U.S. Observations on Israeli
and Other Regional Issues
(March 5, 1965)
The United States Government is looking at Israeli
nuclear and rocket developments, water and other issues.
Memorandum From the Director
of the Office of Near Eastern Affairs (Davies)
to the Assistant Secretary of State for Near
Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Talbot)1
Washington, March 5, 1965.
Observations of H. Earle Russell During His Recent Trip to Israel
Based on Conversations with Embassy Officers
All indications are toward Israeli acquisition of a nuclear capability.
There is little realization in Israel of the intensity of U.S. opposition
to nuclear proliferation. U.S. hesitation and delays in pressing for
the recent inspection of the Dimona reactor plus the failure to insist
upon a two-day visit have led the Israelis to believe we are not serious.
Some embassy officers believe we may run into difficulty in arranging
the next visit.
Israeli officials and public appear firmly to believe that the U.A.R.
will have a nuclear capability within 5 to 7 years. Planning for Israeli
acquisition of a comparable capability is moving forward on this assumption.
The Science Attache has calculated that the target date for acquisition
of a nuclear weapons capability by Israel is 1968-9. He has discovered
information indicating that Israel has already acquired the know-how
for Plutonium metal production. There is no need for sizeable domestic
ore production facilities since Argentina has been a ready source.
Ambassador Barbour is convinced Israel fears U.A.R. acquisition of
a nuclear capability and believes it must prepare for the time this
occurs. He also believes a psychological case can be made for U.A.R.
development of a "radiological garbage bomb." The GOI, of
course, has exploited this issue publicly.
Ambassador Barbour does not seem as convinced as his staff of Israeli
determination to acquire nuclear weapons. He felt it inadvisable to
press for more trips by Embassy staff to the South. The GOI is already
sensitive on this issue and such trips could prejudice 1) the Dimona
inspections, 2) [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] and
3) the position of one or more Embassy officers--Ben-Horin/Marom in
reverse. The Ambassador believed the Dimona inspections hung by only
a thread. Prime Minister Eshkol has found it increasingly difficult
politically to continue them, but realizes he has a firm commitment
to the U.S. The argument that Ben-Gurion also agreed to the inspections
does not solve the Prime Minister's problems since he has other fractious
political elements with which to deal.
Ambassador Barbour said that cutting down the duration of the last
Dimona visit had not been Prime Minister Eshkol's doing. The Prime Minister
had ordered the facility to be cleared for inspection beginning Friday
night through Saturday night as late as necessary. The GOI was not monolithic
and local officials did not always respond readily to instructions.
Eshkol was disturbed that the President might think he had welched on
In this connection, the Science Attache believed he had convincing
evidence that parts of the Dimona facility had been purposely moth-balled
to mislead the visiting team. He and other Embassy officers believe
Israeli scientists are preparing all necessary elements for production
of a nuclear device, leaving undone only last-minute assembly.2
Preemption Against Arab Water Diversion Works
Embassy officers reflected a widespread Israeli philosophy calling
for preemptive action to forestall Arab Jordan water diversion. Although
the technical community and some members of the Foreign Ministry discounted
Arab intentions to divert water, the IDF and Foreign Ministry "hard
liners" played up the need for such action. The public, of course,
was sold on the idea. IDF officers had indicated they believed the U.S.
had been given ample warnings of Israeli intent to take preemptive action.
A commonly expressed feeling was that preemptive action would be desirable
soon while U.A.R. troops were still embroiled in Yemen.
The Consulate General at Jerusalem reported concern in Jordan that
aggressive Israeli pressures might result in hostilities. For the first
time in their experience, old time American residents had approached
the Consulate inquiring about plans for caring for American citizens
in times of crisis. Both the Consulate General and the Embassy were
reviewing their E and E plans.
In fact, there is at the present time little against which to take
preemptive action. Since November 1, 1964, only about 8 kilometers in
Syrian territory have been cleared as a right of way for a possible
canal. Rains had prevented rapid progress on this work which was supervised
by Yugoslav engineers and surveyors. Preemptive action at the present
time would be limited to destruction of up to ten bulldozers.
Ambassador Barbour did not believe reference of the water issue to
the UN was practical and the Israelis believed our suggestion to do
so represented backtracking on our undertaking to support the Unified
Plan. It had become necessary now to reaffirm this support openly. The
verbiage attached to our recent statements of support had caused Israeli
officials to feel they were "on the slippery slope."
Israeli Rocket Developments
Israel's capability for rocket production has increased. The Israel
Aircraft Industries (Bedek) has built up its personnel considerably,
beyond the needs for a normal aircraft corporation. Research on rocket
propulsion and components is moving forward rapidly. Recent reports
indicated Israel would soon be capable of producing ten tons of liquid
oxygen or more per day. Other rocket production activities included
operation of filament winding machines, heliarc tube welding apparati,
operation of a $750,000 computer. Israel appeared to have decided to
develop an indigenous capability in the production of rocket propellants
and small rockets but to acquire large rockets abroad.
Israeli Counter Boycott
The Ministry of Commerce was not enthusiastic about the Israeli counter
boycott because the Israeli economy was doing well without it and its
imposition might create unforeseen problems. The Foreign Ministry, however,
appeared to favor the boycott and the word had gone out to the American
Jewish communities. Companies such as Union Carbide had already begun
calculating the pressures that could be placed on its business activities
by American Jews. Their preliminary conclusions were that they could
not withstand these pressures.
Ambassador Barbour's Thoughts on the Jordan Arms Quid pro Quo Package
Ambassador Barbour believed that we may have been well advised to append
a large package of quid pro quo's to the request for Israeli support
on U.S. sales of arms to Jordan in return for selected direct sales
to Israel. He was disturbed, however, that the Department thought it
could obtain these desiderata. He believed their inclusion may have
been useful in shaking up the Israelis but now it might be preferable
to seek each objective separately. It was preferable to make a "grand
gesture" on direct arms sales since we considered it inevitable
anyway. Such an attitude would ensure greater Israeli receptivity to
our other demands.
1 Source: National Archives and Records Administration,
RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, ORG 7 NEA. Secret. Talbot sent the memorandum
to Rusk with a covering memorandum of March 8. Rusk's initials on the
covering memorandum indicate that he read it.
2 Airgram A-742 from Tel Aviv, April 9, discussed the
status of the Dimona reactor in more detail. It concluded that the Israelis
"have now created a flexible basis of choice regarding the possibility
of producing nuclear weapons. Although the technical facilities are
in an advanced state of preparation, we believe that weapons are not
now being made, and there is no evidence that the Israelis have made
a decision to move the rest of the way toward producing them."
(Ibid., AE 11-2 ISR)
Source: United States Department