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Digital Archive International History Declassified

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Israeli Nuclear History

Documents on the history of Israeli nuclear development. See also the related collections of the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project. (Image, Dimona research center, NARA, RG 59, Records of the Special Assistant to the Secretary of State for Atomic Energy and Outer Space, General Records Relating to Atomic Energy, 1948-62, box 501, Country File Z1.50 Israel f. Reactors 1960)

  • March 17, 1969

    Memorandum from Secretary of Defense Laird to Secretary of State, 'Stopping the Introduction of Nuclear Weapons into the Middle East'

    Colonel Robert P. Pursley, discussed the Israeli nuclear issue with other senior officials at the Pentagon, and drafted a memorandum that the Defense Secretary sent to Rogers, Kissinger, and Helms on 14 March 1969. Believing it is necessary to convey “a sense of urgency,” the memorandum restated the earlier [Warnke’s] points about the need for a meeting and included new intelligence about Israeli efforts to acquire high speed computers for use in a weapons program.

  • March 26, 1969

    Memorandum from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 'Nuclear Missile Capability in Israel'

    A proposal from JCS Chairman Earle Wheeler favored a presidential-level approach and the application of pressure. Wheeler presented a range of options but recommended a demand to “cease-and-desist” a specific nuclear-related activity.

  • March 28, 1969

    Letter from Secretary of State William P. Rogers to Secretary of Defense

    In his 28 March reply Secretary Rogers agreed that the computer issue needed more examination along with a further review of policy on sensitive technology exports, but he virtually blew off Laird’s request for a meeting and for deliberation outside of NSC channels. Instead, he advised that the Israeli nuclear problem be studied by the NSC Under Secretaries Committee.

  • March 29, 1969

    Memorandum from Ralph Earle, Office of International Security Affairs, 'Stopping the Introduction of Nuclear Weapons Into the Middle East'

    This memo provided Laird with a scheme for a tough approach to Israel that involved a demarche to the Israeli government for “cease-and-desist” certain nuclear and missile [excised] activities and a demand for private assurances and, ultimately, Israel’s signature on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). To seal such a deal Earle proposed an exchange of letters between President Richard Nixon and Prime Minister Golda Meir, for which he provided drafts.

  • April 11, 1969

    National Security Study Memorandum [NSSM] No. 40, Memorandum from Henry Kissinger to Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and Director of Central Intelligence, 'Israeli Nuclear Weapons Program'

    Kissinger initiated a formal bureaucratic process to address how the U.S. government should respond to the emergence of a nuclear Israel, a review process managed by Kissinger’s NSC staff, known as NSSM 40. Through the NSSM Henry Kissinger tasked the DCI, the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense to prepare a report for the President that included the latest intelligence findings on the Israeli nuclear program and policy options with recommendations that the President could use in making decisions.

  • May 30, 1969

    John P. Walsh, State Department Executive Secretary to Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, 'Israeli Nuclear Weapons Program—NSSM 40'

    This may well be the only formal written interagency response to NSSM 40.The State Department and the Defense Department agreed that Israel should sign the NPT and provide assurances not to produce nuclear weapons, but they disagreed on what should be done to get there.

  • June 18, 1969

    Unsigned Memorandum from Office of the Secretary, with enclosed announcement of meeting of Ad Hoc Committee on NSSM 40, and 'Talking Paper for the Deputy Secretary of Defense and the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff'

    The “Talking Paper,” prepared for the NSC Review Group meeting, summarized the disagreements in the inter-agency report. Nutter (Paul Warnke’s replacement) and Johnson both affirmed the need for high-level pressure; if the Israelis were unresponsive to US requests for assurances it would “affect our ability to continue the present US relationship with Israel.”

  • June 27, 1969

    Memorandum from Harry Schwartz to Deputy Secretary of Defense

    Harry Schwartz's memo to the Deputy Secretary of Defense concerns the possible delay of delivery of F-45 to Israel. The draft "Scenario" is referenced and Schwartz hopes this issue will be covered more extensively within it.

  • July 04, 1969

    Memorandum from Henry Kissinger to President Nixon, 'Israeli Nuclear Program'

    Citing the recent developments at the Senior Review Group, Kissinger proposed an NSC meeting on 16 July 1969 to discuss the Israeli nuclear problem.

  • July 14, 1969

    Memorandum from Deputy Secretary of Defense, 'Israeli Nuclear Program,' with 'Scenario for Discussions with Israelis on their Nuclear Program, and NSSM 40'

    Packard's plan detailed in this memorandum and its attachments allegedly represented a consensus of the Defense leadership, Kissinger, Richardson, and Helms. Using a tough approach, the memorandum's enclosed plan focused on getting Israelis assurances and signature on the NPTs.

  • July 19, 1969

    Memorandum from Henry Kissinger to President Nixon, 'Israeli Nuclear Program'

    The memorandum lays out substantive and significant line of thinking about the complex problem raised by the Israeli nuclear program. Kissinger thought it might be possible to persuade the Israelis that with all of the NPT’s loopholes signing it would not prevent them from continuing their weapons research and development. Kissinger also recognized the real possibility that the Israeli development momentum could not be stopped.

  • July 19, 1969

    Memorandum from Henry Kissinger to Richard Nixon, "Israeli Nuclear Program"

  • May 19, 1979

    Letter from Israeli PM Menachem Begin to British PM Margaret Thatcher on Pakistan’s Nuclear Program

    Letter from Begin forwarding a memorandum to Thatcher on activities of the Pakistani government to build a nuclear weapon.

  • June 10, 1981

    Letter from Israeli General Rafael Eitan to South African Minister Magnus Malan on Israeli Airstrike on Iraqi Nuclear Reactor

    Chief of Staff of Israel Defense Forces, General Rafael Eitan writes to South African Minister of Defence Magnus Malan shortly after Israel’s 1981 strike on Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor. In this candid letter, Eitan states that Israel’s “iron determination” would not “allow these crazy Arabs to possess nuclear weapons," adding that "anyone who tries to say that the nuclear reactor in Iraq was only for research purposes is wicked, cynical and oil, not human blood, flows in his veins."

  • March 09, 1982

    Conversation between Erich Honecker and Yasser Arafat (Excerpt)

    This is an excerpt of a conversation which appears in full at BA-SAPMO J IV 2/201/1416. The conversation opens with the issue of French-Israeli relations. France plans to deliver a nuclear reactor to Israel to the opposition of the Arab world. Also mentioned are the deliveries of arms from the GDR to the PLO. Arafat reports on the use of chemical weapons by Israel in Lebanon. These weapons were reportedly delivered by the FRG. Israel also seems to use biological weapons. Final topics of discussion are the role of the Pope in Poland, the question of Jerusalem, and the Islamic movement in Afghanistan.

  • 2019

    Elie Geisler, 'The Israeli Nuclear Drama of May 1967: A Personal Testimony'

    Elie Geisler received training as a radiation-safety officer while serving as a solider at Dimona from 1964 to 1966. As the crisis escalated in late May 1967, Geisler was summoned to meet the head of the Minhal Madaii—the secret scientific administration in charge of the nuclear project—who gave him a special assignment: guarding a radioactive “package” to be placed under heavy security. The following testimony was relayed to Avner Cohen through several interviews and follow-up conversations and email exchanges.

  • November 08, 2019

    The VELA Incident: A Statement Written by Dr. Alan Berman

    A statement written by Dr. Alan Berman about the 1979 VELA Incident.

  • November 21, 2019

    Richard L. Garwin, 'More from a Ruina-panel Member'

    Accounts and memories of the 1979 VELA Incident and the Ruina Panel put together by Richard L. Garwin.

  • November 22, 2019

    Leonard Weiss, 'My Involvement with the 1979 Vela Satellite (6911) Event'

    Statement made by Leonard Weiss about his memories of the 1979 VELA Incident.

  • December 13, 2020

    Interview of David Irvy

    Interview with David Ivry, former Director General of the Israeli Ministry of Defense, chairman of Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI), deputy chief of the General Staff at the IDF, and commander of the Israeli Air Force. Interview conducted by Or Rabinowitz.