Avner Cohen, the leading academic on Israel’s nuclear weapons program, has written a riveting article about the lies which Israel’s leaders used to obfuscate and mislead its allies about its nuclear ambition. As part of the research for the article, Cohen has amassed 42 supporting government documents which he’s made public as well.
France had designed and helped build the Dimona nuclear reactor beginning in the late 1950s. But when Charles de Gaulle came to power in the early 1960s, he exerted much greater constraint on French involvement. He restricted the supply of uranium offered to the Israelis and put conditions on its use.
This severely restricted Israel’s ambitions to build a nuclear weapon. Publicly, Israel’s prime minister and senior cabinet ministers kept up a front asserting the nuclear program was for peaceful purposes only. But this wasn’t true and behind the scenes Israel pursued WMD at breakneck speed.
In 1964, Canadian intelligence received word that Argentina had agreed to sell 80 tons of uranium yellowcake to Israel, which replaced the fuel Israel had expected from France. Eventually, the British told the U.S. about the deal and the latter instructed its embassies in Israel and Argentina to confirm the sale. Secrecy around the program in Israel was air-tight and the U.S. embassy could uncover nothing. But the embassy in Argentina did manage to confirm the sale.
Intelligence experts estimated that Israel could have a nuclear weapon in 18-24 months. Turns out, it had a crude device ready by the 1967 War which served as a fail-safe in case Israel faced a cataclysmic defeat.
Cohen further reveals that a Mossad front company in Italy purchased 200 tons of Belgian yellowcake in 1968. The material was off-loaded from a European cargo ship to an Israeli freighter at sea, and then made its way to Dimona.
The Foreign Policy article also reveals a string of lies spread by Israel’s leaders to assuage the concerns of allies like John Kennedy. Prime Minister Levi Eshkol secretly reached agreement with Kennedy to allow U.S. scientists to inspect Dimona. But when they arrived the Israelis arranged to conceal sensitive areas of the plant that might expose their true aims.
Despite the fact that the U.S. knew Israel was procuring yellowcake from Argentina and surmised that Israel might be developing a nuclear weapon, it did not confront Israel publicly. Even repeated private queries made by the U.S. ambassador to Israel to Abba Eban went unanswered. The U.S. government had to know what this meant. Yet it chose to take the easy way out and not make an issue of it.
There is a section crying out for inclusion in Cohen’s article, which he omitted: the parallels with Iran. The take-away is that Israel behaved in a far more devious, unfettered way than Iran ever has. Israel always intended to create a weapon. Yet it repeatedly lied to everyone it needed to, in order to pursue the research and development freely. There was no Non-Proliferation Treaty at the time, so Israel never faced the rigorous inspection process Iran faces.
Though Iran has engaged in some of the obfuscation Israel did in concealing the new research facility in Qom till just before the west was about to expose it, Israel has what Cohen calls “the world’s most opaque nuclear program.” Iran’s program is almost transparent by comparison. Remember too, that Israel has never joined the NPT because it rejected the constraints it would place on the weapons program. It preferred to pursue its nuclear ambitions in absolute secrecy. This has never been true of Iran.
Iran has allowed relatively unfettered access to most of its facilities. IAEA scientists have inspected regularly. While they have expressed some concerns about Iran’s intentions, reports articulate those concerns in exceedingly circumspect ways that never amounted to anything near a smoking gun.
In short, there has been far more mendacity and chicanery involved in Israel’s WMD program than Iran’s. And when Israeli leaders start moaning and groaning about Iran and its duplicity, etc. we have to remember that Iran had excellent teachers in the Israelis who preceded them. The hypocrisy of Israel’s complaints about Iran’s nuclear ambitions is simply astonishing.
Sean McBride says
Didn’t JFK make a strong effort to confront Israel about its nuclear weapons program — before he was assassinated? (I am not suggesting that there is any connection between these two events.)
The hypocrisy is in comparing Israel and Iran. Back in the late 50’s Israel had every possible objectively valid reason in the world to want nuclear weapons. Many of those reasons are still objectively valid. What objectively valid reason does Iran have?!… Furthermore, Israel’s program was complete BEFORE the NPT was completed. On the other hand, Iran is working on its program while supposedly observing the NPT provisions…
The fact is also that Israel’s program did not cause a nuclear arms race in the ME. In fact, Egypt, KSA and others are expected to get into such a race only when Iran completes a nuclear test. The reason being that Egypt, KSA and the others know they have nothing to fear from Israel as long as they don’t try to mess with Israel…
Richard Silverstein says
@Hans: My isn’t it interesting that Israel’s reasons for having a nuclear weapon are “objectively valid” while Iran’s are not. And why would anyone accept that Israel deserves a nuke any more than Iran? And why would we presume that Israel’s concerns for protecting its own interests & security are any greater or that it’s in greater danger than Iran? Does Israel face a greater threat to its existence than Iran? And what are the “objective criteria” that prove this?
Many nations had nuclear weapons before NPT was created. Yet they joined NPT. The only one who refused was Israel. Why does Israel get a pass for rejecting NPT when the U.S., Russia, China & others joined after they had nukes.
What does “program” mean? Are you claiming Iran is working on a nuclear weapon? If so, where is your proof? Is there such a weapon? A missile to carry it?
If Israel’s nukes didn’t cause an arms race then why did Assad build a nuclear reactor with N. Korea’s help? Why do you think, if Iran is building a nuclear weapon (a claim that is by no means proven), that it is doing so? Who is Iran’s greatest threat? And what is the most lethal weapon that this threatening power has? The questions answer themselves, don’t they?
Wow, you’ve got the Likud neoncon talking pts down, don’t you? What does “are expected” mean? Who “expects” those countries to attempt to develop nuclear weapons? Bibi Netanyahu does, Bogie Yaalon does. Bill Kristol does. Dick Cheney does. Pardon me, but those aren’t credible sources.
You think Egyptians don’t think they have anything to fear from Israel? You think that the Saudis believe Israel is a peace loving power? Not to mention the other Arab-Muslim states you’ve left out which have gone to war against Israel (or vice versa): among them Lebanon, Syria. Not to mention Turkey which doesn’t trust Israel as far as it can throw it.
Richard, may I add that Israel twice invaded Egypt: in 1956 with the British and French and in 1967. Furthermore, India and Pakistan(likely more dangerous than Iran)developed nuclear weapons. According to U.S. law, the U.S. should have stopped cooperation with them and even imposed sanctions. Nothing like that happened. Indeed, the U.S. signed a cooperation agreement with India.
Also Iran has objective reasons to develop nuclear weapons as it is surrounded by nuclear states: Israel on the west, Pakistan and India on the east, Russia on the north, and the U.S. by way of its fleet in the south.
@ Hans: “What objectively valid reason does Iran have?!”
I’m genuinely curious — did you take a moment to think about that question before asking it?
Iran is threatened routinely, nearly on a daily basis, with attacks from Israel and its ally the United States. For the past few years, American and Israeli media have been discussing the scenario of “strikes” against Iran virtually around the clock. Both of these countries — unlike Iran — have a proven record of reckless military adventurism. Both of these countries — unlike Iran — are nuclear weapons states.
Under such circumstances, seeking the ultimate military deterrent seems perfectly reasonable. There is no proof at all that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, but if they ever do get such weapons I wouldn’t find it egregious at all.
Moreover, I agree with everything Mr. Silverstein writes in his reply.
Daniel: You need to have some historical perspective, in order to properly understand actions of people or states. Chronology is important, as is context, for politics as well as life in general, if there is an argument or conflict among individuals, or entire countries. Richard, and his supporters like yourself, seem to eliminate these things, and create a false anti-Israel narrative as a result. But these things are essential for any valid historical analysis.
This case in point: Iran and Israel were friends, but it was Iran which broke off relations and
decided, due to ideology, to become an enemy following the Revolution of 1979. It is Israel, which is reacting to Iran, not the other way around.
Richard Silverstein says
@Moses: My “narrative” is pro-Israel. Yours is anti-Israel. Being pro-Israel means being anti-Likud, anti-Bibi & anti-virtually most of the mainstream political parties in Israel today. These parties do not represent Israel’s best interests–esp. regarding the I-P conflict.
Israel was not a friend of Iran. It was a friend of a brutal Iranian dictator named Shah Pahlevi. That’s not the same as the two countries or peoples being friends. But I do agree that the average Israeli & Iranian are not enemies. It is their rules who have determined this enmity. And stooges like you of course who don’t recognize reality when you see it.
“The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was, and continues to be, heralded as an important step in the ongoing efforts to reduce or prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. Still, it had one major drawback in that two nuclear powers, France and the People’s Republic of China, did not sign the agreement, nor did a number of non-nuclear states. Of the non-nuclear states refusing to adhere, and thereby limit their own future nuclear programs, of particular importance were Argentina, Brazil, India, Israel, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and South Africa, because these powers were close to being capable of the technology. In fact, in 1974, India joined the “nuclear club” by exploding its first weapon. Pakistan tested its first atomic bomb in 1983.”
Four nations never signed the treaty: India, Israel, Pakistan, South Sudan (North Korea has withdrawn). It is suggested the alliance between Israel and South Africa led to a successful nuclear test in the Atlantic Ocean. The Vela Incident was a double flash picked up by satelliet on September 22, 1979 near the Prince Edward Islands of Antarctica.
The Indo-US nuclear deal is a perfect illustration of the double-standard by Western powers on NPT. The US was aware of the theft of centrifuges blue prints from UCN [Urenco] by AQ Khan and allowed Pakistan to develop its nuclear bomb as a deterrent against India. Now the biggest threat is for nuclear material falling in the hands of terror groups in the region.
There is no evidence at all that Israel has nuclear weapons. It couldn’t afford to develop them, couldn’t afford to keep them, doesn’t know how to build them, wouldn’t have any use for them, and has no target to throw them at.
Richard Silverstein says
@Abe: And the world is flat, the sun revolves around the earth, & the moon is made of green cheese. Do you also believe in Santa Claus? The Tooth Fairy?