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10. Memorandum From Secretary of Defense Laird to Secretary of State Rogers, the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), and Director of Central Intelligence Helms1

SUBJECT

  • Stopping the Introduction of Nuclear Weapons Into the Middle East

From all of the available intelligence and from the intensive conversations here in Defense with Ambassador Rabin in the fall of 1968, [2 lines not declassified].2 I do not believe this coincides with the interests of the United States, and, in fact, constitutes the single most dangerous phenomenon in an area dangerous enough without nuclear weapons.

The problem is how to stop this development. If the Israelis complete the development of a nuclear weapon within the next three to six months—which is quite possible—we will be powerless to do more than invoke sanctions, i.e., cease delivery of F–4s after the “introduction” of nuclear weapons into the area. Such a negative course would not take us very far. The Israelis would be unable and unwilling to reverse their course. Moreover, their requirement for conventional strength would be greater, not less, and the likelihood of our actually invoking the sanctions would not be great in such circumstances. Furthermore, at any time prior to such events, or certainly not long thereafter, we may well be faced with public knowledge of the essential facts. So far these facts have remained in the category of vague, unsubstantiated, and not fully accepted rumors; but we are depending primarily on luck. Once the public is made aware of the situation the Administration’s delicate task will become even more difficult.

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I believe we should meet very soon to consider how to proceed on this, followed by an early meeting with the President.3 Because of the sensitivity and complexity of this issue, I suggest this not be dealt with through the regular NSC machinery.

Melvin R. Laird
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–75–0103, Box 12, Israel. Top Secret. All brackets are in the original except those indicating text that remains classified.
  2. Rabin was in Washington in November 1968 to negotiate the purchase of Phantom aircraft. As a condition to the purchase, Israel agreed that it would not be the first nation to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XX, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1967–1968, Documents 332 and 333.
  3. According to a follow-up memorandum from Laird to Rogers, Kissinger, and Helms, March 17, the four had not yet met, nor had they met with Nixon. Laird wrote, “Since February 27 I have seen additional evidence of activity that would enhance Israel’s capability in [less than 1 line not declassified]. I refer to the granting, last June and October, of export licenses for two CDC 6400 computers and one IBM 360/65 computer for Israel. As Dave Packard indicated in his March 14, 1969, memorandum to the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Commerce, we believe the CDC 6400, in particular, could be a critical tool in [less than 1 line not declassified].” Laird repeated his request for a meeting on the issue, but it is unclear if the meeting occurred. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1236, Saunders Files, Middle East Negotiations Files)