The New York Times reports: On the eve of the Arab-Israeli war, 50 years ago this week, Israeli officials raced to assemble an atomic device and developed a plan to detonate it atop a mountain in the Sinai Peninsula as a warning to Egyptian and other Arab forces, according to an interview with a key organizer of the effort that will be published Monday.
The secret contingency plan, called a “doomsday operation” by Itzhak Yaakov, the retired brigadier general who described it in the interview, would have been invoked if Israel feared it was going to lose the 1967 conflict. The demonstration blast, Israeli officials believed, would intimidate Egypt and surrounding Arab states — Syria, Iraq and Jordan — into backing off.
Israel won the war so quickly that the atomic device was never moved to Sinai. But Mr. Yaakov’s account, which sheds new light on a clash that shaped the contours of the modern Middle East conflict, reveals Israel’s early consideration of how it might use its nuclear arsenal to preserve itself.
“It’s the last secret of the 1967 war,” said Avner Cohen, a leading scholar of Israel’s nuclear history who conducted many interviews with the retired general.
Mr. Yaakov, who oversaw weapons development for the Israeli military, detailed the plan to Dr. Cohen in 1999 and 2000, years before he died in 2013 at age 87.
“Look, it was so natural,” said Mr. Yaakov, according to a transcription of a taped interview. “You’ve got an enemy, and he says he’s going to throw you to the sea. You believe him.”
“How can you stop him?” he asked. “You scare him. If you’ve got something you can scare him with, you scare him.”
Israel has never acknowledged the existence of its nuclear arsenal, in an effort to preserve “nuclear ambiguity” and forestall periodic calls for a nuclear-free Middle East. In 2001, Mr. Yaakov was arrested, at age 75, on charges that he had imperiled the country’s security by talking about the nuclear program to an Israeli reporter, Ronen Bergman, whose work was censored. At various moments, American officials, including former President Jimmy Carter long after he left office, have acknowledged the existence of the Israeli program, though they have never given details. [Continue reading…]