CIA reveals: We said in 1974 that Israel had nuclear weapons
The Central Intelligence Agency, backed by bodies including the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research and the Defense Intelligence Agency, determined in August 1974 that Israel had nuclear "weapons in being," a "small number" of which it "produced and stockpiled."
Israel was also suspected of providing nuclear materials, equipment or technology to Iran, South Africa and other then-friendly countries.
This top secret document, consigned to the CIA's vaults for almost 32 years, was suddenly released to the public this week, during U.S. President George W. Bush's visit to Israel and on the eve of his trip to the Persian Gulf.
A small part of the document was released in early 2006 under a Freedom of Information Request placed by scholars Avner Cohen and William Burr, but only as an attachment to a 1975 State Department paper ostensibly disputing the the portrayal of Israel's nuclear weapons as a fact.
This served the Department of State's effort to avoid addressing Israel's nuclear status in response to a query by Congressman Alan Steelman.
The Department of State, led in this exercise by officials Joseph Sisco, Alfred (Roy) Atherton and Harold Saunders, tried to depict the 1974 Special National Intelligence Assesment, "Prospects for further proliferation of nuclear weapons," as a CIA project, while in fact it was an agency-wide effort that included its own intelligence chief, William Hyland, as a senior member of the board that agreed to the conclusions.
The CIA was asked yesterday via e-mail about the strange coincidence of the document's release a mere month after the publication of its awkwardly worded NIE on Iran's nuclear weapons program. It did not respond by deadline.
The issue of an American double standard regarding the nuclear activities of Israel and Iran often comes up when senior American officials visit the Gulf, as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates did last month.
In both the original 1974 document and the 1975 State Department paper (in which it was retyped), the entire intelligence community determined, "Israel already has produced nuclear weapons." This analysis was based on "Israeli acquisition of large quantities of uranium," in part covertly; on Israel's ambiguous efforts to enrich uranium; and on the huge investment in the "Jericho" surface-to-surface missile "designed to accommodate nuclear warheads." Short of a grave threat to the nation's existence, Israel was not expected to confirm its suspected capability "by nuclear testing or by threats of use."
While Israel's nuclear weapons "cannot be proven beyond a shadow of doubt," several bodies of information point strongly toward a program stretching back over a number of years, the document states.
The 1974 document describes the Jericho project, from its inception in France through its migration to Israel to the replacement of the original inertial guidance system by an Israeli design "based on components produced in Israel under licenses from U.S. companies."
Israel Aircraft Industries is responsible for the development of the missile and has constructed a number of facilities for production and testing north of Tel Aviv, near Haifa, at Ramle and nearby it "a missile assembly and checkout plant."
On Iran, the 1974 NIE said, "there is no doubt of the Shah's ambition to make Iran a power to reckon with. If he is alive in the mid-80's, if Iran has a full-fledged nuclear power industry and all the facilities necessary for nuclear weapons, and if other countries have proceeded with weapons development, we have no doubt that Iran will follow suit."
The Shah's ouster in 1979 (and death a year later) apparently slowed down Iran's nuclear project.
The authors of the NIE wrote that the U.S. helped France expedite its nuclear program, France in turn helped Israel, and much like France and India, Israel, "while unlikely to foster proliferation as a matter of national policy, probably will prove susceptible to the hue of economic and political advantages to be gained from exporting materials, technology and equipment relevant to nuclear weapons programs."