Dayan Sought 'Show' of Israel's Nuclear Capabilities in 1973 War; Meir Opposed

Noam Sheizaf
Noam Sheizaf

Moshe Dayan, defense minister during the Yom Kippur War, apparently sought to discuss, in the first days of the war, the possibility of a nuclear "demonstration" according to a new book by Israeli nuclear historian Avner Cohen.

"The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel's Bargain with the Bomb" was launched yesterday in Washington and will be published next week in the United States.

A service yesterday on the Golan Heights to commemorate Brigade 769 soldiers killed in the 1973 war. Credit: Dror Artzi

Cohen writes that according to the late physicist, MK and cabinet minister Professor Yuval Ne'eman, two or three times in the course of the war Israel declared "strategic readiness" - a euphemism for nuclear readiness.

Cohen is a senior fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies of the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

According to Cohen, the most dramatic moment in Israel's nuclear history was in the early stages of the war. Dayan feared that Israel was close to the point of no return, and wanted the United States to know it.

Cohen says that according to Galili's secretary and confidant, the late Arnan Azaryahu, at the end of the October 9 meeting of the war cabinet, a day after the Israel Defense Forces' failed counterattack on the Egyptian front, Dayan proposed discussing a number of options, including a nuclear one.

Dayan also brought Shalhevet Freier, then head of Israel's atomic energy agency, to the meeting, Cohen writes. Alon and Galili, however, told prime minister Golda Meir that such a discussion was premature. And she agreed.

Cohen writes that according to statements by Ne'eman Israel appeared to have raised its level of nuclear readiness twice in the first week of the war in response to Egypt's preparation of Soviet Scud missiles.

According to Cohen, it was commonly believed that Israel took other readiness measures, including mobilizing Jericho missiles from their shelters and fueling them. These steps required the approval of the prime minister and the defense minister, but not the cabinet, and were personally overseen by representatives of both Meir and Dayan.

No authoritative record has surfaced as to what exactly Dayan had proposed and what readiness activities took place on the ground, but rumors referred to various scenarios that Dayan could have invoked.

Several decades later, Cohen writes, at a conference in Washington, foreign policy expert William Quandt, then an adviser on the U.S. National Security Council, recalled that the impact of American intelligence reports of the moves on Henry Kissinger was critical to the U.S. decision to airlift weapons to Israel.

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