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Lyndon Johnson Administration: Rusk Concerned About Israel's Nuclear Capability

(February 23, 1967)

This telegram expresses the State Department's desire to see the Dimona facility and determine whether Israel has nuclear weapons capability.

142711. From Secretary to Ambassador Barbour. Your A-478/2/ describing conversations with two Israeli contacts suggests Israel could be much closer to nuclear weapons capability than we had supposed. We are requesting urgent assessment these and other recent reports by Washington intelligence community. While we will reserve judgment pending outcome that assessment, potential implication these reports makes it even more pressing to obtain response from Eshkol on our request for visit to Dimona. You will recall that on January 16 he promised invitation would be forthcoming "within a few weeks."/3/ You should inform Prime Minister that highest levels of USG are aware you requested GOI agreement to visit as long ago as November and are frankly disturbed at lack of GOI response. We hope Prime Minister will be able set date for visit in very near future.

/2/Airgram A-478 from Tel Aviv, February 7, is filed as an attachment to a February 22 memorandum from Handley to Rusk, which summarized reports suggesting that Israel's nuclear program might be moving at a faster pace than previously indicated. (Ibid.) A February 17 memorandum from Davies to Bunker, outlining NEA views on the Israeli desalting project, states, "Some recent intelligence reports suggest that Israel may be constructing a chemical separation facility and proceeding so far in the production of bomb components that assembly of a nuclear weapon could be completed in 6-8 weeks." It states, however, that pending a fuller assessment, NEA was inclined to view these reports with reservations. (Ibid., E 11-3 ISR) In a March 9 letter to Davies, Barbour commented, "I was pleased to see the NEA paper's cautious appraisal of recent alarming reports on Israel's nuclear activities and intentions. Such caution is well placed. Moreover, my own impressions from such information as is available to us is that Dimona is not running at full blast." (Ibid.)

/3/Barbour reported this conversation in telegram 2371 from Tel Aviv, January 16. (Ibid.)


Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, AE 11-2 ISR. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Sterner; cleared by Davies, Atherton, Handley, and Wriggins, and in substance by Trevithick and Rochlin; and approved and initialed by Rusk.

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