THE SAMSON OPTION
Israel's Nuclear Arsenal and
American Foreign Policy
By Seymour M. Hersh
Israelis have done their best work from below. The huge underground laboratories at Dimona had their precedent in the Jewish struggle after World War II against the British mandatory power in Palestine. The British authorities had angered David Ben-Gurion and his followers by insisting that they adhere to the strict limits on Jewish immigration to Palestine that were set in 1939, after three years of Arab revolts. The British ruling had meant then that hundreds of thousands of Eastern European Jews were unable to escape the Holocaust. And now those who had somehow managed to survive were again being denied a chance to come legally to Palestine. Many were faced with a desperate dilemma: either return to what was left of their prewar homes and prewar life or remain in the dispirited and overcrowded displaced persons (DP) camps scattered across Europe.
The heavily outnumbered and outgunned members of the Hagannah, the Jewish underground, began the inevitable guerrilla war against the British troops with little other than their guile and determination. One of the war's most imaginative operations involved what seemed to be yet another farming kibbutz that was set up in 1946 about fifteen miles outside Tel Aviv, adjacent to a large British military base. The kibbutz's administrative building was constructed, seemingly at random, within a half mile of the base.
"The whole thing was a fraud," recalled Abe Feinberg, who had been recruited by Ben-Gurion the year before to help raise money for that and other guerrilla operations. The function of the kibbutz was not farming, but to provide cover for an elaborate and secret underground plant that was turning out bullets for the Sten submachine gun, the basic weapon of the Hagannah. Metal for the bullets had been shipped into Israel disguised as lipstick tubes, and it cleared British customs without challenge.
The underground facility had been "scooped out," said Feinberg, in twenty-seven days. The men and women who worked underground alternated that work with farming; those who completed a shift in the arms factory were ordered to muddy their shoes and sit under sunlamps so they could appear to the British and others as if they had been innocently tending crops or looking after the kibbutz's cows and sheep. Over the next two years, British soldiers and officers were constant—and unsuspecting—customers of the kibbutz's bakery and laundry, which cheerfully offered their services to the military. Feinberg recalled that a few of the British soldiers even made a point of coming to the kibbutz's Friday-night Shabbat dinners. Today the underground bullet factory is known as the Ayalon Museum, a popular attraction for Israeli schoolchildren.
Located a few hundred feet from the reactor, Dimona's chemical reprocessing plant looked, on the surface, very much like an ordinary administration building—a nondescript two-story windowless facility, eighty by two hundred feet, containing a workers' canteen and shower rooms, a few offices, some warehouse space, and an air filtration plant. The building had thickly reinforced walls, not an unusual safety feature, given its location. Once inside, there was no hint of what had been dug out below, apparently to the same dimensions, to a depth of eighty feet: a six-level highly automated chemical reprocessing plant. A bank of elevators on the top floor was routinely bricked over before foreign visitors, such as the American inspection teams headed by Floyd Culler, were permitted to enter the building. (Culler noted in his official reports during the 1960s that his team had seen evidence of freshly plastered and painted walls inside Dimona.) No outsider is ever known to have entered the reprocessing plant, whose long-suspected existence was not established until 1986,when the London Sun day Times published an extraordinary inside account based on extensive interviews with a thirty-one-year-old Moroccan Jew named Mordecai Vanunu.
Vanunu began working as a technician at Dimona in August 1977 and spent much of the next eight years assigned to various tasks inside the reprocessing plant, formally known as Machon 2 (machon means "facility" or "institute" in Hebrew) and informally known as the Tunnel. The reprocessing plant, which was handling materials that were exceedingly "hot"—that is, highly radioactive—was the most sensitive area at Dimona; only 150 of Dimona's 2,700 employes worked there. A special pass was needed to enter the plant, and all movement inside, even to and from the bathroom, was—in theory—to be closely monitored. Vanunu, once at work in the Tunnel, found that the stringent security existed in theory only. Constantly in trouble for his public pro-Arab views, he had been laid off in mid-1985 as part of a government-wide cutback. Vanunu appealed through his union, powerful as are all unions in Israel, and won back his job. It was at that point that he smuggled a camera into the reprocessing plant during an overnight shift and wandered around undetected for some forty minutes, taking fifty-seven color photographs. A few weeks later he was fired after calling for the formation of a Palestinian state during an Arab rally. Even then, again with help from his union, Vanunu was able to negotiate a settlement from Dimona's management that gave him severance pay and a letter attesting to his good record.
A combination of factors—disenchantment with his life, distress at the treatment of Arabs in Israel, and what he had learned inside Dimona—drove him to exile in Australia and eventually to the London Sunday Times. The newspaper's editors and reporters were appropriately skeptical of Vanunu's account of the goings-on inside Dimona, but the photographs he had taken proved to be critical in finally establishing his credibility. However, even as he talked to the Sunday Times, he was being closely monitored by the Israeli government, whose operatives have long-standing ties to the London newspaper world. Copies of some of Vanunu's sensational photographs had been made available in London—before publication of the Sunday Times story—to an Israeli intelligence agent masquerading as an American newspaper reporter. The photographs were sent by courier to the office of Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who ordered Mossad to get Vanunu out of London and into Israeli custody. No kidnapping could take place in England for diplomatic reasons. Instead, the lonely Vanunu was enticed by a Mossad agent named Cindy Hanin Bentov (a pseudonym) to leave for Rome a few days before publication of the story. Once in Rome, Vanunu has told family members, he was taken by taxi to an apartment, where he was drugged and returned to Israel by ship to stand trial. He was sentenced in March 1988 to eighteen years in a maximum-security prison.
Vanunu's Times interview and his photographs of many of the production units in the Tunnel, or Machon 2, provided the American intelligence community with the first extensive evidence of Israeli capability to manufacture fusion, or thermonuclear, weapons. American intelligence also obtained a copy of many of the Sunday Times's interview notes with Vanunu; those notes, some of which were also made available to the author, provided much more specific detail of the inner workings of Dimona than was published. Senior American officials, including men and women who have worked in nuclear weapons production and nuclear intelligence, uniformly agreed that the unpublished Vanunu notes are highly credible. One intelligence official who has been analyzing Israel's nuclear capability since the late 1960s depicted Vanunu's information, which includes a breakdown of the specific function of each unit inside the Tunnel, as stunning: "The scope of this is much more extensive than we thought. This is an enormous operation."
The most exhaustive analysis of the Vanunu statements and photographs was conducted by the Z Division, a special intelligence unit at the Livermore Laboratories whose experts are considered to be the final word on proliferation issues. It is responsible for analyzing foreign nuclear weapons, with emphasis on Soviet weaponry. "Z Division's only debate was over the numbers," recalled a former White House nonproliferation official. Vanunu told the Sunday Times that he believed the Israeli nuclear stockpile totaled more than two hundred warheads, an astonishingly high number—the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency were estimating into the early 1980s that Israel had only between twenty-four and thirty warheads. "On the basis of what Z Division knew," added the White House aide, "it could not relate those kinds of numbers to what they could see" in the Vanunu photographs.
There was no evidence in the Vanunu materials of additional cooling capacity for Dimona's reactor, whose output would have had to have been dramatically increased to produce enough plutonium for two hundred warheads. Vanunu, however, in a portion of his interview not published and not made available to Z Division, explained that a new cooling unit had been installed at the reactor while he was employed at Dimona.* American nonproliferation experts had independently learned in the last year of the Carter administration of the boost in Dimona's cooling capacity, further evidence of Vanunu's credibility as well as proof that the reactor was capable of operating at a higher level and producing more plutonium.
*Vanunu described the cooling unit to Frank Barnaby, a nuclear physicist and former employee of Britain's nuclear weapons installation at Aldermaston. Barnaby spent two days with Vanunu, at the request of the Sunday Times, in a continuing effort to verify his account. He concluded, the Sunday Times said, that Vanunu's account "is totally convincing." After leaving government service, Barnaby became director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), an arms control study group funded by the Swedish government.
Of extreme interest to the United States were Vanunu's photographs of what apparently were full-sized models of Israeli nuclear weapons.** Copies of those photos were provided to weapons designers at the Los Alamos and Livermore laboratories for evaluation and analysis, and the designers, working from the photographs, constructed replicas of the Israeli weapons, as had been done with Soviet weapons in the past. They concluded that Israel was capable of manufacturing one of the most sophisticated weapons in the nuclear arsenal—a low-yield neutron bomb. Such weapons, which first came into the American stockpile in the mid-1970s, utilize enhanced radiation and minimal blast to kill anything living within a limited range with limited damage to property. The weapon actually is a two-stage thermonuclear device that utilizes tritium and deuterium (both by-products of hydrogen), and not lithium deuteride, to maximize the release of neutrons.
**Mock-ups are commonly used for training purposes and military briefings in the American nuclear weapons complex, for the obvious reason that no one would want to work next to a fully operational nuclear warhead filled with highly enriched materials. The mock-ups are accurate replicas, in terms of external design and size, of a normal warhead, and American nonproliferation experts assumed that the Israelis' models were carefully prepared.
The Vanunu information also helped American intelligence experts date the progress of the Israeli nuclear arsenal. Vanunu revealed, for example, that Unit 92 in the Tunnel had been painstakingly removing tritium from heavy water since the 1960s, indicating that physicists at Dimona—following Levi Eshkol's 1965 plea for advanced research—had been attempting from the earliest days of Dimona's production to manufacture "boosted" fission weapons. The United States began experimenting in the early 1950s with boosting, which dramatically increases the yield, or destructiveness, of a single-stage fission device. Boosting is a process in which small quantities (a few grams) of tritium and deuterium are inserted directly into a plutonium warhead and designed to flood the warhead with additional neutrons at the moment of fission—in essence, jumpstarting the weapon at the moment of critical mass—producing a bigger kick, or yield, with smaller amounts of plutonium. Vanunu also told the Sunday Times of returning from a vacation in 1980—his first trip abroad since emigrating with his family to Israel in 1963—and being assigned then to work at a new production plant for lithium 6, another essential element of the hydrogen bomb. In 1984, he further reported, a new facility (Unit 93) for large-scale production of tritium was opened. Lithium is irradiated in the reactor, then moved to Unit 93, where it is heated to release tritium in a gas form, along with helium and hydrogen. The gases are then driven under high pressure through an asbestos palladium column and separated. The helium is stored in powdered uranium and can again be released by heating. The opening of Unit 93 suggests that full scale production of neutron weapons began then, for up to twenty grams of tritium are used in each neutron warhead.
As described by Vanunu (and confirmed by the author in later interviews with Israeli officials), Dimona includes the reactor and at least eight other buildings, or Machons, the most important of which is the chemical reprocessing plant. Each building apparently is self-contained. Machon I is the large silver-domed reactor, sixty feet in diameter, that can be clearly seen from the nearby highway. The uranium fuel rods remain for three months in the reactor, which is cooled and moderated by heavy water. The heavy water is itself cooled by ordinary water flowing through a heat exchanger, creating steam, which in a nu clear power plant would drive a turbine and create electricity. Instead, the steam in Machon I is vented into the atmosphere, creating a radioactive cloud.* Machon 2 is the chemical reprocessing plant. Machon 3 converts lithium 6 into a solid for insertion into a nuclear warhead and also processes natural uranium for the reactor. Machon 4 contains a waste treatment plant for the radioactive residue from the chemical reprocessing plant in Machon 2. Machon 5 coats the uranium rods (shipped from Machon 3) with aluminum to be consumed in the reactor. The rods, once stacked in the core of the reactor, provide the fuel needed to sustain a chain reaction—and capture weapons-grade isotopes of plutonium. Machon 6 provides basic services and power for Dimona. Machon 8 contains a laboratory for testing samples and experimenting on new manufacturing processes; it also is the site of Special Unit 840, where Israeli scientists have developed a gas centrifuge method of enriching uranium for weapons use. There also is a laser-isotope reprocessing facility for the enrichment of uranium in Machon 9. Depleted uranium—that is, uranium with very little or no uranium 235 left—is chemically isolated in Machon 10 for eventual shipment to the Israeli Defense Force or sale to arms manufacturers in Europe and elsewhere for use in bullets, armor plating, and artillery and bomb shells. The shells, buttressed by the heavy uranium, which is much denser than lead, can easily penetrate thick armor plating and are a staple in modern arsenals.** (There was no Machon 7 in the years he worked at Dimona, Vanunu told the Sunday Times, and he did not know what, if anything, had taken place there.)
* Vanunu said that the steam, contaminated to varying degrees by leaks and corrosion, was vented only on those days when the prevailing wind was blowing toward the Jordanian border, about twenty-five miles to the east. It was one of those ventings, apparently, that was photographed by Army Colonel Carmelo Alba in 1965, providing the CIA with the first concrete evidence that Dimona was operational.
**The American forces who fought in Desert Storm, the 1991 war against Iraq, were equipped with uranium-tipped bullets and antitank munitions. Some of the American tanks also were equipped with uranium armor plating for added defense against Iraqi attacks. Dimona, Vanunu told the Sunday Times, and he did not know what, if anything, had taken place there.)
Dimona's most essential facility, of course, is the reprocessing plant in Machon 2, where Vanunu spent most of his career. It is here that plutonium, a by-product of the fission process in the reactor, is extracted by chemical means from the spent uranium rods. The residual uranium is then reprocessed and reconstituted for use in new fuel rods. There are at least thirty-nine separate units in the six underground levels of the Tunnel, the most important of which is the production hall where the spent uranium rods undergo reprocessing. Before reprocessing can begin, however, the rods must be cooled for weeks in water-filled tanks, reducing radioactivity by a factor of several thousand. Even then, the radioactive rods are still lethal and are always handled by remote control and from behind lead shielding. The Tunnel's production hall dominates levels one through four below ground; work there is monitored by a large control room that includes an observation area known to technicians as "Golda's Balcony," a reference to Golda Meir's frequent visits after she became prime minister in 1969. The end result of the chemical processing, according to Vanunu, is a weekly average of nine "buttons" of pure plutonium whose combined weight is 1.2 kilograms.
The plutonium is fabricated by machine in a secure area on level five, the only floor in the Tunnel to which Vanunu was denied access. He eventually obtained a key and found a series of separate rooms—isolated for safety reasons—where the weapons-grade plutonium, now in metal form, is stored inside sealed glove boxes filled with argon, an inert gas. The glove boxes are designed so that workers can stand outside the "hot" area and manipulate remote-controlled robotic devices by hand to mold the plutonium pellets into microscopically thin hemispheres for insertion into a nuclear warhead. Other chemicals used in the Israeli nuclear arsenal, including lithium compounds and beryllium, also are machine-fabricated on the fifth level. Such milling involves exquisite machinery: any micro scopic flaw in the interior surface of a bomb core can cause a significant reduction in the yield, or lead to a nonevent. The allowable tolerances are difficult for an outsider to comprehend: the hemisphere of an American-made plutonium war head, for example, is permitted to deviate from prescribed thickness by less than five ten-thousandths of an inch, about one-sixth the diameter of a human hair.
Once completed, the weapons parts are moved by convoys of unmarked cars, under armed guard, to another facility to the north—not known to Vanunu—for assembly into warheads. Israeli officials subsequently told me that the final stage of war head production takes place at a defense plant north of Haifa operated by Rafael, the top-secret Israeli research and manufacturing agency that is responsible for Israel's most sensitive weaponry.
The Tunnel remained in operation around the clock for thirty-four weeks a year, according to Vanunu, and was shut down from July to November for routine maintenance and re pair. American nuclear experts consulted about Vanunu's story describe the methods used to reprocess the spent uranium at Dimona as essentially routine; the industrial solvents and solutions used by the Israelis are the same as those relied upon at the Savannah River Plant in Aiken, South Carolina, where state-of-the-art heavy-water-production reactors have operated since the mid-1950s.
What was surprising, however, was the scope of the Israeli operation. If Vanunu's information about the rate of plutonium reprocessing is correct—a steady production rate of 1.2 kilo grams weekly—the reactor would be producing enough enriched materials for four to a dozen or more bombs a year, depending on warhead design. The reactor also would have to be operating at about 120 to 150 megawatts, more than five times its officially stated output, and consuming nearly one hundred tons of uranium ore a year.* Some American experts believe that Vanunu's statistics, whose essential accuracy is not in dispute, may reflect peak output, and not what is known as the normal flow rate. If so, Dimona could be producing sixteen to twenty kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium per year, enough for four or five warheads.
* The nuclear fuel cycle is so precise that scientists can compute how much uranium was consumed by Dimona at a given reactor output. According to Vanunu, the average flow rate of dissolved uranium and plutonium through the chemical reprocessing plant was 20.9 liters per hour with a uranium concentration of 450 grams per liter and a plutonium concentration of 170 to 180 milligrams per liter (or 0.39 milligrams of plutonium per gram of uranium). Vanunu said, however, that the actual flow rate in the Tunnel normally exceeded the standard flow rate by 150 to 175 percent, which corresponds to the reprocessing of as much as thirty-seven kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium a year, assuming eight months of continuous operation. Nuclear technicians have further noted that Vanunu claimed that the spent uranium fuel processed at Dimona contained a smaller concentration of plutonium—about 0.30 milligrams per gram instead of 0.39milligrams per gram—suggesting that as much as 125 metric tons of uranium was needed to operate the reactor, far more than officially estimated. It is impossible to even roughly determine the amount of plutonium that has been produced at Dimona without knowing the power output and operating history of the reactor. That information remains a closely guarded state secret in Israel. The general accuracy and scientific validity of Vanunu's statistical data added to his credibility with Ameri can intelligence officials.
What especially impressed American experts about Dimona's reprocessing plant was its location—underground—and its sophistication. "You have to understand," an American explained, "Machon 2 is very sophisticated because it's so hot. There's an extraordinary level of radioactivity. You need threefoot lead walls, all automated; people in suits; robotics. You're going to have a hell of a time keeping it undetected. So you go very deep." That, in turn, drives up the price of ventilation shafts, air intakes, and fan systems, as well as all ordinary construction costs.
Going underground also posed enormous engineering risks that could be met only by superb master planning and expert intelligence. For example, the construction teams that initially built the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission's Savannah River Plant in South Carolina decided to put the thick, lead-shielded doors that protected the work force on custom-made coasters with specially engineered automated motors for opening and closing. "We didn't move the doors often enough," the American added, "and the coasters flattened. The doors were too heavy and we had misjudged the physics. We had to stop the process to remove them. We didn't test this beforehand because we didn't think of it."
The possibility exists, the official said, that the Israelis determined from the outset that they could avoid such problems by finding out what had gone right—and wrong—from the Americans who built the Savannah River Plant. "This is not highly classified information—it's dumb-shit stuff that has to be done. That kind of intelligence is crucial to not having to reinvent the wheel. Anything you can learn about what the other guy has learned just leaps you forward." This, presumably, was one of the missions of Binyamin Blumberg and his Office of Special Tasks, which became known in the mid-1970s as the Science Liaison Bureau, or LAKAM. Blumberg's agents were operating all over the world, collecting available technical information and also setting up front companies in Europe and Latin America for the purchase from the United States of high-tech equipment whose export to Israel would not be permitted.
Another area of great sensitivity involved the science of robotics, whose most important early use in the United States came in the hot weapons laboratories where humans could not work. The precision involved in machining the thin plutonium hemispheres and placing them around the gases needed to create boosted nuclear weapons was achieved only after enormous strides had been made in the use of remote control. It was not an accident that Aharon Katzir (formerly Katchalsky), who be came, like Ernst Bergmann, an intellectual force inside the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission, was world-renowned for his research into robotics at the Weizmann Institute. Katzir was even featured with some of his research apparatus on the cover of the December 3,1966, issue of the Saturday Review; the article was entitled "Man's First Robot with Muscles." It reported on Katzir's pioneering work in converting chemical energy into the energy of motion. Katzir's team at the Weizmann Institute also was concentrating on the development of artificial muscle tissue for use in robots. His research was heavily funded by the U.S. Air Force's Office of Scientific Research; the Air Force's primary interest was in utilizing robotics in outer-space re search. The Air Force had no idea that it was also helping to underwrite research for the Israeli nuclear arsenal; nor did it know that Katzir's main work was being done at Dimona, and not at the Weizmann Institute.
Vanunu's revelations staunchly reaffirmed the recurring suspicions of many in the American intelligence community that Israel either had covertly tested its advanced thermonuclear weapons, all of which needed to be miniaturized to fit into bombs and missile warheads, or somehow had managed to obtain illicitly the results of American testing. "We'd go through ten to twelve underground tests [at the American underground range in Nevada] just to come up with the data," one weapons expert recalled. "How could they spend that kind of money [for the underground reprocessing plant] without having tested? You'd have to be so certain of your intelligence. You just can't afford to be wrong."
Despite such comments, there remains no actual evidence that Israel needed outside help for its nuclear weaponry. Dr. George A. Cowan, who spent more than twenty years designing nuclear weapons at Los Alamos, acknowledged that there always was a close association with Israeli physicists from the Weizmann Institute. "They've visited the labs [Los Alamos and Livermore] and probably are treated more openly than other visitors here, but there's too much emphasis to the notion that there's a secret that somebody has to tell them," Cowan said. "The Israelis are smart enough to do their own research. The need for secret information is largely promoted by spy novelists. There's very much less to it than most people believe." Like many of the scientists in the American nuclear laboratories, Cowan has a close Israeli friend who was involved with Dimona: "He never asked me anything over the years about the bomb and wouldn't have." Similarly, physicist Hans Bethe, the Nobel laureate who helped design the first American nuclear and thermonuclear weapons, recalled three visits to the Weizmann Institute during which his hosts would "take me anywhere and discuss anything with me. They knew I was interested in nuclear power reactors," he added, "and yet they never offered to take me to Dimona. I found that significant."
If there was any solace for the American intelligence community in the wake of the startling Vanunu disclosures, which gave Washington the most specific evidence of an Israeli reprocessing plant, it was in the conviction that the extraordinary degree of master planning that had to take place at Dimona was little appreciated by senior officials in the Israeli chain of command. "It's unlikely," said one expert, "that the top people in the government of Israel truly understood" what was taking place at Dimona—just as America's intelligence experts had failed to understand.
The American experts got that one right, at least. Shimon Peres has confided to friends that during the early construction of Dimona he often signed requisition orders and other technical documents on behalf of the Ben-Gurion government with out knowing precisely what he had approved.
Prelude to War
Israel's development as a full-blown nuclear power by 1969 could not have come at a more fortuitous time, in terms of the American presidency. Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger approached inauguration day on January 20, 1969, convinced that Israel's nuclear ambitions were justified and understand able. Once in office, they went a step further: they endorsed Israel's nuclear ambitions.
The two American leaders also shared a contempt for the 1968 Nonproliferation Treaty, which had been so ardently endorsed in public by Lyndon Johnson. Nixon, midway in his campaign against Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, dismayed the arms control community by urging the Senate to delay ratification of the NPT until after the election. He went further a few days later, telling newsmen in Charlotte, North Carolina, that he specifically was concerned about the NPT's failure to permit the transfer of "defensive nuclear weapons," such as mines or anti-ballistic missile systems, to non-nuclear powers. Government arms controllers were hugely relieved in early February 1969 when Nixon formally requested the Senate to take up the treaty and then stated at a news conference that he would do all he could to urge France and West Germany— known to have reservations—to sign it: "I will make it clear that I believe that ratification of the treaty by all governments, nuclear and non-nuclear, is in the interest of peace and in the interest of reducing the possibility of nuclear proliferation."
In the secrecy of their offices, however, as only a few in the government knew, Nixon and Kissinger had simultaneously issued a presidential order to the bureaucracy undercutting all that was said in public. The classified document, formally known as National Security Decision Memorandum (NSDM) No. 6, stated that "there should be no efforts by the United States government to pressure other nations, particularly the Federal Government of Germany, to follow suit [and ratify the NPT]. The government, in its public posture, should reflect a tone of optimism that other countries will sign or ratify, while clearly disassociating itself [in private] from any plan to bring pressure on these countries to sign or ratify."[So in other words,we are doing the exact opposite of what we are telling the American People we are doing DC]
"It was a major change in American policy," recalled Morton H. Halperin, then Kissinger's closest aide on the National Security Council staff. "Henry believed that it was good to spread nuclear weapons around the world. I heard him say that if he were the Israelis, he would get nuclear weapons. He did not believe that the United States should try and talk them out of it." Kissinger also told his staff in the first months of 1969 that Japan, as well as Israel, would be better off with the bomb than without it. He was convinced, said Halperin, that nuclear weapons were essential to the national security of both nations. Kissinger's view was essentially pragmatic, added Halperin: most of the major powers would eventually obtain nuclear weapons, and the United States could benefit the most by helping them to do so rather than by participating in futile exercises in morality, such as the Nonproliferation Treaty.
Kissinger's support for Israel's nuclear weapons program, as spelled out during his 1968 meeting at General Elad Peled's home, was widely known to the Israeli leadership. If an overt sign of the administration's stand was needed, it came quickly, with the decision in 1969 to end the Floyd Culler inspections of Dimona. The inspections, begun in 1962, had long been considered by the American arms control community to be important in principle but in practice to have marginal utility; they dragged on without change, nonetheless, through the Johnson years. Israel resented the inspections as an intrusion on its sovereignty; there also was fear that Culler or one of his team might actually stumble onto something useful, especially as Dimona began gearing up in the late 1960s for the full-scale production of warheads.
Culler's inspection in 1969 seemed to some Americans to be especially pointless, in the wake of President Johnson's last minute decision to allow Israel to purchase its much-desired F-4S without insisting—as the State Department and Pentagon wanted—on Israeli ratification of the NPT in exchange. "Culler's team came on a Saturday and spent only a few hours," recalled the late Joseph Zurhellen, then senior deputy to Ambassador Wally Barbour in Tel Aviv. "You just can't walk in and take a guided tour. You've got to do an awful lot to determine what's been done to a reactor." Zurhellen had no illusions about what was going on at Dimona: "The French had pulled the wool over our eyes and so had the Israelis." His point, in a memorandum he forwarded to Washington, was essentially one of public relations: the Israelis "could claim that our inspection showed Dimona to be clean, when in fact it showed nothing at all." Such complaints had been voiced before.
But now Washington found it convenient to end the charade, and the inspections ended. They were never to be reinstated, as the Nixon administration made a judgment that would become American policy for the next two decades: Israel had gone nuclear, and there was nothing that the United States could—or wanted to—do about it.
The new policy soon worked its way through the bureaucracy, which reacted as the bureaucracy always did: it followed orders —with varying degrees of resentment. Charles N. Van Doren, who was deputy general counsel of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency in the Nixon administration, was convinced that Israel was the "Achilles heel" of America's NPT policy: "We were winking at it." Van Doren, who persevered for nineteen years in the arms control bureaucracy, recalled he had repeatedly tried under Nixon and Kissinger "to get the NPT on the agenda for talks on the Middle East, but I was told there was too much on the table." He understood the underlying reason, of course: "An order had gone out that no nuclear information on Israeli proliferation was to be put out. It was very frustrating."*
* In November 1969, Kissinger and Nixon decided that "budgetary constraints" made it impossible for the United States to underwrite the much-discussed Israeli ambitions for a nuclear desalting plant. Israeli officials subsequently explained the decision not in terms of costs, but as stemming from a concern that the nuclear-powered plant would become too much of a target for Arab terrorism in the wake of the Six-Day War and the renewed War of Attrition with Egypt. Nonetheless, the White House's decision, promulgated as NSDM 32, signed on behalf of the President by Kissinger, effectively ended the dispute over the Johnson administration's insistence on linking financial support for the plant to an Israeli commitment to permit inspection by the IAEA.
The Nixon and Kissinger tolerance for a nuclear Israel also was reflected by the media. In July 1970, Carl Duckett's intelligence report on Israel's nuclear arsenal, which had been initially suppressed in 1968 by Lyndon Johnson and later by Richard Helms, the CIA director, finally made its way onto the front page of the New York Times—and nobody cared. The Times story, written by Washington correspondent Hedrick Smith, provided the American public with its first account of the CIA's assessment of the Israeli nuclear arsenal, beginning with its lead sentence: "For at least two years the United States Government has been conducting its Middle East policy on the assumption that Israel either possesses an atomic bomb or has component parts available for quick assembly." The Smith story also described Israel's progress in developing its Jericho I missile system and revealed that a manufacturing plant had been set up near Tel Aviv for the production of solid propellants and engines for the missiles. Smith recalled trying for two years to get the article published in the Times, and failing because "I just didn't have it hard enough." He was given a boost that July by Senator Stuart Symington, the Missouri Democrat, who acknowledged on a Sunday television interview show that there was "no question that Israel is doing its best to develop nuclear weapons." The Symington peg helped Smith get the story published a few days later; the reporter, experienced in covering diplomatic affairs, awaited the attention he was sure the article would attract from others in the media and the Congress. Nothing happened. "I was astonished," Smith said. "Nobody could get near it. The networks didn't go for it." Neither did any of the Times's newspaper competitors, who found it impossible to confirm the story. "I had a sense of being way out in front of the field," said Smith. The reporter did hear from the Israeli embassy in Washington; there was a subsequent meeting with a "very upset" Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin.
"He repeated the standard line that Israel would not be the first to use it," said Smith, who recalled asking Rabin if he was specifically denying the story: "Rabin would not answer."
By mid-1971, the White House's permissive attitude toward the Israeli bomb made it possible for even those officials responsible for monitoring the shipment of sensitive materials to look the other way. Glenn R. Cella, a foreign service officer, was assigned that summer to handle political-military affairs on the State Department's Israeli desk; he also was named the department's representative on the Middle East Task Force, an interagency group whose main mission was to monitor American arms transfer policies. Cella, who had served in Morocco, Algeria, and Egypt, began asking about the Israeli bomb and quickly learned of Duckett's suppressed estimate. He also learned that if there was going to be any pressure on Israel to stop its nuclear weapons program, it would not come from the task force or the State Department. Israel was then pushing for the immediate shipment of more F-4S, and the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) had been ordered to make a study of the military balance in the region. The study, when completed, made no mention of Israeli nuclear capability, to Cella's dismay. "I thought we ought to face up to the fact that they had it," Cella said, "but nobody was allowed to talk about it."
A few months later, Cella was notified that an Israeli request for the sale of krytrons had been routinely approved by his Pentagon counterpart on the task force. Krytrons, the inquisitive Cella was informed, were sensitive electronic timing devices used to trigger strobe lights. "I remember calling up [the Pentagon task force member] and being told, in essence, that you could buy this thing in a Hechinger's [a popular Washington chain of hardware stores]," recalled Cella. "I wasn't told it was a central part in nuclear weaponry. Then I learned krytrons triggered nuclear bombs." The high-speed device, whose export usually is closely monitored, is essential for the precise detonation of the chemical explosives that cause implosion in a nuclear weapon—facts that should have been known to the Pentagon official.
Cella stayed on the Middle East desk for two years and quickly became marked, he said, as an Arabist "which I resented." He'd learned his lesson, however. A year later the U.S. budget somehow included funds earmarked for the supply of two supercomputers to the Weizmann Institute. The computers' function, Cella knew, included nuclear simulation. "It was clear what they were for," he said, "but I didn't even try to fight it."
The atmosphere wasn't much better at CIA headquarters. Richard Helms, the consummate bureaucrat, continued to please his superiors by stifling significant intelligence about the Israeli bomb. He'd also come to a personal conclusion about Israeli intelligence, repeatedly telling his deputies and aides that he was convinced Israel was funneling American satellite information to the Soviet Union. "The CIA got a copy of the Israeli [intelligence] requirements list in late 1972," Carl Duckett explained. "The Israelis were asking their contacts [in America] for overhead [satellite] intelligence. Helms was convinced the Israelis were doing it on behalf of the Soviets. He thought Israel was an open pipeline for pumping intelligence to Moscow." There was, of course, a much more direct explanation, one that Duckett and Helms could not envision in the early 1970s: Israel wanted the satellite imagery of the Soviet Union because of its own nuclear targeting needs.*
*Helms had no knowledge of science and found it difficult to testify as CIA director on technical nuclear issues before the Joint Atomic Energy Commission, as his position required. To his credit, Duckett said, Helms asked for help, and a series of educational briefings was arranged, amid great secrecy, in his office. At the first session, Helms was asked by his instructor, one of the Agency's leading experts in nuclear fission, whether he'd ever studied physics in high school. The answer was no. "Okay," said the instructor, "we're going to start with the table of elements." Helms eventually spent a day with Duckett and other government officials at the nuclear underground test center in Nevada. After serving nearly eight years as the head of the CIA, he was appointed ambassador to Iran by Richard Nixon in early 1973.
The men and women in the bureaucracy understood, as did Helms, that the Israeli nuclear issue was taboo. "The issue had never been dealt with at the working level in State," explained David E. Long, a State Department Near East expert. Those State Department and Pentagon staff officers who in the early 1970s wanted to learn more about Israel's nuclear weapons could not, Long added, because such intelligence carried the highest order of classification: "Whenever you moved an inch in that direction, you had to decide whether you wanted to make a crusade or get on with your job." On the other hand, Long said that he and others were constantly being informally questioned about Israel's nuclear arms by diplomats from the Middle East: "My response was to say that we don't know anything and here is what the Israelis say." Long recalled once being asked by a superior to put that response in writing, in a formal diplomatic note to a Middle Eastern nation. He refused. "I backed away and argued that we just should say 'No comment,' " he recalled. "I thought that delivering a deliberately false impression went beyond subterfuge. I wasn't a crusader. I just asked that someone else deliver the note. And they did." Curtis F. Jones similarly spent his career as a Middle East expert in the Foreign Service; his final assignment from 1971 to 1975 was as director of Near East, North African, and South Asian affairs for the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. "Stopping Israeli nuclear weapons was never an issue for the U.S. government, for as long as I was there," Jones said. "We never sat down and talked about it."
The easing of the pressure from Washington removed any constraints on Dimona and the Israeli leadership, which correctly interpreted the end of the Culler inspections as an American carte blanche. The technicians and scientists at Dimona began operating in the early 1970s exactly as their American and Soviet counterparts had done in the first days of the Cold War— the Israelis made as many bombs as possible.*
*Between 1945 and 1985 the United States manufactured an estimated sixty thousand nuclear warheads for 116 weapons systems, an average production rate of four per day. These ranged from huge thermonuclear city busters to an atomic warhead for a jeep-mounted bazooka. In a 1985 essay,three critics of the American arsenal, Robert S. Norris, Thomas B. Cochran, and William M. Arkin, concluded: "Bureaucratic competition and inertia have led to nuclear warheads for every conceivable military mission, arm of service, and geographic theater—all compounded by a technological momentum that overwhelmed what should have been a more sober analysis of what was enough for deterrence. The result is a gigantic nuclear weapons system—laboratories, production facilities, forces, and so on—that has become self-perpetuating, conducting its business out of public view and with little accountability."
By 1973, according to former Israeli government officials, the Israeli nuclear arsenal totaled at least twenty warheads, with three or more missile launchers in place and operational at Hirbat Zachariah; Israel also had an unknown number of mo bile Jericho I missile launchers that had been manufactured as part of Project 700. The missiles had been capable since 1971 of hitting targets in southern Russia, including Tbilisi, near the Soviet oil fields, and Baku, off the coast of the Caspian Sea, as well as Arab capitals. There also was a squadron of nuclear capable F-4 fighters on twenty-four-hour alert in underground revetments at the Tel Nof air base near Rehovot. The specially trained F-4 pilots were the elite of the Israeli Air Force and were forbidden to discuss their mission with any outsider. The long-range F-4S were capable of flying one-way to Moscow with a nuclear bomb; the daring pilots would have to be resupplied by an airborne tanker to make it home.
By this time, Dimona had solved many of the basic problems of weapons miniaturization; the smaller warheads provided Israeli weapons designers with an array of options that included the development of low-yield tactical weapons for battlefield use. The United States had done its part by approving the sale of long-range 175mm and 203mm cannons to the Israeli Defense Force in the early 1970s; those weapons, capable of striking targets twenty-five miles away, also became part of the Israeli nuclear option. American intelligence later learned that Israel had experimented by fusing together two long-range artillery barrels to produce a cannon capable of hurling a shell more than forty-five miles.
The Israelis also had contracted with Dr. Gerald Bull, a controversial Canadian arms designer, for the supply of specially configured artillery shells whose range was extended as much as 25 percent.* There were some American weapons experts who understood what Israel's real goal had to be, given the inaccuracy of an artillery shell fired at such long range. "If you're going forty-five miles and precision is three percent of range," explained one expert, "what would you hit with an HE [high explosive] shell? Nothing much. You'd need a nuclear weapon." This American, who was a senior official at one of the U.S. Army's weapons testing facilities, had visited Israel in 1973 and had been told of the intended use of the long-range cannons, information he dutifully reported to U.S. intelligence. There also were suggestions, added the American, that Israel had targeted Damascus, Syria's capital, with the special cannons during the Yom Kippur War. Washington got the mes sage. A senior State Department intelligence official recalled widespread concern in the early 1970s over the ambitious Israeli artillery program. "Our supposition was that they'd developed a miniaturized [nuclear] artillery shell and wanted to test it," the official said
*Bull was killed outside his home in Brussels in March 1990 by assassins widely suspected of working on behalf of the Israelis. At the time of his death, Bull had accomplished for Iraq's artillery what he had done for the Israelis. There was highlevel Israeli concern over Bull's success in constructing a "supergun" for the Iraqis—a weapon, as the Israelis knew only too well, that provided Iraq with the ability to threaten Israel with long-range chemical, biological, or conventional high-explosive shells. Bull's initial contracts with Israel phased out in the mid-1970s; his firm, the Space Research Corporation (SRC), later did business with South Africa and China from an eight-thousand-acre compound straddling the Vermont-Canadian border. Bull's partners in SRC during much of the 1970s included the Arthur D. Little Com pany, a highly respected management research firm. Four executives from Arthur D. Little were on the SRC board of directors. The mysterious Bull spent six months in a federal jail after pleading guilty in 1980 to one count of selling cannons, shells, and a radar van to South Africa without a license—although he insisted until his death that his activities on behalf of South Africa had been sanctioned by the American intelligence community.
As the Israeli weapons program prospered, there was a new element of caution inside the Israeli government and the military commands. The political struggles and infighting were put aside as the new weapon became standardized for battlefield use. There was doctrine to write and training to get done. The Israeli leadership had to work out procedures for the actual use of the bomb; at one early stage it was agreed that no nuclear weapon could be armed and fired without authorization from the prime minister, minister of defense, and army chief of staff. The rules of engagement subsequently were modified to include the head of the Israeli Air Force; the air force's warheads were reportedly maintained in preassembled units in special secure boxes that could be opened only with three keys, to be supplied by representatives of the top civilian and military leadership. Other fail-safe mechanisms, if any, could not be learned. "The day we had enough bombs to feel comfortable," one Israeli military officer explained, "we stopped talking about it. People realized the moment that the bomb was upon us that we'd become targets, too."
The increased security of the early 1970s had one immediate casualty: Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan. Dayan's standing among his peers in the military and the upper echelons of the Israeli government was far lower than among the public; he was considered overrated as a military leader and suspect because of his incessant womanizing and his financial wheeling and dealing—there was categorical evidence, never officially acted upon, of his appropriation of excavated antiquities for personal use, in direct violation of Israeli law.* The main com plaint about Dayan, however, was over his propensity to talk: one close army associate declared that "he had the biggest mouth in the world." The Israeli added: "The feeling was that he was a loose cannon at a time when Israel was in a very precarious situation. We wanted the Arabs to know what we had"—without explicitly saying too much. Dayan, with his public statements and leaks to the press, blurred that tactic. There was another problem, the Israeli added: "Dayan went to bed with everything that moved"—not that unusual a trait among aggressive Israeli military men—"but he was totally capable of meeting a good-looking woman and telling her about Dimona. He and Peres felt like they were almost parents" of the nuclear complex. While Dayan lost no authority, it was eventually made clear to him, the Israeli said, that he was no longer welcome at Dimona; he no longer had a military need to know anything about the Israeli nuclear program, which was being managed out of the prime minister's office.
*Dayan outraged many of his countrymen after the Six-Day War, when the biblical lands of the West Bank and Gaza were once again open to Israeli academics and archaeologists, by commandeering military units to cordon off areas known to be rich in antiquities. Dayan, with the help of the troops, would then remove artifacts—many of them invaluable—for his personal gain. He eventually established an antique garden in the rear of his home in Zahala, an exclusive suburb of Tel Aviv. The minister of defense's activities led to occasional critiques in the Israeli press, but no government investigation. Americans who served as diplomats and military attaches in Israel have acknowledged the purchase of antiques from Dayan, who invariably insisted on payment in American dollars.
Tragedy struck the program in May 1972, when Aharon Katzir, the innovative physicist in charge of Dimona, was killed in a Japanese Red Army terrorist attack at Lod Airport near Tel Aviv; there is no evidence that Katzir was specifically targeted. His replacement, Shalheveth Freier, was a nuclear physicist with impeccable credentials; he had served as scientific counselor to the Israeli embassy in Paris in the critical days of the 1950s, when the Israeli-French nuclear understanding was reached. Freier also enjoyed high standing among international scientists and was particularly well known to American nuclear weapons designers, many of whom under stood exactly what he did.
The researchers at Dimona and the Weizmann Institute continued to produce superb work. In 1973, two Israeli scientists caused a stir in the academic and intelligence world by receiving a West German patent for a laser process that, as they claimed, could cheaply produce as much as seven grams of uranium enriched to 60 percent U-235 in twenty-four hours. The research paid off six years later, according to Mordecai Vanunu, when Dimona opened a special Machon for the production of laser-enriched uranium.
The burgeoning nuclear bastion at Dimona may have officially remained a secret to the world, but the Israeli intelligence community discovered in the early 1970s that the Soviet KGB had penetrated the top offices of the defense ministry and intelligence establishment and was relaying the essentials of major strategic decisions to Moscow and its allies in the Middle East. The unraveling of the Soviet operation was initiated by one of the most secret units in the Israeli military, Detachment 515 (later redesignated Detachment 8200), which is in charge of signals intelligence and code-breaking—the Israeli equivalent of the U.S. National Security Agency.
One of the detachment's most senior officers was Reuven (Rudi) Yerdor, an accomplished linguist who had cracked a Soviet code—for which he later received Israel's highest defense medal—that had masked the communications between KGB headquarters in Moscow and its regional base in Cyprus. The Israelis began poring over the backlog of undeciphered Soviet message traffic and discovered that many of the major secret decisions of the Israeli defense ministry, including those dealing with nuclear weapons, were being reported to Moscow within, in some cases, twelve hours. "They went apeshit," recalled a former Israeli intelligence officer, "and set up a special team to begin an investigation." The team was headed by Shin Beth, Israel's internal security agency, and included members from Mossad and Prime Minister Meir's office. Yet it was unable to find out how the KGB, which continued its spying during the secret inquiry, was able to transmit its intelligence out of Israel. The investigators were able, however, to determine that only a small number of Israeli officials had access to all the material that had been funneled to the KGB—including at least one of Golda Meir's personal aides. A few of the suspects, including the aide, cleared themselves by passing lie detector tests; others chose not to take the test, and the matter was left unresolved, to the acute frustration of the investigators.*
*One of the most nagging questions of the inquiry had to do with the transmission of the intelligence. How did the KGB spies get the information out? At one point, a knowledgeable Israeli said, the investigators turned to the National Security Agency for help, but the NSA was unable to come up with an answer. Years later, an Iranian general spying for the KGB in Iran was arrested and found to be carrying an American satellite communication device, which he had used for filing his intelligence reports. "Once he was caught," the former Israeli officer added, "they said, 'Ah-ha. This ex plains why no messages [out of Israel] were intercepted.' The Soviets stole the American satcom device and did better with it than we did."
There was an ironic twist to the spy scandal, for the senior leadership of the Israeli government understood from the moment of the first collaboration with the French that the Soviets not only were the primary targets of the nuclear arsenal but would be among the first to be told of its existence. By 1973, Dimona's success in miniaturization enabled its technicians to build warheads small enough to fit into a suitcase; word of the bomb in a suitcase was relayed to the Soviet Union, according to a former Israeli intelligence official, during one of what apparently was a regular series of meetings in Europe between representatives of Mossad and the KGB. The Soviets under stood that no amount of surveillance could prevent Israeli agents from smuggling nuclear bombs across the border in automobiles, aircraft, or commercial ships.
Israel's leadership, especially Moshe Dayan, had nothing but contempt for the Arab combat ability in the early 1970s. In their view, Israel's main antagonist in the Middle East was and would continue to be the Soviet Union. Dimona's arsenal, known by the Kremlin to be targeted as much as possible at Soviet cities, theoretically would deter the Soviets from sup porting an all-out Arab attack on Israel; the bombs also would give pause to any Egyptian or Syrian invasion plans.
These were years of status quo for Israeli diplomacy. Israel had a steady flow of American arms and American acquiescence in its continued control of the occupied territories, where settlements were systematically being constructed. Those territories, and the land they added to the national borders, had done nothing to diminish Israel's hunger for more advanced weapons—defense spending rose by 500 percent be tween 1966 and 1972.
The death of Nasser in September 1970 had not altered the basic equation in the Middle East; his successor, Anwar Sadat, was, in the view of Prime Minister Golda Meir and her cabinet, nothing more than yet another unyielding threat to Jews. The new Egyptian leader had been jailed by the British authorities during much of World War II because of his openly pro-German stance and his public endorsement of Hitler; the fact that his actions were more anti-British than pro-German was of little solace to the Israeli leadership. Sadat, however, broke new ground by offering the Israelis a peace agreement shortly after taking office—the first Arab leader willing even to discuss such a commitment. In return, the Israelis were to withdraw to the 1967 borders. The Sadat offer was rejected out of hand by Golda Meir (only Dayan urged that it be explored); she viewed the compromise as nothing more than a starting point for extended negotiations.
Sadat waited for Washington to intervene. That did not happen, and the bitterly disappointed Egyptian president, in trouble at home and ridiculed by many of his Middle Eastern peers, tried again in mid-1972 to get Washington's respect; he abruptly ordered Soviet troops and advisers out of Egypt to demonstrate, in part, that Egypt was not pro-Communist. Nixon and Kissinger were astonished, as was the rest of the world, at the Soviet ouster, but they mistakenly viewed it as only reaffirmation of their policy of support for Israel. Kissinger went further and privately reviled Sadat as a fool who, by acting unilaterally and emotionally, had thrown away an opportunity to use the Soviet expulsion as a bargaining tool. Sadat ended up with no diplomatic gains from the West and eventually concluded that the only way he—and Egypt—would be taken seriously was to go to war with Israel.
Israel, preoccupied by the Soviet threat, saw the expulsion as diminishing any real chance of war. On paper, Israel's army and air force were more than a match for even the combined forces of the Arab Middle East. Without Soviet backing, no Arab nation would dare to initiate a fight. There would be no peace, perhaps, but there was no immediate threat to continued Israeli control of the captured territories. This message came through loud and clear in the late summer of 1973 to Kenneth B. Keating, a former Republican senator from New York who was Wally Barbour's replacement as U.S. ambassador to Israel. In August, Keating and his deputy, Nicholas A. Veliotes, paid a courtesy call on Moshe Dayan, whom they found to be not just confident, but swaggering. There had been constant talk that summer of an impending Arab attack, Veliotes recalls, and the embassy had been put on a higher alert. Dayan was asked if he was worried. His response, recalled Veliotes, was " 'Don't worry.' He described the Arab armies in the desert as 'rusty ships slowly sinking'—as if the desert were a sea. It was very arrogant." Dayan's comments were accepted without challenge at the time, said Veliotes: "We had a great belief that the Israelis knew more than we did. We also were mesmerized by 1967"— the Six-Day War.
Israel wasn't ready when Sadat attacked across the Sinai and Syria invaded the Golan Heights on Saturday, October 6, 1973 —Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the year for a Jew. The first days were a stunning rout. Israeli soldiers were being killed as never before; some units simply fled in disarray from battle. Five hundred tanks and forty-nine aircraft, including fourteen F-4 Phantoms, were lost in the first three days. In the Sinai, Egyptian forces, equipped with missiles and electronic defenses, blasted through the Bar-Lev defense line along the eastern bank of the canal and soon had two large armies on the eastern bank. The initial Israeli counterattacks by three tank divisions were beaten off. On the Golan Heights, Syrian forces, bolstered by fourteen hundred tanks, rolled through Israeli defenses and moved to the edge of Galilee. Only a few Israeli tanks stood between the Syrians and the heavily populated Hulla Valley. Haifa was just hours away.
Many Israelis thought it was all over—that, as Moshe Dayan said, "this is the end of the Third Temple." The extent of Dayan's panic on Monday, October 8, has never been fully reported, but it is widely known among Israelis. One of Dayan's functions as defense minister was to provide the censored media and their editors-in-chief with a daily briefing on the war— in essence, to control what they wrote. One journalist, a retired army general, who attended the Monday session, recalled Dayan's assessment: "The situation is desperate. Everything is lost. We must withdraw." There was talk in a later meeting of appeals to world Jewry, distribution of antitank weapons to every citizen, and last-ditch resistance in the civilian population centers. It was Israel's darkest hour, but no withdrawal was ordered.
Instead, Israel called its first nuclear alert and began arming its nuclear arsenal. And it used that alert to blackmail Washington into a major policy change.