TEL AVIV - Israel would likely be able to produce enough plutonium for at least one nuclear bomb by 1965-66, the CIA estimated as early as 1961, recently declassified documents show.
The fascinating document that reveals the story was recently publicized by the National Security Archive in Washington, an archive that is both physical and virtual and specializes in publishing declassified documents related to American national security matters.
This time, the organization publicized a collection of documents, in the form of national security assessments by the CIA regarding estimates about nuclear proliferation in the years 1957-1967.
Indeed, the collection of documents, available online, would be of great interest to anyone studying the history of nuclear proliferation.
The documents indicate that despite appearances to the contrary, the Americans estimated at that early stage Israel was misleading the United States and acting to acquire nuclear armaments.
The most fascinating declassified document, at least to Israeli eyes, is a national intelligence assessment from September 21, 1961, less than a year after former Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion declared the nuclear facility in Dimona was a research center intended for peaceful purposes only.
Despite the announcement, the Americans apparently saw the nascent Israeli nuclear program in a somewhat different light than that presented by Ben-Gurion. Indeed, the document names only Israel and France as the two countries the CIA was convinced had already made a decision to go nuclear at that time.
Notably, several months earlier, then-President John F. Kennedy sent U.S. inspectors to Dimona. The inspectors reported there were no clear signs on the ground of a nuclear arms program.
American taboo continues to erode
According to the recently declassified documents, the U.S. government possessed significant evidence indicating Israel was indeed pursuing a nuclear path aimed at producing weapons.
As noted above, the document estimated that should Israel set up a plutonium-producing facility, it would likely be able to produce a nuclear weapon within several years. The document also noted Israel was in possession of a French-made bomber that would have been able to carry nuclear weapons to a 550-mile range.
Notably, the documents also includes some assessments that may still be relevant today. For one thing, intelligence analysts who prepared the estimate wrote that no international convention would be able to prevent a determined government from acquiring nuclear arms. Could this be a harbinger of things to come?