Secret Handwritten Memos Reveal How Israel’s Nuclear Program Came to Be


[Editor’s note: The great significance of this story to Americans is that the Israeli nuclear program is the prime reason why JFK had to be murdered – he was preventing Israel from obtaining a nuclear arsenal.

Ben Gurion wasn’t going to let the POTUS stop him however, so he used Israeli assets inside the US to remove the obstacle JFK posed. Ben Gurion’s resignation months before the slaying was intended to give hi a degree of separation from the dirty business should it go wrong and the Israeli role revealed – Eshkol and the other incumbent leaders would carry the can while Ben Gurion could claim he had nothing to do with it as he had retired to a quiet rural life. Ian]

Secret Handwritten Memos Reveal How Israel’s Nuclear Program Came to Be

A few years ago, shortly after I published my book “The Struggle for the Bomb” (Hebrew), about Israel’s nuclear history, I was invited to give a talk before an academic audience. Someone at the venue handed me a thick envelope and requested explicitly that I not open it until I got home.

Examining its contents later that day, I discovered some 100 different documents, including slips of paper, memoranda, drafts and summations of the most intimate meetings and events relating to Israel’s nuclear history.

The vast majority of the documents were original. Many of them were written by Israel Galili, a minister without portfolio and close adviser to two prime ministers, Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir. Others were penned by Yigal Allon, Shimon Peres, Moshe Dayan and Abba Eban, and by Eshkol himself.

Many of the items refer to highly confidential meetings that took place in 1962-1963, where the future of the nuclear project, and its impact on Israel’s neighbors, especially Egypt, were discussed. No official minutes were taken at these meetings, and the participants were forbidden to sum them up in writing.

The questions Galili posed to his colleagues at these meetings continue to occupy many historians around the world. Some of those questions – concerning the date on which the Dimona reactor would become operational; whether its activation could be concealed from foreign inspectors; how much money had already been invested in the project and how much more would be needed – can be answered now, thanks to this trove of information.

The start of work on the nuclear reactor, at the end of 1958, was kept secret from the Knesset and the government. The obvious need to keep the undertaking secret, and the fact that part of its budget came from foreign sources, made it possible to bypass temporarily any disagreements over the necessity for a nuclear program and the discussion of its potential significance. But when the reactor’s existence became public knowledge, in December 1960 – after the fact of its construction was leaked to the international media by foreign government sources – Israel’s political echelons began to discuss its future seriously.

The implications of the issues surrounding the nuclear project were critical. To begin with, its continued development demanded vast monetary resources, certainly for a country still taking its first steps. Second, any further development of the facility would have ramifications vis-a-vis Israel’s integration into the Cold War web of international diplomatic relations. And third, pursuit of the project was liable to induce neighboring countries, notably Egypt, to develop independent nuclear programs of their own.

Arnan (“Sini”) Azaryahu, the right-hand man of Galili and military leader Yigal Allon, said years later that one of the major decisions made in these meetings was in retrospect the most important in the history of Zionism. He was referring to the group’s decision not to accept the approach of Peres and Dayan – who urged that the absolute majority of the defense budget be diverted to the Dimona reactor and that its potential be made a public fact – but to adopt, instead, a policy of nuclear “ambiguity.”

A note written to Galili by Eban, mentioning that the entire nuclear project cost $340 million.


The blatant advantage of such a policy is still clear today: It reduced the motivation of neighboring countries to embark on the nuclear path and prevented Israel from having to take the steps then common for a nuclear state: a public declaration of its nuclear capability, nuclear tests and making the weapon operational. Such moves would also have openly subverted the international efforts that were being led by the United States against nuclear proliferation.

Three times the cost

The meetings were comprehensive and covered a range of issues related to the topic. Galili, for example, was very disturbed by the “undermining of our moral status” that nuclear development implied. He was also deeply concerned about the significance that such development would have for Egypt, and declared that “the enterprise” was liable to compel President Gamal Abdel Nasser to launch a preventive war against a “justified target.” In Galili’s view, Nasser would also be spurred to develop Egypt’s own nuclear project.

For reasons of censorship, only a small portion of the subjects that came up in the notes can be addressed here, among them the cost of building the reactor. Many estimates have been published over the years about the project’s total cost, virtually all of them based on foreign sources. At the same time, Galili’s notes suggest that these assessments were low. At a meeting held in April 1962, Shimon Peres said that, as of that date, 158 million Israel pounds had been spent on the reactor (about $53 million, according to the exchange rate at the time). In fact, the costs were far higher, and they went on climbing. Two years later, in mid-1964, Yigal Allon noted that in cabinet discussions it was stated that the Dimona reactor would cost about $60 million, but in his opinion “it is already three times that.”

It’s even possible that the reactor’s cost was almost twice the figure of $180 million. In a note to Galili, date unknown, Abba Eban, the deputy prime minister (a position he held from 1963 to 1966), wrote, “If it were known in advance that it would cost $340 million – would we have voted for Dimona?” (By comparison, the cost of building the national water carrier, generally referred to as the largest project executed in Israel during that period, was about $140 million.)

We understand from a number of testimonies that Ben-Gurion held off from resigning from the government, which he did in June 1963, until after the reactor had become operational. “The enterprise is undergoing a trial run,” Galili confirmed shortly afterward.

Israel Galili. Disturbed by the “undermining of our moral status” that nuclear development implied.

Shortly after Ben-Gurion’s departure, and Eshkol’s appointment as prime minister, a discussion was held on the future of the project and on Israeli-U.S. relations. Israel’s operative assumption, notes Golda Meir, at the time the foreign minister, is that the Americans know what is going on in “the enterprise.” She thought that a public struggle should be launched in defense of Israel’s right to undertake the nuclear project, and American Jewry mobilized to that end. “Our situation will be stronger when the struggle becomes public,” she stated, and urged a “switch to offense instead of defense.”

Eshkol, for his part, recommended continuing to abide by the policy whereby Israel would not admit to the goal of the project, but “also not deny.” In any event, he demanded “not to bargain [with Washington] before the matter is closed” (that is, nuclear capacity achieved). Some of the notes he wrote use code names: “Natar” is France, “Pazit” is Golda Meir. In one of the meetings, a person called “Nusa” says that Israel must “stop the work” on the reactor and “continue with laboratory work” while continuing to oppose a visit to Dimona by the Americans.

In the initial stages of the project, Israel brought heavy pressure to bear on de Gaulle’s France to drop its (weak) insistence that the nuclear project be placed under international supervision. The U.S. administration – mainly under Kennedy, to a lesser degree under Johnson and Nixon – also pressured Jerusalem on the same subject. In fact, some eight visits were made to the Dimona reactor by U.S. inspectors during the 1960s, generating a great political dispute within Israel.

A few years later, Peres wrote Galili that “in order to overcome the supervision” that the Americans were demanding, “cooperation by both sides is needed.” Cooperation was in fact achieved with the French, and later with the Americans as well. The Americans, for their part, as Dayan wrote in response to a question from Galili at the time, emphasized “concern about Israel’s isolation” and noted “that it is very important that we hurry and sign the treaty” against nuclear proliferation.

However, the crucial aspect of the project that was kept secret from the Israeli public in those years was not the visits in Dimona (which were frequently reported in the foreign press) or U.S. pressure on Israel. It was the fact that the future of the facility and its purpose were subjects of fierce dispute in the political realm in Israel. Whereas after 1962 there was unofficial agreement that Israeli would continue to build the reactor, in one of his notes Galili mentioned a highly important fact: “There is no decision by the government of Israel to manufacture atomic weapons.”

In other words, the logical interpretation is that in accordance with the decision made in 1962, Israel continued in those years to prepare a nuclear option in case one of its neighbors should embark on the nuclear path, but it did not complete the entire nuclear cycle. Following the series of meetings in the 1960s mentioned here, Galili wrote that, “No one here said to stop” the development.

A note written by Yigal Allon, saying that Israel has reached an agreement with the U.S. whereby the former would not cross the nuclear threshold publicly.

The 1962 decision, on continued construction of the reactor and the adoption of the policy of ambiguity, has remained intact to this day, but the political disagreement has also gone on for years.

“We are doing the best we can to ensure public supervision by the Knesset over the activity in this sphere,” Galili wrote in one of his notes. Peres and Dayan were opposed. “Golda wants to establish a ministerial committee for ‘atomic energy,’” Allon wrote Galili, and she “sees no alternative to coopting Shimon Peres.” Allon, for his part, was ready to forgo his place on the panel, just to ensure that Peres would not become a member.

In 1969, it was decided to stop the American visits to Dimona. Since then, as far as is known, the Americans have not been to the reactor. The cessation of the visits was part of a secret agreement of understandings – according to foreign reports – between President Richard Nixon and Prime Minister Meir, whereby Israel would not cross the nuclear threshold publicly. The importance of that agreement is clear from a note that Yigal Allon wrote: “I am constantly using a phrase agreed with [Secretary of State Henry] Kissinger – that Israel is not a nuclear state.” Allon wrote that the bilateral agreement was based on the concept that “a nuclear state is a state that has exploded a bomb or a device.” Israel has never conducted a public test, and therefore the agreement, if it actually exists, is still valid and still approved by the U.S. president every few years.

Final option

One of the most intriguing events in Israel’s history was an encounter, early in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, focused on the nuclear issue. The subject, which comes up in the envelope, has been widely addressed during the past few decades, notably in 2013, when nuclear researcher Avner Cohen published, in the United States, the testimony of Arnan Azaryahu about the episode. The journalist Ronen Bergman wrote at the time, “This is the first time that the testimony of a witness from the inner circle of the decision makers has been made available.” Azaryahu was not present at the meeting, but heard about the proceedings from Galili immediately afterward.

At 3 P.M., on October 8, 1973, a panicked Defense Minister Dayan arrived at the Kirya – defense establishment headquarters – in Tel Aviv and told Prime Minister Meir that it might be necessary to undertake preparations should be made ahead of activation of the final option. Dayan was apparently testing the waters with Meir. Also in the room were Galili, who turned pale, and wondered whether Dayan had lost his mind. But Dayan was insistent, arguing that it was necessary to prepare for the possibility of activation. Before the meeting, he told Chief of Staff David Elazar and air force commander Mordechai Hod that the air force should be placed on alert. Elazar was opposed. The next day, another meeting was held, this time with the participation of Shalhevet Freier, director general of Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission, who shared Dayan’s impulse. Meir made it clear to him that nothing would go ahead without her authorization. Israel Lior, her military secretary, told Dayan and Freier that they could forget about their ideas.

Much has been written about the nuclear aspects of the Yom Kippur War, and many have addressed the question of whether actual preparations were made ahead of a nuclear test or signal. The description of the events presented here suggests that no concrete preparations were made, except – apparently – initial preparations in the event of a different decision being made later by the political echelon.

In the shadows

The history of the Israeli nuclear project is important not only because of its bearing on the country’s past, but because of its influence on the present and the future. Despite the firm stance to the contrary of the defense establishment (and others), it is possible to hold a serious and responsible discussion about historical facts without “denting” the policy of ambiguity.

Foreign intelligence agencies do not base their evaluations on historical documentation that is 50-plus years old. Whereas a lively discussion on the significance of nuclear development has been held throughout the world for years, in Israel there is only silence. This is not a minor issue, as the nuclear project raises weighty questions: Who makes the decisions? Who is supervising the project? What is its effect on the foreign relations of the nuclear state? What is its cost? What effect does it have on security conceptions? And so on.

A public that is willing to remain in the shadows where its state’s nuclear policy is concerned, should not be surprised that decades later after its critical origins, a criminal episode is revealed dealing with the decision-making processes on the acquisition of submarines that, according to foreign sources, are capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

Author Details
Ian Greenhalgh is a photographer and historian with a particular interest in military history and the real causes of conflicts.

His studies in history and background in the media industry have given him a keen insight into the use of mass media as a creator of conflict in the modern world.

His favored areas of study include state-sponsored terrorism, media manufactured reality and the role of intelligence services in manipulation of populations and the perception of events.
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  1. I still think revoking the charter for the Federal Reserve Bank was JFK’s chief cause for assassination. However this is very interesting. Maybe you had to get in line to kill JFK.

    • Oh yeah, there was indeed a line, so it wasn’t hard for the Israelis to find willing collaborators inside the US. Read Michael Collins Piper’s book ‘Final Judgement’ it explains why it was Israel ultimately behind the killing. The key fact that is missing from the Oliver Stone JFK movie is that Permindex was not a CIA front, it was the front for Mossad operations inside the US. Then look at who set up Permindex and it’s a who’s who of Jewish criminals with close Mossad ties, including Roy Cohn, the same Roy Cohn who mentored Donald Trump.

  2. Quote:
    Curriculum Vitae of Dr. John W. Gofman, M.D., Ph.D.
    “Birth: September 21, 1918 in Cleveland, Ohio.
    • Grade and high school in Cleveland. A.B. in Chemistry from Oberlin College, 1939.
    • Ph.D. in Nuclear/Physical Chemistry from the University of California at Berkeley, 1943. Dissertation: Discovery of Pa-232, U-232, Pa-233, and U-233. Proof of the slow and fast neutron fissionability of U-233. Discovery of the 4n + 1 radioactive series.
    • M.D. from the School of Medicine, University of California at San Francisco, 1946. Internship in internal medicine at the University of California Hospital, San Francisco, 1946-1947.
    • Academic appointment in 1947 in the Division of Medical Physics, Department of Physics, University of California at Berkeley. Advancement in 1954 to the full professorship, a position held to the present time, with shift to Emeritus status in December, 1973
    • While a graduate student at Berkeley, Gofman co-discovered protactinium-232, uranium-232, protactinium-233, and uranium-233, and proved the slow and fast neutron fissionability of uranium-233.
    • Post-doctorally, he continued work related to the chemistry of plutonium and the atomic bomb development. At that early period, less than a quarter of a milligram of plutonium-239 existed, but a half-milligram was urgently needed for physical measurements in the Manhattan Project. At the request of J. Robert Oppenheimer, Gofman and Robert Connick irradiated a ton of uranyl nitrate by placing it around the Berkeley cyclotron (to capture neutrons), for a total exposure period of six weeks, with operation night and day. In 110 Gilman Hall, they scaled up Gofman’s previous test-tube-sized sodium uranyl acetate process for the plutonium’s chemical extraction. Dissolving 10-pound batches of the “hot” ton in big Pyrex jars, and working around the clock with the help of eight or ten others, they reduced the ton to a half cc of liquid containing 1.2 milligrams of plutonium (twice as much as expected). “
    After this initial work to produce the first small amounts of plutonium for the atomic bomb tests at the Manhattan Project, Professor John W. Gofman, M.D., Ph.D., spent the rest of his life (he died in 2007) on peaceful uses of science, chemistry and physics. He was a true scientist and true humanitarian. He was the best of the best. Read the many interviews listed above and the awards he received.
    All scientific discoveries can be used for good or for evil purposes. One could say his original efforts to produce plutonium were for evil purposes and he would likely agree if he were still alive because he was a totally honest and honorable scientist and human being. However the remainder of his life was spent on peaceful efforts to contribute to humanity. He called the development of nuclear power “premediated murder”. How many others would have the guts to proclaim that?

    The whore president Truman did not need to use the atomic bomb on Japan. This was a vicious act of revenge. The war was basically over then. Frankly we would have been better off if all those scientists, physicists, engineers, chemists and mathematicians who worked to develop the atomic bomb had refused. But then others would have likely produced it later. Even today there are not enough jobs for these highly skilled scientists doing peaceful research, so many move to doing secret weapons development for MONEY. Shame on them.

    • Considering the Germans and Japanese had also developed atomic bombs by mid 1945, that Stalin was rampaging through Asi and may well have chosen to invade western Europe as well, then it was necessary to demonstrate that the US had both a working bomb and a viable delivery system. Considering how many millions of civilians were murdered by the Japanese, how they raped the whole of Asia of it’s wealth (Yamashita’s gold, for instance) and how brutal and cruel they were, then very few would have shed a tear for the people incinerated in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan had been using chemical and biological weapons for a decade in China, they had committed unspeakably awful crimes against humanity at places like Unit 731, you can make a very strong case that, regardless of whether they were ready to surrender or not, they deserved what they got. The allied bombing of Germany and Japan, as awful as it was, had not deterred Stalin’s naked aggression and desire to conquer territory, the atom bomb did, which made it worth it. We shouldn’t judge historical actions by modern standards, but in the context of the time, and in that context, dropping the bomb was the correct thing to do, imho.

    • because evil reigns, good folks must adopt bad folk’s objectives/ strategies/ tactics to defeat the badies. and in the process, become the next generation of ruling badies. simplistic ethics. (yea, i’ve got low IQ.) now i see how evil reigns supreme in the land.

      fuk big $$$, big science, big data, and all big collectives. may sovereignty of the individual eventually permeate all.

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