31. Memorandum From the Chairman of the Ad Hoc Group on the Israeli Nuclear Weapons Program (Davies) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) and Acting Secretary of State Richardson1


  • Israeli Nuclear Weapons Program—Issues and Courses of Action

Attached here is a policy study on the Israeli nuclear weapons program as requested in NSSM 40.2

The following major issues emerged during meetings of the Ad Hoc Group.

1. Israel’s Nuclear Capabilities and Intentions

[4½ lines not declassified]. We know that Israel is in the process of deploying a nuclear-capable surface-to-surface missile system (range of about 300 miles); there is circumstantial evidence indicating Israel has acquired fissionable material; there are unconfirmed reports that Israel has begun to construct nuclear weapons. [2½ lines not declassified] Department of State representatives believe more evidence is necessary [less than 1 line not declassified] and that Israel [less than 1 line not declassified] is aware that actual production and deployment of nuclear weapons could place severe strains on US–Israel relations.

2. Israel’s Assurances on Nuclear Weapons and Relation to Delivery of F–4 “Phantom” Aircraft to Israel

Quite aside from the question of whether the U.S. should impose or threaten to impose this sanction in an attempt to limit Israel’s nuclear [Page 104] weapons program, we must face the sensitive issue of carrying forward on deliveries [2 lines not declassified]. Providing an aircraft which could serve as a nuclear delivery system [2 lines not declassified] might have to be defended in Congress and publicly.

Israel has committed to us that it will not be “the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the area,” but there are grounds for believing that Israel does not construe production of a weapon to constitute “introduction.” During negotiations in November, 1968 for the sale of the “Phantom” F–4 aircraft to Israel, Ambassador Rabin expressed the view that introduction would require testing and making public the fact of possession of a nuclear weapon.3 In accepting as condition for the sale Israel’s reaffirmation that it would not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle East and agreement that it would not use any aircraft supplied by the United States as a nuclear weapons carrier, our reply stated:

“In this connection, I have made clear the position of the United States Government that the physical possession and control of nuclear arms by a Middle East power would be deemed to constitute the introduction of nuclear weapons.”4

Inasmuch as our reply also made clear that we consider that “unusual and compelling circumstances” requiring cancellation of the F–4 agreement would exist in the event of “action inconsistent with your policy and agreement as set forth in your letter,” the door was left open to suspend or cancel the deliveries of the aircraft if Israel by our definition “introduced” nuclear weapons into the area.

3. Will Raising this Issue with Israel now Complement or Undercut our Diplomatic Effort to Achieve an Arab-Israel Peace Settlement?

Since we are already having a crisis of confidence with Israel over our peace efforts, will the renewal of the dialogue on the nuclear issue cause the Israelis to dig in even harder on their peace terms? It can be argued that the nuclear issue is overriding and that in any event a settlement is unlikely. On the other hand, progress toward peace would probably be the single most decisive factor making the nuclear issue easier to handle.

In defining options, the NSSM 40 study covers a range of pressures that the U.S. might apply to Israel—for any purpose. If we choose to use the maximum option on the nuclear issue, we may not have the necessary leverage left for helping along the peace negotiations. We are [Page 105] proceeding with our bilateral exchanges with the Soviets on the nature of a settlement with the expectation that Israel will find the outcome difficult but not impossible to accept and that some pressure will be necessary to bring Israel into line. If there is a real possibility that pressure will be needed, these would not differ substantially from those in the study. Use of leverage on the NPT/nuclear issue may seriously detract from our capability to influence Israel on the settlement issue. On the other hand, if we decide to defer using pressure on the nuclear question so as to preserve leverage on a possible peace settlement, we must ask how long we are prepared to do this in the face of Israel’s rapidly advancing program, and the knowledge that, the longer we put off making Israel feel the seriousness of our purpose, the harder it will be to arrest Israel’s program.

4. Should We Move Directly into a Confrontation with Israel on the NPT/Nuclear Weapon Issue on the basis of Supply of F–4s and other pending Arms Deliveries or Should we Follow a Graduated Approach Relying Primarily on Political Suasion but Maintaining the Flexibility to Move to more Coercive Policies if Israel is Unresponsive

The Department of State believes that a policy of pressure has a fundamental built-in contradiction and involves difficulties for the U.S. that should be carefully examined. A threat to cut off Israel’s supply of conventional arms could build military and psychological pressures within Israel to move rapidly to the very sophisticated weaponry we are trying to avoid. Moreover, to deny Israel arms needed for its defense would be most difficult to justify in the face of continuing Arab threats and commando attacks. Israel would see from the outset that we would be under considerable pressures not to sustain this position and we would have expended much leverage and good will needlessly.

State believes that for the present we should continue the course of using political argumentation, leaving implicit and for future decision possible sanctions if Israel does not respond to our initial representations and proceeds with its weapons program.5 Our actions on the nuclear issue should be timed so as to complement or at least not undercut our diplomatic efforts to achieve a peace settlement. Our objective would be Israeli signature of the NPT with (a) the tacit understanding that as long as Israel did not complete manufacture of nuclear explosive devices, we would regard this as being within the terms of the Treaty and, (b) a commitment that Israel would negotiate the IAEA safeguards agreement, and (c) an understanding that we will support the Israelis in a reasonable interpretation of Article III consistent with [Page 106] the difference we have drawn between maintaining and exercising the option to manufacture nuclear explosives, provided Israel assures us it will not produce weapons and will consult with us to define this concept in detail.

The Department of Defense (ISA and the Joint Staff) believes that pressures can be applied by the threat to cut off conventional weapons supply and assurances from Israel received with a reasonably good chance (say 75%) of avoiding a public confrontation. Important groups in Israel surely will want to avoid such a confrontation, and the military certainly will not wish to exchange assured conventional weapons supply from this highly preferred source for nuclear-armed missiles. Moreover, it will be difficult, to put it mildly, for Israel publicly to challenge our position on this issue—for our position can be easily and clearly presented as acting in the U.S. interest without jeopardizing Israel’s security. (This would not be the case if, for example, we attempted to withhold arms supplies to achieve Israeli concessions to Arabs; our position would be more difficult to defend and sustain publicly in that instance.)

Defense believes that it is important, if we are to stop Israel from going ahead with missiles and nuclear weapons, to demonstrate to the Israelis the seriousness of our purpose so that Israel itself can see the desirability of avoiding confrontation. Israel will surely not stop its long range-nuclear weapons and missile program unless it is made to feel that the United States is truly prepared to adopt policies which would adversely effect Israel’s security with respect to more immediate threats. Moreover, the speed with which Israel is proceeding dictates that we must take steps very soon if we are to stop Israel’s nuclear and missile activity before it’s publicly known.

Defense recognizes that we cannot obtain absolute guarantees that Israel will forego strategic missiles and nuclear weapons over the long-run; we can, however, make it more likely that missiles and nuclear weapons will not be used by stopping their production now and by creating a political obstacle—the necessity to renounce agreements and risk confrontation with the United States—to their later use.

5. Should we Attempt to Obtain Israeli Assurances that it will Halt its Strategic Missile as well as Nuclear Weapons Program?

Defense believes that in addition to signature of the NPT and assurances of nuclear weapons restraint, we should seek Israeli assurances that it will not produce, further acquire, or deploy strategic missiles. They argue that since the present Israeli “Jericho” missile is not militarily cost effective as a means of delivering a high explosive warhead, the assumption will be made that they are designed for nuclear warheads, and the practical result may be the same whether or not the nuclear weapons actually exist.

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The Department of State, on the other hand, believes that getting the Israelis to abandon their SSM program will be very difficult to achieve, given the program’s already advanced stage. Trying to obtain assurances on missiles would therefore seriously compound the difficulty of obtaining assurances on what must be our main objective—the non-production and non-deployment of nuclear weapons.

6. Courses of Action

A. The Department of State holds the following view:

1. A dialogue with Israel on the nuclear question can and should be initiated immediately. We believe this will not affect adversely our current efforts to achieve a peace settlement. We should move to reaffirm our opposition to proliferation as soon as possible preferably at the Ambassadorial level both here and in Jerusalem and underscore that the U.S. Government considers it has a firm commitment in this respect from Israel. We believe strongly that we should not at this juncture link this approach to a suspension or slowing down of shipments of conventional weapons to Israel.6 This possibility should be reviewed prior to September in the light of Israel’s response and further intelligence on the progress of Israel’s program.

2. At an early occasion a high-ranking U.S. official—preferably the Secretary of State or Secretary of Defense—should make a public statement on our global non-proliferation objectives and, in particular, our hope that nuclear weapons can be kept out of sensitive areas such as the Middle East. Such a statement should note Israel’s assurances to us that it would not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the area and urge Israel to sign the NPT.

B. The Department of Defense holds the following view:

1. There should be an early meeting with Ambassador Rabin of Israel for the purpose of conveying to Israel (a) the seriousness with which the U.S. views Israel’s missile and nuclear developments, and (b) specific U.S. demands that Israel stop certain of its activities and give us assurances to this effect.

2. The assurances we require from Israel are: (a) private assurances (with inspection rights) that Israel will cease and desist from development or acquisition of nuclear weapons and strategic missiles, and (b) public assurances in the form of a NPT signature and ratification.

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3. We should reiterate, on behalf of this Administration, that the American definition of “introduction” applies (e.g., the State of Israel will not physically possess nuclear weapons, including the components of nuclear weapons that will explode).

4. Rabin should be called in by the President, or by the Secretaries of State and Defense. Although the negotiations with Israel will be especially difficult, they will be less difficult if our demands for assurances are unequivocal and made at the highest level.

  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–75–0103, Box 12, Israel. Top Secret; Nodis. Drafted on May 29 in the State and Defense Departments.
  2. Attached but not printed is the study, which was transmitted by John P. Walsh, Executive Secretary of the Department of State, to Kissinger, Laird, Helms, and Wheeler on May 30. NSSM 40 is Document 20.
  3. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XX, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1967–1968, Documents 306, 308, 309, 311, 317, 330, and 332.
  4. This paragraph is in a letter from Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Paul C. Warnke to Rabin, November 27. See ibid., Document 333.
  5. J/PM differs with this view: see footnote on page 6. [Footnote in the original. The reference is to footnote 6 below.]
  6. J/PM, while in general agreement with the other formulations identified as the State position in this paper, differs with NEA on this point. J/PM believes: a) The implications of Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons are serious enough for U.S. interests to warrant reminding the Israelis at the outset of the terms of the Warnke letter, and informing them of the possibility that we might not be able to carry through with deliveries of the F–4 and other aircraft if Israel pursues its weapons program; b) Unless this warning is conveyed, the Israelis are not likely to pay much attention to our representations. [Footnote in the original.]