President Nixon Overrode Near Consensus of Senior U.S. Officials on Threat Posed by Israeli Nuclear Program in 1969

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tags: Israel, Nixon



During the spring and summer of 1969, officials at the Pentagon, the State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Council staff debated and discussed the problem of the emergence of a nuclear Israel. Believing that Israel was moving very close to a nuclear weapons capability or even possession of actual weapons, the Nixon administration debated whether to apply pressure to restrain the Israelis or even delay delivery of advanced Phantom jets whose sale had already been approved.

Recently declassified documents produced in response to a mandatory declassification review request by the National Security Archive, and published today by the Archive in cooperation with the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project, show that top officials at the Pentagon were especially supportive of applying pressure on Israel. On 14 July 1969, Deputy Secretary of Defense (and Hewlett-Packard co-founder) David Packard signed a truly arresting memorandum to Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, arguing that failure to exert such pressure "would involve us in a conspiracy with Israel which would leave matters dangerous to our security in their hands."

In the end, Laird and Packard and others favoring pressure lost the debate. While National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger supported some of their ideas, he also believed that, at the minimum, it would be sufficient for U.S. interests if Israel kept their nuclear activities secret. As he put on his draft memo to President Nixon on or around July 19, "public knowledge is almost as dangerous as possession itself." Indeed, Nixon opposed pressure and was willing to tolerate Israeli nuclear weapons as long as they stayed secret.




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