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Lyndon Johnson Administration: Israel Warned of Disastrous Impact of Going Nuclear

(February 9, 1966)

This memo records a conversation between top Israeli and American officials over Israeli nuclear policy. Israeli ambiguity to the Arab states over their status as a nuclear state has made the U.S. uncertain about Israel's status as a nuclear state. The U.S. requests increased inspections, but Israel requests U.S. inspections and not IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) inspections because of Israel's weakness in the agency and the growing power of the Arab states. Israel agrees not to introduce nuclear weapons into the Near East region.

Memorandum of Conversation/1/

Washington, February 9, 1966, 4:30 p.m.

Nuclear Proliferation

Foreign Minister Abba Eban of Israel
Ambassador Avraham Harman of Israel
Minister Ephraim Evron of Israel
The Secretary
Under Secretary Ball
NEA--Ambassador Raymond Hare
NE--David L. Gamon

After telling Foreign Minister Eban that the President wanted to reach an early decision on Israel's aircraft and economic aid requests, the Secretary said that the only major question that could have a disastrous effect on U.S.-Israeli relations was Israel's attitude on proliferation. Israel was apparently following a policy designed to create ambiguity in the Arab world. This also created ambiguity in Washington. Israel should expect the U.S. to be extremely clear and utterly harsh on the matter of non-proliferation. He urged the Foreign Minister not to underestimate the total involvement of U.S.-Israel relations in this matter.

Mr. Eban said he understood the importance of this question and that the two countries need not fall apart on this. The Government of Israel stood by Prime Minister Ben-Gurion's undertaking in 1961 for periodic visits. The subject had become much more difficult over the last year because of publicity and because Israel had undertaken to accept these visits without full consultation of Parliament. There were delicate but not insuperable internal domestic complications involved. Censorship with a questionable legal basis had been imposed to prevent discussion on the merits of U.S. visits. A full parliamentary debate on the matter had been asked by an opposition party. This could probably be avoided. The alternatives were to have a secret visit or one after the matter had been discussed with the various political parties.

With regard to IAEA safeguards, Israel preferred a bilateral arrangement because of the increasingly weak position of Israel in the IAEA and the growing strength of the Arabs in that body. The Foreign Minister said that his Government attached full weight to the undertaking given to Governor Harriman that Israel would not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Arab-Israel area.

The Secretary observed that this undertaking might not prevent the development of a precarious situation somewhat akin to eight months of pregnancy. He stressed that the U.S. could not be silent on its attitude toward proliferation. With regard to visits, he said that the request for secrecy assurances would have to be looked into. What he was interested in was something that would serve as a public assurance. Private assurances were of limited value.

The Foreign Minister said that as soon as he got back to Israel he would help in lobbying for a U.S. visit and would also turn his attention to the matter of IAEA safeguards.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, POL ISR-US. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Gamon on February 12 and approved in S on February 15. The memorandum is Part II of IV.

Sources: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, V. 20, Arab-Israeli Dispute 1967-1968. DC: GPO, 2001.