Israeli Nuclear Program Uncovered: A Drunken Confession and the Dimona Reactor
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Photograph of the construction site near Dinoma in the Negev desert for Israel’s then-secret nuclear reactor was taken in 1960, and is located in State Department records at the National Archives (Record Group 59, Records of the Special Assistant to the Secretary of State for Atomic Energy and Outer Space, General Records Relating to Atomic Energy, 1948-62, box 501, Country File Z1.50 Israel f. Reactors 1960). This photo is in the public domain

By José Carlos Palma *

In June 1960, as President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidency neared its end, a startling revelation emerged from an unexpected source: Daniel Kimhi, a prominent Israeli oil magnate. During a late-night party at the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, Kimhi, perhaps under the influence of one too many cocktails, made an astonishing confession to American diplomats. He revealed that Israel was indeed constructing a large “power reactor” in the Negev desert, a project that would later become known as the Dimona reactor.

Kimhi’s revelation sent shockwaves through the U.S. government. The existence of an Israeli nuclear program had been suspected for some time, but Kimhi’s confession provided concrete evidence. The Eisenhower administration was caught off guard, facing a dilemma of how to respond to this sensitive issue while maintaining its close relationship with Israel.

The Dimona reactor, located in the southern Israeli Negev desert, was a clandestine project shrouded in secrecy. Construction began in the late 1950s, with the assistance of France, which provided Israel with the necessary technology and expertise. The reactor was intended to produce plutonium, a key ingredient in nuclear weapons.

Kimhi’s confession triggered a series of diplomatic maneuvers and high-level discussions within the U.S. government. The Eisenhower administration sought clarification from the Israeli government, but Israel remained evasive, refusing to officially acknowledge its nuclear program.

Despite Israel’s attempts to downplay the issue, the U.S. government could not ignore the implications. The existence of an Israeli nuclear program raised concerns about the proliferation of nuclear weapons in a volatile region and the potential threat to regional stability.

The Eisenhower administration faced a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, it wanted to maintain its relationship with Israel, a key ally in the Cold War era. On the other hand, it could not condone the development of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, especially by a country that had repeatedly refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The U.S. government’s response was a combination of diplomacy and pressure. It engaged in confidential negotiations with Israel, urging it to abandon its nuclear program or at least place it under international safeguards. Simultaneously, it imposed restrictions on the sale of nuclear technology to Israel, hoping to curtail its nuclear ambitions.

Despite these efforts, Israel continued to pursue its nuclear program, successfully producing plutonium at the Dimona reactor. The country’s nuclear weapons capability remained shrouded in secrecy, but its existence was no longer a matter of doubt.

The discovery of Israel’s nuclear program marked a turning point in U.S.-Israeli relations. While the two countries remained close allies, the issue of nuclear weapons cast a shadow over their relationship, creating a tension that has persisted to this day.

* Expert in international relations, such as foreign policy, international trade, domestic security, international security, developing nations, domestic security, intelligence, IT Consultant, world history, political consultant, and military analysis.

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