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How Israel Went Nuclear and What That Means for the World

by Michael Karpin

Pub Date: Jan. 3rd, 2006
ISBN: 0-7432-6594-7
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

When historians consider the period between the Yom Kippur War and the present, they may conclude that only Israel’s nuclear capability kept it from being annihilated by the Arab enemies that surrounded it.

So writes Jerusalem-based journalist Karpin in this account of Israel’s long experience with nuclear weaponry. The nation, Karpin writes, “attained nuclear capability during the second half of 1966,” though, because of its well-founded policy of ambiguity, it has never acknowledged that power. In fact, Israel began working on nuclear weapons as soon as the Holocaust ended, David Ben-Gurion having vowed “never again,” and meaning it. By 1946, unknown to the British administrators of what was then Palestine, Jewish groups were receiving parts for what would be the Dimona nuclear facility courtesy of “the Sonneborn Institute,” a group of wealthy Americans who “would contribute millions of dollars to buy munitions, machinery, hospital equipment and medicines, and ships to carry refugees to Eretz Yisrael.” Not long afterward, Edward Teller and Robert Oppenheimer called on Ben-Gurion and let slip “that the best way to accumulate plutonium was to burn natural uranium in a nuclear reactor,” and so it would be, thanks in good measure to sympathetic figures within the French government who saw to it that certain ingredients got to Israel. The Israeli government has held fast to its policy of ambiguity; if it had admitted to nuclear capability, Karpin suggests, the Six-Day War may have heated up precipitously, with the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. stepping in and very likely recapitulating the Cuban Missile Crisis. The emergent question now, he concludes, is how Israel would react to the development of an Iranian nuclear program—very probably with force, assuming that the U.S. did not act first.

Carefully done, and an important resource for observers of the Middle East.