Dimona Inspections

(August 23, 1963)


This is a memorandum from Acting Secretary of State, Ball to President Kennedy commenting on the Israeli offer for visits to Dimona.


Prime Minister Eshkol's August 19 reply on Dimona inspections, although not entirely what we wanted, probably represents the most we can hope to get at this time from the Israelis in terms of bilateral inspection of the Dimona complex. We have consulted with the scientific intelligence community and conclude that the Israelis' reply contains the following positive and negative elements by contrast with what we had sought:

Initial Scheduled Visit:

We wanted a visit this summer and a second in July 1964 to bracket the pre-critical and post-critical stages, thus permitting both complete examination of the reactor's interior before radiation hazard develops and assessment of its capabilities after first testing.

The Israelis repeat Ben-Gurion's offer of an initial visit toward the end of the year when the reactor will be undergoing general tests but before the start-up stage. The wording is sufficiently unclear (on whether the timing would permit us examination of the reactor's interior before prohibitive radiation had developed) as to point to a need for politely pinning this down, but without inviting further reply, in the enclosed acknowledgment which we suggest you make to the Prime Minister's letter.

Subsequent Visits:

We had sought agreement on regular semi-annual visits after the initial period.

Mr. Eshkol has carefully avoided explicit commitment to this. The reason may lie in Israeli Cabinet-level differences, with Eshkol having been able to obtain no more than a vague linking of our requested scheduling and his belief "that we should be able to reach agreement on the future schedule. . . ." However, we prefer to give him the benefit of the doubt, relying on our interpretation, the Prime Minister's oral statement that future agreement "will give no trouble", and an accommodation in practice to overcome the Israeli sensitivities of sovereignty which may have occasioned their less than fully satisfactory reply on this point.

Completeness of Visits:

We asked that our scientists have access to "all areas of the Dimona site and to any related part of the complex, such as fuel fabrication facilities or plutonium separation plant, and that sufficient time be allotted for a thorough examination".

Precise interpretation of Mr. Eshkol's written reply would limit us to examination of the reactor alone. There is no response on the other points. Again, however, we would propose that your acknowledgment obliquely reiterate the broader interpretation and that, not having been explicitly rebuffed, we be guided in future by our understanding on this. Mr. Eshkol has responded helpfully on observation of the "uranium control process". Literally interpreted this gives us a basis to claim much of what we sought in the way of records examination, etc.

Dissemination of Information Resulting from Inspections:

A fundamental premise of this dialogue, from our point of view and stemming from former Prime Minister Ben-Gurion's May 1961 assurance to you, was that we would be free to determine use made of information resulting from our visits.

In this respect, Mr. Eshkol's oral remarks to Ambassador Barbour, if allowed to stand, are a serious setback. While our sights cannot be confined to the Near East alone, most effective deterrent use of our information (both in the military sense of forestalling the one situation in which we are reasonably sure Nasser would venture an attack on Israel, and in minimizing the dangers of an all-out UAR nuclear weapons acquisition effort) is achieved through judicious if non-specific passing of assurances to the Arab states. This is particularly important in the period before greater acceptance of IAEA controls and possible evolution on the Test Ban Treaty put secret bilateral arrangements out of date. Consequently, our telegram would instruct our Charge to discuss this critical point. To limit the danger of freezing the Prime Minister's tentative stand, we have followed the pattern he set of not embodying this in the letter itself.

Peaceful Intent:

Whether or not by calculation, Mr. Eshkol's reply contains no assurance save with respect to the Dimona reactor per se.

While the Israeli reply is perhaps about as much of a compromise as we can expect on Dimona (save on the important question of dissemination of results), and we welcome it, it leaves loose ends which we can and will try to tie up through intelligence activities and a cautious link with the French.

We continue to favor disassociation of the Dimona problem and Israel's quest for special security relations. Our proposed telegram or reply would not, therefore, mention the latter. We would, however, authorize the Embassy in Tel Aviv to tell the Prime Minister orally that a reply to Ben-Gurion's May 12 security guarantee request can be expected soon. A proposed letter on this, for delivery a week or so after the Dimona acknowledgement has been sent, is in preparation.

George W. Ball


Source: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963: Near East, 1962-1963, V. XVIII. DC: GPO, 2000.