Minutes of Last General Staff Meeting Before 1967 War: 'Egypt Worried Israel Close to Nuclear Bomb'

Israeli army intelligence believed Soviets told Egyptians Israel was planning to harm them, leading Egypt to seek confrontation with Israel

Israeli Operations Directorate chief Ezer Weizmann and Chief-of-staff Rabin gazing at the Golan Heights on first day of Six Day War
Alex Agor / Bamahane

On May 19, 1967 the Israel Defense Forces General Staff convened for its last meeting before Israel launched the Six-Day War. The 13 pages of minutes just released by the Ministry of Defense document this meeting, which lasted one hour. Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin opened by saying the reason for convening was clear and needed no presentation. The head of Military Intelligence, Maj. Gen. Aharon Yariv, said the Egyptians had radically changed their conduct in the preceding days. “Their moves show a willingness to move towards or even instigate a confrontation with us,” he said.

He then detailed the reasons he believed had led to the change in Egypt’s behavior. One reason was “their assessment that Israel is close to realizing its nuclear program, with previous reports proving to be meaningless.” The second reason was “information or assessments about a wider conspiracy to harm Egypt.” According to Yariv, it was assumed the Soviets had given Egypt this information. “The Soviets may have a direct interest in stoking tensions in the area, and a larger and threatening Soviet naval presence is part of this scenario.”

The publication of these minutes, including Egyptian concerns about Israel using its nuclear options, comes on the background of a New York Times report that in the days preceding the war, Israel considered exploding a nuclear device to deter Egypt from launching a war. In the past, Israeli censors prevented publication of any information about this, arguing it would harm Israel’s security. Now the Defense Ministry is publishing the information itself, even though it reflects only Egyptian assessments that MI learned about.

The general staff meeting discussed presumed strategic Egyptian targets, such as the destruction of the Dimona reactor and of “the threat of Israel attaining nuclear weapons,” stymieing Israel’s freedom of action, stopping Israeli navigation through Egyptian waters and a general assault intended to overcome Israel. “It’s time we stop deluding ourselves that someone will come to our aid,” said Rabin when asked about the West’s position. “This is the most grave situation since the War of Independence,” he maintained. Additional words he said are still blacked out, 50 years after he said them. According to the minutes, he added: “I don’t know their intentions but we should prepare for war.”

In a second meeting held a week and a half after the war, Central Command head Maj. Gen. Uzi Narkiss spoke about the Palestinians who remained in the West Bank after its occupation. He said their situation was “not tragic,” adding that “there are 850,000 people there, 400,000 of them refugees, only 200,000 of whom are in camps, half of which are empty. They emptied not because someone actively did it. Some people left, some may be in Iraq. In any case, it’s not tragic.” He added, “So far they are quieter and more congenial than all the Jews roaming around there.”

Rabin then specified regulations for operating in the West Bank: “There is an order to activate their own administration to allow civilians freedom of movement and to prevent entry or exit from the area. Prevent people from leaving for Jordan, but not by force. We’re trying not to increase the population of Jerusalem. Only 200 families who were living in synagogues and desecrating them were expelled. We found them alternative housing. There are no expulsions. I don’t know what the diplomatic solutions will be. That isn’t the army’s responsibility,” he said.