Learn about the beta

178. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Israel1

441. Eyes only for Ambassadors. Secretary called in Harman Dec 9, stated matter has come up about which we are very disturbed and wish to speak frankly in the manner in which Israeli and we accustomed deal with each other. Secretary read Embtel 486.2 This was first US heard of such large research reactor. Description this research reactor not consistent with information concerning large nuclear installation which Israeli have never mentioned to us but concerning which increasing amount of information including photographs has recently been received. Secretary showed Harman photographs of installation south of Beersheba. Pointed out over-all scope of installation, diameter containment building and capacity power lines far in excess research reactor requirements and could serve reactor of 10 times size that mentioned urtel 486. [1½ lines of source text not declassified]

Obvious inconsistency between above information and projected Israeli announcement gives us great concern. Installation this apparent size would cost on order $80 million and has not been mentioned in recent discussions Israeli economic development plans and possible US financial assistance. Knowledge of potential nuclear weapons capacity would have very disturbing impact on Middle East and affect US interests as well as those Israeli themselves. We would be much relieved learn account in Embtel 486 is accurate and reflects extent Israeli atomic program. If program announcement inaccurate or only partial account we fear will stimulate interest and comment. Pointed out US scientists and industrial representatives have recently noted scale and high secrecy of Israeli atomic program as well as French involvement in large scale reactor construction. Thus speculations real objectives and scope of Israeli program are increasingly widespread and may bring question into open.

Secretary reiterated US hopes information communicated can be explained in open and satisfactory way which will remove bases for concern and that our desire is to explore matter directly and frankly in order avoid misunderstanding.

[Page 394]

Harman disclaimed knowledge of facts and stated he would report US concern and questions to his Government and request urgent advice.

Secretary subsequently informed UK and French Embassies of general tenor his conversation with Harman.3 French said would relay Secretary’s concern and seek information from Paris.

Herter
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 784A.5611/12–960. Secret; Priority. Drafted by Farley, cleared by Jones, and initialed by Herter. Also sent to London and Paris.
  2. Telegram 486 from Tel Aviv, December 3, reported that Ben Gurion was planning to announce a new university located near Beersheba and would also mention a new 10 to 20 megawatt nuclear reactor designed by Israel with some French equipment. (Ibid., 884A.1901/12–360)
  3. Memoranda of Herter’s telephone conversations with the British and French at 5:40 and 5:50 p.m. on December 9 are in the Eisenhower Library, Herter Papers, Telephone Conversations.