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Interview with Yitzhak 'Ya’tza' Ya’akov by Avner Cohen

Interview with Yitzhak Ya’akov (Ya’tza)[1]

Interviewer: Dr. Avner Cohen,

Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS)


Dr. Avner Cohen:  [Would you begin by discussing] the general background on the relationship between AMALACH[2] and other entities… the issue we just discussed, and which will later lead us to the [question] of how did we find ourselves on the eve of the 1967 war… and when I say eve of the war I am not necessarily referring to June [of 1967], but I am talking about early 1967… and then, your trip [to the United States], and the rest.

Yitzhak Ya’akov (Ya’tza): Yes. Well, AMALACH was a department in AGAM, and in AMALACH there was a branch called “Special Means,” and this branch dealt with all those things which are not conventional weaponry, unconventional weapons. AMALACH was very active from a planning perspective. We prepared multi-year plans which also encompassed unconventional weapons. We presented those plans in the General Staff discussions at least once a year, and there were discussions on these issues. There were those who thought we were wasting money, others thought we were not wasting money. The discussions were very substantive.  At a certain point, and here I may be wrong [about the exact date] because it may have been not before 1967, but after… at a certain point we did a command and control exercise with the Air Force, [with] Israel Lior from the Prime Minister’s Office,[3] the Machon [RAFAEL] that is Jenka,[4] in which we went over the entire process, from the moment of issuing the order to its implementation.  It took about two hours, something like that. It was a telephone exercise.  That’s it, we didn’t think…

Cohen: So, it was about [a nuclear] weapon, not a device. Therefore, I am almost convinced that it must have been after 1967.

Yitzhak: Maybe, I don’t know. But it was immediately after ‘67 because Israel Lior participated, I am sure of that.

Cohen: Israel Lior stayed with Golda [Meir] too.

Ya’tza: In May [1967], I… we didn’t think about it in operational terms at all, since we all understood it was a kind of a “doomsday weapon” [said in English]. We knew it was a kind of an ultimate weapon. You won’t have a conventional war after using such a weapon…  I was in the United States in May…

Cohen:  Let’s go back to the period before [May 1967]. What was the state of the [nuclear] project before [the 1967 War]?

Ya’tza: Most of the activity focused on the issue of building a [nuclear] device. It was not talked yet about… [a bomb].  That is, they did talk, but they didn’t do anything about launchers or things of that sort. They did talk, however, about a device.

Cohen: And what about a bomb that could be carried on an aircraft?  

Ya’tza: They did not do anything about it at that time.

Cohen: Because of political reasons?

Ya’tza: No, because we didn’t think we were there yet.

Cohen: Was there any political guidance?  Did you receive from the deputy minister[5] [i.e., Zevi Dinstein] any instructions that had political implications?

Ya’tza: Not me, not me.

Cohen: It didn’t get to you.

Ya’tza: No.  I think that until 1967 nobody thought that we were close to using it. What happened in 1967 was spontaneous rather than planned. And…

Cohen: But do you remember a point in time when you received specific instructions which were significant politically? For example: work on a device, but not on a bomb delivered from the air for political reasons…

Ya’tza: No, no. No one told us ever to work on a device. The device was for experimental purposes. If we thought about a device, it was for experiments. When we talked about weaponry we had in mind a delivery from an airplane, [or] a missile, but not a …

Cohen: Was there a need to issue a special order, or a special guidance to move to this stage [weapon].

Ya’tza: Yes. I don’t think that we thought that we are ready to start working on a bomb. There was even no fuse.We didn’t talk about a fuse. I mean, we talked about a fuse, but there was no fuse. There was no special activity in this field. As I said, there was a warhead committee, and in that committee, we discussed what kind of warheads we should build and prepare. But that was more in terms of missile warheads.

Cohen: And as you look at the [nuclear] project in the years, let’s say, ‘65-‘67, does it seem to you like a crash project, [or] a slow project, [or] accelerated…?

Ya’atza: It was not a crash project. But I don’t think that anyone thought in terms of “we might need it anytime soon.” We talked about it only in the context of multi-year plans.

Cohen: In the framework of the [unclear] where did it stand?

Ya’tza: Multi-year plans are usually 5-10 years, and we didn’t commit ourselves to any dates. It’s possible that we even wrote down some dates, but it’s always meaningless. In those things, the mistakes are so big that it [setting an end date] is not even important. I always tried not to be too precise because I knew that the mistakes in those areas such as budgets and schedules are astronomical… So, in May [1967], I was in the United States, as I told you. In May 1967, I was in California… By the way, I was visiting the Rand Corporation, and they were playing a war game over there: Israel vs. the Arabs. At some point, the game got to a point where Israel dropped a nuclear bomb on the Arabs. I don’t know whether it was based on CIA estimates or on Rand’s own estimates. They asked me about it and I didn’t tell them anything. And then I got a message from [redacted] to return to Israel immediately.

Cohen:  Can you try to recall specifics – how was it? When was it? Did you speak to him on the telephone?

Ya’tza: From what I remember, I don’t think that I spoke to him [personally]. I must have talked to the head of [his] office. I was in California, and I stayed with my friend Amram Katz,[7] and I visited the Rand Corporation. I was dealing then mainly with a multi-year technological forecast. It turned out to be a big waste of time. So I was trying to study it… Doesn’t matter... I have many stories about that. [Unclear]. …

I came back to Israel, [redacted] was busy in the “pit”[8] with the IAF, and the person who received was Gandi[9], who was in a terrible mood and thought that the State of Israel is in very big troubles. He told me, ‘prepare everything you got.’ I had never thought about chemical and biological weapons in tactical terms. And when I sat down with Moshe Shachar we talked more about defenses against chemical weapons then about possibility of use.  It was then that this idea somehow came up.[10]

Cohen: This idea?

Ya’tza: The idea of employing a nuclear device. I didn’t know that the situation was such that it was possible to use it in a test.  

Cohen: Did he tell you that …before your arrival, people were working around the clock to prepare it?

Ya’tza: Maybe, maybe, I am not saying no.

Cohen: Did you arrive in Israel [before or] after Yitzhak [Rabin]collapsed? Did you know that Yitzhak collapse? [11]

Ya’tza: I knew about it, but I arrived before he collapsed.

Cohen: If you arrived before that mean then you arrived on [or before] May 23.

Ya’tza: Could be possible.

Cohen:  Yitzhak [Rabin] collapsed on the 23rd of May.

Ya’tza: So I must have arrived before that.

Cohen: [Unclear] I am just seeking historical accuracy.

Ya’tza: Look, I am telling you again, I will repeat this again, I will not be surprised at all to discover that it [the idea to put together a device] emerged in ten different places at the same time. I would not be surprised at all. The politicians were panicking… No, now I’m remembering.  I came back sometime in mid-May, because there was still a General Staff forum in which I participated. In that discussion, the General Staff was very aggressive, and thought that the politicians were panicking without any justification. It turned out that [the General Staff] was correct.

Cohen:  That was already on the twenty something of May.

Ya’tza: I am not talking about the last [forum]. I didn’t participate in the last discussion. Before that [forum], I did [participate]. The situation was bad. Everyone thought that this was the end of the state of Israel. I am somewhat exaggerating, but this was what they thought.

Cohen: [The] politicians?

Ya’tza: Politicians and many public figures. Journalists… There were all sorts of silly phenomena. The only thing we had at our disposal as a response was the nuclear stuff. So no wonder that people in Dimona who knew what was going on, and that people in other places who knew what was going on, no wonder that they came up with this idea [preparing a device]. I don’t think that any single person has…. It was so natural that I don’t think anyone has a monopoly over it.

Cohen: But the historian wants to know how things turned out?  

Ya’tza: In history there are spontaneous occurrences, no? A revolution is spontaneous, isn’t it?

Cohen: The role of Israel Dostrovsky is very important here because formally he was in charge …[12]

Ya’tza: I am telling you again - I will not be surprised at all [if] Yuval [Ne’eman][13]and [Avraham] Hermoni[14] and Israel [Dostrovsky] and so forth… this [improvising a device] was the only thing we could have done – and I am including myself now as part of the group of the [weapons] developers. Developers are usually sidelined during a war- they have nothing to do. All they are thinking about is what they can do. “Maybe I’ll take this on myself, maybe that…” So what can be more natural than having us all reach the same conclusion? I am not saying it was our [the IDF AMLACH department] idea. Writing the order? Yes. The initiative of taking the order to Rabin so he will sign it? Yes. This came from us. Nobody else did it. We sat, wrote [unclear], and showed it to Gandi. Gandi liked editing things.  He edited it, somehow... We went to Yitzhak [Rabin]. By then, he [Rabin] was not very healthy. You could see it on him. He sat alone in his room downstairs, and I didn’t… We [Gandi and Ya’tza] talked and I wasn’t sure whether he was focusing on what we were saying. We gave him the order and he signed. I tried to keep a copy of this order, but…  

Cohen: Let’s go back a little bit. You arrive in Israel; Moshe [Shachar] updates you... What can you remember from what happened next? Did he tell you about the things that he did without you? Because he was, I suppose, communicating daily with Jenka and Israel Dostrovsky’s office.[15]

Ya’tza: Could be.  I don’t know. I don’t remember. I do remember sitting with Gandi and cooking up the [plan]. …who do to it with? Gandi said Sayeret Matkal, and soon I met with [its commander] Dovik [Tamari][16]… We sat and talked about it, and we visited RAFAEL.

Cohen: With Dovik?

Ya’tza: Yes, to see the device.

Cohen: Was it the first time you had working relations with Dovik directly, or did you work with him before?

Ya’tza: If there were, they were such that I do not remember them.  Maybe here and there, maybe there was an experiment or something… I think that we went to Yitzhak [Rabin] pretty early on, because in the army without an operation order you can’t move anywhere. You can’t deploy forces.

Cohen: So what was the idea at that stage? To set up a framework that will be in charge of the preparations, which will bring it to a situation of …

Yitzhak: No. To form a team to execute it, not preparations.  

Cohen: Preparations for execution, which will narrow the gap between the moment the order was received and the moment of its implementation?   

Ya’tza: Yes. With all the planning, It was quite complicated, and we had a plan… one of the reasons why I think that something already happened in the command and control domain [before the war] is that it was almost clear to us how we were going to do it. That is, it was clear that the order would have to come from the prime minister and the chief of staff, from both. This is why I think that even then there was already a concept.   

Cohen: It might have been that, at the conceptual level, it was already discussed before the war, and it had nothing to do with the war. You were probably part of it, so…

Ya’tza: It started with us, I am sure of that. The first document on the subject came from us.

Cohen: An IDF document?

Ya’tza: Yes. IDF document. Command and control.

Cohen: [unclear]?

Ya’tza: No… it’s just… how will the order develop. Not how to move it from here to there…  Probably there was something else [another written document] that talked about the combination [logistics] of all the elements. But maybe there was not. Look, it was not very organized.  

Cohen: What about the way [line of command] by which the person who directs the chief of staff to start this must be the prime minister… that without the prime minister’s instructions the chief of staff cannot even start pushing this issue towards implementation?

Ya’tza: As far as I could see, I suppose that Yitzhak [Rabin] either talked about it already with the prime minister, or there were a few discussions before it, or something like that. He signed it…

Cohen: This is interesting. How many discussions about this issue were there?

Ya’tza: This I can’t tell you.  Do you mean between Yitzhak [Rabin] and [Levi] Eshkol? As far as I could see, none… We gave him [Rabin] the paper, Gandi and I…

Cohen: Was your impression that Yitzhak [Rabin] had already instructed Gandi to deal with this before that, or you don’t think so?


Ya’tza: No. The plan was cooked up between [the two of] us [Ya’tza and Gandi]… Again, it does not mean that no one else was dealing with it [nuclear preparations and alert]. But the plan: the cooperation with the Sayeret, figuring out the number of people, [unclear], not too many, the number of helicopters… There were no discussions about these things.  


Cohen: So you wrote it and brought it to Gandi to get approval, additions, and editing?

Yitzhak: Yes.

Cohen: Did he [Gandi] bring it first to [redacted]?

Ya’tza: I cannot tell you [i.e. – I don’t know]. It seems to me that everything was done in half a day or something like that. It was not a subject of constant debates. Everything progressed very quickly. I came to Gandi and we talked about the details. We wrote it down, issued an order…


Cohen: And right after that, more or less, Gandi called up Rabin and you both went to his [office?]?

Ya’tza: Yes. He was sitting alone…

Cohen: It’s probably a day or two after he returns from his home.

Ya’tza: Maybe, maybe, but he was already… he wasn’t healthy. Also, one of the things that surprised me, I remember, somewhat vaguely, that he signed the order without saying much. This is one of the things I remember. But, look, I don’t know… there are many books that reconstruct this period... On paper, from the perspective of the military balance the situation was horrible. Military balance is planes, tanks and artillery.  There were differences in size. We didn’t have very good tanks. There were the M-51sand a few Centurions.That’s it. There were no… The situation was very shitty. On top of that, there were all those stories about the Egyptians missiles.

Cohen: I want to hear more about this. Can you try to remember…?

Ya’tza: I can say this about the Egyptian missiles: one of the reasons I visited the Rand Corporation was to learn a little about missiles, about consideration of missile use, calculations, and things like that.  Before I arrived, we received the information about the Egyptian missiles and we presented this at General Staff fora, and I took…. I remember that at the time I was perhaps the only one in the entire IDF who saw a ballistic missile launch firsthand. It was during the time I studied at MIT. At that I may have been the only one in the IDF... And I knew it wasn’t as simple as some people would tell you. It always seemed that the enemy would always do everything quickly, while we would spend years and millions of dollars.  So I always said that I don’t believe they have ballistic missiles, although the intelligence that came from the Mossad said that they had them, and that they [the missiles] were accurate and so forth. They said that there were a hundred missiles in [Heliopolis?], in Cairo. We did a simulation of [an attack of a] hundred chemical tipped missiles on Tel-Aviv. The point of impact was the Dizingoff square. We chose…  

Cohen: We did it before the war? It was unrelated to the war?  

Ya’tza: No. The situation was already tense by then, but there were no… there were missiles. Nasser had Egyptian missiles. Everybody talked about Egyptians missiles all the time.

Cohen: No, but it wasn’t part of the 1967 crisis.

Ya’tza: No. It was before the crisis.

Cohen: I’ll tell you why I am asking, why I am bothering you with this issue. I am doing that because I know from other sources, that there were moments… around the twenty something of May ‘67, AMAN is passing some information, [about] certain possibilities in the chemical field, and this worried peopleand it changed the atmosphere.   

Ya’tza: I don’t think this is true. Our mood was crappy.

Cohen: Generally, but…

Ya’tza: No. Also… the chemical issue, we talked about it explicitly at the time. It wasn’t based on any one, single report. It was based on the conception that the Egyptians will use chemical weapons. A year or two before they had used chemical weapons [in Yemen] and now they had a hundred missiles, two kinds, and the Germans were helping them make missiles with chemical warheads, radioactive warheads, Cobalt. So we tried to see what it all meant, so even though they [the missiles] were not accurate, and although these weren’t sophisticated warheads, and although it wasn’t very reliable… We assumed that only one out of ten will launch with no problems, which is great [laughs]. The truth is that not a single missile was launched.  

Cohen: What happened during the exercise, in this simulation on the Dizingoff square?

Ya’tza: Yes. This was the simulation we did. I remember that we had a very big map, and I even presented it during a General Staff discussion, I think. I presented it on several occasions. And the outcomes… a large segment of Tel-Aviv’s population would be hit… it depends on the assumptions we made. We talked about Sarin [chemical weapon] and Cobalt [radiological weapons], and there was serious damage. It was serious. Although it is not accurate, a chemical warhead is very [unclear], even if there is nothing there. Even if there is only water it’s quite problematic. Firefighters, closing down streets, closing that … it’s easy to launch, but… The mere fact that you include this into the system of military considerations, it complicates your life. It’s better not to deal with it at all. With this context in mind, I’m not surprised at all that there were so many “Samson” initiatives.

What I remember is that I had some personal difficulties. I tried to imagine to myself what it is like … [unclear]… because the plan was to land on some mountain near Abu-Ageila, I don’t remember the exact height, and on the side there is a paratroopers’ diversion attack, and as the Egyptians run towards the paratroopers we are working on this mountain. And we would have a whole night to work, to assemble, and we would wait for our order on this mountain, and the point of explosion is about 1.5 kilometers from the point of the launching…  There was this canyon over there. Now, I didn’t know what it would mean for me to lay on a mountain, 1.5 kilometers from a nuclear bomb. What happens? Am I going to burn immediately?  Will I be thrown to the air? All sorts of things of this nature…. That was in addition to all the… that in effect we were the first to use, in a tactical war, a war in the Middle East, the first ones to use nuclear weapons… Who knows what will happen etc.

Cohen: Could you return to the point of [unclear]. What were the actual considerations [unclear]? Partly it is [preparation?], and partly it is the context in which it would be used, if it would be used, [unclear].

Ya’tza: In war, in the IDF’s operations order there is not much philosophy… There is the objective, the method, etc.  Everything is in one line. I am not going to tell you word for word what it [the order] said, because I don’t remember. But our goal was to stop the Egyptian army from either advancing or from using missiles.

Cohen: After a first use [of the Egyptians missiles].

Yitzhak: Yes, after they’ve advanced and after they’ve used it for the first time.

Cohen: Penetration into Israel.

Ya’tza: We talked about a red line around Ashdod or something like that. I don’t remember what we exactly said, but we didn’t say “red line.” We left it for the judgement of the prime minister to decide. This was the general tendency. And the goal was to plant a device on a hilltop in the Abu-Ageila area, and to blow it up when the prime minister gives the order to do so. And there was the order of battle… I don’t remember it exactly, it wasn’t battalions. From Sayeret Matkal, I think, a platoon at most, not even that. And there was a Super Frelon [a French Helicopter], and that’s it.

Cohen: You got two Super-Frelons, one for security and one to bring the ‘spider’ [a visual reference to the device].

Ya’tza: Yes. The force responsible for the surprise attack, this was what I remember… we didn’t talk about a retreat. I mean, it wasn’t... It was a doomsday operation. We did it… [laugh]

Cohen: In your book, it says that you [the force] were supposed to evacuate half an hour after the detonation.

Ya’tza: Maybe. Look, when I wrote [the book], I remembered more. I think I wrote there an operation order. Yes, so it was something like what is written [in the book]. It’s not a complicated matter, it’s not… There were no questions about saving our troops, no questions about retreat, no questions about how to get out of there. We all understood [unclear] we do it only when there would be no other alternative. No one even thought that [the war’s outcome would be determined in one day] … The IAF came, bombed them, and then we said that there are no missiles. And that was it. We thought, now after the IAF screwed them up… I thought, ‘now Nasser will launch missiles.’

Cohen: They had no missiles.

Ya’tza: This is a riddle to me… there are several riddles and this is one of them.

Cohen: Yes, again – the goal wasn’t to kill as many Egyptians as possible.

Ya’tza: Not at all. Not at all. The goal was to create a new situation on the ground, a situation which would force the great powers to intervene, or a situation which would force the Egyptians to stop and say, ‘wait, a minute, we didn’t prepare for that.”The objective was to change the picture.  

Cohen: That everyonein the Negev or Sinai will hear and see what happened...  

Ya’tza: ah… yes, hear and see, yes.

Cohen: There will be a mushroom cloud and a loud noise.

Ya’tza: Yes, and there would be heat, and the whole world will know about it. The world isn’t going to be the same. Something must happen after that. And this is of course assuming the prime minister had enough balls to say it. To this day I’m not sure of that, to this [day] I am not sure…. [short deletion] …

But I would not be surprised if one of Eshkol’s considerations was “what can happen …let them discover it.” Maybe it is better that they would discover it, why should I say? Let it be discovered, and they will find out. I will say no, they will say yes, and then they will talk and they will stop the Egyptians.” I would not be surprised... If I was writing fiction I would write [that way], I think this is how I wrote it in the book’s rough draft, that we knew about “Katler,” and we let him know what we were doing so that he could run and tell the Americans.[17] The Americans would tell the Russians… doesn’t it make sense? The Russians would stop the Egyptians…

What else can I tell you?

Cohen: Something more about the preparations and the helicopter reconnaissance flight over the site? Who initiated it? What was there?

Tape Jumps before Ya’tza responds

Cohen: Yitzhak’s [Rabin’s] order… The moment he signed the order, it basically provided the trigger that could start the whole system of preparations to officially initiate…?  

Ya’tza: Yes, you can’t move things in the army without an order. Dovik needs to get an order; Sayeret [MATCAL] needs to get an order, the Air force needs… Troops, weapons, vehicles… we…

Cohen: The moment you get the General Staff’s authorization, then AGAM [General Staff] or Gandi, can start instructing the other elements…

Ya’tza: No, an order is an order. An order goes to the Air-Force, an order goes to Sayeret Matkal, and they need to act.

Cohen:  Ok, so [unclear] with the air force commander. Sayeret Matkal, it should be the head of AMAN [Military Intelligence], because the Sayeret is subordinate to AMAN.

Ya’tza: I’m not sure. I don’t remember what exactly happened [and] to whom the order was directed, but it’s possible. The order needs to… It’s an army, it’s not a…

Cohen: Can you reconstruct to whom the order was directed? There must be a copy at the prime minister’s military secretary.

Ya’tza: Of course... The order was directed to me. It is possible it was an order for AGAM [General Staff Branch], and AGAM activated all those who were involved. This would have been the simplest way to do it. Yes, maybe. Maybe it was directed to AGAM. I don’t remember who it was passed to. I think we tried to do it in the simplest way possible. Simple would be just passing it to AGAM, and based on that AGAM could issue…

Cohen: What about the civilian organizations… After all, the chief of staff doesn’t give orders to civilian organizations. You have here Dostrovsky’s scientific [nuclear] administration, and you have here RAFAEL’s units that work together with Dostrovsky. These bodies get their orders only from the prime minister, or from the deputy minister.

Ya’tza: Good question.

Cohen: Theses entities the chief of staff is not in charge of.    

Ya’tza: Yes, sure.

Cohen: Because of the political sensitivity of instructing these bodies to move things…

Ya’tza: In that time, if I can use a smaller issue [as an example], then I would not be surprised at all if the army issues an order, and RAFAEL and the Scientific Administration cooperate with the army without thinking twice.

Cohen: In my opinion, from what I understand about their relationships, from what I understand, Israel [Dostrovsky] needs to get an order from the prime minister, while RAFAEL needs to get an order from the deputy [defense] minister. Yitzhak Rabin doesn’t have the authority to ask these [non-IDF] organizations to move things [unclear]. The sensitivity of the entire issue was enormous. [unclear].  

Ya’tza: Maybe.  I am telling you all the time, I am not opposed to this. It’s so natural that it definitely could have happened.  

Cohen: But Yitzhak’s [Rabin] orders are to do things that require cooperation with these other [non-IDF] entities… you need to get the approval from their chiefs too.

Ya’tza: Look, maybe, but what I am telling you is that I think it didn’t happen…

Cohen: [unclear] Yitzhak Rabin would not have ordered Dostrovsky to move things, to advance things… he must have needed to get… on these very sensitive things he needs to get approval or instructions from the prime minister or (at least) the deputy minister of defense.

Ya’tza: Listen, it didn’t necessarily work that way. On many occasions, in experiments, it didn’t necessarily work that way.  

Cohen: This isn’t an experiment.

Ya’tza: No, but it didn’t necessarily work that way.  It is definitely possible that Yitzhak Rabin issued an order. It is possible that the scientific [nuclear] administration was mentioned in the order he issued. It’s possible that Israel Dostrovsky received it. I don’t know who received or who didn’t receive it… But it’s possible. What I’m telling you is that it is possible that Israel Dostrovsky called Israel Lior and told him, “listen, I received this order – what should I do?” and then Israel [Lior] told him to do it.   

Cohen: Israel [Lior] can’t pass it by himself. He needs to report this to Eshkol.

Ya’tza: Report to Eshkol, maybe. I’m not saying that the system was then so… The fact is that everybody did cooperate eventually, and if there was a need to do it, I’m sure everyone would have gone; no one would have asked questions.

Cohen: But the need was determined by someone political [at the top]. Yitzhak Rabin doesn’t determine what the needs are.

Ya’tza: The need to operate according to the command-and-control lineup should come from two sources: the prime minister’s office and the chief of staff. This was the command-and-control system.

Cohen: The chief of staff as the executor and the prime minister as the decision maker?  

Ya’tza: Maybe. I wouldn’t be surprised… Look, you think in terms of… how old are you by the way?

Cohen: 46-7.

Ya’tza: You’re still a kid. In that period, it was definitely possible. I’m not saying that it happened, but it’s definitely possible that Israel Dostrovsky received a copy of this order, and he was happy that the army finally talks to him [laughs]. [Israel Dostrovsky] called the prime minister, and Eshkol told him – yes, do as the order says. It [the order] doesn’t say to detonate, but it says to prepare everything towards detonation and wait for the order. This business wasn’t very organized. Don’t think that it was very organized, especially because of all the experience… not the experience, the fact that the leadership hid it from the rest of the politicians, and especially given the relationship between Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin. On many occasions those guys swam between the drops.  Gabriel [sea to sea missile] did not start with an order. Order, we said, we approved, and that was not what made Gabriel, and spent hundreds of millions of dollars. Wasn’t that how they made Jericho [missile] by the way? Do you think that there were orders with regards to Jericho?  No orders [were given]. If [unclear] [wanted] authorization [on Jericho] from Yitzhak Rabin, Rabin would have said no. It didn’t work that way.

Cohen: Do you remember having any disagreements or conflicts with Israel [Dostrovsky] about who had the authority in this issue?

Ya’tza: Not with Israel. I don’t think there were problems with these issues. I’m telling you…

Cohen: There are a lot of sensitivities – who orders whom, who is responsible for what, etc.

Ya’tza: Maybe today. Look, then… maybe today. It was a different time. First of all, it wasn’t very relevant. It is definitely possible that Yitzhak Rabin issued an order and made a copy for the Scientific Administration… It was definitely possible, and that Israel Dostrovsky, in that time… today they will probably [say] “talk to me… talk to him”… in that time this is how it was. And Israel Dostrovsky wasn’t offended, he just called the people he needed to call and asked, “Listen, I got an order, should I cooperate?” and Eshkol told him – “yes, cooperate.”

Cohen: This is your guess, right? You don’t know that for a fact?

Ya’tza: I don’t know, but I am telling you that it would make a lot of sense at that period.

Cohen: It would be most interesting to hear how Israel [Dostrovsky] remembers those events. I feel like this is missing. Too bad you didn’t talk to him. I’m convinced that…

Ya’tza: You should talk to him.

Cohen: ….  He hinted [to me] on several occasions that he was very involved. He cared to imply that things came directly from him. It sounded like he was saying, “Munya [Mardor,RAFAEL chief] wasn’t responsible, I was.”

Ya’tza: I don’t know about Munya and Israel.  I wasn’t… There are many things that you wrote in your book [Israel and the Bomb] that interested me very much, about the relationship between them, were unknown to me.

Cohen: There were very great difficulties [unclear].

Ya’tza: I didn’t know about their relationship.

Cohen: This is very interesting because you were, after all, in a position in the army [IDF] that was very close to the… if someone in the army needed to know it was you. The fact that you didn’t know about it is very interesting.

Ya’tza: That I didn’t know that there is a conflict between them?

Cohen: Yes… difficulties. It wasn’t a conflict… all the committees they formed...

Ya’tza: In the army this is a way of life. There is always one general…

Cohen:  No. This was very specific. They took things [entities] from Munya [Mardor] and gave them to Dostrovsky, and they rebuild this new organization [the Scientific Administration] for Dostrovsky, to which Munya was opposed. He saw it as a very hard decree.

Ya’tza: These were only rumors to me. For example, who will make the missile --The Aviation Industries or RAFAEL? I wasn’t interested in those things. I had no position on it. People would ask me for my opinion, I wasn’t… I don’t even remember if they asked. I participated in these discussions. I don’t remember whether I expressed any opinions. I knew it was an issue that Shimon Peres liked to play with and I have nothing to say about it. But I did not see it as a historical contest between the Military Industry (TA’ASH) and RAFAEL. Maybe today it is a historical contest. I wasn’t aware of any major friction between Munya and Israel Dostrovsky. However, I know that Munya had nothing to contribute, except for guarding his kingdom. So because of that there were many problems. He used to walk around all the time and try to meet with people and explain to them his positions. This I do remember. But for me, the army, it wasn’t an issue. Whether I or the Air Force… You are asking me, me or the air force. It must have been a “war.” But I wasn’t aware of a “war” between Munya and Israel Dostrovsky.

Cohen: Let’s go back to the [order?]. The order is written – what happens next?

Ya’tza: The order is written and we…

Cohen: We are guessing that it was sometime around May 24-5. This is my estimate, I might be wrong.

Ya’tza: Could be. We started planning and Dovik began writing all sorts of things. We went on an air reconnaissance on a helicopter.

Cohen: Try to remember the whole context of this, of this helicopter reconnaissance.

Ya’tza: Dovik [Tamari] and I were there.

Cohen: The patrol was on a super Frelon?

Ya’tza: Yes, super Frelon it was. Israel Dostrovsky was there [too]. I don’t remember if Dan Tolkovsky was there.[18]

Cohen: Who was there from the Air Force? Were you in touch with Uri Yaron?[19]

Ya’tza: No. As far as I remember [Uri] Yaron wasn’t in the picture. However, what I do remember is that there were several discussions [on this issue] at Chera’s [Tzur].[20]

Cohen: Chera [Tzur] doesn’t go to the Ministry of Defense building, in my view, until June 2-3, as a deputy minister, he was a member of several committees over time – he and Dan Tolkovsky.

Ya’tza: Me, Dan, Chera [Tzur] and Israel sat together at least on one occasion, when I put forward my proposal.

Cohen: The dismantling proposal… we will get there later. But I still want to [hear more about] the stage after the order.

Ya’tza: So, what I remember is a helicopter patrol…

Cohen: One helicopter?

Ya’tza: Yes, one. We were flying, we approached Abu-Ageila, we crossed the border, and we saw more or less where it was.

Cohen: Did you land?

Ya’tza: No, we didn’t land. It was enemy territory.

Cohen: Did you fly very low? Did you have air cover?

Ya’tza: There was no [air cover]. I think, if I’m not mistaken, that the pilot got a message that enemy airplanes are taking off, so he went back… I’m not sure about that.

Cohen: So, you didn’t even complete this flight.

Ya’tza: No, we didn’t complete it. We got very close to Abu-Ageila, we saw the mountain, and we saw that there is a place to hide there, in some canyon, and…

Cohen: The choice [of the hiding spot] was made before that, or was it made during the flight?

Ya’tza: During the flight.

Cohen: The decision about the site was taken… that is, the site was picked then? It’s not that there was a decision before that, or did you have several sites that you chose to look at?

Ya’tza: No. We knew that we wanted to do it near Abu-Ageila because there was a large concentration of Egyptian forces [there]. But the exact location…

Cohen: South of Abu-Ageila?

Ya’tza: We didn’t say north or south. We said Abu-Ageila. On the map we marked this place, and when we flew we checked whether it was a good fit. That is, there was a mountain and there was a surface there, and it was very high.

Cohen: How high?

Ya’tza: 920 [meters], something like that, do not remember.

Cohen: How far was it from Abu-Ageila, do you remember?

Ya’tza: Not exactly, but it wasn’t more than 20 kilometers. After that we had a briefing at [the old] Gedera Police station.  There we decided on the pick-up point, this is for the moment [if and] when we will receive the order. They needed to give us an alert order first, to put us on alert, and we decided on the [old] Gedera police, and actually…

Cohen:   That was everyone’s meeting point?

Ya’tza: No – just the command’s squad and the military, that is, the Sayeret and Dovik and…

Cohen: Was that the place where you met the “spider” [the device]?

Ya’tza: No, the “spider” … I don’t remember exactly, but… the “spider” should have been at… the super Frelon was supposed to land [elsewhere], and to take the “spider” from there.

Cohen: Is this where they built the special “saddle”? The saddle on which the “spider” sat?

Ya’tza: Yes, that’s what I call the spider… and…

Cohen: It was the team’s improvisation during the buildup period, the building of the… ?

Ya’tza: I think so. Yes. …and we needed to take them from there. We needed [then] to take the [nuclear] core from somewhere else, and we needed to take it all to the Gedera Police. [a meeting place]

Cohen: In the same helicopter, the core and the “spider” …

Ya’tza: There weren’t many helicopters, and they couldn’t allocate many… and that’s it. So we sat and waited, and on the first day… [of the war]

Cohen: Were you there the night before the war broke out?

Ya’tza: In Gadera police? No. We didn’t gather yet. We were in AMALAH, in my office, and the air force gave its blow, and we said, “oh, now the [Egyptian] missile will come” [laughs]. And there weren’t any missiles, and there wasn’t anything…

Cohen: But was there a moment in which you sat in [old] Gedera Police and waited or no?

Ya’tza: Not in Gedera police, [but] in my office in the Kirya,[21]and we were waiting for the alert order, and we can start moving. Our assumption was that we will know [ahead of time] if they use missiles. I don’t know what it was based on. Probably it was based on some lookouts. …and their missiles were on launchers. They [the Egyptian] didn’t have to be in the Sinai for these missiles to reach Tel Aviv, and that’s it… On the second day, they said, “ok, nothing will happen.” They already began celebrating [the victory] on this day.

Cohen: Just a moment: What did happen on the first day? On the first day, did you still wait for the…

Ya’tza: We are waiting in the Kirya for the [alert] order. And then the air force goes… and I remember that I… The Jordanians then also started [shelling] with their 155 millimeters, and I sat in the office and waited. I called home and told my wife, we lived on the border, I told her not to be worried and that it should be over soon.

Cohen: Where was it?

Ya’tza: Ramatyim.[22] Don’t worry, it will be soon over. It was already after the air force gave them a blow twice, which was in effect the end of the war. So I stayed in the office for maybe one more day and after that, I don’t know if it was Eli Zeira[23] or someone else [Baruch Gilboa], but I said, “Let’s go look for the [Egyptian] missiles,” the warheads. And then I got a jeep, [and I drove with] someone from the Sayeret, and professor Zvi Pelah,[24] who was an expert on chemistry. He was an AMALAH man, although he worked for RAFAEL before that… maybe Moshe Shachar was there too, I don’t remember. We took a jeep and we drove through Talik’s division on the central axis.[25] We drove towards the [Suez] canal and we searched for… there was information about some underground storage place near the canal. We drove with Zvi Pelah and we passed by Herzl [Shafir],[26] and Herzl said, “you are driving between Egyptian soldiers.” We didn’t even notice [laughs]. We drove south, and after we’ve been there for a couple of days Herzl reported us missing, MIA. Herzl Shafir.

Cohen: He was Talik’s chief of staff.   

Ya’tza: Yes. We sat there and suddenly… The reason that … we got there, it was quiet, there was barely anything there. There was only this underground installation, which was odd for Sinai. There were no underground facilities [in Sinai]. It was near the “Chinese Farm” or something like that… So we found this underground installation, and it was built like a huge shelter. We went down underground on the stairs, and everything that was there was taken out with haste. That’s for sure. There were remains of chemical weapons gear - remains of their gear…  Plastic clothes, special boots and things like that. Zvi Pelah started sniffing around. We left that place, and we drove to El-Arish too. In El-Arish there was an installation which we thought was a missile launcher installation.  It was a huge concrete structure, about 10 meters high, a sort of a ramp. The ramp faced the direction of Tel Aviv. It looked like an Arab missile launching installation. When we got there, we had no idea what it was. Later we discovered it was a naval radar base that they built there. It wasn’t a missile site.

Cohen: Let’s go back to “Samson” before we talk about its dismantling. A few questions - first, in your story you write about four different groups that work on four different aspects of this matter [operation] – communication, security, safety, and the message. Was it really that detailed?

Ya’tza: The operation order? Yes. Look, there was Moshe [Shachar] with his entire section.

Cohen: How far did the preparations reach? What ranks?

The tape stops.

Ya’tza: We got into details [unclear]… this unit will do this, another unit will do that.

Cohen: No. This is beyond the point of [operation order?] itself, because here we are talking about a preparation of four working teams that work on this issue of communication and security.

Ya’tza: Yes, they dealt with that… There was, as I told you, a whole section and…

Cohen: A whole section is a Lieutenant Colonel and 3-4 captains and lieutenants.

Ya’tza: No, Moshe had some 15 people… and they worked on that. But I don’t want to give you the wrong impression. It wasn’t like a Wehrmacht underground staff office, where you’d run around with papers and all of that. No, everybody did his own. Moshe was in contact with, I think, Israel Lior. In case of need, with the chief of staff office too… But all of it is theoretical, not…

Cohen: No… When he is talking to those bodies, didn’t he ask you to call them?

Ya’tza: No. Moshe [Shachar], he had his own connections. No.

Cohen: Because he was still a lieutenant colonel and you are [as his commanding officer] responsible for that. In those sensitive things, when you speak with the prime minister’s office… ?

Ya’tza: Moshe had no problem calling Israel Lior. He worked with him all the time over the preparation of the telephone exercise.

Cohen: If he wasn’t after that, we don’t even know when he was.

Ya’tza: It doesn’t matter. Besides that, Moshe had no limits. He was the General Staff, and everybody did what he said.

[Here a passage of about 9 minutes from the transcript was deleted.  Privacy: The conversation drifted to discuss personal matters and various individuals.]      1:07.23-1:16.25

Cohen: Back to the “spider.” Beyond the flight, do you remember any other activities? Any discussions?

Ya’tza: We had discussions all the time, all day long... In a work forum, not the commanders [IDF] forum. The moment [Moshe] Dayan became the Minister of Defense, Chera [Tzur] took it [this subject] upon himself; so we met almost every day. I think we met every day.

Cohen: You are talking about the [few] days right before the war.

Ya’tza: Yes. It was during the waiting period. Chera [Tzur] got this [issue] as a fait accompli, but he…

Cohen: He wanted to go over it again?

Ya’tza: If you know Chera [Tzur]… He is very organized.

Cohen: What can you remember from the exchanges with Chera [Tzur] in the two or three days you had with him [prior to the war]?

Ya’tza: I remember discussions with him. I don’t remember any specific contribution from him, other than bringing it in order. I think that if there were open-ended issues – who gave an order and how, Chera [Tzur] would take care of it. Look, no one… I don’t remember that anybody asked…

Cohen: You didn’t talk to him about it since?

Ya’tza: With Chera [Tzur]? No.

Cohen: Because in your manuscript you present him as the commander figure, although he is more…

Ya’tza: Yes. I had excellent relations with Chera [Tzur], very good relations. And thanks to his relationship with Dado, this whole business – I do not talk about ‘67 -- started fitting into a logical framework. Actually, the R&D [shared office, IDF and the Ministry] should have existed from the very start, since things were happening in the defense ministry because of Shimon Peres, and at the same time in the army. Things were running in parallel.  And thanks to Chera’s [Tzur] personality, the way he worked with Dado, there were no big conflicts. I didn’t need to tell Dado, “No, Chera [Tzur] doesn’t agree,” or something like that. If there were any misunderstandings, they would call each other and talk. They worked together.

]Deletion of about 11:30 minutes.  The interview diverts into various personal comments and anecdotes by Ya’tza on his own career and on other people he worked with; all deleted from the [transcripts]  [1:20.00-131:40]

Cohen: Ok. I want to go back to the “Samson” story. You are saying that in Chera’s [Tzur] period [unclear], you don’t remember any details. Let’s try to move forward, and then we’ll go back again. About the dismantling [of the operation team] – how was it executed? What was going on? Who directed it? Who was involved in it?

Ya’tza: For the sake of exaggeration – everyone drank, celebrated, and just forgot about “Samson.” I don’t think there was a dismantling order. On the second day Dovik was frantic, because he missed the war. The Sayeret was doing something on the other side of the [Suez] canal…

Cohen: Did he wait with you or with his unit at Sirkin?[27]

Yitzhak: On the first day, we waited together.

Cohen: At your place [office]?

Yitzhak: I think so, yes.

Cohen: Does he remember it now?

Yitzhak: I didn’t ask him. But it’s not very important. The Sayeret headquarters were near AMALAH [in the Kirya].

Cohen: I think they were in Sirkin, so…

Yitzhak: No, no – I’m talking about the headquarters. There was a raw of huts, and I think that he was in the back.

[A brief diversion in the conversation …including food break….  Ya’tza also tells things that he does not want to be taped.  2:30 minutes were deleted from tape. [1:33.23-1:35:48]

Cohen: [Redacted] recalled the number two [about the number of the nuclear cores]. You seem to remember the number one?  

Yitzhak: I knew about one. But it doesn’t matter, since there was only one “spider.”

Cohen: [Redacted] remembers two [cores]; you don’t remember it.

Yitzhak: There was one “spider,” and not just that, I always claimed, not that I knew more than others, but I read the story of the “Trinity” [test] and I remember that the problem there wasn’t the core, but rather the precision of the detonators. You needed to reach a level of remarkable timing.

Cohen: From the perspective of timing?

Ya’tza: Yes. That’s what held them back there at the test, the timing of the detonators.

Cohen: You know that “Trinity” was, of course, a device. Both Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombs carried by airplanes. Hiroshima wasn’t, of course, tried. What was tried was the Nagasaki, which was an implosion [device].

Ya’tza: Yes [unclear], they became confident.

Cohen: There weren’t many questions about the gun type. They were confident about the gun type; the question was the implosion.  

Ya’tza: Yes.

Cohen: In any rate, so you remember that it [the core] was in some quarry, and it was like an in-between location.

Ya’tza: Yes, there was a problem of transportation, I remember. Listen, it has been thirty years.

Cohen: I’m just wondering how you can write about it, historically. You would probably need to do it as a memoir, and less as history and without completion [other sources], it’s partial.

Ya’tza: It would be hard for you, in my opinion, to reach a consensus if you talk with many sources. Not because they don’t know the truth, but because, I believe, that this is one of those events that…

Cohen: Each person has his own perspective?

Yitzhak: No… that they happen spontaneously. …  I don’t think that it was planned, by the way. Suddenly everybody realized that we were ready. We can build a device.

Cohen: One [device].

Yitzhak: One.

Cohen: [But only] One is problematic.

Ya’tza: Yes, but it’s not the issue. Nobody planned it. Nobody said, “You know what, Nasser is going to attack us, let’s prepare a device for him so that when he comes…” They didn’t say it. First, Nasser expressed aggression… At that time when everyone was sitting in the corner and tried to figure out what to do, so I won’t be surprised if [Avraham] Hermoni said, “Let’s do something.” [Or] Jenka said, with his mad laughter, “Maybe we should connect the thing…” [Or] Israel Dostrovsky said, and Shimon Peres said, [redacted] said... I wouldn’t be surprised. There was nothing more natural than that.

Cohen: Let’s get back to the details and we’ll come back to that later. So you are saying that you and Dovik are sitting [together] on the first day of the war. He’s frantic because he’s not doing anything [useful], and he’s stuck with you, and he’s dealing with things that are, in effect, meaningless [i.e., theoretical].

Ya’tza: Yes. When we start realizing that it is meaningless during the day. There was one attack in the morning, and the Egyptians were hit hard… We thought, “Now the missiles are going to come.” Not only were there no missiles, there was a second [IAF] attack, and the Egyptians were hit even harder, and all of a sudden, we realized no… and AMAN has no information, and they want Dovik and his guys for other things [operations]. They planted something across the [Suez] canal, snatched some stuff.  

Cohen: Across the canal?

Ya’tza: Across the canal, yes. They [Sayeret Matkal] had an operation there. On the plateau, where they later snatched the radar, I think.

Cohen: Doesn’t matter. How many people were tied with Dovik on this issue [“Shimshon”]?

Ya’tza: We talked about a platoon at most. We didn’t know how many we could carry exactly. Everything was improvised, after all. There were no rehearsals, no [true] planning, it wasn’t a [regular] operation…

Cohen: You didn’t [exercise] landing on a similar site in our territory?

Ya’tza: Nothing.

Cohen: How are you deployed, how do you connect the wires, how do you do all this…?

Ya’tza: It wasn’t even on the table. There was no time for that.

Cohen: But you had [maybe] ten days. I mean, if the preparations began in the twenty-something [of May], say 24 or 25, and the war began on June 5th… There were some ten days.

Ya’tza: It is very hard for me to recount the time.

Cohen: Would people with access to the archives find a lot of paperwork?  After all, not everything was done orally?

Ya’tza: I remember only two documents, two documents that I wrote. It was the [operation] order and [then] my test proposal. And both, I confess, I left copies at my house, at my safe. When my wife and I got divorced I didn’t take the documents out, and it’s good I didn’t because I had nowhere to put them. I had a small safe at my house, where I kept my gun and some important documents, like a multiannual plan, and those two documents. And my wife went and told Yankale Hefetz,[28] and then he sent the guys of the [security]… and then they asked me why I wrote it down, why I kept it. Today, I know why. I kept it, a document… I am very sorry that I don’t have it [anymore], the operation order.

Cohen: Yes, too bad. Let’s go back to the dismantling, and to the way you put forward the other proposition. So, you sat there… Dovik is frantic and he wants to go to other places.

Ya’tza: And that’s it. He left, and I talked to Gandi, and he said nothing [about “Samson”]. To the contrary, they say… they are celebrating, really. They start celebrating. It was just one big party at this period.

Cohen: That’s after the war already.

Ya’tza: Yes, it’s the same story. When they didn’t know what to do they ran and looked in the trash for something dirty to throw at the Egyptians, and now suddenly, they realize that they have all of the Egyptians’ warehouses. So they partied [laughs], they just celebrated all the time. It was a very big celebration. I don’t know if you remember. And then the whole thing [Samson operation] just dissolved. I don’t know if anyone from RAFAEL remembers exactly how it happened.

Cohen: No, there must be some document. You said so yourself, that there was a document on dismantling.

Ya’tza: On the dismantling of “Samson”? No. I said that there was a document… I proposed things to do after the whole thing, not dismantling. I didn’t see a document… I remember meeting with Israel….

[Sensitive national security information, unclear, a few lines deleted] [1:46.19-1:46.50]

Cohen: ... There wasn’t much to dismantle…

Ya’tza: Yes. … There was nothing.  There were talks, running around, panic, papers, and discussions that… I liked the discussions with Israel [Dostrovsky]. The discussions with Dan [Tolkovsky] I did not like. It would always create an atmosphere of seriousness, and they would make a big deal out of nothing.

Cohen: What was Dan’s formal position?

Ya’tza: He was the advisor.

Cohen: The defense minister’s advisor? He was a member of the IAEC.

Ya’tza: He was a member of the planning committee; I don’t know how they called it… He was a member of the planning committee, and I remember a discussion Chera [Tzur], Dan and I, and I think Israel was there too…

Cohen: Moshe Dayan was there too?

Ya’tza: No.

Cohen: Was Israel Lior there?

Ya’tza: No.

Cohen: Who else was there?

Ya’tza: That’s what I’m trying to remember.

Cohen: Munya [Mardor]?

Ya’tza: No. [unclear] … Look, in that forum, in Chera’s [Tzur] forum, RAFAEL didn’t have a vital role.

[Diversion in the interview.  Privacy. 2 minutes deleted]. 1:48.52-1:50:55

Cohen: Let’s get back to the dismantling. When did you bring up the proposal to conduct a test, to whom, and who rejected it?

Ya’tza: The committee was Chera [Tzur], Dan Tolkovsky, and Israel [Dostrovsky], and maybe… I keep trying to remember if there was someone else there too.

Cohen: There must have been. It could not have been just four people?

Ya’tza: No, it could… why? It wasn’t a forum…

Cohen: AGAM chief?  

Ya’tza: Don’t forget, it was during the time that the entire army ran after the Egyptians. Generals, the defense minister, everyone ran after them, and there was nobody who sat and said, “One moment, let’s see what we are going to do to now.” Chera [Tzur] was that type of person; he always filled [Moshe] Dayan’s holes. So I prepared a document. It was three pages, something like that. I gave it to Chera [Tzur] and to the committee members.

Cohen: What did you write in it?

Ya’tza: What I wrote there was… My idea was this: we gave them [the Egyptians] a definite blow and their morale is low, and we have... we can hit them again, and this could be the time. I said it declaratively, that this was the time to use our coup de grace and we should conduct a [nuclear] test. I didn’t have political considerations; I didn’t know what was going on with the Americans.

Cohen: You had no idea about what was going on with the Americans?

Ya’tza: I would hear rumors about how the Americans visited [Dimona] and that we tricked them and all that, but I didn’t know the details. I still think to this day that we should have done it.

Cohen: This is interesting. Did you consider at any point the fact that there was NPT, and that it’s going to be signed sometime, or it wasn’t even a part of the… [discussion]?

Ya’tza: Nothing… It wasn’t a part of the document at all. No. I knew about the NPT, about the discussions, but it didn’t get to the document.

Cohen: The political side wasn’t there…

Ya’tza: No.

Cohen: Did you propose doing a test? Above ground?

Ya’tza: Above ground, exactly.  Just as we had [before the war] the whole business of doing it, to go on top of the hill, and to blow it up so that the whole world will see, this could still be done [after the war]. The assumption was that this will demoralize the Arabs further, and will show them the futility of their attempts to conquer Israel.

Cohen: Do you remember who you consulted with?

Ya’tza: I didn’t consult with anybody. I sat at home at night, and the next morning I proposed this idea. There was no serious discussion…

Cohen: Did you write it during or after the war?

Ya’tza: Well, during the war, but it was already when… Everyone [at the IDF] was chasing the Egyptians, I remember…

Cohen: Did you consult with Dostrovsky? Did he support it? … Did anybody support it?

Ya’tza: Before it? No. Israel, I think, I don’t remember him not supporting it. I think Dan Tolkovsky made a face of a scholar.

Cohen: Which means what?  

Ya’tza: Who are you, it’s political… [cut for 0.40 seconds, privacy]

Cohen: Did anybody support your proposal or nobody did?

Ya’tza: I don’t think that… Maybe Israel [Dostrovsky] did, maybe. It would be consistent with his personality. Israel was a thinking person. He was also unconventional, and this was his business. It’s his business more than it was mine.

Cohen: But you don’t remember whether he supported it or not?

Ya’tza: Don’t remember.

Cohen: Do you know Yuval’s [Ne’eman] involvement in this issue? Yuval told me that there were such proposals. [unclear] He described such proposals … I don’t know if you know, but there was an article in the New York Times, just days after the 1967 War ended, that talked about how Israel now intends to develop… [nuclear weapons] …  there was a problem with the Americans, so people should not have said that it will take two more years… I think that it was also said that because of the war, Israel now inclines to [develop nuclear weapons] … Eshkol later denied it, but through Amos de Shalit, my sense was that it was an attempt to test this idea, an attempt that was coming from Dayan and/or Chera [Tzur] – to bring up the idea to see how will people react, and my impression was that Eshkol decided against it. What was Chera’s [Tzur] reaction to the idea?

Ya’tza: I don’t remember. Look, the fact that it didn’t come up, I mean, I don’t know if it ever came up, maybe Chera [Tzur] talked about it [to Dayan]… Chera [Tzur] would have talked to me if he would think that it was [good?]. He wasn’t hiding things from me, because Chera [Tzur] is the kind of person who would come and say, “This is my idea.” Chera [Tzur] didn’t have problems like that, I don’t know if you know him. He is a guy… with no personal ambitions, a bit like Haim Bar-Lev. He went wherever life carried him, and that’s it. He didn’t try… He was a Knesset Member, then quit…. He didn’t have personal issues, Chera [Tzur]. He did something only when he felt he had to do it. I think that if Chera [Tzur] brought this issue up to Dayan, then he would have told me, but maybe it was brought up without my knowledge…. Look, there are even more complicated issues in history that grow separately from two different places, or maybe even three different places.  

Cohen: So you remember that your reaction was not….

Ya’tza: There was no reaction to my proposal. I don’t remember any additional activity around that issue. I don’t remember.

Cohen: By the way, if this [a test] would have conducted not during war, but rather under conditions of ceasefire, I think that the IDF would [probably] not be involved in the test itself. The army didn’t have time, but…

Ya’tza: No, the army probably would provide security and all that…

Cohen: Security, sure. But the person who would do the real work would have been Israel [Dostrovsky] exclusively, including logistics, no?

Ya’tza: Yes, there is no doubt about it. I proposed the test only because of “Samson.” I don’t think it would have even crossed my mind if it wasn’t for “Samson.” Everything was ready…

[A short deletion of a few lines, about a minute] [1:59.56-2:01.14]

Ya’tza: ….  Look, it was so natural… You know, there are things that people… It is like inventing the bicycle. Some things are so natural that you don’t need to find explanations about their origin. You’ve got an enemy, and he says he’s going to throw you to the sea. You believe him. He says he’s going to throw chemical weapons on you…. What are you looking for? Anything you can do to stop him. How can you stop him? You scare him. If you’ve got something you can scare him with, you scare him.

[The interview/conversation moves beyond the 1967 events to personal discussion of issues and people that are not relevant for this transcript.  Privacy. A page and a half of text is deleted. About nine minutes of tape at conclusion of interview. [2:02.00-2:11.12]


[1] This transcript is extracted from the first taped interview I conducted with Ya’tza in the summer of 1999.  The transcript has been edited lightly for readability and annotated for convenience. For more information on this interview see the “Interview Notes”:

[2] AMLACH: a Hebrew military acronym for weaponry means (or weapons and munitions). In terms of the 1967 IDF organizational chart, AMLACH was a department, part of the General Staff Branch (AGAM). Ya’tza was the head of the AMLACH department at a rank of a Colonel.   

[3] Brig. General Israel Lior  (1921-1981) served as the senior Military aide to both Prime Minister Eshkol and Prime Minister Golda Meir in the period 1966-74.  As such he was a major player in devising the early command and control system that covered the nuclear issue.

[4] Jenka is the nickname of Colonel Yevgeni Ratner (1909-1979), the head of the armament division at RAFAEL (the Hebrew acronym for Weapons Development Authority) who oversaw some aspects of the nuclear project that took place at RAFAEL. Machon (3) is reference to the main R&D facility of RAFAEL in Northern Israel.

[5] The reference to the Deputy Minister is to Zevi Dinstein, Eshkol’s deputy in the Ministry of Defense, who oversaw the nuclear project.  

[7] Amrom Katz (1916-1997) was one of the early pioneers in space reconnaissance.

[8] The “pit” (in Hebrew, the “bor”) is a reference to the IDF underground command center.

[9] Gandhi is the nickname of Major General Rehavam Ze'evi (1926-2001) who in 1967 was the Deputy Head of the Staff Branch, Yatza’s superior.'evi

[10] Lieutenant Colonel Moshe Shachar was one of Ya’tza’s senior subordinates, head of section that dealt directly with unconventional weaponry issues.  He served as the lower level liaison with the nuclear project.     

[11] On May 23, 1967, shortly after his meeting with former Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin had a mental breakdown and was forced to rest at his home.  For a period of about two days Ezer Weizman served as the acting chief of staff.  Senior officials were told at the time that Rabin had a “nicotine attack.” More than a decade later Weizman publicly disclosed Rabin’s mental collapse.        

[12] Professor Israel Dostrovsky (1918-2010) was among the first Israeli natives ("Sabras") to become scientists. He studied physical chemistry at University College in London, receiving his doctorate in 1943. He taught and researched for five years in the United Kingdom, becoming an authority on isotope research. He returned to Palestine in 1948 and founded the Department of Isotope Research at the Weizmann Institute. As a major in the IDF Science Corps, he created HEMED GIMMEL, the unit that led the way to the nuclear project. In 1966 Dostrovsky became the first director-general of the newly-organized Israeli Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC) under the Prime Minister, who served as the chairman of the IAEC.   In that capacity, Dostrovsky was the head of the nuclear project.

[13] Professor Yuval Ne’eman (1925-2006) was an Israeli theoretical physicist, senior military intelligence officer and politician. He was deeply involved in the Israeli nuclear project and in the early 1960s served as the scientific director of the Soreq nuclear research center.  Subsequently, he was Minister of Science and Development in the 1980s and early 1990s.

[14] Avraham Hermoni was a technical manager at RAFAEL in charge of the nuclear program.  For a full interview with Hermoni see

[15] Colonel Yevgeni (Jenka) Ratner (1909-1979), an engineer who was legendary for his knowledge of explosives, oversaw some aspects of the nuclear project under at RAFAEL since the late 1950s.

[16]Sayeret Matckal was the elite unit of the IDF that conducted special operations, primarily intelligence.  Dovik is Brig. General Dov Tamari, then the newly appointed commander of Sayeret Matkal.

[17] Katler, a fictional name, was a character in Ya’tza fictional (unpublished) manuscript, based on a real character of a Jewish-American senior engineer who worked for Israeli Aviation Industries and as such had access to a great deal of classified information on the nuclear project.  Ya’tza, on intuition alone, suspected that “Katler” was passing on information to U.S. Intelligence about Israel’s secret technological projects.     

[18] Dan Tolkowsky (1921-), a former commander of the Israeli Air Force (1953-58), was a kind of trustee of the nuclear project for decades.

[19] Uri Yarom was the IAF pilot that set up the first helicopter squadron.

[20] Chera is the nickname of former chief of staff, Lieutenant General (Res) Tzvi Tzur.  Chera was brought back to serve as the top official when Moshe Dayan was appointed as Minister of Defense on June 1, 1967.  Practically, Chera received all the authorities of the deputy minister of defense, Zevi Dinstein, who Dayan fired when he got the ministry position.    

[21]Kirya is the name of Israel’s military headquarters in Tel Aviv.

[22] Ramatyin, which today is part of Hod Hasharon, is a town in central Israel, 2-3 kilometers from the pre-1967 ceasefire lines.  

[23] Colonel Eli Zeira was a senior officer in the Military Intelligence, the head of Military Intelligence as a Major General in 1973

[24] Professor Zvi Pelah (1924-2009), a chemist, was an expert on chemical weapons.

[25] Talik is Major General Israel Tal (1924-2010), in 1967 commander of an armor division.

[26] Herzl is Major General Herzl Shafir (1929-), who was General Tal’s deputy and chief of staff in 1967.  

[27] Sirkin is the military base in central Israel that served as the home base for Sayeret Matkal.  

[28] Yankale [Ya’akov] Hefetz, a Brig General in the IDF and an old-time peer of Ya’tza, who ended his military service as the financial advisor to the chief of staff, Yitzhak Rabin.  In his past, Hefetz was the head of the filed security unit of the IDF.

Yitzhak Ya’acov (1926-2013), known his entire life by the nickname “Ya’tza,” was a Brigadier General in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in charge of weapons research and development (R&D). He was at the center of Israel’s first nuclear alert on the eve of the 1967 war.


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From the personal collection of Avner Cohen.


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