About 'Israel and the Bomb' : Highlights : News & Findings
News & Findings
In the period 1955-1957 a heated debate took place within the small
scientific and policy community in Israel regarding the feasibility
and desirability of the nuclear weapons option. When Shimon Peres put
together the Dimona deal in 1957, and obtained
assistance, Ben Gurion gave the go-ahead to the project.
The United States "discovered" the Dimona project in late 1960, almost three years after it had been launched.
The late discovery of Dimona is one of the colossal blunders of American intelligence. (In comparative terms, this failure was
more severe than the
failure to identify the Indian test in 1998.) Israel and the Bomb revisits this intelligence failure.
President Kennedy was the only American president who made serious efforts to curb the Israeli nuclear project.
Based on a volume of newly declassified documents as well as interviews,
Israel and the Bomb reconstructs the details of Kennedy's efforts.
Cohen suggests that Ben Gurion's resignation in 1963 may have been triggered, in part, by Kennedy's pressure.
The visiting American scientists never found direct evidence that Israel engaged in weapons-related activities.
The book explains why. The book also reveals that the CIA, since the early-mid 1960s, understood and presumed that Israel was
determined to develop nuclear weapons. By late 1966 the CIA circulated reports that Israel
completed the development phase of its nuclear program, and was only weeks away from having a fully assembled
bomb. Such information was never shared with the inspection teams that visited
Dimona, nor was it accepted by the State Department.
By late 1966 Israel completed the development phase
of the nuclear project. Yet Prime Minister Eshkol forcefully disallowed a nuclear test, knowing that such
an act would violate the unique set of tacit understandings he had with the United States.
The June 1967 War had an important nuclear dimension. New and little-known Israeli and American sources
suggest that Israel had improvised two nuclear devices and placed them under alert. Cohen suggests that some time prior to the
Six-Day War Israel had achieved a rudimentary nuclear weapons capability, and during the tense days of the crisis in late May it
placed that capability under "operational alert." By the eve of the war Israel had two deliverable explosive devices.
The advent of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968 set the stage for the most direct confrontation between the United States
and Israel on the nuclear issue during the Johnson era..
Based on newly declassified documents and oral history Israel and the Bombreconstructs the details of the last
American-Israeli confrontation on the nuclear issue. The two prime players in that confrontation were Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin and Assistant
Secretary of Defense Paul Warnke.
A new set of American-Israeli understandings on the nuclear issue came into being in 1970 through meetings
between President Richard Nixon and Prime Minister Golda Meir. The United States no longer pressed Israel to sign the NPT;
it also ended the visits at Dimona. In return, Israel is committed to maintaining a low profile nuclear posture: no testing, no
declaration, no acknowledgment. With these "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" understandings nuclear opacity was born. Those
understanding persist today.