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Lyndon Johnson Administration: Barbour And Eban Disagree Over Israel's Nuclear Program

(September 14, 1966)

The Ambassador of Israel sent a telegram to the State Department informing them of his recent meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban. At this meeting, Barbour stressed to Eban the need for Israel to publicly foreswear nuclear weapons for the interests of the region. Eban was upset by the U.S. statement that Israel would lose U.S. support if it went forward with the development of a nuclear weapons program.

Telegram From the Embassy in Israel to the Department of State/1/

Tel Aviv, September 14, 1966, 1115Z.

946. Ref: State 17501./2/

1. Emphasizing I had no specific instructions to raise the matter, I stressed to FonMin Eban Sept 13, in meeting arranged at my request and in anticipation of his prospective meeting with the Secretary in New York, our fervent hope that Israel would find way make clear to world in unmistakable terms that it would forswear nuclear weapons. I mentioned IAEA controls as vehicle accomplish end. I recognized that our visits Dimona and PriMin Eshkol's statement on subject gave us considerable reassurance in this respect but noted that as long as Israel seemed retain option take nuclear route, no matter how self limited it might be, this added to already acute danger world confronts in problem nuclear proliferation. I stressed the Secretary's personal interest and concern as this problem touches Israel and the Middle East and expressed my belief that the Secretary would wish discuss in New York. I stressed that essence of issue is not only that Israel remove this card from its hand but be seen publicly to do so. I used familiar arguments as to importance Israeli peaceful image, as stabilizing force in area etc., and added that since it obvious, as result various leaks, that Israel in fact not embarking on weapons production, GOI had nothing to lose and everything to gain in making gesture suggested.

2. Eban said he impressed with importance Secretary attaches to matter and that my comments lent urgency to full briefing on subject including consultations with PriMin he intended to undertake prior his departure for New York. He noted limitations of time and pressures of other matters in New York and expressed hope there would be opportunity discuss subject in detail it deserved. Expressed also his opinion that nuclear arms race somewhat more remote contingency in area than it had been, less pressing immediate possibility for example than clash with Syria. Referring to the Secretary's conversation with Rafael, he took exception to what had been reported to him as the suggestion the U.S. would be "through with Israel" if Israel did not do what we wanted in this respect. He felt this suggestion of sanctions against Israel was not in accord with the atmosphere of trust and good will that should prevail between good friends. (I responded that the Secretary's frankness with Rafael should be understood both in the context of our countries' friendship and of the strength of the Secretary's feeling on this subject. I added it not question of sanctions, on contrary it matter of losing U.S. support.) Eban said that Israel had said it would not manufacture nuclear weapons and would certainly not be the first to introduce them into area. This was an extraordinary assurance when set against the constant threats of Israel's neighbors to destroy it. More weight should be given to the PriMin's assurances. (I replied that this was an important contribution, but that a further dramatic gesture was essential.) Eban concluded that he had the signal. He hoped to be well versed on subject on arrival in New York and hoped to have something substantive to say.

3. Comment: In spite of Eban's testiness about some things and indications he considered matter had less immediacy than it had had, I believe he will try to get mandate from PriMin (it not excluded judging by some innuendos of his comments that he already has it) to make some useful contribution in direction we desire, and hope that he will go to New York prepared to discuss matter concretely and constructively. He will be interested in our views of Egyptian attitudes. We may be sure he will lay stress on Israel's immediate security concerns vis-a-vis Syria. I reminded him that we had done much lately to permit Israelis to sleep more soundly in their beds, and this is a factor obviously in favor GOI understanding this problem.


/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, DEF 12 ISR. Secret; Exdis. Repeated to Cairo.

/2/Document 312.


Sources: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, V. 18, Arab-Israeli Dispute 1964-1967. DC: GPO, 2000.