The US Discovery of Israel’s Dimona Complex

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April 2015
Avner Cohen

Israel's Dimona Complex: The construction site near Dinoma in the Negev desert for Israel's then-secret nuclear reactor were taken during the last months of 1960. [ Src: http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/nukevault/ebb510/ ]

The construction site near Dinoma in the Negev desert for Israel’s then-secret nuclear reactor were taken during the last months of 1960. [ Src: National Security Archive ]

Monterey, April 15, 2015 – The US government first learned of Israel’s Dimona nuclear facility while it was still under construction during mid-summer 1960 from an American corporate official talking to US diplomats in Tel Aviv. This and other revelations about Israel’s nuclear program were published today in a newly declassified document by the National Security Archive and the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. The Electronic Briefing Book (EBB) details the discovery of the complex that some in the US government believed was aimed at a weapons capability from the very start; the US internal debates over the discovery; and US government efforts to pressure Israel to answer key questions about the nature of the secret project. The documents published in this collection also shed light on a notable US intelligence failure: how Washington missed warning signs that the Israelis had a nuclear project underway.

A New Electronic Briefing Book (EBB) No. 510 produced jointly by CNS and the National Security Archive
Avner Cohen and William Burr, editors

Among the findings in the documents are:

  • The June 1959 Israel-Norway secret agreement providing for the sale of Norwegian heavy water to Israel (through the United Kingdom), transmitted by Oslo Embassy political officer Richard Kerry (father of Secretary of State John Kerry).
  • Reports about information from a then-covert source — University of Michigan nuclear engineering professor Henry Gomberg — who learned that the Israelis had a secret nuclear reactor project that involved experiments with plutonium.
  • A telegram from the US embassy in Tel Aviv reporting on Finance Ministry official Addy Cohen’s statement that “we’ve been misbehaving,” and one by an unidentified official close to Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion that the secrecy surrounding Dimona was unjustifiable and that it was “a stupid mistake on the part of Israel.”
  • Reports by US Ambassador in tel Aviv, Ogden Reid, on his conversations with Ben-Gurion.
  • A State Department message to the embassy in Tel Aviv conveying irritation that the responses of the Israeli government showed a “lack of candor.”
  • Messages about a role for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in inspecting and safeguarding Dimona.

In addition, Avner Cohen and William Burr published an article about the historical significance of the newly discovered documents in Politico Magazine.

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