JFK's Concern Over Israel's
Nuclear Bomb Program

JFK's Letter To Israeli PM Eshkol July 5, 1963

Dear Mr. Prime Minister (Eshkol),
It gives me great personal pleasure to extend congratulations as you assume your responsibilities as Prime Minister of Israel. You have our friendship and best wishes in your new tasks. It is on one of these that I am writing you at this time.

You are aware, I am sure, of the exchange which I had with Prime Minister Ben-Gurion concerning American visits to Israel,s nuclear facility at Dimona. Most recently, the Prime Minister wrote to me on May 27. His words reflected a most intense personal consideration of a problem that I know is not easy for your Government, as it is not for mine. We welcomed the former Prime Minister,s strong reaffirmation that Dimona will be devoted exclusively to peaceful purposes and the reaffirmation also of Israel,s willingness to permit periodic visits to Dimona.

I regret having to add to your burdens so soon after your assumption of office, but I feel the crucial importance of this problem necessitates my taking up with you at this early date certain further considerations, arising out of Mr. Ben-Gurion,s May 27 letter, as to the nature and scheduling of such visits.

I am sure you will agree that these visits should be as nearly as possible in accord with international standards, thereby resolving all doubts as to the peaceful intent of the Dimona project. As I wrote Mr. Ben-Gurion, this Government,s commitment to and support of Israel could be seriously jeopardized if it should be thought that we were unable to obtain reliable information on a subject as vital to the peace as the question of Israel,s effort in the nuclear field.

Therefore, I asked our scientists to review the alternative schedules of visits we and you had proposed. If Israel,s purposes are to be clear beyond reasonable doubt, I believe that the schedule which would best serve our common purposes would be a visit early this summer, another visit in June 1964, and thereafter at intervals of six months. I am sure that such a schedule should not cause you any more difficulty than that which Mr. Ben-Gurion proposed in his May 27 letter. It would be essential, and I understand that Mr. Ben-Gurion,s letter was in accord with this, that our scientist have access to all areas of the Dimona site and to any related part of the complex, such as fuel fabrication facilities or plutonium separation plant, and that sufficient time to be allotted for a thorough examination.

Knowing that you fully appreciate the truly vital significance of this matter to the future well-being of Israel, to the United States, and internationally, I am sure our carefully considered request will have your most sympathetic attention.
John F. Kennedy
Israel And The Bomb
By Avner Cohen
A Choice Outstanding Academic Book
". . . Avner Cohen's book stands in a class of its own. It is the first scholarly study of the history of this project, it is richly documented, and it unveils some of the major mysteries surrounding events by tapping a large body of previously untouched sources. . . . It can only be assumed that when this national mood of 'nuclear' ignorance changes, Cohen's book will serve as a solid foundation for this debate." -- Uri Bar-Joseph, Jewish History
"Cohen's book hits nation's sensitivity." -- Dan Ephron, Washington Times
"Cohen's work will necessitate the rewriting of Israel's history, wars, international relations, domestic political crises, economy, psychology, national pride--everything will have to be viewed in a different light." --Tom Segev, Ha'aretz
"This is an extraordinarily important book. Cohen has produced an amazing piece of historical scholarship on a subject deliberately shrouded in clouds of misdirection, for legitimate raisons d´etat, by both Israeli and American governments." -- Samuel W. Lewis, U.S. Ambassador to Israel (1977-1985)
"This impeccably documented history of the first two decades of the Israeli nuclear program illuminates the complex domestic and international forces that shaped the activity and gives the reader fascinating insight into the thinking of Israeli, French, and U.S. leaders on the uniquely sensitive subject that only a few participants were fully aware of at the time." --Spurgeon Keeny, President and Executive Director, The Arms Control Association
"Cohen lays out as fully as now possible the intricate interplay of domestic politics in Tel Aviv/Jerusalem, Paris, and Washington with the diplomatic interaction of the three countries, formal and informal, that shaped the path of Israel´s nuclear program. An unmatched and indispensable contribution to understanding our nuclear age, the lessons of Israel and the Bomb have renewed salience in the context of the movement of more nations into the nuclear club."Carl Kaysen, former deputy national security advisor to JFK
"A compelling and comprehensive account of the development of what he calls Israel´s doctrine of 'nuclear opacity.'" --Paul C. Warnke, former Assistant Secretary of Defense,
"A scholarly treatise that includes over 1,200 footnotes, yet reads like a novel. . . . [Cohen] analyzes in rich detail how this policy of 'nuclear opacity' evolved and what made it possible." --Lawrence Kolb, New York Times Book Review
"For anyone interested in the never-ending struggles in the Middle East and life on the edge in the nuclear age, this book is a must-read." --Miami Herald
"This important volume deserves the attention of Middle East scholars and students of foreign policy, nuclear proliferation, and Israeli politics." --A.R. Norton, Boston University Choice
"Israel and the Bombshould be required reading for those interested in nuclear issues in general and in the complexities of the American-Israeli relationship in particular. For American decision makers, the book should serve as an invaluable case-study of how not to deal with future instances of nuclear proliferation." --Michael Rubner, Middle East Policy
Until now, there has been no detailed account of Israel´s nuclear history. Previous treatments of the subject relied heavily on rumors, leaks, and journalistic speculations. But with Israel and the Bomb, Avner Cohen has forged an interpretive political history that draws on thousands of American and Israeli government documents -most of them recently declassified and never before cited -and more than one hundred interviews with key individuals who played important roles in this story. Cohen reveals that Israel crossed the nuclear weapons threshold on the eve of the 1967 Six-Day War, yet it remains ambiguous about its nuclear capability to this day. What made this posture of "opacity" possible, and how did it evolve?
Cohen focuses on a two-decade period from about 1950 until 1970, during which David Ben-Gurion´s vision of making Israel a nuclear-weapon state was realized. He weaves together the story of the formative years of Israel´s nuclear program, from the founding of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission in 1952, to the alliance with France that gave Israel the sophisticated technology it needed, to the failure of American intelligence to identify the Dimona Project for what it was, to the negotiations between President Nixon and Prime Minister Meir that led to the current policy of secrecy. Cohen also analyzes the complex reasons Israel concealed its nuclear program -from concerns over Arab reaction and the negative effect of the debate at home to consideration of America´s commitment to nonproliferation.
Israel and the Bomb highlights the key questions and the many potent issues surrounding Israel´s nuclear history. This book will be a critical resource for students of nuclear proliferation, Middle East politics, Israeli history, and American-Israeli relations, as well as a revelation for general readers.
* Introduction
* 1. Men and Ethos
* 2. Before the Beginning
* 3. The Beginning
* 4. The Road to Dimona
* 5. Dimona Revealed
* 6. Kennedy and the Israeli Project
* 7. The Battle of Dimona
* 8. Debate at Home
* 9. Kennedy and Eshkol Strike a Deal
* 10. The Dimona Visits (1964-1967)
* 11. Ambiguity Born
* 12. Growing Pains
* 13. The Arabs and Dimona
* 14. The Six-Day War
* 15. Toward Opacity
* 16. The Battle Over the NPT
* 17. Opacity Takes Hold
* Epilogue *
About the Author
Avner Cohen is a senior research fellow at the National Security Archive at George Washington University. He has taught and researched in universities in Israel and the United States and has published numerous articles on subjects as diverse as skepticism, political theory, nuclear ethics, nuclear proliferation, and Israeli history. He is the coeditor of Nuclear Weapons and the Future of Humanity and The Institution of Philosophy.


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