- In July 1969, while the world was spellbound by the Apollo
11 mission to the moon, President Richard M. Nixon and his close advisers
were quietly fretting about a possible nuclear arms race in the Middle
East. Their main worry was not a potential enemy of the United States,
but one of America's closest friends.
- "The Israelis, who are one of the few peoples whose
survival is genuinely threatened, are probably more likely than almost
any other country to actually use their nuclear weapons," Henry A.
Kissinger, the national security adviser, warned President Nixon in a memorandum
dated July 19, 1969.
- Israel's nuclear arms program was believed to have begun
at least several years before, but it was causing special fallout for the
young Nixon administration. For one thing, President Nixon was getting
ready for a visit by Prime Minister Golda Meir of Israel, who was also
in her first year in office and whose toughness was already legendary.
- Should Washington insist that Israel rein in its development
of nuclear weapons? What would the United States do if Israel refused?
Perhaps the solution lay in deliberate ambiguity, or simply pretending
that America did not know what Israel was up to. These were some of the
options that Mr. Kissinger laid out for President Nixon on that day before
men first walked on the moon.
- The Nixon White House's concerns over Israel's weapons
were recalled in documents held by the Nixon Presidential Library that
were released today by the National Archives. They provide insights into
America's close, but by no means problem-free, relationship with Israel.
They also serve as a reminder that concerns over nuclear arms proliferation
in the Middle East, currently focused on Iran, are decades-old.
- The papers also allude to a campaign by friends of W.
Mark Felt, who was then the second-ranking F.B.I. official, to have him
succeed J. Edgar Hoover as director of the bureau in 1972. President Nixon,
of course, did not take the advice, choosing L. Patrick Gray instead, and
Mr. Felt later became the famous anonymous source "Deep Throat,"
whose Watergate-scandal revelations helped to topple the president.
- There are also snippets about Washington's desire to
manipulate relations with Saudi Arabia, so that the Saudis might help to
broker a peace in the Mideast;discussion of possibly supporting a Kurdish
uprising in Iraq; and a 1970 incident in which four Israeli fighters shot
down four Russian Mig-21's over eastern Egypt, even though the Israelis
were outnumbered two-to-one in the battle.
- But perhaps the most interesting material released today,
and the most pertinent given the just-completed Mideast peace conference
in Annapolis, concerns Israel and its relations with its neighbors, as
well as with the United States.
- "There is circumstantial evidence that some fissionable
material available for Israel's weapons development was illegally obtained
from the United States about 1965," Mr. Kissinger noted in his long
- One problem with trying to persuade Israel to freeze
its nuclear program is that inspections would be useless, Mr. Kissinger
said, conceding that "we could never cover all conceivable Israeli
- "This is one program on which the Israelis have
persistently deceived us," Mr. Kissinger said, "and may even
have stolen from us."
- Israel has never officially acknowledged that it has
nuclear weapons, but scientists and arms experts have almost no doubt that
it does. The United States's reluctance to press Israel to disarm has made
America vulnerable to accusations that it is a preacher with a double standard
when it comes to stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction in
the Middle East.
- Mr. Kissinger's memo, written barely two years after
the Six-Day War and while memories of the Holocaust were still vivid among
the first Israelis, implicitly acknowledged Israel's right to defend itself,
as subsequent American administrations have done.
- After President Nixon met Prime Minister Meir at the
White House in late September 1969, he said: "The problems in the
Mideast go back centuries. They are not susceptible to easy solution. We
do not expect them to be susceptible to instant diplomacy."
- As usual, the NYT puts its best zionist spin on the article,
reminding readers of israel's so-called 'unconditional right to self-defense.'
- But, what struck me most from the memo was that even
back then the biggest dilemma Nixon faced concerning whether or not to
pressure israel to abandon its nuclear ambitions was governed by his FEAR
of what the Israel Lobby could do to him if he threatend to withhold something
- The Dilemma We Face
- Our problem is that israel will not take us seriously
on the nuclear issue unless they believe we are prepared to withhold something
they very much need -- the Phantom, or even more, their whole military
supply relationship with us.
- On the other hand, if we withhold the Phantoms and they
make this fact public in the United States, enormous political pressure
will be mounted on us. We will be in an indefensible position if we cannot
state why we are withholding the planes. Yet if we explain our position
publicly, we will be the ones to make Israel's possession of nuclear weapons
public with all the international consequences this entails.
- the memo (PDF) yourself.
- I'm interested to see what the other documents hold.
The NYT can't be trusted to reveal everything we need to know.
- Wake up from your slumber