218. Letter From President Johnson to Prime Minister Eshkol1

Dear Mr. Prime Minister:

I have been thinking over our exchanges on visits to the Dimona reactor as well as recent unfortunate publicity on this subject. I can understand that secret visits pose problems for you. On the other hand, failure to make such visits on a regular basis poses a difficult problem for us and we feel compelled to continue them. Recognizing, however, that you face parliamentary elections and that a visit before they are held would cause you increased internal political problems, we have agreed to defer the next six-monthly visit until after the elections.

A preferable alternative to these bilateral arrangements would be for Israel to place the Dimona reactor and all other nuclear facilities under IAEA controls, as you have already agreed to do for the Nahal Soreq reactor and for any U.S. materials or equipment transferred to Israel in connection with the U.S.-Israel desalting program. Because of our unalterable opposition to any further proliferation of nuclear weapons, our policy is to press for extension of IAEA or similar safeguards to all nuclear facilities in those countries not now possessing nuclear weapons. We have made substantial progress thus far, and nineteen countries including the United States have accepted IAEA controls over all or part of their nuclear facilities.

Such action by Israel would help establish an effective ceiling beyond which the Near East arms race would not escalate. In order to protect Israel from any political injustices in the IAEA—which we by no means anticipate or even believe could occur—my government is prepared to support a statement by Israel with a withdrawal clause on the part of Israel that it would give up safeguards unless its own neighbors accepted them.

We do not see any U.A.R. nuclear capability for the foreseeable future and are convinced the U.S.S.R. will not supply Nasser with [Page 464] nuclear weapons. Suspicion that Israel is developing nuclear weapons, however, might stimulate Nasser to make concessions to the U.S.S.R. that could result in a Soviet nuclear support program similar to the one that was attempted in Cuba. Voluntary adoption of IAEA safeguards would cost Israel only the questionable deterrent provided by fear of an unknown nuclear capability, would clearly demonstrate Israel’s peaceful intent to the whole world, would go far toward easing area tensions and abating the arms race, and would put pressure on other countries to do likewise.

I make this proposal earnestly and strongly urge you give it your most serious consideration. For the next several years, Israel can rest secure in the knowledge of its military superiority over the Arabs and the steadfast assurances of U.S. support against aggression. Our military experts consider U.A.R. missiles only a psychological threat with negligible military potential. In my judgment an initiative by Israel to adopt IAEA safeguards would be in its own interest, since it would help assure Israel’s long-term security by removing the threatening shadow of nuclear war in the Near East. Israel’s example would also reinforce our efforts to persuade President Nasser to limit sophisticated weapons acquisition and encourage other countries to renounce the awesome decision that automatically would make them subject to possible preemptive attack. We have reason to believe the U.A.R. will accept IAEA safeguards if it acquires a large nuclear reactor.

I realize that the delicate internal political situation in Israel might make acceptance of IAEA safeguards difficult at this time. I urge you, therefore, to consider agreeing now to accept these safeguards after your parliamentary elections this fall.

You may be sure that our interest in the security of your country remains unchanged. The grave responsibility which this puts upon us is an important factor in my conviction that we must leave no stone unturned in our efforts to maintain peace.


Lyndon B. Johnson
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Special Head of State Correspondence File, Israel, PM Eshkol Correspondence. Secret. No drafting information appears on the letter, but see Document 214. The letter was transmitted to Tel Aviv in telegram 1188, May 21. (National Archives and Records Administration,RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, AE 11–2 ISR) Barbour reported in telegram 1510 from Tel Aviv, May 25, that he had delivered the letter on May 24. Eshkol’s preliminary comments were (1) that Israel was already among the countries that had agreed to IAEA inspection of part of its nuclear reactors, and (2) that the cost to Israel of relinquishing a psychological deterrent was in his view a matter of importance in the Israeli security picture. (Ibid.) A briefing paper prepared in NEA/IAI on September 19, 1966, noted that President Johnson never received a reply to this letter. (Ibid., POL ISR–US)