Henry Kissinger Told U.S. Diplomats in 1965 He Believed that “Israel Has Already Embarked on a Nuclear Program”
Concerned about Israeli Intentions, U.S. Government Officials Pressed for Dimona Inspections
Edited by William Burr and Avner Cohen
Washington, D.C., November 10, 2020 – After Harvard professor Henry Kissinger met with top Israeli officials in January 1965, he told U.S. diplomats at the Embassy in Tel Aviv of his near certainty that Israel had begun a nuclear weapons project, according to a record of the meeting, which has recently been declassified and is published here for the first time by the National Security Archive. Kissinger added that Israeli scientists were “very certain that such weapons were necessary and that they knew how to make them.”
With rare exceptions, such as the astute Embassy Tel Aviv science attaché, Robert Webber, officials in the Lyndon Johnson administration believed incorrectly that the Israelis did not have plans underway to produce plutonium for weapons. Johnson, like his predecessor John F. Kennedy, insisted on inspections of the Dimona complex to verify Prime Minister Levi Eshkol’s pledge that Dimona was for peaceful purposes only. Indeed, U.S. inspectors uncovered no evidence of weapons work in 1964 and 1965 but believed that future regular inspections were essential.
Today’s publication, the latest by the Nuclear Vault project focusing on Israel’s nuclear program, consists of 32 documents about the Dimona inspections. One section of the posting covers the Johnson administration’s efforts to convince Eshkol to let Washington assure Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser of the results of the inspections: that Dimona was a peaceful project. Eshkol strongly objected because he wanted to keep Nasser guessing, but Johnson believed that assurances were necessary to keep the peace.