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How Washington Helped Create Israel's Secret Nuclear Arsenal
In the 1960s the US was far from blindly supporting Israeli interests in the Middle East
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Recently declassified documents reveal that consideration of how and when the White House can or should pressure Israel over policies damaging to the United States has been a contentious issue for quite some time. The 107 pages of formerly top secret memos, dating from 1968-9, relate to deliberations over what to do about the Israeli nuclear weapons programme. Prior to that time, the US position had been clear, supporting the principle that nuclear weapons should not be introduced into the Middle East.

The declassified story

President John F Kennedy was convinced that Israel was building a weapon and fully intended to force its government to abandon the effort and join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which Washington supported. Kennedy’s death and his replacement by the strongly pro-Zionist Lyndon B Johnson did not shift the general perception that a nuclear armed Israel would not be in US interest, though Johnson notably refused to tie the impending sale of 50 F-4 Phantom fighter-bombers to Israeli abandonment of both its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, as the Pentagon had recommended.

President Richard M Nixon arrived on the scene in January 1969, a year and a half after Israel’s successful attack on Jordan, Syria, and Egypt. Israel was still fighting Egyptians in Sinai in the so-called War of Attrition, a conflict which Washington was attempting to mediate to reopen the Suez Canal to shipping. Nixon, regarded by some as anti-Semitic, was no natural friend of Israel but his foreign policy was strictly pragmatic as he sought to disengage from Vietnam and counter communist advances in other parts of the globe. In the Middle East, he saw Israel as a potential asset given the de facto alignment of states like Syria and Egypt with the Soviet Union.

Israel’s nuclear programme relied on assistance from Jews in the United States. The Federal Bureau of Investigation tracked the diversion of enriched uranium from the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC) plant in Pennsylvania in the mid-1960s. Though it could not demonstrate that Israel had been the recipient of the largesse, it reported a number of contacts between the owner Zalman Shapiro and Israeli intelligence officer Rafael Eitan. Eitan was the Mossad case officer who also handled Jewish American spy Jonathan Pollard, who was involved inreportedly the most damaging espionage case in US history.

The CIA also was aware of the loss of the nuclear material and believed it had been stolen and shipped to the Israeli nuclear research centre at Dimona, to which the US had only limited access. Based on intelligence, by late 1968 both the CIA and the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency concluded that Israel already had succeeded in developing nuclear weapons.

The declassified documents demonstrate that an alarmed US government initially sought three assurances from Israel: that it would stop short of constructing an actual nuclear weapon in exchange for Washington’s acceptance of the deployment of Israeli developed “deterrent” Jericho ballistic missiles, that it would join the NPT and that the Dimona facility be opened to regular US inspection. If Israel refused, US sanctions might include restricting the sale of conventional weapons and delaying the transfer of the Phantom jets.

From the start, Israel obfuscated the issue by playing with definitions, insisting that “introducing” a nuclear weapon to the Middle East would only occur when a device was assembled, tested and its existence publicly acknowledged. The US insisted that a weapon would be “introduced” as soon as it would be put together and be capable of exploding.

The hardliners in the administration – including Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird – contended that a nuclear Israel would at a minimum provoke an arms race in the Middle East. It would also perpetuate low intensity warfare between Israel and the Arabs due to the latter’s perceived military inferiority, would tie Arab states more closely to Moscow bringing the Cold War to the region increasing the risk of a great power nuclear confrontation, and would inevitably result in Washington being blamed for the development, damaging a broad range of regional interests. The credibility of the NPT would also be damaged, possibly leading to mass defections from it.

Those who wanted to halt the programme argued for sanctions on Israel if it failed to accede to all three US demands. They observed the implausibility of the Israeli argument that it needed the weapons as a deterrent as it clearly intended to keep the programme secret, meaning that no adversary would necessarily be put off by something that might not exist. Also, US planners feared the Samson option, a plan to destroy the entire Middle East if Israel were about to be overrun.
The debate over what to do about Israel ultimately pitted a proposed aggressive response backed by sanctions versus “persuasion”. A proposal to mollify Israeli security concerns by offering a defence guarantee was even considered but rejected because it would mean an “open ended commitment without any control over Israeli actions.”

The discussion, taking place in the months before a state visit by Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, gradually moved in the direction of accommodation guided by the State Department’s Joseph Sisco, accepting that the Israeli programme was a reality and that any pressure would only accelerate the timetable and broaden the scale while damaging other interests. As the documents describe it, the White House eventually backed off completely, agreeing to accept assurances of Israel’s “technical option” to build nuclear weapons, meaning that it had all the pieces in place but had not yet done so. In other words, the US pledged itself to keep the Israeli secret and to regard the programme itself as acceptably ambiguous.

It was a secret that both Washington and Tel Aviv connived at in spite of mounting evidence that Israel had a substantial supply of nuclear weapons, which included reports of a possible Indian Ocean test detonation conducted in cooperation with the South African apartheid government in 1979. Though Israel has never actually confirmed that is has a nuclear arsenal, President Jimmy Carter reportedly came close to exposing the NUMEC theft in 1977 but demurred because he was attempting to make peace between Israel and Egypt and feared that the release of the story would damage the negotiations.

Ignoring Israeli interests

So the tale of 1969 is how the US backed off of its intention to block Israeli nuclear proliferation and instead became complicit in the crafting of the current fiction regarding Israel’s weapons of mass destruction. But more interesting is the tone of the declassified documents: drafted and debated in light of actual US interests in the Middle East. Israeli concerns are addressed in passing but they do not drive the process and domestic political pressures from a still growing Israel lobby, are only mentioned once: “They could use their full range of assets in the United States to persuade us to abandon our demands.”

Israeli Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin is described at one point as “stonewalling”. A memo notes that Congress would never go along with giving security guarantees to Israel while another from the Deputy Secretary of Defense concludes laconically that “not to lean on them would involve us in a conspiracy with Israel which would leave matters dangerous to our security in their hands.”

Another official wrote “Whatever the validity of Israel’s position from its own standpoint, it does not coincide with the interests of the United States and, in fact, constitutes the single most dangerous phenomenon in a region already dangerous enough without nuclear weapons.” A senior Pentagon official adds: “Our demands must be unequivocal. Moral suasion and prolonged discussion does not work with Israel.”

It is difficult to imagine similar opinions being voiced today in the corridors of power in Washington, or at least not openly. Israel is America’s greatest friend and most important ally, or so we are told. Clearly many things have changed since 1969.

(Republished from Aljazeera America by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy, History • Tags: Israel, Israel Lobby, Nuclear Weapons 
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  1. Don Nash says: • Website

    “President John F Kennedy was convinced that Israel was building a (nuclear) weapon and fully intended to force its government to abandon the effort…”
    Then President Kennedy was assassinated. Curious no doubt.

  2. Chiron says:

    LBJ killed Kennedy, this has become more obvious as the time passes.

    • Replies: @KA
  3. TomB says:

    To me at least the upshot of this article is that yes, eventually the U.S. assented to Israel’s possession of nukes, and then in fact by not exerting any pressure otherwise actually *protected* its possession of same.

    And yet, despite same … this *still* doesn’t exhaust our obligation to it? That … a country facing no nuked-up enemies and yet nuked to the gills with its own such devices *still* requires our support? And despite its orders-of-magnitude conventional superiority over all its enemies put together *still* requires billions upon billions from us year after year after decade after decade? So making us a legitimate target of its enemies under the rules and laws of war? At a time when, economically, we are cutting our *own* defense expenditures greatly? And is *still* getting our politicians to declare it under our nuke umbrella, so theoretically meaning that in the event one of its enemies gets nukes we are a legitimate target of same as well under those rules and laws of warfare?

    Gee, one wonders, is there anything at *all* we don’t owe it? Theoretically at least we’ve already put ourselves in “existential” threat in support of it. The only next step I can think of is actually going through with it all and committing suicide for it.

  4. Nah the Rothschild’s did it. Grow up people.

    • Replies: @Eileen Kuch
  5. Anyone who supports Israel should be grateful to the ill-intentioned author of this piece. Even though his objective always seems to be to put Israelis and its American supporters in danger, he’s to be commended for reminding everyone, especially Arab and Muslim nations, of Israel’s nuclear deterrent.

    As an aside, it’s quite hypocritical to expect America to possess a nuclear deterrent while seeking to deny it to a tiny country which billions of people want to annihilate. That’s entirely different from the double standard that exists with respect to Iran’s nuclear program, because Iran and Saudi Arabia are the foremost exporters of terror and Islamic fundamentalism, respectively.

    As a further aside, it’s both laughable and obscene to suggest that the history-changing science behind nuclear weapons should never be employed in the service of protecting the remnant of Jewry, when it was a very famous Jew who made it all possible in the first place.

    • Replies: @Jake
    , @pyrrhus
    , @KA
  6. Jake says:

    when it was a very famous Jew who made it all possible in the first place.

    Hmm — Who in their right mind can say that nuke’s are not a true curse on humanity?

  7. TR says: • Website

    Sooner or later Israel’s greatest fear will happen, and that is when one or more of their sworn enemies obtains nuclear capability and wipes Israel from the face of the earth. Israel is a small target surrounded by hostile nations all of whom are seeking revenge against Israeli aggression, so the eventual destruction of Israel will be achieved regardless of Israel’s Iron Dome defense system and the virtual blockade Israel maintains around itself. Currently ISIS is Israel’s most dangerous threat and the Israeli lobby in America is doing everything it can to provoke the United States into attacking ISIS, just like Israel has in the past herded America into attacking Israel’s many enemies in the Middle East. America should cut all ties with Israel and end all financial and military support of this apartheid criminal state before Israel causes the destruction of America.

    • Replies: @rod1963
  8. michael says: trade pollard for vanunu keystone is PERES

  9. Repma says:

    “Kennedy’s death” Actually Kennedy’s murder. The patsy was murdered by Jacob Rubenstein, but we didn’t hear THAT on the News.

  10. rod1963 says:


    Israel has a dead man’s switch – several subs with nuclear tipped SLCM’s that are kept at sea at all times, sold to them by Germany.

    Those subs serve two purposes:

    1) To blackmail Europe and the U.S. via the Samson option. It’s well known that Israel will target Europe and Russia with nuclear weapons by sea and air if they are losing or if Tel Aviv goes up in a mushroom cloud. As Martin Van Creveld said: ” Most European capitals are targets for our air force….We have the capability to take the world down with us. And I can assure you that that will happen before Israel goes under.”

    The fact that leading Jews have made supportive statements in regarding the use of nuclear weapons against innocents across the world really exposes them as moral lepers and no better than the Nazis.

    2) To obliterate most Muslim cities.

    They are a very bad people. The fact that you have leading Jews going on record supporting such a option is worrisome.

  11. “LBJ killed Kennedy, this has become more obvious as the time passes.”

    -LBJ? No- but this piece suggests that he may have well been willing to play ball with others who had reason to replace his boss. Its also interesting to think of how few people or groups would have had the influence and connections to force the government to not release the facts to the public. If the story of Kennedy’s death had been merely a Communist hit as the popular story goes, then transparent releasing of the facts to the public would have been in the interest of the government which was losing public support during its war against the Communists in Vietnam.

    • Replies: @Chet
  12. Chet says:

    It was well known that LBJ was having an affair with Mathilde Krim, an uber Zionist married to the head of United Artist studios. Also, it was LBJ that not only allowed the USS Liberty to be attacked but called off U.S. fighter jets heading to protect the ship while they were being attacked.

    • Replies: @KA
  13. John R. says:

    …..and there’s a problem?

  14. JAFO says:

    Bush senior traded W54 SADM pits that were degrading due to age and environmental factors to the Zionists. The Israhellis then remanufactured the pits. This what was used on 9/11 by the neocons and zionistas, forget jet fuel, only complete imbeciles still believe that sad excuse.
    Personally I wish they’d get it over with and nuke each other out of existence.
    Imagine how much more peaceful this planet would be without any christians, muslims, or jews to constantly muck it up with their death-cult religions..

  15. pyrrhus says:

    An absurd and offensive statement. Without Einstein, there would still have been nuclear weapons, and indeed his contribution to research on fission was small.

    • Replies: @KA
    , @Anonymous
  16. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:


    Without a poor German Christian mathematician there wouldn’t have been an Einstein. Bernhard Riemann’s work laid the mathematical foundation for Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. The great mathematical geniuses of France, Germany, and the British Isles are extremely rare gems that only come along a few times in a millennia. The intellectual middlemen who later used their work and cleverly applied to physical problems are, relative to the true geniuses who thought the mathematics up, a dime a dozen.

    No kid has ever heard of Reimann, Fourier, Cauchy,… but they have had the creepy, cousin-marrying adulterer shoved in their face 8/5.

    • Replies: @Oppenheimer
  17. KA says:

    Hasabara wants us to believe that Muslims wants to kill us( non Muslims) for that is there in the religious books .
    Hasabar does not want us to believe that Iran is sincere ,honest,and corect in daying that is not building any nuclear weapons . The religious angle is also coveniently ignored by Hasabra when Iran’s supreme leader asserts that making of nuclear weapon is religiously prohibited .
    Hadabar was not keeping tab on every Zionist . In that unguarded moment the Israeli minister let the truth roll out of the tongue and said that Iran had never said that it wanted Israel to be wiped out of the map.
    One long lists of lies also include the lies spread and created by Weisenthal Center that informed the world that Iran was forcing the Jews to wear yellow ribbon and something needed to be done .

    Old trick whether it’s a video of 2009 or the medieval canard of doubtful significance can always be taken off the shelf and dusted off for reuse.

  18. KA says:

    But 6 out of 9 scientist working on Manhattan Project were Jewish . From this connection ,Russia ( soviet) received the information and the knowledge and then went ahead and built its own bombs. Russian scientists were also mostly Jewish .
    There is no doubt that Jewish intelligence has been a force both for good and bad and hugely disproportionate compared to their numbers.

  19. KA says:

    A comment from Mondoweiss net

    “Another David June 17, 2009, 9:23 pm
    Tyler documents the penetration of the US establishment up to the level of the White House by Zionist activists. … Tyler records that when America was taken by surprise by the Israeli invasion of Egypt in June 1967, it just so happened that Mathilde Krim, a Zionist hawk and former active memeber of Begin’s terrorist organization, the Irgun, was a guest at the White House. She and her husband had been frequent guests at President Johnson’s ranch in Texas, and he had given them top-secret security clearances. Throughout the Six Day Was she “sent a steady stream of notes to the Oval Office”. When Dean Rusk was arguing for a more blanced position, Johnson put him on hold and “asked his secretary for Mrs Krim’s memo on Jewish anger so he could read portions to the Secretary of state”.

  20. KA says:

    Support for Israel and support for perpetual war under different labels are different side of the same coin . That idea is what defines the middle eastern policy

  21. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    The left and the secular libertarian right in America need to give up the Abrahamic story once and for all. Evangelical Christians should be called out for their loyalty to Israel as strongly as AIPAC. The nuclear weapons arose before the rise of Evangelicals but you can bet they would be as vociferous in blocking the removal of those weapons from Israel. The Abrahamics are more loyal to their God in Israel than they are to nation states.

  22. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    I find it more and more curious that USA’s mainstream media fail to mention Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons while creating a firestorm of disinformation about Iran’s purported attempt to develop its own nuclear deterrent.
    I also find it strange that Giraldi failed to mention Carl Duckett, who in 1976 informed a gathering of American space technologists that Israel had “…10 to 20 nuclear weapons ready and available for use”. Duckett at that time was the CIA’s deputy director of science and technology. Time magazine (4/12/1976) also commented that the Jewish State possessed “…a nuclear arsenal of 13 atomic bombs.”
    1976 to 2014—-that’s 38 years and counting that CNN, PBS, Fox, the broadcast networks, all the mainstream US media still haven’t discovered what was publicly stated nearly four decades ago. Makes one wonder what all those ace reporters, teleprompter readers, and talking heads do to earn their livings.
    Also, in 2oo3, the BBC produced and aired a 50-minute documentary titled, “Israel’s Secret Weapons”. I seriously doubt that PBS ever allowed it to air in the U.S. although it must have been distributed in all the rest of the English-speaking world.

  23. @Sam Haysom

    The Rothschilds OWN Israel. During WWI, they convinced Lord Balfour to promise them Palestine in return for bringing the US, then with Woodrow Wilson in the White House, into the war. The area was given to the UK under a mandate; then, after WWII, Jews were brought in en masse, mainly from Central and Eastern Europe, to colonize Palestine.

    It’s been noted that before this mass immigration of European Jews, there was little, if any, hostility between the Sephardic Jews who had been living in Palestine for centuries in very small numbers, and the Muslim and Christian Palestinians who had been living there even before the Sephardics. It was after the mass influx of European Ashkenazi Jews that real hostility between the two groups broke out.

    The Rothschilds, who are Ashkenazi descendants of Khazars, are the owners/founders of modern Israel which, btw, is not the Israel of the Bible.

  24. KA says: • Website

    Jackie Kenendy beleived taht LBJ had killed her husband

  25. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Oppenheimer was a famous Jew.

  26. @Anonymous

    So Einstein was merely an “intellectual middleman”. Hmm. The only truly great intellectual work of recent centuries was done by obscure mathematicians. Hmm. Contributions like relativity were merely exercises in solving physics problems, a parlor game for lowly aspirants. Hmm.

    Such is the ignorant, reductionist drivel that drools out of the mouths of envious, petty, hateful, scoffing snobs whose racial supremacism can’t permit them to accept the fact that one lowly Jew put all his haughty European betters to shame for all eternity. If there was one word that could disprove all of the Third Reich’s supremacist nonsense, that word was Einstein.

    What you hate having “shoved in your face” is this inconvenient, inescapable truth.

  27. Leo says:

    What kind of a moron give zionist fascists nuclear weapon?

    Maybe this is a significant clue in solving the JFK mystery,… after all.

  28. arel says:

    Ahhhh…its all about the Jooooooossss…really? Is that what this writer is on about? Geez. Mr Unz, you have a sewer backing up in the basement here….

  29. 0jr says:

    yet another treaty violated by the americons

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