the voluminous traffic to and from the CIA, he would do just that. Of course, shutting off the communications link had its obvious perils, and the senior CIA staff were sure that Helms would ignore, or override, the irrational presidential order. Not so. Although he most certainly knew better, Helms followed orders and stopped the traffic. "You don't question what a President can do," the CIA director told his dispirited aides.

4. Israel had rewarded other financial supporters with similarly lucrative business deals. In 1959, for example, Tricontinenal Pipelines. Ltd., an international investment group controlled by Baron Edmund de Rothschild, was given the concession to operate a sixteen-inch oil pipeline between Elat and Haifa, via Ashdod. The contract, signed by then Finance Minister Levi Eshkol on behalf of Israel, committed the state to ship at least 1.5 million tons of oil through the pipeline for the next fifteen years. Edmund de Rothschild was, according to Abe Feinberg, another major contributor to Dimona's start-up costs.
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Re: The Samson Option: Israel's Nuclear Arsenal and American

Postby admin » Fri May 26, 2017 6:18 am

Chapter 15: The Tunnel

Israelis have done their best work from below.

The huge underground laboratories at Dimona had their precedent in the Jewish struggle after World War II against the British mandatory power in Palestine. The British authorities had angered David Ben-Gurion and his followers by insisting that they adhere to the strict limits on Jewish immigration to Palestine that were set in 1939, after three years of Arab revolts. The British ruling had meant then that hundreds of thousands of Eastern European Jews were unable to escape the Holocaust. And now those who had somehow managed to survive were again being denied a chance to come legally to Palestine. Many were faced with a desperate dilemma: either return to what was left of their prewar homes and prewar life or remain in the dispirited and overcrowded displaced persons (DP) camps scattered across Europe.

The heavily outnumbered and outgunned members of the Hagannah, the Jewish underground, began the inevitable guerrilla war against the British troops with little other than their guile and determination. One of the war's most imaginative operations involved what seemed to be yet another farming kibbutz that was set up in 1946 about fifteen miles outside Tel Aviv, adjacent to a large British military base. The kibbutz's administrative building was constructed, seemingly at random, within a half mile of the base.

"The whole thing was a fraud," recalled Abe Feinberg, who had been recruited by Ben-Gurion the year before to help raise money for that and other guerrilla operations. The function of the kibbutz was not farming, but to provide cover for an elaborate and secret underground plant that was turning out bullets for the Sten submachine gun, the basic weapon of the Hagannah. Metal for the bullets had been shipped into Israel disguised as lipstick tubes, and it cleared British customs without challenge.

The underground facility had been "scooped out," said Feinberg, in twenty-seven days. The men and women who worked underground alternated that work with farming; those who completed a shift in the arms factory were ordered to muddy their shoes and sit under sunlamps so they could appear to the British and others as if they had been innocently tending crops or looking after the kibbutz's cows and sheep. Over the next two years, British soldiers and officers were constant-and unsuspecting- customers of the kibbutz's bakery and laundry, which cheerfully offered their services to the military. Feinberg recalled that a few of the British soldiers even made a point of coming to the kibbutz's Friday-night Shabbat dinners. Today the underground bullet factory is known as the Ayalon Museum, a popular attraction for Israeli schoolchildren.


Located a few hundred feet from the reactor, Dimona's chemical reprocessing plant looked, on the surface, very much like an ordinary administration building-a nondescript two-story windowless facility, eighty by two hundred feet, containing a workers' canteen and shower rooms, a few offices, some warehouse space, and an air filtration plant. The building had thickly reinforced walls, not an unusual safety feature, given its location. Once inside, there was no hint of what had been dug out below, apparently to the same dimensions, to a depth of eighty feet: a six-level highly automated chemical reprocessing plant. A bank of elevators on the top floor was routinely bricked over before foreign visitors, such as the American inspection teams headed by Floyd Culler, were permitted to enter the building. (Culler noted in his official reports during the 1960s that his team had seen evidence of freshly plastered and painted walls inside Dimona.) No outsider is ever known to have entered the reprocessing plant, whose long-suspected existence was not established until '986, when the London Sunday Times published an extraordinary inside account based on extensive interviews with a thirty-one-year-old Moroccan Jew named Mordecai Vanunu.

Vanunu began working as a technician at Dimona in August 1977 and spent much of the next eight years assigned to various tasks inside the reprocessing plant, formally known as Machon 2 (machon means "facility" or "institute" in Hebrew) and informally known as the Tunnel. The reprocessing plant, which was handling materials that were exceedingly "hot"-that is, highly radioactive-was the most sensitive area at Dimona; only 150 of Dimona's 2,700 employees worked there. A special pass was needed to enter the plant, and all movement inside, even to .and from the bathroom, was-in theory-to be closely monitored. Vanunu, once at work in the Tunnel, found that the stringent security existed in theory only. Constantly in trouble for his public pro-Arab views, he had been laid off in mid-198S as part of a government-wide cutback. Vanunu appealed through his union, powerful as are all unions in Israel, and won back his job. It was at that point that he smuggled a camera into the reprocessing plant during an overnight shift and wandered around undetected for some forty minutes, taking fifty-seven color photographs. A few weeks later he was fired after calling for the formation of a Palestinian state during an Arab rally. Even then, again with help from his union, Vanunu was able to negotiate a settlement from Dimona's management that gave him severance pay and a letter attesting to his good record.

A combination of factors-disenchantment with his life, distress at the treatment of Arabs in Israel, and what he had learned inside Dimona-drove him to exile in Australia and eventually to the London Sunday Times. The newspaper's editors and reporters were appropriately skeptical of Vanunu's account of the goings-on inside Dimona, but the photographs he had taken proved to be critical in finally establishing his credibility. However, even as he talked to the Sunday Times, he was being closely monitored by the Israeli government, whose operatives have long-standing ties to the London newspaper world. Copies of some of Vanunu's sensational photographs had been made available in London- before publication of the Sunday Times story-to an Israeli intelligence agent masquerading as an American newspaper reporter. The photographs were sent by courier to the office of Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who ordered Mossad to get Vanunu out of London and into Israeli custody. No kidnapping could take place in England for diplomatic reasons. Instead, the lonely Vanunu was enticed by a Mossad agent named Cindy Hanin Bentov (a pseudonym) to leave for Rome a few days before publication of the story. Once in Rome, Vanunu has told family members, he was taken by taxi to an apartment, where he was drugged and returned to Israel by ship to stand trial. He was sentenced in March 1988 to eighteen years in a maximum-security prison.

Vanunu's Times interview and his photographs of many of the production units in the Tunnel, or Machon 2, provided the American intelligence community with the first extensive evidence of Israeli capability to manufacture fusion, or thermonuclear, weapons. American intelligence also obtained a copy of many of the Sunday Times's interview notes with Vanunu; those notes, some of which were also made available to the author, provided much more specific detail of the inner workings of Dimona than was published. Senior American officials, including men and women who have worked in nuclear weapons production and nuclear intelligence, uniformly agreed that the unpublished Vanunu notes are highly credible. One intelligence official who has been analyzing Israel's nuclear capability since the late 1960s depicted Vanunu's information, which includes a breakdown of the specific function of each unit inside the Tunnel, as stunning: "The scope of this is much more extensive than we thought. This is an enormous operation."

The most exhaustive analysis of the Vanunu statements and photographs was conducted by the Z Division, a special intelligence unit at the Livermore Laboratories whose experts are considered to be the final word on proliferation issues. It is responsible for analyzing foreign nuclear weapons, with emphasis on Soviet weaponry. "Z Division's only debate was over the numbers," recalled a former White House nonproliferation official. Vanunu told the Sunday Times that he believed the Israeli nuclear stockpile totaled more than two hundred warheads, an astonishingly high number-the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency were estimating into the early 1980s that Israel had only between twenty-four and thirty warheads. "On the basis of what Z Division knew," added the White House aide, "it could not relate those kinds of numbers to what they could see" in the Vanunu photographs.

There was no evidence in the Vanunu materials of additional cooling capacity for Dimona's reactor, whose output would have had to have been dramatically increased to produce enough plutonium for two hundred warheads. Vanunu, however, in a portion of his interview not published and not made available to Z Division, explained that a new cooling unit had been installed at the reactor while he was employed at Dimona. [1] American nonproliferation experts had independently learned in the last year of the Carter administration of the boost in Dimona's cooling capacity, further evidence of Vanunu's credibility as well as proof that the reactor was capable of operating at a higher level and producing more plutonium.

Of extreme interest to the United States were Vanunu's photographs of what apparently were full-sized models of Israeli nuclear weapons, [2] Copies of those photos were provided to weapons designers at the Los Alamos and Livermore laboratories for evaluation and analysis, and the designers, working from the photographs, constructed replicas of the Israeli weapons, as had been done with Soviet weapons in the past. They concluded that Israel was capable of manufacturing one of the most sophisticated weapons in the nuclear arsenal-a low-yield neutron bomb. Such weapons, which first came into the American stockpile in the mid-1970s, utilize enhanced radiation and minimal blast to kill anything living within a limited range with limited damage to property. The weapon actually is a two-stage thermonuclear device that utilizes tritium and deuterium (both by-products of hydrogen), and not lithium deuteride, to maximize the release of neutrons.

The Vanunu information also helped American intelligence experts date the progress of the Israeli nuclear arsenal. Vanunu revealed, for example, that Unit 92 in the Tunnel had been painstakingly removing tritium from heavy water since the 1960s, indicating that physicists at Dimona-following Levi Eshkol's 1965 plea for advanced research-had been attempting from the earliest days of Dimona's production to manufacture "boosted" fission weapons. The United States began experimenting in the early 1950s with boosting, which dramatically increases the yield, or destructiveness, of a single- tage fission device. Boosting is a process in which small quantities (a few grams) of tritium and deuterium are inserted directly into a plutonium warhead and designed to flood the warhead with additional neutrons at the moment of fission-in essence, jumpstarting the weapon at the moment of critical mass-producing a bigger kick, or yield, with smaller amounts of plutonium. Vanunu also told the Sunday Times of returning from a vacation in 198o-his first trip abroad since emigrating with his family to Israel in 1963-and being assigned then to work at a new production plant for lithium 6, another essential element of the hydrogen bomb. In 1984, he further reported, a new facility (Unit 93) for large-scale production of tritium was opened. Lithium is irradiated in the reactor, then moved to Unit 93, where it is heated to release tritium in a gas form, along with helium and hydrogen. The gases are then driven under high pressure through an asbestos palladium column and separated. The helium is stored in powdered uranium and can again be released by heating. The opening of Unit 93 suggests that full-scale production of neutron weapons began then, for up to twenty grams of tritium are used in each neutron warhead.

As described by Vanunu (and confirmed by the author in later interviews with Israeli officials), Dimona includes the reactor and at least eight other buildings, or Machons, the most important of which is the chemical reprocessing plant. Each building apparently is self-contained. Machon I is the large silver-domed reactor, sixty feet in diameter, that can be clearly seen from the nearby highway. The uranium fuel rods remain for three months in the reactor, which is cooled and moderated by heavy water. The heavy water is itself cooled by ordinary water flowing through a heat exchanger, creating steam, which in a nuclear power plant would drive a turbine and create electricity. Instead, the steam in Machon I is vented into the atmosphere, creating a radioactive cloud. [3] Machon 2 is the chemical reprocessing plant. Machon 3converts lithium 6 into a solid for insertion into a nuclear warhead and also processes natural uranium 'for the reactor. Machon 4 contains a waste treatment plant for the radioactive residue from the chemical reprocessing plant in Machon 2. Machon 5 coats the uranium rods (shipped from Machon 3) with aluminum to be consumed in the reactor. The rods, once stacked in the core of the reactor, provide the fuel needed to sustain a chain reaction-and capture weapons-grade isotopes of plutonium. Machon 6 provides basic services and power for Dimona. Machon 8 contains a laboratory for testing samples and experimenting on new manufacturing processes; it also is the site of Special Unit 840, where Israeli scientists have developed a gas centrifuge method of enriching uranium for weapons use. There also is a laser-isotope- eprocessing facility for the enrichment of uranium in Machon 9. Depleted uranium-that is, uranium with very little or no uranium 235 left-is chemically isolated in Machon 10 for eventual shipment to the Israeli Defense Force or sale to arms manufacturers in Europe and elsewhere for use in bullets, armor plating, and artillery and bomb shells. The shells, buttressed by the heavy uranium, which is much denser than lead, can easily penetrate thick armor plating and are a staple in modern arsenals. [4] (There was no Machon 7 in the years he worked at Dimona, Vanunu told the Sunday Times, and he did not know what, if anything, had taken place there.)

Dimona's most essential facility, of course, is the reprocessing plant in Machon 2, where Vanunu spent most of his career. It is here that plutonium, a by-product of the fission process in the reactor, is extracted by chemical means from the spent uranium rods. The residual uranium is then reprocessed and reconstituted for use in new fuel rods. There are at least thirty-nine separate units in the six underground levels of the Tunnel, the most important of which is the production hall where the spent uranium rods undergo reprocessing. Before reprocessing can begin, however, the rods must be cooled for weeks in water-filled tanks, reducing radioactivity by a factor of several thousand. Even then, the radioactive rods are still lethal and are always handled by remote control and from behind lead shielding. The Tunnel's production hall dominates levels one through four below ground; work there is monitored by a large control room that includes an observation area known to technicians as "Golda's Balcony," a reference to Golda Meir's frequent visits after she became prime minister in 1969. The end result of the chemical processing, according to Vanunu, is a weekly average of nine "buttons" of pure plutonium whose combined weight is 1.2 kilograms.

The plutonium is fabricated by machine in a secure area on level five, the only floor in the Tunnel to which Vanunu was denied access. He eventually obtained a key and found a series of separate rooms-isolated for safety reasons-where the weapons-grade plutonium, now in metal form, is stored inside sealed glove boxes filled with argon, an inert gas. The glove boxes are designed so that workers can stand outside the "hot" area and manipulate remote-controlled robotic devices by hand to mold the plutonium pellets into microscopically thin hemispheres for insertion into a nuclear warhead. Other chemicals used in the Israeli nuclear arsenal, including lithium compounds and beryllium, also are machine-fabricated on the fifth level. Such milling involves exquisite machinery: any microscopic flaw in the interior surface of a bomb core can cause a significant reduction in the yield, or lead to a nonevent. The allowable tolerances are difficult for an outsider to comprehend: the hemisphere of an American-made plutonium warhead, for example, is permitted to deviate from prescribed thickness by less than five ten-thousandths of an inch, about one-sixth the diameter of a human hair.

Once completed, the weapons parts are moved by convoys of unmarked cars, under armed guard, to another facility to the north-not known to Vanunu-for assembly into warheads. Israeli officials subsequently told me that the final stage of warhead production takes place at a defense plant north of Haifa operated by Rafael, the top-secret Israeli research and manufacturing agency that is responsible for Israel's most sensitive weaponry.

The Tunnel remained in operation around the clock for thirty-four weeks a year, according to Vanunu, and was shut down from July to November for routine maintenance and repair. American nuclear experts consulted about Vanunu's story describe the methods used to reprocess the spent uranium at Dimona as essentially routine; the industrial solvents and solutions used by the Israelis are the same as those relied upon at the Savannah River Plant in Aiken, South Carolina, where state-of-the-art heavy-water-production reactors have operated since the mid-1950s.

What was surprising, however, was the scope of the Israeli operation. If Vanunu's information about the rate of plutonium reprocessing is correct-a steady production rate of 1.2 kilograms weekly-the reactor would be producing enough enriched materials for four to a dozen or more bombs a year, depending on warhead design. The reactor also would have to be operating at about 120 to 150 megawatts, more than five times its officially stated output, and consuming nearly one hundred tons of uranium ore a year. [5] Some American experts believe that Vanunu's statistics, whose essential accuracy is not in dispute, may reflect peak output, and not what is known as the normal flow rate. If so, Dimona could be producing sixteen to twenty kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium per year, enough for four or five warheads.


What especially impressed American experts about Dimona's reprocessing plant was its location-underground-and its sophistication. "You have to understand," an American explained, "Machon 2 is very sophisticated because it's so hot. There's an extraordinary level of radioactivity. You need three-foot lead walls, all automated; people in suits; robotics. You're going to have a hell of a time keeping it undetected. So you go very deep." That, in turn, drives up the price of ventilation shafts, air intakes, and fan systems, as well as all ordinary construction costs.

Going underground also posed enormous engineering risks that could be met only by superb master planning and expert intelligence. For example, the construction teams that initially built the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission's Savannah River Plant in South Carolina decided to put the thick, lead-shielded doors that protected the work force on custom-made coasters with specially engineered automated motors for opening and closing. "We didn't move the doors often enough," the American added, "and the coasters flattened. The doors were too heavy and we had misjudged the physics. We had to stop the process to remove them. We didn't test this beforehand because we didn't think of it."

The possibility exists, the official said, that the Israelis determined from the outset that they could avoid such problems by finding out what had gone right-and wrong-from the Americans who built the Savannah River Plant. "This is not highly classified information-it's dumb-shit stuff that has to be done. That kind of intelligence is crucial to not having to reinvent the wheel. Anything you can learn about what the other guy has learned just leaps you forward." This, presumably, was one of the missions of Binyamin Blumberg and his Office of Special Tasks, which became known in the mid-1970s as the Science Liaison Bureau, or LAKAM. Blumberg's agents were operating all over the world, collecting available technical information and also setting up front companies in Europe and Latin America for the purchase from the United States of high-tech equipment whose export to Israel would not be permitted.

Another area of great sensitivity involved the science of robotics, whose most important early use in the United States came in the hot weapons laboratories where humans could not work. The precision involved in machining the thin plutonium hemispheres and placing them around the gases needed to create boosted nuclear weapons was achieved only after enormous strides had been made in the use of remote control. It was not an accident that Aharon Katzir (formerly Katchalsky), who became, like Ernst Bergmann, an intellectual force inside the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission, was world-renowned for his research into robotics at the Weizmann Institute. Katzir was even featured with some of his research apparatus on the cover of the December 3, 1966, issue of the Saturday Review; the article was entitled "Man's First Robot with Muscles." It reported on Katzir's pioneering work in converting chemical energy into the energy of motion. Katzir's team at the Weizmann Institute also was concentrating on the development of artificial muscle tissue for use in robots. His research was heavily funded by the U.S. Air Force's Office of Scientific Research; the Air Force's primary interest was in utilizing robotics in outer-space research. The Air Force had no idea that it was also helping to underwrite research for the Israeli nuclear arsenal; nor did it know that Katzir's main work was being done at Dimona, and not at the Weizmann Institute.

Vanunu's revelations staunchly reaffirmed the recurring suspicions of many in the American intelligence community that Israel either had covertly tested its advanced thermonuclear weapons, all of which needed to be miniaturized to fit into bombs and missile warheads, or somehow had managed to obtain illicitly the results of American testing. "We'd go through ten to twelve underground tests [at the American underground range in Nevada] just to come up with the data," one weapons expert recalled. "How could they spend that kind of money [for the underground reprocessing plant] without having tested? You'd have to be so certain of your intelligence. You just can't afford to be wrong."

Despite such comments, there remains no actual evidence that Israel needed outside help for its nuclear weaponry. Dr. George A. Cowan, who spent more than twenty years designing nuclear weapons at Los Alamos, acknowledged that there always was a close association with Israeli physicists from the Weizmann Institute. "They've visited the labs [Los Alamos and Livermore] and probably are treated more openly than other visitors here, but there's too much emphasis to the notion that there's a secret that somebody has to tell them," Cowan said. "The Israelis are smart enough to do their own research. The need for secret information is largely promoted by spy novelists. There's very much less to it than most people believe." Like many of the scientists in the American nuclear laboratories, Cowan has a close Israeli friend who was involved with Dimona: "He never asked me anything over the years about the bomb and wouldn't have." Similarly, physicist Hans Bethe, the Nobel laureate who helped design the first American nuclear and thermonuclear weapons, recalled three visits to the Weizmann Institute during which his hosts would "take me anywhere and discuss anything with me. They knew I was interested in nuclear power reactors," he added, "and yet they never offered to take me to Dimona. I found that significant."


If there was any solace for the American intelligence community in the wake of the startling Vanunu disclosures, which gave Washington the most specific evidence of an Israeli reprocessing plant, it was in the conviction that the extraordinary degree of master planning that had to take place at Dimona was little appreciated by senior officials in the Israeli chain of command. "It's unlikely," said one expert, "that the top people in the government of Israel truly understood" what was taking place at Dimona-just as America's intelligence experts had failed to understand.

The American experts got that one right, at least. Shimon Peres has confided to friends that during the early construction of Dimona he often signed requisition orders and other technical documents on behalf of the Ben-Gurion government without knowing precisely what he had approved.



1. Vauunu described the cooling unit to Frank Barnaby, a nuclear physicist and former employee of Britain's nuclear weapons installation at Aldermaston. Barnaby spent two days with Vauunu, at the request of the Sunday Times, in a continuing effort to verify his account. He concluded, the Sunday Times said, that Vanunu's account "is totally convincing." After leaving government service, Barnaby became director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), an arms control study group funded by the Swedish government.

2. Mock-ups are commonly used for training purposes and military briefings in the American nuclear weapons complex, for the obvious reason that no one would want to work next to a fully operational nuclear warhead filled with highly enriched materials. The mock-ups are accurate replicas, in terms of external design and size, of a normal warhead, and American nonproliferation experts assumed that the Israelis' models were carefully prepared.

3. Vanunu said that the steam, contaminated to varying degrees by leaks and corrosion, was vented only on those days when the prevailing wind was blowing toward the Jordanian border, about twenty-five miles to the east. It was one of those ventings, apparently, that was photographed by Army Colonel Carmela Alba in 1965, providing the CIA with the first concrete evidence that Dimona was operational.

4. The American forces who fought in Desert Storm, the 1991 war against Iraq, were equipped with uranium-tipped bullets and antitank munitions. Some of the American tanks also were equipped with uranium armor plating for added defense against Iraqi attacks.

5. The nuclear fuel cycle is so precise that scientists can compute how much uranium was consumed by Dimona at a given reactor output. According to Vanunu, the average flow rate of dissolved uranium and plutonium through the chemical reprocessing plant was 20.9 liters per hour with a uranium concentration of 450 grams per liter and a plutonium concentration of 170 to 180 milligrams per liter (or 0.39 milligrams of plutonium per gram of uranium). Vanunu said, however, that the actual flow rate in the Tunnel normally exceeded the standard flow rate by 150 to 175 percent, which corresponds to the reprocessing of as much as thirty-seven kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium a year, assuming eight months of continuous operation. Nuclear technicians have further noted that Vanunu claimed that the spent uranium fuel processed at Dimona contained a smaller concentration of plutonium-about 0.30 milligrams per gram instead of 0•39 milligrams per gram-suggesting that as much as 125 metric tons of uranium was needed to operate the reactor, far more than officially estimated. It is impossible to even roughly determine the amount of plutonium that has been produced at Dimona without knowing the power output and operating history of the reactor. That information remains a closely guarded state secret in Israel. The general accuracy and scientific validity of Vanunu's statistical data added to his credibility with American intelligence officials.
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Re: The Samson Option: Israel's Nuclear Arsenal and American

Postby admin » Fri May 26, 2017 6:22 am

Chapter 16: Prelude to War

Israel's development as a full-blown nuclear power by 1969 could not have come at a more fortuitous time, in terms of the American presidency. Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger approached inauguration day on January 20, 1969, convinced that Israel's nuclear ambitions were justified and understandable. Once in office, they went a Step further: they endorsed Israel's nuclear ambitions.

The two American leaders also shared a contempt for the 1968 Nonproliferation Treaty, which had been so ardently endorsed in public by Lyndon Johnson. Nixon, midway in his campaign against Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, dismayed the arms control community by urging the Senate to delay ratification of the NPT until after the election. He went further a few days later, telling newsmen in Charlotte, North Carolina, that he specifically was concerned about the NPT's failure to permit the transfer of "defensive nuclear weapons," such as mines or antiballistic missile systems, to non- nuclear powers. Government arms controllers were hugely relieved in early February 1969 when Nixon formally requested the Senate to take up the treaty and then stated at a news conference that he would do all he could to urge France and West Germany -- known to have reservations-to sign it: "I will make it clear that I believe that ratification of the treaty by all governments, nuclear and non-nuclear, is in the interest of peace and in the interest of reducing the possibility of nuclear proliferation."

In the secrecy of their offices, however, as only a few in the government knew, Nixon and Kissinger had simultaneously issued a presidential order to the bureaucracy undercutting all that was said in public. The classified document, formally known as National Security Decision Memorandum (NSDM) No. 6, stated that "there should be no efforts by the United States government to pressure other nations, particularly the Federal Government of Germany, to follow suit [and ratify the NPT]. The government, in its public posture, should reflect a tone of optimism that other countries will sign or ratify, while clearly disassociating itself [in private] from any plan to bring pressure on these countries to sign or ratify."

"It was a major change in American policy," recalled Morton H. Halperin, then Kissinger's closest aide on the National Security Council staff. "Henry believed that it was good to spread nuclear weapons around the world. I heard him say that if he were the Israelis, he would get nuclear weapons. He did not believe that the United States should try and talk them out of it." Kissinger also told his staff in the first months of 1969 that Japan, as well as Israel, would be better off with the bomb than without it. He was convinced, said Halperin, that nuclear weapons were essential to the national security of both nations. Kissinger's view was essentially pragmatic, added Halperin: most of the major powers would eventually obtain nuclear weapons, and the United States could benefit the most by helping them to do so rather than by participating in futile exercises in morality, such as the Nonproliferation Treaty.


Kissinger's support for Israel's nuclear weapons program, as spelled out during his 1968 meeting at General Elad Peled's home, was widely known to the Israeli leadership. If an overt sign of the administration's stand was needed, it came quickly, with the decision in 1969 to end the Floyd Culler inspections of Dimona. The inspections, begun in 1962, had long been considered by the American arms control community to be important in principle but in practice to have marginal utility; they dragged on without change, nonetheless, through the Johnson years. Israel resented the inspections as an intrusion on its sovereignty; there also was fear that Culler or one of his team might actually stumble onto something useful, especially as Dimona began gearing up in the late 1960s for the full-scale production of warheads.

Culler's inspection in 1969 seemed to some Americans to be especially pointless, in the wake of President Johnson's last-minute decision to allow Israel to purchase its much-desired F-4S without insisting-as the State Department and Pentagon wanted-on Israeli ratification of the NPT in exchange. "Culler's team came on a Saturday and spent only a few hours," recalled the late Joseph Zurhellen, then senior deputy to Ambassador Wally Barbour in Tel Aviv. "You just can't walk in and take a guided tour. You've got to do an awful lot to determine what's been done to a reactor." Zurhellen had no illusions about what was going on at Dimona: "The French had pulled the wool over our eyes and so had the Israelis." His point, in a memorandum he forwarded to Washington, was essentially one of public relations: the Israelis "could claim that our inspection showed Dimona to be clean, when in fact it showed nothing at all." Such complaints had been voiced before.

But now Washington found it convenient to end the charade, and the inspections ended. They were never to be reinstated, as the Nixon administration made a judgment that would become American policy for the next two decades: Israel had gone nu" clear, and there was nothing that the United States could-or wanted to -- do about it.


The new policy soon worked its way through the bureaucracy, which reacted as the bureaucracy always did: it followed orders -with varying degrees of resentment. Charles N. Van Doren, who was deputy general counsel of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency in the Nixon administration, was convinced that Israel was the "Achilles heel" of America's NPT policy: "We were winking at it." Van Doren, who persevered for nineteen years in the arms control bureaucracy, recalled he had repeatedly tried under Nixon and Kissinger "to get the NPT on the agenda for talks on the Middle East, but I was told there was too much on the table." He understood the underlying reason, of course: "An order had gone out that no nuclear information on Israeli proliferation was to be put out. It was very frustrating." [1]

The Nixon and Kissinger tolerance for a nuclear Israel also was reflected by the media. In July 1970, Carl Duckett's intelligence report on Israel's nuclear arsenal, which had been initially suppressed in 1968 by Lyndon Johnson and later by Richard Helms, the CIA director, finally made its way onto the front page of the New York Times -- and nobody cared. The Times story, written by Washington correspondent Hedrick Smith, provided the American public with its first account of the CIA's assessment of the Israeli nuclear arsenal, beginning with its lead sentence: "For at least two years the United States Government has been conducting its Middle East policy on the assumption that Israel either possesses an atomic bomb or has component parts available for quick assembly." The Smith story also described Israel's progress in developing its Jericho I missile system and revealed that a manufacturing plant had been set up near Tel Aviv for the production of solid propellants and engines for the missiles. Smith recalled trying for two years to get the article published in the Times, and failing because I just didn't have it hard enough." He was given a boost that July by Senator Stuart Symington, the Missouri Democrat, who acknowledged on a Sunday television interview show that there was "no question that Israel is doing its best to develop nuclear weapons." The Symington peg helped Smith get the story published a few days later; the reporter, experienced in covering diplomatic affairs, awaited the attention he was sure the article would attract from others in the media and the Congress. Nothing happened. "I was astonished," Smith said. "Nobody could get near it. The networks didn't go for it." Neither did any of the Times's newspaper competitors, who found it impossible to confirm the story. "I had a sense of being way out in front of the field," said Smith. The reporter did hear from the Israeli embassy in Washington; there was a subsequent meeting with a "very upset" Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin. "He repeated the standard line that Israel would not be the first to use it," said Smith, who recalled asking Rabin if he was specifically denying the story: "Rabin would not answer."

By mid-197', the White House's permissive attitude toward the Israeli bomb made it possible for even those officials responsible for monitoring the shipment of sensitive materials to look the other way. Glenn R. Cella, a foreign service officer, was assigned that summer to handle political-military affairs on the State Department's Israeli desk; he also was named the department's representative on the Middle East Task Force, an interagency group whose main mission was to monitor American arms transfer policies. Cella, who had served in Morocco, Algeria, and Egypt, began asking about the Israeli bomb and quickly learned of Duckett's suppressed estimate. He also learned that if there was going to be any pressure on Israel to stop its nuclear weapons program, it would not come from the task force or the State Department. Israel was then pushing for the immediate shipment of more F-4s, and the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) had been ordered to make a study of the military balance in the region. The study, when completed, made no mention of Israeli nuclear capability, to Cella's dismay. "I thought we ought to face up to the fact that they had it," Cella said, "but nobody was allowed to talk about it."

A few months later, Cella was notified that an Israeli request for the sale of krytrons had been routinely approved by his Pentagon counterpart on the task force. Krytrons, the inquisitive Cella was informed, were sensitive electronic timing devices used to trigger strobe lights. "I remember calling up [the Pentagon task force member] and being told, in essence, that you could buy this thing in a Hechinger's [a popular Washington chain of hardware stores]," recalled Cella. "I wasn't told it was a central part in nuclear weaponry. Then I learned krytrons triggered nuclear bombs." The high-speed device, whose export usually is closely monitored, is essential for the precise detonation of the chemical explosives that cause implosion in a nuclear weapon-facts that should have been known to the Pentagon official.

Cella stayed on the Middle East desk for two years and quickly became marked, he said, as an Arabist -- "which I resented." He'd learned his lesson, however. A year later the U.S. budget somehow included funds earmarked for the supply of two supercomputers to the Weizmann Institute. The computers' function, Cella knew, included nuclear simulation. "It was clear what they were for," he said, "but I didn't even try to fight it."

The atmosphere wasn't much better at CIA headquarters. Richard Helms, the consummate bureaucrat, continued to please his superiors by stifling significant intelligence about the Israeli bomb. He'd also come to a personal conclusion about Israeli intelligence, repeatedly telling his deputies and aides that he was convinced Israel was funneling American satellite information to the Soviet Union. "The CIA got a copy of the Israeli [intelligence] requirements list in late 1972," Carl Duckett explained. "The Israelis were asking their contacts [in America] for overhead [satellite} intelligence. Helms was convinced the Israelis were doing it on behalf of the Soviets. He thought Israel was an open pipeline for pumping intelligence to Moscow." There was, of course, a much more direct explanation, one that Duckett and Helms could not envision in the early 1970s: Israel wanted the satellite imagery of the Soviet Union because of its own nuclear targeting needs. [2]

The men and women in the bureaucracy understood, as did Helms, that the Israeli nuclear issue was taboo. "The issue had never been dealt with at the working level in State," explained David E. Long, a State Department Near East expert. Those State Department and Pentagon staff officers who in the early 1970s wanted to learn more about Israel's nuclear weapons could not, Long added, because such intelligence carried the highest order of classification: "Whenever you moved an inch in that direction, you had to decide whether you wanted to make a crusade or get on with your job." On the other hand, Long said that he and others were constantly being informally questioned about Israel's nuclear arms by diplomats from the Middle East: "My response was to say that we don't know anything and here is what the Israelis say." Long recalled once being asked by a superior to put that response in writing, in a formal diplomatic note to a Middle Eastern nation. He refused. "I backed away and argued that we just should say 'No comment,' " he recalled. "I thought that delivering a deliberately false impression went beyond subterfuge. I wasn't a crusader. I just asked that someone else deliver the note. And they did." Curtis F. Jones similarly spent his career as a Middle East expert in the Foreign Service; his final assignment from 1971 to 1975 was as director of Near East, North African, and South Asian affairs for the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. "Stopping Israeli nuclear weapons was never an issue for the U.S. government, for as long as I was there," Jones said. "We never sat down and talked about it."


The easing of the pressure from Washington removed any constraints on Dimona and the Israeli leadership, which correctly interpreted the end of the Culler inspections as an American carte blanche. The technicians and scientists at Dimona began operating in the early 1970s exactly as their American and Soviet counter-parts had done in the first days of the Cold War -- the Israelis made as many bombs as possible. [3]

By 1973, according to former Israeli government officials, the Israeli nuclear arsenal totaled at least twenty warheads, with three or more missile launchers in place and operational at Hirbat Zachariah; Israel also had an unknown number of mobile Jericho I missile launchers that had been manufactured as part of Project 700. The missiles had been capable since 1971 of hitting targets in southern Russia, including Tbilisi, near the Soviet oil fields, and Baku, off the coast of the Caspian Sea, as well as Arab capitals. There also was a squadron of nuclear-capable F-4 fighters on twenty-four-hour alert in underground revetments at the Tel Nof air base near Rehovot. The specially trained F-4 pilots were the elite of the Israeli Air Force and were forbidden to discuss their mission with any outsider. The long-range F-4S were capable of flying one-way to Moscow with a nuclear bomb; the daring pilots would have to be resupplied by an airborne tanker to make it home.

By this time, Dimona had solved many of the basic problems of weapons miniaturization; the smaller warheads provided Israeli weapons designers with an array of options that included the development of low-yield tactical weapons for battlefield use. The United States had done its part by approving the sale of long-range 175mm and 203mm cannons to the Israeli Defense Force in the early 1970s; those weapons, capable of striking targets twenty-five miles away, also became part of the Israeli nuclear option. American intelligence later learned that Israel had experimented by fusing together two long-range artillery barrels to produce a cannon capable of hurling a shell more than forty-five miles.

The Israelis also had contracted with Dr. Gerald Bull, a controversial Canadian arms designer, for the supply of specially configured artillery shells whose range was extended as much as 25 percent. [4] There were some American weapons experts who understood what Israel's real goal had to be, given the inaccuracy of an artillery shell fired at such long range. "If you're going forty-five miles and precision is three percent of range," explained one expert, "what would you hit with an HE [high explosive] shell? Nothing much. You'd need a nuclear weapon." This American, who was a senior official at one of the U.S. Army's weapons testing facilities, had visited Israel in 1973 and had been told of the intended use of the long-range cannons, information he dutifully reported to U.S. intelligence. There also were suggestions, added the American, that Israel had targeted Damascus, Syria's capital, with the special cannons during the Yom Kippur War. Washington got the message. A senior State Department intelligence official recalled widespread concern in the early 1970s over the ambitious Israeli artillery program. "Our supposition was that they'd developed a miniaturized [nuclear] artillery shell and wanted to test it," the official said.

As the Israeli weapons program prospered, there was a new element of caution inside the Israeli government and the military commands. The political struggles and infighting were put aside as the new weapon became standardized for battlefield use. There was doctrine to write and training to get done. The Israeli leadership had to work out procedures for the actual use of the bomb; at one early stage it was agreed that no nuclear weapon could be armed and fired without authorization from the prime minister, minister of defense, and army chief of staff. The rules of engagement subsequently were modified to include the head of the Israeli Air Force; the air force's warheads were reportedly maintained in preassembled units in special secure boxes that could be opened only with three keys, to be supplied by representatives of the top civilian and military leadership. Other fail-safe mechanisms, if any, could not be learned. "The day we had enough bombs to feel comfortable," one Israeli military officer explained, "we stopped talking about it. People re
alized the moment that the bomb was upon us that we'd become targets, too."
The increased security of the early 1970s had one immediate casualty: Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan. Dayan's standing among his peers in the military and the upper echelons of the Israeli government was far lower than among the public; he was considered overrated as a military leader and suspect because of his incessant womanizing and his financial wheeling and dealing-there was categorical evidence, never officially acted upon, of his appropriation of excavated antiquities for personal use, in direct violation of Israeli law. [5] The main complaint bout Dayan, however, was over his propensity to talk: one close army associate declared that "he had the biggest mouth in the world." The Israeli added: "The feeling was that he was a loose cannon at a time when Israel was in a very precarious situation. We wanted the Arabs to know what we had"-without explicitly saying too much. Dayan, with his public statements and leaks to the press, blurred that tactic. There was another problem, the Israeli added: "Dayan went to bed with everything that moved"-not that unusual a trait among aggressive Israeli military men-"but he was totally capable of meeting a good-looking woman and telling her about Dimona. He and Peres felt like they were almost parents" of the nuclear complex. While Dayan lost no authority, it was eventually made clear to him, the Israeli said, that he was no longer welcome at Dimona; he no longer had a military need to know anything about the Israeli nuclear program, which was being managed out of the prime minister's office.

Tragedy struck the program in May 1972, when Aharon Katzir, the innovative physicist in charge of Dimona, was killed in a Japanese Red Army terrorist attack at Lod Airport near Tel Aviv; there is no evidence that Katzir was specifically targeted. His replacement, Shalheveth Freier, was a nuclear physicist with impeccable credentials; he had served as scientific counselor to the Israeli embassy in Paris in the critical days of the 195os, when the Israeli-French nuclear understanding was reached. Freier also enjoyed high standing among international scientists and was particularly well known to American nuclear weapons designers, many of whom understood exactly what he did.

The researchers at Dimona and the Weizmann Institute continued to produce superb work. In 1973> two Israeli scientists caused a stir in the academic and intelligence world by receiving a West German patent for a laser process that, as they claimed, could cheaply produce as much as seven grams of uranium enriched to 60 percent U-235 in twenty-four hours. The research paid off six years later, according to Mordecai Vanunu, when Dimona opened a special Machon for the production of laser-enriched uranium.


The burgeoning nuclear bastion at Dimona may have officially remained a secret to the world, but the Israeli intelligence community discovered in the early 1970s that the Soviet KGB had penetrated the top offices of the defense ministry and intelligence establishment and was relaying the essentials of major strategic decisions to Moscow and its allies in the Middle East. The unraveling of the Soviet operation was initiated by one of the most secret units in the Israeli military, Detachment 515 (later redesignated Detachment 8200), which is in charge of signals intelligence and code-breaking-the Israeli equivalent of the U.S. National Security Agency.

One of the detachment's most senior officers was Reuven (Rudi) Yerdor, an accomplished linguist who had cracked a Soviet code-for which he later received Israel's highest defense medal-that had masked the communications between KGB headquarters in Moscow and its regional base in Cyprus. The Israelis began poring over the backlog of undeciphered Soviet message traffic and discovered that many of the major secret decisions of the Israeli defense ministry, including those dealing with nuclear weapons, were being reported to Moscow within, in some cases, twelve hours. "They went apeshit," re called a former Israeli intelligence officer, "and set up a special team to begin an investigation." The team was headed by Shin Beth, Israel's internal security agency, and included members from Mossad and Prime Minister Meir's office. Yet it was unable to find out how the KGB, which continued its spying during the secret inquiry, was able to transmit its intelligence out of Israel. The investigators were able, however, to determine that only a small number of Israeli officials had access to all the material that had been funneled to the KGB-including at least one of Golda Meir's personal aides. A few of the suspects, including the aide, cleared themselves by passing lie detector tests; others chose not to take the test, and the matter was left unresolved, to the acute frustration of the investigators. [6]

There was an ironic twist to the spy scandal, for the senior leadership of the Israeli government understood from the moment of the first collaboration with the French that the Soviets not only were the primary targets of the nuclear arsenal but would be among the first to be told of its existence. By 1973, Dimona's success in miniaturization enabled its technicians to build warheads small enough to fit into a suitcase; word of the bomb in a suitcase was relayed to the Soviet Union, according to a former Israeli intelligence official, during one of what apparently was a regular series of meetings in Europe between representatives of Mossad and the KGB. The Soviets understood that no amount of surveillance could prevent Israeli agents from smuggling nuclear bombs across the border in automobiles, aircraft, or commercial ships.


Israel's leadership, especially Moshe Dayan, had nothing but contempt for the Arab combat ability in the early 1970s. In their view, Israel's main antagonist in the Middle East was and would continue to be the Soviet Union. Dimona's arsenal, known by the Kremlin to be targeted as much as possible at Soviet cities, theoretically would deter the Soviets from supporting an all-out Arab attack on Israel; the bombs also would give pause to any Egyptian or Syrian invasion plans.

These were years of status quo for Israeli diplomacy. Israel had a steady flow of American arms and American acquiescence in its continued control of the occupied territories, where settlements were systematically being constructed. Those territories, and the land they added to the national borders, had done nothing to diminish Israel's hunger for more advanced weapons-defense spending rose by 500 percent between 1966 and 1972.

The death of Nasser in September 1970 had not altered the basic equation in the Middle East; his successor, Anwar Sadat, was, in the view of Prime Minister Golda Meir and her cabinet, nothing more than yet another unyielding threat to Jews. The new Egyptian leader had been jailed by the British authorities during much of World War II because of his openly pro-German stance and his public endorsement of Hitler; the fact that his actions were more anti-British than pro- German was of little solace to the Israeli leadership. Sadat, however, broke new ground by offering the Israelis a peace agreement shortly after taking office-the first Arab leader willing even to discuss such a commitment. In return, the Israelis were to withdraw to the 1967 borders. The Sadat offer was rejected out of hand by Golda Meir (only Dayan urged that it be explored); she viewed the compromise as nothing more than a starting point for extended negotiations.

Sadat waited for Washington to intervene. That did not happen, and the bitterly disappointed Egyptian president, in trouble at home and ridiculed by many of his Middle Eastern peers, tried again in mid-1972 to get Washington's respect; he abruptly ordered Soviet troops and advisers out of Egypt to demonstrate, in part, that Egypt was not pro-Communist. Nixon and Kissinger were astonished, as was the rest of the world, at the Soviet ouster, but they mistakenly viewed it as only reaffirmation of their policy of support for Israel. Kissinger went further and' privately reviled Sadat as a fool who, by acting unilaterally and emotionally, had thrown away an opportunity to use the Soviet expulsion as a bargaining tool. Sadat ended up with no diplomatic gains from the West and eventually concluded that the only way he-and Egypt-would be taken seriously was to go to war with Israel.

Israel, preoccupied by the Soviet threat, saw the expulsion as diminishing any real chance of war. On paper, Israel's army and air force were more than a match for even the combined forces of the Arab Middle East. Without Soviet backing, no Arab nation would dare to initiate a fight. There would be no peace, perhaps, but there was no immediate threat to continued Israeli control of the captured territories. This message came through loud and clear in the late summer of 1973 to Kenneth B. Keating, a former Republican senator from New York who was Wally Barbour's replacement as U.S. ambassador to Israel. In August, Keating and his deputy, Nicholas A. Veliotes, paid a courtesy call on Moshe Dayan, whom they found to be not just confident, but swaggering. There had been constant talk that summer of an impending Arab attack, Veliotes recalls, and the embassy had been put on a higher alert. Dayan was asked if he was worried. His response, recalled Veliotes, was "'Don't worry.' He described the Arab armies in the desert as 'rusty ships slowly sinking'- as if the desert were a sea. It was very arrogant." Dayan's comments were accepted without challenge at the time, said Veliotes: "We had a great belief that the Israelis knew more than we did. We also were mesmerized by 1967" -- the Six- Day War.

Israel wasn't ready when Sadat attacked across the Sinai and Syria invaded the Golan Heights on Saturday, October 6, 1973 -Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the year for a Jew. The first days were a stunning rout. Israeli soldiers were being killed as never before; some units simply fled in disarray from battle. Five hundred tanks and forty-nine aircraft, including fourteen F-4 Phantoms, were lost in the first three days. In the Sinai, Egyptian forces, equipped with missiles and electronic defenses, blasted through the Bar-Lev defense line along the eastern bank of the canal and soon had two large armies on the eastern bank. The initial Israeli counterattacks by three tank divisions were beaten off. On the Golan Heights, Syrian forces, bolstered by fourteen hundred tanks, rolled through Israeli defenses and moved to the edge of Galillee. Only a few Israeli tanks stood between the Syrians and the heavily populated Hulla Valley. Haifa was just hours away.

Many Israelis thought it was all over -- that, as Moshe Dayan said, "this is the end of the Third Temple." The extent of Dayan's panic on Monday, October 8, has never been fully reported, but it is widely known among Israelis. One of Dayan's functions as defense minister was to provide the censored media and their editors-in-chief with a daily briefing on the war -- in essence, to control what they wrote. One journalist, a retired army general, who attended the Monday session, recalled Dayan's assessment: "The situation is desperate. Everything is lost. We must withdraw." There was talk in a later meeting of appeals to world Jewry, distribution of antitank weapons to every citizen, and last-ditch resistance in the civilian population centers. It was Israel's darkest hour, but no withdrawal was ordered.

Instead, Israel called its first nuclear alert and began arming its nuclear arsenal. And it used that alert to blackmail Washington into a major policy change.



1. In November 1969. Kissinger and Nixon decided that "budgetary constraints" made it impossible for the United States to underwrite the much-discussed Israeli ambitions for a nuclear desalting plant. Israeli officials subsequently explained the decision not in terms of costs, but as stemming from a concern that the nuclear-powered plant would become too much of a target for Arab terrorism in the wake of the Six-Day War and the renewed War of Attrition with Egypt. Nonetheless, the White House's decision, promulgated as NSDM 32, signed on behalf of the President by Kissinger, effectively ended the dispute over the Johnson administration's insistence on linking financial support for the plant to an Israeli commitment to permit inspection by the IAEA.

2. Helms had no knowledge of science and found it difficult to testify as CIA director on technical nuclear issues before the Joint Atomic Energy Commission, as his position required. To his credit, Duckett said, Helms asked for help, and a series of educational briefings was arranged, amid great secrecy, in his office. At the first session, Helms was asked by his instructor, one of the Agency's leading experts in nuclear fission, whether he'd ever studied physics in high school. The answer was no. "Okay," said the instructor, "we're going to start with the table of elements." Helms eventually spent a day with Duckett and other government officials at the nuclear underground test center in Nevada. After serving nearly eight years as the head of the CIA, he was appointed ambassador to Iran by Richard Nixon in early 1973.

3. Between 1945 and 1985 the United States manufactured an estimated sixty thousand nuclear warheads for u6 weapons systems, an average production rate of four per day. These ranged from huge thermonuclear city busters to an atomic warhead for a jeep-mounted bazooka. In a 1985 essay. three critics of the American arsenal, Robert S. Norris, Thomas B. Cochran, and William M. Arkin, concluded: "Bureaucratic competition and inertia have led to nuclear warheads for every conceivable military mission, arm of service, and geographic theater-all compounded by a technological momentum that overwhelmed what should have been a more sober analysis of what was enough for deterrence. The result is a gigantic nuclear weapons system-laboratories, production facilities, forces, and so on-that has become self-perpetuating, conducting its business out of public view and with little accountability."

4. Bull was killed outside his home in Brussels in March 1990 by assassins widely suspected of working on behalf of the Israelis. At the time of his death, Bull had accomplished for Iraq's artillery what he had done for the Israelis. There was high-level Israeli concern over Bull's success in constructing a "supergun" for the Iraqis -- a weapon, as the Israelis knew only too well, that provided Iraq with the ability to threaten Israel with long-range chemical, biological, or conventional high-explosive shells. Bull's initial contracts with Israel phased out in the mid-1970s; his firm, the Space Research Corporation (SRC), later did business with South Africa and China from an eight-thousand-acre compound straddling the Vermont-Canadian border. Bull's partners in SRC during much of the 1970s included the Arthur D. Little Company, a highly respected management research firm. Four executives from Arthur D. Little were on the SRC board of directors. The mysterious Bull spent six months in a federal jail after pleading guilty in 1980 to one count of selling cannons, shells, and a radar van to South Africa without a license-although he insisted until his death that his activities on behalf of South Africa had been sanctioned by the American intelligence community.

5. Dayan outraged many of his countrymen after the Six-Day War, when the biblical lands of the West Bank and Gaza were once again open to Israeli academics and archaeologists, by commandeering military units to cordon off areas known to be rich in antiquities. Dayan, with the help of the troops, would then remove artifacts -- many of them invaluable -- for his personal gain. He eventually established an antique garden in the rear of his home in Zahala, an exclusive suburb of Tel Aviv. The minister of defense's activities led to occasional critiques in the Israeli press, but no government investigation. Americans who served as diplomats and military attaches in Israel have acknowledged the purchase of antiques from Dayan, who invariably insisted on payment in American dollars.

6. One of the most nagging questions of the inquiry had to do with the transmission of the intelligence. How did the KGB spies get the information out? At one point, a knowledgeable Israeli said, the investigators turned to the National Security Agency for help, but the NSA was unable to come up with an answer. Years later, an Iranian general spying for the KGB in Iran was arrested and found to be carrying an American satellite communication device, which he had used for filing his intelligence reports. "Once he was caught," the former Israeli officer added, "they said, 'Ah-ha. This explains why no messages [out of Israel] were intercepted.' The Soviets stole the American satcom device and did better with it than we did."
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Re: The Samson Option: Israel's Nuclear Arsenal and American

Postby admin » Fri May 26, 2017 6:25 am

Chapter 17: Nuclear Blackmail

Moshe Dayan's fears and Israel's gloom were turned around during a dramatic meeting on Monday, October 8, at Golda Meir's office in Tel Aviv, just a few hundred feet from "the Bor," the military's huge underground war complex. Meir's closest aides, the so-called kitchen cabinet, assembled for what turned out to be an all-night session. Among those in attendance, besides Dayan and Meir, were General David (Dado) Elazar, the army chief of staff; Yigal Allon, the deputy prime minister; Brigadier General Yisrael (Gingy) Leor, the prime minister's military aide; and Israel Galili, the influential minister without portfolio and longtime confidant of Meir.

Over the next hours, the Israeli leadership-faced with its greatest crisis-resolved to implement three critical decisions: it would rally its collapsing forces for a major counterattack; it would arm and target its nuclear arsenal in the event of total collapse and subsequent need for the Samson Option; and, finally, it would inform Washington of its unprecedented nuclear action-and unprecedented peril-and demand that the United States begin an emergency airlift of replacement arms and ammunition needed to sustain an extended all-out war effort.

The kitchen cabinet agreed that the nuclear missile launchers at Hirbat Zachariah, as many as were ready, would be made operational, along with eight specially marked F-4s that were on twenty-four-hour alert at Tel Nof, the air force base near Rehovot. The initial target list included the Egyptian and Syrian military headquarters near Cairo and Damascus. It could not be learned how many weapons were armed, although Dimona was known to have manufactured more than twenty warheads by 1973. No weapons were targeted on the Soviet Union, but there was little doubt that the Soviets would quickly learn what was going on. Israeli intelligence was intercepting indecipherable signals from what were presumed to be Soviet operatives inside the country; the encoded messages were beamed throughout the early morning.


All of the key players are now dead, and none left any record of what took place. (In his daily diary, published in Hebrew, General Elazar blacked out the night of October 8 and recorded only the following phrase: "Crucial meeting.") There is widespread knowledge among the Israeli defense and political leadership of what took place at the crucial meeting, but in subsequent years those who were there-including stenographers and advisers-have never talked publicly about it.

The only significant objections came from within the nuclear community, some of whose senior officials -- but not Freier -- were said by an Israeli source to have accused the senior officials, in essence, of panicking. Their view was that the situation had not yet been reached for weapons of last resort, which were then code-named, appropriately, the "Temple" weapons.

One former Israeli government official who was in the prime minister's office that night depicted the chain-smoking Meir, who slept very little during the early stages of the war, as confused and concerned by Dayan's report of imminent collapse. The basic decision to arm the weapons of last resort was reached easily, he said; there were far more complicated discussions of how many warheads to arm and where they were to be targeted. There was a separate, preliminary briefing by technical experts from Dimona, led by Shalheveth Freier, who described the weapons and targets that were available for immediate assembly.

The senior official also described the fear that swept through the prime minister's staff when the arming of nuclear weapons became known: "There were a few days there when it seemed that the end of the world was near. For those of us who lived through the Holocaust, we knew one thing -- it will never happen again." The aide learned what happened from General Leor, Meir's military assistant: "Gingy told me about the arming of the weapons. We were very intimate." The young general, who later died of cancer, had a child on duty at the front and was, as he told the aide, "scared to death."

One Israeli assumption was that the Soviets, who would learn -- as they had learned other secrets inside Israel in recent years -- of the nuclear arming, would then be compelled to urge their allies in Egypt and Syria to limit their offensive and not attempt to advance beyond the pre-1967 borders. And a Soviet warning was given, according to Mohammed Heikal, editor of At-Abram, the leading Egyptian newspaper, and eminence grise to Nasser and Sadat. In an interview, Heikal revealed that the Soviet Union had told the senior leadership of Egypt early in the war that the "Israelis had three warheads assembled and ready." The information was given to General Mohammed Abdel Ghany el-Gamasy, the Egyptian chief of staff, by a Soviet intelligence officer who had worked closely with el-Gamasy when he served earlier as chief of military intelligence. The Soviet message also reported, Heikal recalled, that Moshe Dayan had visited the front and returned to Tel Aviv "with a scary report" that was presented to Golda Meir's equally alarmed kitchen cabinet.

There was an equally important second purpose for the arming of nuclear weapons, according to former Israeli government officials: such a drastic step would force the United States to begin an immediate and massive resupply of the Israeli military. There was widespread rage inside the Israeli cabinet at the Nixon White House -- aimed especially at Henry Kissinger -- over what was correctly perceived in Israel as an American strategy of delaying the resupply in an attempt to let the Arabs win some territory, and some self-respect, and thus set up the possibility of serious land-for-peace bargaining. Kissinger, just sworn in as secretary of state, would direct the negotiations.


Kissinger made no secret of his initial strategy in the war, telling James R. Schlesinger, the secretary of defense, that his goal was to "let Israel come out ahead, but bleed." Kissinger's goal was defended by some of his fellow diplomats as business as usual. "Trying to take advantage of the situation?" rhetorically asked Nicholas Veliotes. "We always do this."

In the second volume of his memoirs, Years of Upheaval, Kissinger made no mention of a nuclear threat, but he did describe a series of urgent telephone calls from Simcha Dinitz, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, that began at 1:45 A.M. on Tuesday, October 9 -- just as the all-night meeting in Golda Meir's office was breaking up (it was 8:45 A.M. in Israel). Dinitz focused on one question, wrote Kissinger: "What could we do about resupply?" The same question was asked again, in a second telephone call, at 3:00 A.M. "Unless he wanted to prove to the [Israeli] cabinet that he could get me out of bed at will," wrote Kissinger, "something was wrong." Kissinger, accompanied by Peter W. Rodman, his longtime assistant, and Dinitz, accompanied by General Mordecai Gur, the Israeli military attache, met at 8:20 A.M. in the Map Room of the White House, where Kissinger was told of the desperate situation of the Israeli military and the need for more tanks and aircraft. "Israel stood on the threshold of a bitter war of attrition that it could not possibly win given the disparity of manpower," Kissinger said. "It had to do something decisive." At one point during the Map Room meeting, Kissinger wrote, Dinitz insisted that he and Kissinger needed to be alone. Rodman and Gur, who both could be trusted with the most sensitive information, were dismissed. Once they were alone, Dinitz's message, according to Kissinger, was merely that Golda Meir "was prepared to come to the United States personally for an hour to plead with President Nixon for urgent arms aid...." It was a request that Kissinger could, and did, as he wrote, reject "out of hand and without checking with Nixon. Such a proposal could reflect only either hysteria or blackmail."

A more complete account of the Dinitz message would undoubtedly show that it was closer to blackmail, as Kissinger knew, and it worked. "By the evening of October 9," Kissinger said in his memoir, "Israel had been assured that its war losses would be made up. Relying on this assurance, it stepped up its consumption of war materiel, as we had intended."

How was Israel's warning of a potential Armageddon delivered to the United States? Neither Kissinger nor Dinitz could be reached to discuss the subject, although Dinitz's insistence on the one-on-one meeting with Kissinger -- as well as Kissinger's description of the Dinitz message as "blackmail" seems obviously linked to the nuclear issue. Word of the Israeli nuclear arming also came from the Soviets, according to a former Israeli intelligence official. The official said that Detachment 8200, the Israeli communications intelligence agency that had picked up the Soviet warning to Cairo -- as acknowledged by Heikal -- also intercepted on the morning of October 9 a Soviet warning to Washington about the Israeli arming of nuclear weapons. Asked why he thought the United States has never publicly mentioned such a warning, the Israeli responded: "Who in the U.S. is ready to admit that the Soviets were ahead?"

Kissinger has never talked publicly about the Israeli nuclear arming, and his closest advisers at the time, including Rodman and William G. Hyland, then handling Soviet affairs for the National Security Council, said they knew of no such information. The best source for what happened, nonetheless, is Kissinger himself, who privately acknowledged that there had been an Israeli nuclear threat both to Anwar Sadat and to Hermann F. Eilts, the American ambassador to Egypt who worked closely with Kissinger during the intense Middle East shuttle diplomacy of the mid-1970s. [1]

Eilts had been handpicked in October 1973 by Kissinger for the assignment to Cairo, and he arrived there at the end of the Yom Kippur War. His first detailed conversation with Kissinger about his new assignment couldn't have been more dramatic. It took took place, at Kissinger's request, at a hastily arranged breakfast in early November in Islamabad, Pakistan, where Kissinger had stopped overnight en route to a much-delayed visit to China. "Henry spoke a lot about how on the fourth day of the war [October 9] the Israelis panicked," Eilts recalled, "and that's when the judgment was made to assist them. At that point" -- and in similar discussions with Kissinger over the next three years -- "there was never a word about nuclear arming." There was a final meeting in late 1976, at the end of the Ford administration -- and the end of Kissinger's tenure as secretary of state -- and Kissinger brought up the 1973 war again. "And then, in a sort of casual reference," Eilts said, "Henry threw in that there was concern that the Israelis might go nuclear. There had been intimations that if they didn't get military equipment, and quickly, they might go nuclear." Eilts recalled his surprise that "none of this had come out earlier." He also was surprised at the casualness of Kissinger's attitude: "It was just sort of a passing comment."

Kissinger was far less casual at the time he learned of Israel's intention. He told none of his colleagues in the cabinet about the nuclear threat, of course, but changed his mind overnight about the need to get military arms - in huge quantities -- to Israel. "Israel's [ammunition] consumption rate was gauged for a seven-day war," recalled James Schlesinger -- a reflection of Washington's confidence in the fighting ability of Israel's army and air force. "But Kissinger just turned around totally. He got a little hysterical" in urging an immediate and massive resupply. "Henry seemed to be more concerned than I was over the possibility of a nuclear exchange" in the Middle East, Schlesinger added. Kissinger's actions led some senior officials to conclude that Israeli use of a nuclear weapon was not out of the question. "From where we sat," Schlesinger said, "there was an assumption that Israel had a few nukes and that if there was a collapse, there was a possibility that Israel would use them." William E. Colby, then director of the CIA, shared the assumption: "We were afraid Israel might go for broke." It was believed, Colby added, that nuclear weapons would be used "only in an extreme situation."

Kissinger referred to the Israeli nuclear threat in his first extended private meeting in Cairo on November 7, 1973, with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat; it was a precursor of Kissinger's famed Middle East shuttle diplomacy that would begin the next year. [2] Sadat later briefed Mohammed Heikal about the off-the-record meeting and, according to Heikal, told of a senior "American" -- it could only have been Kissinger -- who explained the sudden American airlift to Israel as a decision aimed at avoiding a nuclear escalation. Sadat further quoted Kissinger as saying, "It was serious, more serious than you can imagine." Israel had at least three warheads and was preparing to use them, Sadat told Heikal. (Kissinger apparently was relying on Carl Duckett's 1968 CIA estimate of Israeli warheads -- the only U.S. government estimate in existence in 1973 -- that had placed the number of warheads at three or four.) The Egyptian president, faithful to his promise of confidentiality to Kissinger, never explicitly told Heikal where his information came from, but Heikal had no doubt at the time or later: "The only American with that kind of credibility, who would make Sadat believe him [about the Israeli threat], was Henry Kissinger." Heikal subsequently wrote about the Kissinger comment, without indicating that Sadat had been his source, in Al-Abram, saying that the Nixon administration had feared during the fighting that the Israelis "might lose their nerve and use one of the three bombs they had in order to repel the Arab offensive."


Sometime in this period, the American intelligence community got what apparently was its first look, via the KH-11, at the completed and operational missile launchers hidden in the side of a hill at Hirbat Zachariah. The launchers were left in the open, perhaps deliberately, making it much easier for American photo interpreters to spot them. (The Soviets also had satellite coverage in the Middle East, and presumably saw the same missile field.) One U.S. official also recalled seeing hollowed-out nuclear storage bunkers and huge blast doors, with railroad tracks leading to a nearby mobile launching site.


By mid-October, the Israeli military had successfully counterattacked in the Golan Heights and the Sinai, ending any immediate threat-and the necessity for the nuclear alert. The weapons were removed from their forward positions by October 14. The Egyptians, however, bolstered by a renewed airlift of Soviet arms that began on October 10, mounted a second offensive in the Sinai, which eventually was offset by a brilliant Israeli strike across the Suez Canal through a gap in the Egyptian lines.

With Egypt suddenly on the defensive, Soviet Premier Alexei N. Kosygin flew to Cairo on October 16 and persuaded Sadat to call for a cease-fire. Kissinger flew to Moscow on October 20 and to Tel Aviv two days later, where he received Israeli acquiescence for a cease-fire in place. In the meantime, the Egyptian Third Army was in danger of being surrounded and left essentially to the mercy of the Israeli Defense Force. The Israelis continued their offensive in Egyptian territory, moving north and west to a point within sixty miles of Cairo. The continued encirclement of the Third Army led Soviet party leader Leonid Brezhnev to increase the alert status of his airborne divisions and warn the White House that unless Israel stopped violating the cease-fire, "we should be faced with the necessity urgently to consider the question of taking appropriate steps unilaterally." The implication seemed to be that Brezhnev would send some of his troops as a blocking force behind the front lines in Egypt to prevent the Israelis from going on to Cairo.

The perceived threat came a few days after Nixon, more deeply embattled than ever over the Watergate scandals, had publicly fired Archibald Cox, the special Watergate prosecutor, and accepted the resignation of Attorney General Elliot L. Richardson and William D. Ruckelshaus, Richardson's deputy, in what became known as the "Saturday Night Massacre." The President earlier had been rocked by the indictment on corruption charges and subsequent resignation of Vice President Spiro T. Agnew. Another complication was the publicly announced Arab boycott of oil sales to the United States and the Arab decision to increase crude oil prices dramatically.

There is no evidence that the Soviets did, in fact, contemplate any significant deployment of their airborne troops, despite their high alert status. Most scholars now agree that Brezhnev's warning to the White House was aimed at forcing Washington to urge the Israelis to adhere to the cease-fire. Kissinger did pressure the Israelis (there is no evidence that Nixon, consumed by Watergate, played any significant role in the issue) on the cease-fire, but at the same time he ordered the 82nd Airborne Division and the nuclear-armed B-52s of the Strategic Air Command to go on alert. The aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy also was dispatched to the Mediterranean, and at least fifty B-52s were redeployed from Guam to the United States. The nation, still reeling from the continuing Watergate revelations, was stunned-and distressed-by the White House's unilateral action; there was widespread belief that the alert had been ordered primarily for domestic political purposes and not because the Soviets were ready to move into the Middle East. [3]

Israel responded to the American alert by going on nuclear alert for a second time in the Yom Kippur War, according to Yuval Neeman, the physicist and nuclear expert who served in later Israeli governments as minister of science and technology.

This time, the crisis resolved itself quickly, as Golda Meir ordered her army to stop all offensive action against Egypt, permitting a United Nations peacekeeping force to impose the cease-fire. At this point, however, a small undercover U.S. Navy intelligence unit, known as Task Force 157, operating in the waters of the Bosporus off Turkey, relayed data to Washington suggesting that one of the Soviet ships leaving the Black Sea en route to the Mediterranean was carrying radioactive material. The report from the Navy swept through the American intelligence community and the White House. Over the next few days, as the Soviets and many in Congress and the American media accused Nixon and Kissinger of overreacting, descriptions of the Soviet threat, including dramatic details of its shipment of nuclear warheads into Egypt, began appearing in the press.

The most complete account of the alleged Soviet escalation, as seen from the White House, was published in Kissinger, a 1974 biography written by Marvin and Bernard Kalb, then correspondents for CBS. Kissinger, the main source for the book, was said on the morning after the alert to have been informed by the CIA of "an alarming report from Egypt-that the Russians might have landed nuclear weapons there." American intelligence, the Kalbs wrote, "had kept track of a Soviet ship carrying radioactive material and heading toward Port Said." It was presumed, the authors wrote, that several Soviet nuclear warheads had been provided to Egypt for deployment in Scud missiles. "The report tended to harden Kissinger's judgment that the Russians were going to send airborne troops to Egypt," the Kalbs added. "Nuclear weapons could serve as backup protection for a sizable Soviet force. On the other hand, Kissinger could not dismiss the possibility that the Russians were moving nuclear weapons into Egypt because they believed that the Israelis had nuclear weapons and intended to use them against Egypt."

The only flaw in the Kissinger account, as told to the Kalbs, is that it was not true. In fact, the Task Force 157 report had been discounted almost immediately by the intelligence community. One high-ranking American officer, who was in charge of a major intelligence agency at the time, said that reconnaissance had established that the Soviets had loaded nuclear warheads on a cargo ship in a Black Sea port-but never shipped them. "A different ship goes through," the officer explained, "and dumb little 157 flashes a message" that Soviet warheads were heading for the Mediterranean, and possibly Egypt. "Everybody in the United States goes crazy, but it turns out to be a totally false reading. It was a different ship" that moved into the Black Sea. There was a direct approach to Soviet officials: "The Soviets said, 'We didn't send anything out.'" The intelligence community concluded that there was no evidence of a Soviet attempt to bring nuclear warheads into the battle zone. [4] The evidence that did exist, in fact, as was not reported at the time, or cited later by Kissinger in his memoirs, demonstrated that the Soviets had ordered their destroyers and other vessels in the Middle East to steam to the nearest ports and offload their nuclear weapons. There was a consensus among senior intelligence officials in the Pentagon, recalled Patrick J. Parker, then the deputy assistant secretary of defense for intelligence, that "[t]he Soviets were understandably frightened of the situation and eager to contain it."

Kissinger also made no mention of the alleged Soviet warhead shipment in the second volume of his memoirs, nor has he -or any American official-revealed that Israel issued two nuclear alerts during the crisis. He did emerge, however, from the October crisis with renewed official concern about Dimona. Some weeks afterward, Kissinger asked the CIA for a formal National Intelligence Estimate on the Israeli nuclear program; the paper, which concluded that Israel had at least ten nuclear warheads, took Carl Duckett's Office of Science and Technology months to prepare and then was submitted only to the White House. [5]

The Israeli government concluded by the end of the war that the American intelligence community had somehow learned- independently of what the Soviets or Ambassador Dinitz had revealed-of the arming of the Israeli warheads. "Somehow, and this I know for sure," a former member of Golda Meir's personal staff said, "the Americans found out about it and Mossad did an investigation as to how the U.S. found out. Golda asked Mossad to investigate how much damage it caused." There was another aspect to the inquiry, the Israeli added, based on Israel's understanding that American intelligence had discovered Soviet warheads being moved through the Black Sea: "Was there a threat? How much did they [the United States] tell us? What did the U.S. know and when did they tell us?"

The results of the Mossad inquiry could not be learned, but Golda Meir's concern about America's ability to penetrate Israel seemed to diminish as Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy got under way. There was one tantalizing public reference, however, published with little fanfare seven years later, suggesting that the United States had known independently of the nuclear alert as it took place. On March 10, 1980, journalist Jack Anderson's syndicated daily column-largely about the American oil industry's influence inside the Department of Energy-included a four-paragraph addendum entitled "Close Call." The filler item said in part: "Locked in secret Pentagon files is startling evidence that Israel maneuvered dangerously near the edge of nuclear war after the 1973 Arab assault. The secret documents claim that Israel came within hours of running out of essential arms. 'At this crucial moment, the possibility of nuclear arms was discussed with the U.S.,' declares one report. American authorities feared the Israelis might resort to nuclear weapons to assure their survival. This was the most compelling reason, according to the secret papers, that the United States rushed conventional weapons to Israel."


Further evidence of the Israeli willingness to use nuclear weapons in the 1973 war-or to threaten their use-was provided at a meeting early the next year between David Elazar and Lieutenant General Orwin C. Talbott, deputy commander of the U.S. Army's Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC). Talbott was on an extended visit to Israel to discuss some of the lessons learned in the 1973 war and to inspect captured Arab and Soviet military equipment; there was considerable contact with Elazar, still the Israeli chief of staff. At one meeting, Talbott recalled, Elazar suddenly began talking "out of the blue" about Israel's threat to use nuclear weapons in the desperate moments of the 1973 war: "My impression at the time was that he was trying through me to let Washington know how serious the situation was-approaching the point where they were ready to use them [nuclear weapons]." Talbott understood the significance of the information and quickly filed a top-secret one-page memorandum for General Creighton W. Abrams, the Army chief of staff. "I made no copies of it and gave it to nobody else," the general, now retired, said. "I figured this was not discussable information at that time. I assumed Dado was trying to get a message to us." [6]

General Talbott had done his part, but his report to Creighton Abrams went nowhere. Carl Duckett, who at the time had direct responsibility for the CIA's intelligence on the Israeli nuclear arsenal, first learned of the Talbott message from the author; he also said he had never been informed of any intelligence suggesting that Israel had gone on two nuclear alerts during the Yom Kippur War.

The disconnect when it came to a nuclear-armed Israel was near-total: a CIA official assigned to Israel also had direct knowledge of the nuclear alert and did not tell his superiors what he knew, just as Henry Kissinger had told no one. The CIA official was an expert in communications intelligence and spent three years in Israel in the early 1970s as an undercover liaison officer with Detachment 8200; one of his assignments was to help the Israelis monitor the sophisticated Soviet radar and communications gear that had been supplied to the Egyptians during the War of Attrition. Israel also was operating, with the aid of equipment leased from the National Security Agency, at least three supersecret listening posts capable of intercepting communications throughout the Middle East and as far north as southern Russia. [7] The intercepted intelligence was shared with the United States, and the American undercover operative was able to learn a great deal about the operations of the Israeli signals intelligence community.

After the war, the official prepared a highly classified report on some of the Israeli deception techniques that had been successfully used for, among other things, relaying bogus orders to Egyptian and Syrian forces. "I wrote a small report for Jessup" -- Peter Jessup had returned for a second tour as CIA station chief in the early 1970s -- "but I knew the Israelis would pick it up out of Washington if it was filed. So I was very careful in what I said. I did not mention that the conversations [with his Israeli counterparts] got to nuclear threats. I knew that the weapons available were something to be reckoned with, and they [the Israelis] told me that this had been communicated to the Egyptians. They said, 'We've developed this method of communication with each other.'"

The CIA official was rotated back to Washington after the 1973 war and was summoned by James Angleton, the counterintelligence head, who was still handling Israeli affairs. Angleton had seen his report on Israeli deception techniques and wanted a special debriefing. It was a bizarre experience, the CIA official recalled: "I went through two days of debriefing by one of Angleton's guys with Angleton sitting outside the room at a secretary's desk." It was clear that the room was wired so that Angleton could monitor the conversation. The aide would occasionally leave the room to check a fact or line of query with Angleton, who never made an appearance, and whose presence was limited to an occasional scraping of his chair.

"I did not talk about the nuclear issue," the CIA official acknowledged. "And I did not put it into any messages. I felt it was something that other people knew about -- and nobody wanted to hear it from me."

The Israeli and American governments returned to the policy of see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. In June 1974, however, Anwar Sadat announced that his country had obtained intelligence indicating that Israel had developed tactical nuclear weapons. A week later, Shimon Peres, defense minister in a new Israeli government headed by Yitzhak Rabin, categorically denied the existence of any such weapons and accused Sadat of "gathering information of his own making." The squabble between the two countries was treated perfunctorily by the press and provoked no concern from President Gerald R. Ford or his senior aides. A National Security Council official did broach the issue, very gently, with an Israeli diplomat over lunch more than a year later. "I told him I thought my people had the perception that Israel had nuclear weapons," the aide reported in a subsequent internal memorandum. The Israeli diplomat denied the existence of any Israeli bomb and seemed to be "visibly disturbed.... He was not pleased with the course of the conversation, and switched the subject to music and the arts, where it remained."


Carl Duckett made a career-ending mistake in March 1976: he talked openly about Israel's nuclear weapons. On March 11, 1976, Duckett was one of a group of CIA officials who participated in an informal seminar before a group of local members of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Such sessions, held at an auditorium near the CIA's main headquarters building at McLean, Virginia, were standard Washington fare; any remarks were understood to be limited to unclassified materials. During a question-and-answer session, Duckett was asked about Israel's nuclear capability and replied without hesitation that Israel was estimated to have ten to twenty nuclear weapons "available for use." Within days, an account of his remarks was published in the Washington Post, forcing George Bush, the newly installed CIA director, to issue a public statement assuming "full responsibility" for the disclosure of the secret information. The obviously angry Bush added that he was "determined it will not happen again." Duckett was rumored to have been drinking at the time of his appearance -- the assumption seemed to be that only someone drunk would be so reckless as to discuss Israel's nuclear weaponry in public -- and his subsequent request for retirement was accepted by Bush.

Duckett, discussing those events years later, acknowledged that the rumors of his heavy drinking "led to a discussion with Bush and my decision to leave." The real issue, however, he insisted, was not his drinking but Bush's unwillingness to promote him to deputy CIA director.

There was one enduring legacy: the CIA would continue to know very little about the Israeli nuclear arsenal. Duckett's 1974 estimate giving Israel ten to twenty nuclear weapons would remain the official American intelligence estimate until the early 1980s -- years in which Israel was exponentially increasing its nuclear warhead stockpile. Duckett acknowledged that there was no specific intelligence behind the estimate. "We were trying to think what their targets would be," he explained, and using that information to predict the number of warheads that would be manufactured. "We were speculating," he said of his staff. "Our guess was that the Israelis would not have a reason for building more bombs [than ten to twenty] -- and that's why our numbers stayed fairly fixed. It was based on very little."



1. Eilts, a career diplomat, retired in 1979 after spending six years as ambassador to Egypt to become director of the Center for International Relations at Boston University.

2. During a tense moment in the shuttle diplomacy, Kissinger, in Israel, suddenly declared to Golda Meir, according to an American eyewitness: "First, I am an American; second, I am the secretary of state of the United States of America; third, I am a Jew," Meir replied without missing a beat: "That's all right, sonny, we read from right to left."

3. Many of Kissinger's senior aides and others in the government, including William Colby, defended the alert. Colby recalled that there had been a steady stream of intelligence reports suggesting that the Soviet Union was preparing some of its most highly trained paratroop units and its transport fleet for deployment to the Middle East. On the night of the alert, he said, the American intelligence community "lost the transport fleet. We were afraid it'd gone" to the Middle East with Soviet paratroopers. Another senior NSC aide confirmed Colby's account and added: "1 thought they were coming" -- a point of view, he added, that he successfully urged on Kissinger. The NSC aide added that neither he nor Kissinger anticipated that word of the heightened alert would become known so quickly. "We weren't trying to signal the Soviets," the aide said. "We just didn't realize that the military would begin calling back privates and corporals from leave"-making it impossible to keep the alert secret from the press. Another equally senior American official, who had access to all of the available intelligence, viewed the actions of both Washington and Moscow simply as "posturing. We were publicly threatening to go [into the Sinai] ourselves and the Soviets were countering."

4. A former member of Task Force 157 acknowledged that there was no way that the unit on duty in Turkey, whose function was to photograph and monitor all Soviet ship deployments from the Black Sea, could independently establish the bona fides of its reports. The unit, he explained, was manned by specially recruited Turkish citizens who were not competent to make on-the-spot assessments, but instead relayed their tapes and other data by commercial aircraft to Washington for analysis. The conclusion that there were warheads aboard the Soviet cargo ship came from a Navy laboratory in Washington, the former 157 member said, and not from Turkey. "We never had any knowledge at all [in the field] whether anything was hot or not," he added.

5. Another as yet unresolved question about the Yom Kippur War revolves around the question of nuclear deterrence: did Egypt and Syria limit their initial operations in fear of a nuclear response if they penetrated too deeply? Mohammed Heikal, for example, insisted that the Soviet reports about the Israeli nuclear arming-while taken very seriously-had no impact on the overall Egyptian military operation. Egypt's military goals, he said, had been sharply limited from the outset. There is clear evidence that Syria also set very limited goals for its military, for its army came to a literal stop -- with no opposition in front of it-more than a day before Golda Meir's kitchen cabinet met in Tel Aviv to authorize the nuclear arming. The best guess at this point is that Syrian and Egyptian planners certainly were aware that any deep penetration inside the pre-I967 borders would have occasioned a massive, and perhaps nuclear, counterattack-but the fact that no such advance was planned or sought had much more to do with the myth of Israeli military invincibility than with a specific concern about the weapons at Dimona.

6. Talbott was accompanied during the meeting with Elazar by Colonel Bruce Williams, the U.S. Army attache in Israel. Williams similarly remembered Elazar's remarks as revelatory: "I can't recall the exact words," he said, "but the message was clear: Israel was prepared to use nuclear weapons against the Syrians if they'd broken through."

7. One of the joint sites, at Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights, was overrun by Syria in the first day of the war. Within fifteen minutes, according to former Israeli intelligence officers, Soviet helicopters had arrived and began dismantling the equipment. It was a stunning loss: there were as many as seven underground levels full of most sensitive listening and recording gear -- all of which ended up in Soviet possession. Israel reclaimed the destroyed facility by war's end.
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