UPDATED: How Israel Hid Its Secret Nuclear Weapons Program
The Negev Nuclear Research Center as viewed from satelliteI’m surprised no one has posted a page about this. Oddly enough, I was led to it because this morning I woke up with the name “Mordechai Vanunu” repeating in my head. I was lying there staring at the ceiling trying to place the name for a good ten minutes. I knew I’d heard it before, but couldn’t for the life of me remember where or in reference to what, so I decided to go to Wikipedia to jog my memory.
As I read, his story slowly started coming back to me. About a quarter of the way through, I noticed that there had been a new development just this past week in the form of documents published by the National Security Archive of George Washington University, corroborating Vanunu’s statements about Dimona. In turn, the Archive’s Nuclear Vault led me to the Politico piece below.
I guess I must’ve heard or read Vanunu’s name somewhere this week and it only worked it’s way up into my consciousness this morning. The human brain can be a really strange thing sometimes.
Anyway, it’s a fascinating story—I highly recommend reading the whole thing.
For decades, the world has known that the massive Israeli facility near Dimona, in the Negev Desert, was the key to its secret nuclear project. Yet, for decades, the world—and Israel—knew that Israel had once misleadingly referred to it as a “textile factory.” Until now, though, we’ve never known how that myth began—and how quickly the United States saw through it. The answers, as it turns out, are part of a fascinating tale that played out in the closing weeks of the Eisenhower administration—a story that begins with the father of Secretary of State John Kerry and a familiar charge that the U.S. intelligence community failed to “connect the dots.” […]
A little anecdote about an occurrence sometime in September 1960 sheds light on the development of U.S. perceptions that Israel was being less than honest about Dimona. That month, Addy Cohen, then the young director of the Foreign Aid Office at the Israeli Finance Ministry, hosted U.S. ambassador to Israel Ogden Reid and some of his senior staff for a tour of the Dead Sea Works—a large Israeli potash plant in Sdom, on the Dead Sea coast of Israel. The Israeli Air Force provided a Sikorsky S-58 helicopter to fly the American group from Tel Aviv to Sdom. As they were returning on the helicopter, near the new town of Dimona, Reid pointed to a huge industrial site under heavy construction and asked what it was. […]
“I was not prepared to [answer] Ambassador Reid’s question” about the Dimona site, recalls Cohen, who is now 87 and lives in Israel, so “I ad-libbed by referring to Trostler, the Jerusalemite architect [a relative of his wife], who actually designed a textile plant there” at Dimona.
“Why, that’s a textile plant,” Cohen responded to the question. Cohen’s answer was not completely false, but it was surely evasive. Looking back, Cohen told us this month, “It may have transpired that I was the first one who referred to the project as a ‘textile plant,’ but I can assure you that it was not planned.” […]
The Interview below with Addy Cohen can be found on the Archive’s page about the newly released documents, The Eisenhower Administration and the Discovery of Dimona: March 1958-January 1961. It marks the inauguration of a special section on Israeli Nuclear History that will apparently be permanent.
The following is from the same page as the video above. It provides descriptions of and links to all the newly released documents, which are in PDF format:
Washington, D.C., April 15, 2015 - The U.S. government first learned of Israel’s secret nuclear program at Dimona from an American corporate official talking to U.S. diplomats in Tel Aviv during mid-summer 1960, according to a declassified document published today for the first time by the National Security Archive, the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project, and the Center for Nonproliferation Studies of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. Other documents published today detail the discovery of the secret project that some in the U.S. government believed from the very start aimed at a weapons capability; the U.S. debates over Israel’s lack of candor; and U.S. government efforts to pressure the Israelis to answer key questions about the nature of the Dimona project.
This “discovery,” which came as the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower was drawing to a close, caused apprehension in Washington by raising concern about regional stability and nuclear proliferation, but it also produced annoyance because Israeli officials at all levels repeatedly provided less than credible answers to U.S. questions about Dimona. Thus, in September 1960, when embassy officials asked about a new construction site when they were on a helicopter ride nearby, an adroit Israeli official, Addy Cohen, improvised a story to keep the secret: it was the site of a textile factory, he said; a story that was not wholly false because there was a textile plant near Dimona. An interview with Addy Cohen detailing the episode appears in this posting for the first time.
Documents published in this collection shed light on a particularly notable intelligence failure: how Washington missed warning signs that the Israelis had a nuclear project underway, but also how the U.S. belatedly realized what the Israelis were doing, and how Eisenhower and his senior advisers reacted to this discovery. […]
The timing of the release of the documents is rather interesting in light of the recent kerfuffle over the talks with Iran, isn’t it?
Documents related to the Non-Proliferation Treaty
Out of curiosity I went in search of more info. I haven’t had a chance to read it all yet, nor do I know if any of the items have been abrogated by more recent events. The NPT allows for the parties to gather every five years to review its operation, the most recent meeting was held in 2010, with the 2015 meeting scheduled for April 27-May 22 at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. Anyway, below are some of the links for anyone who’s interested:
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
- Safeguards Legal Framework
- Nuclear Safety and Security
- Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)
- Israeli nuclear capabilities (PDF) 2010 report by the Director General
- Latest status of the NPT as per the U.N Office for Disarmament Affairs
U.S. Department of State
- Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty
- Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN)
- Past Treaties and Agreements
- U.S.-IAEA Safeguards Agreement
James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies
The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) is a research center of the Monterey Institute of International Studies. Wikipedia is a good starting point for info on both organizations.
- Safeguards and Middle East contentious issues at the 2014 IAEA General Conference Note: The second of the three PDF fact sheets, Middle East Issues, deals specifically with Israel (as well as the U.S. and the politicization of the subject that's hampering things).
- 2015 Monitoring Report: Implementation of the 2010 NPT Action Plan, Disarmament Actions 1-22
- Their Tutorials & Videos Archives is also a good place for more info, as are their Middle East/Africa and Iran Archives.
- Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Disarmament Database
Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI)
- Treaties & Regimes
- Country Profiles
- Understanding Nuclear Threats
- The Annual Reports and Analysis sections look interesting
- Arms Control and Regional Security in the Middle East (ACRS) - There's a note that as of April 2013 the page will no longer be updated, so I'm unsure how relevant it is today, but it covers efforts to deal with Middle East peace going back to 1990