42. Telegram From the Embassy in Israel to the Department of State1

2941. Subj: Dimona Visit. Ref: State 124641.2

Summary: Ambassador July 31 told Prime Minister Meir that US team which visited Dimona early July had not been able to make full examination and requested further one-day visit next month. Mrs. Meir replied this impossible, since any departure from established routine would require action by Cabinet and Foreign Affairs Committee of Knesset, which was out of question in period before elections.3

1. In order present substance of reftel, Ambassador sought appointment with Prime Minister Meir early this week. Prime Minister could not arrange time until July 31 and meeting was held this afternoon. DCM accompanied Ambassador and DirGen PM’s office Yaakov Herzog and Asst DirGen MFA Bitan also present. Conversation took about one hour.

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2. Amb began by reading from reftel at length. He noted especially that he had been connected with visits for some years, knew GOI problems, but felt that fact visits had become routine, perhaps too routine, had interfered with fundamental purpose for which they had been established. He also pointed out matter was one of substance, not hospitality, and team was pleased with cordial personal reception. Mrs. Meir said Israelis had also been well impressed by US team.

3. In reply to Amb’s presentation, Mrs. Meir said she had been in on this matter from beginning. She had been at Ben Gurion’s house first time he had to make decision to agree to visit,4 and she knew how difficult it had been for him, first several visits had been made without knowledge rest of Cabinet, until press leak in New York Times (Amb interjected this had been from Israeli side) brought matter out and it had to be taken up in Cabinet and Knesset Foreign Affairs Committee, much to discomfiture of then Prime Minister, Eshkol. Since then Cabinet and ForAff Comite have always known about visits. She could not say that everyone had been extremely happy about visits, but what had enabled them to go on was fact that govt action would have had to be taken to stop them, and it had been possible to avoid this. This year US had suggested that visit be somewhat earlier, in view of coming elections, etc., but she had said no, let it go on on schedule, so that there will be no variance from established procedure and so no opportunity for basic decision to be called in question.

4. Now, Mrs. Meir went on, three months before elections, she was asked to go before Cabinet and Foreign Affairs Comite and raise this matter again. There have already been eight visits, since 1961. US naturally has sent whom it chose, they have looked, and nothing has been found. Is problem that they did not see something that was not there? It would be absolutely impossible to go to Cabinet on this now, to call in Foreign Affairs Comite, on eve of elections. It was not reasonable to ask this.

5. Amb replied he knew these domestic problems were serious but he was not sure that GOI realized how seriously USG regards whole nuclear question, not only with Israel but with whole world. Because of grave dangers, there are those in US who feel we must be prepared to believe the worst, in absence of contrary info, not only of Israel but of anyone. Problem boils down to whether Israel feels it important to disabuse doubters in this respect. As to previous visits, we had in each case accepted GOI groundrules but as record would show we had also been instructed each time to state that visit had not gone as well as had [Page 149] been hoped. Prime Minister Eshkol had been asked by President Kennedy for two-day visits every six months; Eshkol had not given written acceptance but had said orally that President’s wishes were acceptable, and this had been taken as GOI agreement. Now visits have become so rushed that it is not possible for team to make report which would be in interests of GOI and USG to allay doubts.

6. Mrs. Meir said that she understood, but that it made [garble—her mad?]. A few weeks ago, USG had asked her to cooperate on question of Jordan, and she had gone along. She had been anxious to go along, and she did so. Since then, during July there had been 98 shelling incidents from across Jordan border, some by Jordanian Army but most by Fatah. King had promised there would be no shooting, including by Fatah. Now Syrians have moved in six Russian 130 mm guns at Safi (just south of Dead Sea) with a 27 km range. Israel is surrounded on south, east and north. Iraqis and Saudi Arabians already in Jordan, and now Syrians have moved in. She did not know what importance to accord Eastern Command, but fact was Syrians were now there. Then there had been Nasser’s speech,5 and Brezhnev had sent him message saying USSR would supply UAR with everything needed to fight Israelis. But [garble—it?] is we (underline) who are the suspects in US eyes. This made her terribly sad.

7. Amb rejoined he understood her position but in nuclear equation we were talking about another world, completely different factors. It was not same thing. Potential of nuclear weapons was such that we cannot fail to regard them as separate business. This did not mean we did not understand Israel’s need for conventional weapons. However, nuclear weapons were something else, and this is why we negotiated NPT and hope our friends will sign it, as some have. (Mrs. Meir interjected at least Israel was in good company, but Amb [garble—retorted?] not in such good company as those who signed.)

8. Prime Minister went on that everyone with any imagination could see horror of nuclear weapons, whether as user or target of them. Israel’s problem, however, was how to keep alive in face of conventional weapons, to which every ounce of her energy and know how was devoted. She did not say that US was not justified in doing all it could to see that these horrible weapons should not be spread around world, but why Israel was under suspicion was hard for her to understand.

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9. Amb replied he did not say any suspicion of Israel was justified but fact was that it existed and it was in interests US and Israel to remove it. Mrs. Meir then said she did not understand reference to statement US desired another visit to Dimona to take place prior to her visit to Washington. Had King Hussein been told he should stop shooting across border before coming to see President? Amb replied we had never said we thought he could do this completely but we welcomed his efforts to do it. Prime Minister rejoined if he cannot keep Syrians out of his country then he is not ruler and there is no reason to accept his word on anything. He has been invaded by three Arab countries and does nothing about it. But he is the best there is in Jordan, Amb interjected. She didn’t care who was there, Mrs. Meir said, if he can’t keep others out. She had nothing against him personally, but either there was someone in control who could be depended upon or there was nothing. Jordan was not Israel, Amb replied, and she was applying Israeli standards to it. There were many countries in world weak and shaky like Jordan.

10. Herzog then broke in that there had been two specific messages from King that he would insure that there was no firing. Amb rebutted we knew that would not work completely, that he could not carry that out. Can’t he keep Syrians out, Mrs. Meir asked? Either they have come in against his will, and he should do something about it, or with his permission. Next he will have Egyptians in Jordan. Herzog said this was first time Syrians had managed to move in on Jordan, and first time since Six Day War that they had even tried. Lebanon can keep Syrians out, Mrs. Meir continued, but Jordan can’t. She could understand it was more convenient for King Hussein to keep at peace with Syrians, but not at Israel’s expense. Early this year, Herzog said, in Eshkol-Hussein exchange of messages, there had been clear indication that area at south end Dead Sea and Aqaba-Eilat were out of bounds. Safi (where Syrian guns alleged to be) is central to military control of whole Dead Sea area. Hussein had shown he could control them now. Dead Sea installations at Sedom, Prime Minister went on, represented investment 400 million Israeli pounds. (And big US investment, too, Amb noted) One shot at one of several vital points could put whole business out of operation for long, long time, yet there they are at Safi. US ought to have more things to do at such a time than search Israel for atomic bombs.

11. Amb said matter had to be looked at on broader scale. GOI was making problem by being mysterious. Visits had been set up for a purpose and had become so restricted that purpose not being accomplished.

12. DCM then said Prime Minister’s feeling that Israel was object of some unique suspicion on part of USG was not justified. Most free world countries active in nuclear research field had reactors, fuel or other nuclear connections with US and in all such instances US insisted [Page 151] on complete and continuous safeguards that go far beyond one-day-once-a-year visit to Dimona. Mrs. Meir countered that Dimona had not been bought from US and not fueled by US, so US had no reason to talk about safeguards on it. DCM replied he was not talking about applying safeguards to Dimona, but illustrating that suspicion was not unique against Israel but rather that there was no ally or friend so close but what US applies safeguards whenever it deals with them in nuclear field.

12. Herzog said that when Eshkol first went to Cabinet and told them about Dimona visits, he based his decision to carry on with visits on fact that commitment had already been made by Ben Gurion. Mrs. Meir said that if matter were now coming up for first time, she could not even consider asking Cabinet to concur in US visits to Dimona. She was able to carry on only because Eshkol had done it, and Eshkol had been able only because he could put it on Ben Gurion. If she had to go to Cabinet and Foreign Affairs Comite on matter, there would be no change.

13. Amb said he understood Prime Minister’s problems but for final time he would say that rather than consider problems she should consider objective. Objective is to be able to have team produce airtight report that will leave no ground for doubt. If this is not done, doubts will remain. Prime Minister Meir replied she was terribly sorry if things had to turn out that way, but it was absolutely unthinkable, just impossible.

14. Comment: I pushed Prime Minister as hard as possible on this, especially on theme, which seems to me heart of matter, that purpose of visits is to establish to US satisfaction that nuclear weapons material not being produced at Dimona and that there is strong Israeli interest in seeing to it that this satisfaction is obtained. Domestic political problems which she adduces are real, and I imagine she is right in saying that this program continues only because, in finely balanced Israeli Cabinet, no one has ability to get majority decision to stop it. I would have preferred to separate out, in this message, parts dealing with Jordanian ceasefire and King Hussein, but they have to stay in because Dimona problem must be seen by US in context of overall situation here. Those in Cabinet who opposed Mrs. Meir on giving GOJ chance to control fedayeen (and there certainly must have been some) are same ones who would oppose relaxation on Dimona visits and make political capital in election campaign out of any discussion of this in Cabinet or committee. I therefore reluctantly conclude that we have done all we can at this time, and that there is no realistic possibility of another Dimona visit before Mrs. Meir’s visit to Washington or Israeli elections in late October.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 604, Country Files, Middle East, Israel, Vol. II. Secret; Nodis. All brackets are in the original except those indicating garbled text.
  2. Not found.
  3. U.S. inspections of Dimona, which began in January 1964 under President Johnson, occurred roughly once per year. President Kennedy had insisted that U.S. representatives be allowed to inspect Dimona biannually, but neither he nor Johnson could persuade Prime Minister Eshkol to agree to such a timetable. Before the visit in July, a U.S. team had not inspected the facility since June 1968. (Telegram 36436 to Tel Aviv, March 8; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 604, Country Files, Middle East, Israel, Vol. I)
  4. Documentation on U.S. concerns about the Dimona facility and Israeli Prime Minister Ben-Gurion’s agreement to U.S. inspections is in Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, volume XVIII, Middle East, 1962–1963.
  5. On July 23, the 17th anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution, Nasser delivered a speech to the Arab Socialist Union in Cairo declaring that the United Arab Republic was passing to “the stage of liberation with Israel.” He added: “We have to fight and we shall fight for the recovery of our lands . . . Israel is seeking to spread a sense of despair, that whatever we do there is no hope we can recover our rights. . . . Israel Must Be Defeated for the Good of Humanity.” (New York Times, July 24, 1969, p. 1)