Miscellaneous Hebrew Documents


Document 1. This is the seven page Israeli minutes of the unscheduled meeting between Shimon Peres, then Israel's Deputy Minister of Defense and President John Kennedy, held at the White House on 2 April 1963. The brief meeting appeared as sheer improvisation: while Peres visited presidential counsel Myer Feldman at the White House, President Kennedy invited them for a brief introductory meeting at the Oval Office. In that half hour conversation Kennedy was throwing questions at Peres concerning Israel's security, culminating in a direct question on Israeli nuclear activities. It was in response to that question that Peres used for the first time with the United States what would subsequently become Israel's nuclear formula (pages 3-4).

Here is the English translation of this nuclear exchange:

Kennedy: You know that we follow very closely the discovery of any nuclear development in the region. This could create a very dangerous situation. For this reason we monitor your nuclear effort. What could you tell me about this?

Peres: I can tell you most clearly that we will not introduce nuclear weapons to the region, and certainly we will not be the first.

Years later Peres said that his answer was an improvisation to an unexpected situation. He did not expect to see the President, and certainly not to be asked that question by him. According to Peres, he had to come up with something--he could not tell President Kennedy state secrets, indeed he could not deviate from what Ben Gurion had told Kennedy earlier, but he did not want to tell the President outright lies. So he tailored a response to Kennedy on the spot.

According to another Israeli source, Ben Gurion had already used a similar vague language for some time in discussing his nuclear policy with various closed fora in Israel itself. According to that source, Ben Gurion used this formulation in his meeting with the chief editors of the Israeli daily newspapers around that time.

Peres did not know, however that this meeting with Kennedy was not exactly a matter of sheer chance and improvisation. Peres did not know that in the week prior to his visit in Washington the Israeli nuclear project was discussed at length in a series of presidential meetings, including a special briefing on the subject of Israel's nuclear activities Kennedy received from CIA Director John McCone. This activity culminated in the drafting of National Security Action Memorandum NSAM 231, entitled "Middle Eastern Nuclear Capabilities," in which President Kennedy guided his administration to monitor the subject as top priority and to devise plan to halt nuclear arms race in the Middle East. It appears that Kennedy knew from those discussions that Shimon Peres was the chief executive of Israel's nuclear project and he wanted to meet him in person and convey directly his concerns on that subject matter.

Source: Israel State Archive
For more information: Israel and the Bomb, 118-119, 234, 380n23.

Document 2. This is the five page minutes of a meeting, held on 13 June 1963, involving the top policy staff at the Israeli Foreign Ministry chaired by Foreign Minister Golda Meir on U.S.-Israel relations. Much of the discussion in the meeting focus on the American-Israeli security dialogue with the United States, particularly in light of Kennedy's renewed pressure on the matter of Dimona. Most intriguing are Meir's comments on Dimona, which reflects the differences between her views and Ben Gurion on this matter. Meir opposed the deceptive way Ben Gurion introduced the issue to the United States. Meir insisted that Israel should make clear to the United States that Dimona is about security, and it must be directly incorporated into the American-Israeli security dialogue.

Foreign Minister Meir stated the following:

"Regarding Dimona, there is no need to stop the work in Dimona, but we have put ourselves in a situation in which we cannot benefit from the whole thing. The issue is whether we should tell them the truth or not. On this issue I had reservations from the very outset of the American intervention. I was always of the opinion that we should them the truth and explain why. ...if we deny that Dimona exists then it cannot be used as a source for bargaining because you cannot bargain over something that does not exist." (page 5)

Source: Israel State Archive
For more information: Israel and the Bomb, 132-136.

Document 3. This 25-page Hebrew document is a verbatim minutes of a ministerial consultation on how Prime Minister Eshkol should proceed the dialogue with President Kennedy on the matter of Israeli security. The six individuals who were present in that consultation constitutes Eshkol's kitchen cabinet on security at the time: Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, Foreign Minister Golda Meir, Deputy Prime Minister Abba Eban, Agriculture Minister Moshe Dayan, Deputy minister of Defense Shimon Peres and Chief of Staff Zvi Zur.

The meeting took place on 6 September 1963, less than two weeks after Eshkol replied to President Kennedy's near-ultimatum to have periodical visits of American scientists in Dimona. In his August reply Eshkol had followed Ben Gurion's path and made no linkage between the issue of Dimona and the American-Israeli dialogue on Israeli security. Because of the complexity of the subject we post this long document in its entirety.

The issue of Dimona, and whether Israel was in a position to ask for new American security benefits in return for Eshkol's reply, was central throughout this consultation but it was discussed most explicitly in pages 15-25. In page 19 Eshkol was wondering aloud about the line Israel should take about the matter of Dimona. Eshkol understood that without putting Dimona on the table as a security asset Israel deprives itself in its security dialogue with the United States. Evidently, Eshkol was not fully reconciled with the strategy that forced him to be less than honest with the president of the United States. Eshkol still considered ways in which Dimona security value would be acknowledged. Eshkol appeared to consider Foreign Minister Meir's approach (to tell the truth and explain why) but apparently he was not clear about how it could be presented and what risks it might involve. He was even ready to entertain the notion of telling the United States that Israel had a separation plant and was ready to sit tight with a nuclear weapon option without actually materializing it, while the United States would provide Israel with other forms of deterrence. So Eshkol expressed this line of thought in the following way:

"Maybe we should start by saying that we have a separation plant, we have it, we may not do anything with it, for a period of half year, two years, three years, and in the meantime give us [Kennedy] another form of deterrence." (page 19)

Other participants in the consultation, in particular Agriculture Minister Moshe Dayan and Chief of Staff General Zvi Zur were uncomfortable with the idea of using Dimona as a leverage or bargaining card for American security assurances. So Dayan responded:

"I'd rather we would not talk about 'what instead of' Dimona,"

to which Eshkol replied:

"blessed the believer." (page 19)

Eshkol then expressed his own fears that the Americans would discover the Israeli tricks in concealing the truth about Dimona. Talking candidly he said:

"What I am afraid of? His [Kennedy's] man will come and will be told that he can visit anywhere, but when he go to open something, then Pratt [Dimona director] will tell him, this is not."

Source: Israel State Archive
For more information: Israel and the Bomb, 168-69.

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