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Lyndon Johnson Administration: U.S. Policy on Israel's Nuclear Program

(July 28, 1966)

This telegram summarizes a discussion between the State Department and the Government of Israel about Israel's nuclear program. In it, the United States urged Israel to accept IAEA supervision to reduce tension and that its Arab neighbors and the USSR would go along. The Israelis responded that they were concerned about the threat of conventional weapons and that they would not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Rusk said that the U.S. would not support Israel if they obtained nuclear weapons.

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

Washington, July 28, 1966, 8:39 p.m.

17501. After discussion Israeli proposal on refugee problem (State 16922),/2/ Secretary raised question of Israeli nuclear intentions. He noted Soviet interest in denuclearization and said that if Israel would agree to IAEA safeguards, he believed its Arab neighbors would also agree and USSR would go along. Would Israel agree to IAEA safeguards, he asked.

Ambassador Rafael said Israel was not giving any thought to it at present because of GOI's concern for broader problem of conventional weapons. Rafael said Soviets did not indicate to Israelis in Geneva they would be willing to limit conventional arms in area in exchange for nuclear ban. He added Israel made clear its position it would not be first to introduce nuclear weapons in Near East.

Secretary noted our assumption GOI does not wish go nuclear, and added: If you do, you will lose US support. If on the other hand, you accepted nuclear ban, he continued, your neighbors would follow you and that would be first step toward reduction of tensions. Secretary said we cannot guarantee USSR interested in conventional arms limitation, but nuclear question can be separated out and that consideration is fundamental to US position.

Secretary then told Israelis that nothing would be more disastrous to GOI than enter nuclear weapon field, and urged them to agree to international safeguards. When Rafael protested nuclear ban does not take care of GOI's problem with conventional weapons, Secretary said: This means then you want to hang on to the threat of nuclear weapons. Rafael said no, GOI has made position clear in Knesset, but there are some people in Israel--not in govt--who say Israel should go nuclear.

Secretary said either this card is in your deck, or it is not. If it's not, then get it out of the way by accepting safeguards. He again noted that if Israel is holding open the nuclear option, it should forget US support. We would not be with you, he said.

Secretary asked Israel to bring this matter to attention of Eban. They suggested it might be discussed further while Eban is in US for GA.


/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, DEF 12 ISR. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Campbell, cleared by Symmes and Sisco, and approved and initialed by Rusk. Repeated to Geneva for Goldberg.

/2/Document 310.

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