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JFK & Israel's Nuclear Program: Memorandum on Israeli and UAR Nuclear Capabilities

(March 22, 1963)

This is a memorandum from Robert W. Komer of the National Security Council Staff to President Kennedy discussing Israeli and UAR nuclear weapon and missile capabilities.

Israeli/UAR nuclear and missile capabilities. What Rusk referred to Thursday was apparently an editorial in the London weekly Jewish Observer and Middle East Review of 2 February on "An Independent Deterrent for Israel." It doesn't mention nuclear weapons but says a decision to proceed on such a deterrent has been taken (for reasons similar to De Gaulle's).

We're pushing ahead on plans for next inspection of Israeli reactor [2-1/2 lines of source text not declassified].

Israel's current campaign publicizing German technical help to UAR suggests not only genuine Israeli concern but also that they: (1) are trying to justify their agent operations in Europe; and (2) may also be attempting to create justification for going ahead on their own nuclear program.

As for the UAR, we have carefully reviewed the Israeli evidence Mike Feldman showed you sometime ago. The UAR is trying to develop surface-to-surface missiles, using hired German help, but this effort looks far less menacing than the Israelis suggest. Nor do we have any evidence that the Egyptians are planning to use cobalt or strontium 90 isotopes in radiological warheads. This is technically most difficult, and probably beyond UAR capabilities.

We ought to try hard to forestall a new UAR/Israeli missile and nuclear arms race and the most promising option seems to be some form of tacit arms control along the lines of the Rostow paper you read last month. State is working on this project, but a word from you to Rusk would give it a needed push. I hope to feel out UAR attitudes on my trip next month, but any formal initiative ought to wait till Yemen is out of the way.

Bob Komer

Sources: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963: Near East, 1962-1963, V. XVIII.