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Israeli researcher refutes NYT report that Israel had nuclear bomb in 1967
Attila Somfalvi, Ynewt, Jun 4 2017

Following a report by the NYT on Sunday which claimed that Israel had achieved nuclear capabilities by Jun 1967 and was planning to bomb the Sinai to deter the Egyptians, the Israeli researcher on whose work the NYT piece was partially based, seems to refute these claims. The NYT’s initial reporting stated that then-Brig-Gen Yitzhak “Yisha” Yaakov said as much to Avner Cohen and Ronen Bergman as part of a Yediot article. Speaking to Ynet later Sunday, Cohen said that Israel was not planning to bomb the Sinai in Jun 1967, since at the time it did not have nuclear capabilities. The NYT quoted Yaakov as saying:

It was so natural! You’ve got an enemy, and he says he’s going to throw you to the sea. You believe him. How can you stop him? You scare him! If you’ve got something you can scare him with, you scare him!

The NYT cited Yaakov, who died four years ago, as saying that the plan to bomb Egypt was called the Samson Option, and that it would be used as a last resort. He added that were it to have been used, the nuclear blast might have ended up killing him and his commando team. Yaakov quoted operations chief Ezer Weizman as saying that Egypt was going to attack Dimona. The NYT wrote:

It has long been known that Israel rushed to complete its first atomic device on the eve of the Arab-Israeli war, but the planned demonstration remained secret in a country where it is taboo to discuss even half-century-old nuclear plans. Shimon Peres, who died last year, hinted at the plan’s existence in his memoirs.

However, Cohen, who in addition to interviewing Yaakov has authored a nuclear history of Israel called Israel and the Bomb, strongly objected to the NYT piece. In an interview with Ynet, Cohen stated it was wrong for the NYT article to have relied on Yaakov’s 32-year-old memory. Cohen said that as opposed to what most people think, Israel actually didn’t have an atom bomb back then. He said:

He describes events as he saw them from his own personal point of you. Does it accurately fit with the overall, objective and the historical truth? It’s hard to tell. I had a lot of questions about this. Israel was working day and night to give the top echelon, meaning the PM, some sort of option, which shows that this project had some gravitas. We were trying to wildly improvise something that no one was 100% sure was going to work. They ended up creating this thing called the Spider, a nuclear detonation system that needed to be connected to a nuclear core to be set up at another location. More conceptually than practically speaking, Yicha tried to offer a plan that would bring it to fruition. He himself wasn’t sure it would really work. The NYT piece is based on a very long interview of mine with Yicha, an analysis of this interview and other piece published here in Pindostan. Yicha felt the need to tell this, because he thought it no longer held any operational or intelligence importance. There was a very morose atmosphere in Israel between May 25 and May 27. There was a feeling that Dimona and the IAF bases could be under attack. Was Egypt planning to attack Dimona? We’re not 100% sure about that, but based on Israel’s estimation at the time, or rather Rabin’s, (AMAN chief) Yariv’s and Ezer Weizman’s, Dimona was indeed considered a target.

On May 16 1967, two days after the beginning of the Egyptian military began bulstering their forces along the border with Israel. IDF chief of staff Rabin said at the time that Egypt might be targeting Dimona. The next day, Rabin and the AMAN chief informed the Israeli Security Cabinet that Egyptian MiG-21 jets flew over Dimona at high altitude after entering Israeli airspace from Jordan. IAF planes had been dispatched to intercept them but failed to do so due to the short warning time. The IAF planes were not allowed to cross the border into Sinai. Rabin then told Cabinet ministers that IAF Mirages tried to intercept them on their return to Sinai but failed. The incident completely changed the atmosphere at the ministerial meeting. Rabin and Weizman asked to speak to Eshkol and briefed him on “a strange and worrisome message regarding the cooperation between fighter planes and bombers,” saying this could be related to a possible Egyptian air strike on Dimona. Weizman added that all the indications showed that Egypt planned to attack Dimona with at least 40 jets, perhaps that very night. Eshkol returned to the Cabinet meeting but did not reveal all the information he had received to the ministers. Instead, he told them that information about the air incident would be passed on to the Pindos, without telling them that the Egyptian jets had happened over Dimona. Decades later, a member of the cabinet at the time, described the ministers’ shock after discovering that a fleet of Egyptian planes had passed over Dimona. Cohen estimates that Egypt did indeed plan to carry out an airstrike on the morning of May 27, with its main targets being IAF bases and possibly Dimona. According to several testimonies of senior Egyptian boxtops, an airstrike order was given and then canceled. Nasser was forced to cancel the plan at the last minute, after a direct threat from LBJ and a similar warning from the Soviets.

Ex-general: Setting Off Nuke in Sinai in 1967 Would Have Hurt Israel
Ofer Aderet, Haaretz, Jun 4 2017

Faschingstein’s Woodrow Wilson Center has published historical materials from Israel that support the assessment that in 1967 the government considered detonating a nuclear device in the Sinai because it feared Egyptian strikes on the nuclear reactor in Dimona. For the 50th anniversary of the war, the center released declassified minutes from meetings of members of Levi Eshkol’s cabinet alongside transcripts of interviews conducted with senior figures who were involved in the war. They include an interview with former IOf CoS Ch Zvi Tzur, who was an aide to Defense Minister Dayan. Tzur, who died in 2004, gave the interview in 2001. He described an Israeli plan to detonate a nuclear device in Sinai during the war in order to deter the Arab armies. Tzur said that he appointed a two-person committee to examine the issue, comprising a representative of Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission, plus the head of the IDF’s research and development unit. Tzur told his interviewer:

The committee’s aim was to determine if something can be done. I’m not talking about creating a weapon that would knock the world. I’m talking right now about the option of a test that would make people understand that we should be taken seriously. When I came into office, we already had what we had. We didn’t have what … We didn’t exactly know if it was possible to make a demonstration out of it. We checked the technical side of the issue. We didn’t check the political side, I believe, as there was no logic to actually do it. But it’s true that we checked. We checked if we could even do anything. The idea of carrying out a controlled explosion on the eve of the war in order to deter the Arab states was illogical. We would have destroyed everything we had. We would have been hurt badly. No one would have believed a word we said. If Shimon Peres seriously made such an offer, I find it odd. He couldn’t have offered it to Moshe Dayan, because after six hours of war, it was already behind us. When I appointed the committee on Monday, the war has already started. In the evening, we already knew there was no Egypt.

Tzur was referring to a plan that Yaakov detailed in an interview to historian Avner Cohen which also appears on the Wilson website and was featured in a Jun 3 article in the NYT. There, Yaakov said that Israel had prepared a secret contingency plan code-named Shimshon that proposed assembling a nuclear device that could be exploded strictly for demonstrative purposes on a mountain peak in the Sinai Desert, to deter the Arab armies and force them to withdraw. Yaakov told Cohen:

Look, it was so natural! You’ve got an enemy, and he says he’s going to throw you to the sea, he says he’s going to throw chemical weapons on you, and you believe him. What are you looking for? Anything you can do to stop him! How can you stop him? You scare him! If you’ve got something you can scare him with, you scare him!

The plan was to send in a small paratrooper force to divert the Egyptian Army in the desert so that a special team could prepare the explosion. Two large helicopters were to be used to transport the device and the team to the site.
Shimon Peres also hinted at the existence of this plan in his memoirs, mentioning a proposal “that would have deterred the Arabs and prevented the war.” The Wilson Center posted minutes from a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting of May 26 1967, in which Eshkol also hinted at Israel’s nuclear capability, saying:

Today four airplanes flew over Israel. We immediately telegrammed Abba Eban about it. The purpose of a certain weapon can be crucial in this matter, and I don’t mean something which is out of this world. It’s a weapon that exists in the world in the hundreds and thousands.

The Wilson documents also quote operations chief Ezer Weizman as warning that Egypt planned to attack Dimona “with at least 40 aircraft,” two weeks before the war began. To this could be added published reports of Israeli fears of an Egyptian attack on Dimona. Cohen, who was behind the documents’ disclosure, told Haaretz that his goal was to present the general public with the “nuclear narrative” of the 67 War, to better explain the reasons for it.

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