214. Memorandum From Secretary of State Rusk to President Johnson1


  • Preventing Nuclear Proliferation in the Near East


That you authorize negotiations with Israel designed to extend IAEA safeguards to all Israeli nuclear facilities and that you approve the enclosed letter to Prime Minister Eshkol as the first step in this new approach [Page 455] to prevent Israel and the United Arab Republic from developing or acquiring nuclear weapons.2


The Pressures on Israel: The arms rivalry in the Near East has reached a dangerous stage. As U.A.R. missile technology improves, Israel seeks to develop an unmatched, economical counterdeterrent. This seems destined to lead to development of nuclear warheads for Israeli missiles purchased from France.
The Israeli Strategy: Prime Minister Eshkol has told us orally that Israel’s nuclear activity is peaceful and that Israel would not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Arab-Israel area. He later said, however, that Israel could not forever foreswear nuclear weapon development in the absence of binding security guarantees. (In 1963 President Kennedy determined that we could not afford politically to guarantee Israel’s security and that, in any event, such a guarantee would not give Israel better protection than our present close association and commitment to oppose aggression in the Near East provide.) We must remember Israel deliberately misled us initially about the nature of the nuclear facility at Dimona. Therefore, we must assume Israel intends to make its decisions on whether to produce nuclear weapons without consulting us. Lower level Israeli officials speak frankly about Israel’s strategy toward the United Arab Republic: a) surface-to-surface missiles targeted on the Nile delta, and b) a capability to bomb and release the waters behind the Aswan High Dam. Destruction of the Aswan Dam would require a nuclear warhead; bombing with high explosives could not be counted on to do the job.
What We Can Do: Our efforts to slow down the U.A.R. sophisticated weapons program—as well as potential nuclear weapons programs in India and elsewhere—will be influenced by the example we set in dealing with Israel. We very much need a breakthrough on the problem of preventing proliferation by presently non-nuclear states. The world recognizes Israel’s nuclear capability and the fact we have compelling leverage on Israel because of our special relationships. So long as the Dimona reactor operates without publicly recognized safeguards, the credibility of our worldwide efforts to prevent proliferation is in doubt. Moreover, acceptance of safeguards in contrast to promises of peaceful intent would provide tangible evidence of Israel’s good faith.

Israel has signed the partial Test Ban Treaty, is a member of IAEA, and has accepted IAEA safeguards on its small research reactor provided by the United States. It is, therefore, reasonable for us to ask [Page 456] Israel to accept IAEA safeguards on all of its nuclear facilities. If Israel does not intend to produce a nuclear weapon, acceptance could lose only the questionable deterrent provided by fear of an unknown nuclear capability. Unilateral action by Israel to place all of its nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards would place great international pressure on the U.A.R. and other states to follow suit. The U.A.R., which has consistently opposed safeguards since the establishment of IAEA, recently has demonstrated a new, more forthcoming attitude. President Nasser confirmed to Assistant Secretary Talbot on April 18, U.A.R. acceptance of the principle of international safeguards. This more flexible attitude encourages the hope the U.A.R. may agree to application of safeguards, not only to the large power reactor for which it is now shopping, but to all its nuclear facilities. The prospect of Israeli acceptance of safeguards could provide an added inducement.

We should make clear to Israel we expect another U.S. team of scientists to visit Dimona after the parliamentary elections next November. At the same time, we should press Israel now for acceptance of IAEA safeguards immediately after the elections. To obtain maximum leverage, we should make our approach before the arrival in mid-May of an Israeli military team to discuss direct U.S. arms sales to Israel.

I think that you alone carry the weight to persuade Eshkol to take this unilateral action. For this reason I am enclosing a draft letter that you might send to him.

There is great urgency about this matter in view of the disturbing signals we have been getting from Israel. I think, therefore, that this is something we must come to grips with promptly. A letter along the lines of the enclosed would seem an essential initial step.

Dean Rusk
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Special Head of State Correspondence File, Israel, PM Eshkol Correspondence. Secret; Exclusive Distribution. The memorandum has no drafting information, but another copy indicates that it was drafted by Russell on April 30 and cleared by Talbot, Jernegan, SCI Acting Director Herman Pollack, Thomas, ACDA Assistant Director for International Relations Jacob D. Beam, ACDA Assistant Director for Science and Technology Herbert Scoville, Jr., and Davies, and in substance with Scott George of G/PM. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 27 ARAB–ISR) The memorandum was sent to the President with a May 19 memorandum from Komer commenting that he and Harriman had pressed the matter with Eshkol to no avail. It was Komer’s judgment that Israel was determined to keep the option open as a deterrent against the Arabs. Nonetheless, he thought the letter would be a useful reminder to the Israelis of the President’s personal interest in the matter.
  2. A copy of the draft is attached to the copy of the memorandum cited in footnote 1 above. Johnson sent a revised version to Eshkol on May 21; see Document 218.