.חשיפה: הצנזורה הצבאית אוסרת להזכיר את שמו של ספר על הנשק הגרעיני הישראלי, ואת שם מחברו
Yesterday, Haaretz published an exposé (Hebrew) about a book published by a former Israeli nuclear technician, who claimed that in 1967 Israel’s new defense minister, Moshe Dayan, engaged in a “de facto putsch,” which wrested the country’s sole nuclear weapon from civilian control and transferred it to military control. There are a number of strange things about the article. For one, it doesn’t name the author nor the title of the book. In fact, the journalist acknowledges that he can’t do so, though he doesn’t explain why. An Israeli journalist tells me that Haaretz presented the article to the military censor, who is responsible for prohibiting this information from inclusion in the report.
You know how I enjoy tweaking the censor and her philistine, inane restrictions on information the Israeli public is entitled to know. Thanks to another Israeli, I can report here that the book is Shattered Hopes, Magnificent Failure: The Road to the Nuclear Middle East by Mark Hertz. It is a largely autobiographical account of the author’s military and civilian service at the then newly-opened plutonium reactor at Dimona, where he was a radiation inspector. The book was published by a vanity publisher two years ago and received scant attention because, though Hertz was an eyewitness to an important historical event, he isn’t a scholar and has few qualities that would suggest him to be an especially reliable or knowledgeable source.
That didn’t stop Adam Raz, an Israeli historian and the author of the Haaretz report from heralding the book as a masterwork. In the process, Raz misstates a few facts, claiming the book is “newly published” (it was published in 2015). He also follows Hertz’s lead in overdramatizing some of the key confrontations which place the book’s author in a flattering light as the sole force standing in the path of Israel’s army wresting the nuclear weapon from civilian control.
Hertz served at Dimona before the War as part of his military service. Yet after he was called up for military duty in the days before hostilities began, he defended a different building housing Israel’s nuclear weapon. But though he was in military service, he says he was under the command of the Israeli police, which itself reported to Prime Minister Levi Eshkol. In the days before the 1967 War began, newly-appointed defense minister Moshe Dayan, commanded IDF then-Col. Yitzhak Yaakov (Yatza), to take military control of the facility. This led to a prolonged confrontation which, according to Hertz, involved Yatza bringing a contingent of heavily armed soldiers to compel him to release the nuclear plant to army control. Eventually, a compromise was worked out and control was shared between the police and army.
Though Haaretz calls Yatza’s effort a “de facto putsch,” which wrested Israel’s nuclear arsenal from civilian control, it could’ve been little more than a misunderstanding between two government agencies which hadn’t fully coördinated the matter.
Hertz also reveals that there was at least one serious accident at Dimona in which at least one person (he later in the book says there were two deaths) was killed. Though there have been reports of such accidents in the past, perhaps an account by a second-hand witness (Hertz was not on duty the night of the explosion) is viewed as threatening to the military censor. The author also reveals that the Dimona reactor achieved an enrichment capacity that far exceeded what was officially conceded. The inference being that there could be no question that it had a sole purpose, to produce plutonium for a nuclear weapons. In fact, he reveals that Israel had completed its first nuclear weapon just before the War began.
Hertz also offers further first-hand evidence of the manner in which Israel deceived American inspectors in the 1960s who inspected the Dimona facility to ensure it was not designed to produce nuclear weapons. He describes the massive makeover his section of the facility received to conceal entrances to portions of the plant in which weapons research had been conducted. After departure of the Americans, the materials erected to conceal the key parts of the building they wished to hide were removed and it was returned to its former, fully operational condition.
Another thrust of the book which might’ve drawn the ire of the censor, is Hertz’s claim that the Israeli military essentially conducted a coup d’état against the civilian prime minister because they doubted his ability or willingness to lead the nation to war. Part of the alleged coup was taking control of the nuclear weapon. The censor might be apprehensive about this claim, because it might cause one to infer that the Israeli military today isn’t under full civilian authority and could launch a nuclear strike against the wishes of civilian authorities.
Aside from this, it’s mystifying why the IDF censor viewed this book as so threatening that it had to severely censor the Haaretz report about it. In fact, I predict it will send sales of the book, if not soaring, then certainly to a much higher level than previously. The censor’s iron hand in this matter reveals the utter weakness and insecurity of Israel’s national security state, which appears to be afraid even of its own shadow.
The Haaretz article also describes a frightening development first mentioned in Avner Cohen’s master work about the Israeli nuclear arms effort, The Worst Kept Secret. There he notes that David Ben Gurion’s key-operative and the father of the Israeli nuclear program, Shimon Peres, pushed to mount a demonstration of Israel’s nuclear weapon in the Sinai desert. He predicted that it would cow Egypt’s leader, Gamal Nasser, and possibly avoid a war. Cohen’s interview with Yatza confirms there were contingency plans for such an operation. But they were never formalized and no order was ever given to mount such an operation.
It’s equally disturbing to note that in the dark days just after the 1973 War began, when Israel faced severe losses on the Syrian front, that Dayan attended a key security meeting with Prime Minister Meir, at which he too suggested exploding a nuclear weapon as a warning to Israel’s Arab enemies of what would befall them should they defeat Israel on the battlefield. Neither Meir nor any of the others at the meeting took Dayan’s plan seriously. But Dayan apparently did and ordered those under his command to mount preparations necessary for such a demonstration. Thankfully, nothing happened in either case. Though one shudders to think what might’ve happened had Peres or Dayan had stronger backing from the civilian leadership.
This rebuts the cool claim made by Israeli leaders that the world has nothing to fear from Israel’s nuclear arsenal because, unlike Iran should it get such a weapon, Israel is a cool, civilized, level-headed nation which would never use such weapons unless they were unleashed on it first. The world must understand that this is little more than a promise based on words. And that Israel has shown time and again that its words may not be trusted on matters of national security.