The Obama administration’s newfound opposition to Israel’s formally undisclosed nuclear program reverses nearly 50 years of American silence on the subject.
President John F. Kennedy pressured then-Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion to drop Israel’s plans for nuclear weapons in a May 1963 communiqué delivered by the U.S. ambassador.
Dr. Avner Cohen details the Kennedy administration’s efforts in his seminal 1998 book, Israel and the Bomb.
He wrote that Ben Gurion defended Israel’s need for nuclear weapons in the context of the mass murder of the Jews at the hands of the Nazis and the “scenario of a united Arab military coalition launching a war to liberate Palestine and destroy the Jewish state.”
He documents in his book how Ben Gurion tried in vain to convince President Kennedy that the surrounding Arab states posed just such an existential threat to the Jewish state, conjuring up memories of the Nazi threat from World War II.
In a letter to President Kennedy, dated May 12, 1963, Ben Gurion told the president: “I know that it is difficult for civilized people to visualize such a thing – even after they have witnessed what had happened to us during the Second World War… I cannot dismiss the possibility that this may occur again… if the Arab leaders continue to insist on and pursue their policy of belligerency towards Israel.”
President Kennedy refused to budge and continued to push Israel to abandon its nuclear option until his death on Nov. 22, 1963. No American president had made an issue of Israel’s nuclear capability – until now.
David Bedein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.