Cover image for Israel and the bomb
Israel and the bomb
Cohen, Avner, 1951-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Columbia University Press, [1998]

Physical Description:
xviii, 470 pages ; 23 cm
Reading Level:
1550 Lexile.
Geographic Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
UA853.I8 C62 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Until now, there has been no detailed account of Israel's nuclear history. Previous treatments of the subject relied heavily on rumors, leaks, and journalistic speculations. But with Israel and the Bomb, Avner Cohen has forged an interpretive political history that draws on thousands of American and Israeli government documents--most of them recently declassified and never before cited--and more than one hundred interviews with key individuals who played important roles in this story. Cohen reveals that Israel crossed the nuclear weapons threshold on the eve of the 1967 Six-Day War, yet it remains ambiguous about its nuclear capability to this day. What made this posture of "opacity" possible, and how did it evolve?

Cohen focuses on a two-decade period from about 1950 until 1970, during which David Ben-Gurion's vision of making Israel a nuclear-weapon state was realized. He weaves together the story of the formative years of Israel's nuclear program, from the founding of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission in 1952, to the alliance with France that gave Israel the sophisticated technology it needed, to the failure of American intelligence to identify the Dimona Project for what it was, to the negotiations between President Nixon and Prime Minister Meir that led to the current policy of secrecy. Cohen also analyzes the complex reasons Israel concealed its nuclear program--from concerns over Arab reaction and the negative effect of the debate at home to consideration of America's commitment to nonproliferation.

Israel and the Bomb highlights the key questions and the many potent issues surrounding Israel's nuclear history. This book will be a critical resource for students of nuclear proliferation, Middle East politics, Israeli history, and American-Israeli relations, as well as a revelation for general readers.

Author Notes

Avner Cohen is a senior research fellow at the National Security Archive at George Washington University. He has taught and researched in universities in Israel and the United States and has published numerous articles on subjects as diverse as skepticism, political theory, nuclear ethics, nuclear proliferation, and Israeli history.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Israel's nuclear weapons program has inspired a small library of scholarly and journalistic accounts, including Paul Jabber's seminal Israel and Nuclear Weapons (1971) and Seymour Hersh's The Samson Option (1991). Combining meticulous research and penetrating analysis, Cohen has written the definitive study on the subject. He elucidates the heretofore secret policy debates that shaped Israel's opaque nuclear program. David Ben-Gurion, the dominant figure in Israeli politics for its first 20 years, and a central figure in the story, was unable to parlay American support of Israel into an alliance. He alternatively allayed John F. Kennedy's suspicions that the nuclear plant in Dimona was the central cog in a nuclear weapons program and equivocated when faced with American demands to inspect the site. Cohen offers a rich account of Tel Aviv's complex relationship with Washington, in which Israel's fledgling nuclear program enjoyed considerable salience. Indeed, Israeli decision-makers were often preoccupied by twin fears that the US might prematurely discover Israel's dissimulation and that this discovery would damage, even sabotage the quest for nuclear weapons. Cohen argues that the trademark ambiguity or "opacity" of the Israel's nuclear program should be jettisoned in favor of a more open, democratic debate. This important volume deserves the attention of Middle East scholars and students of foreign policy, nuclear proliferation, and Israeli politics. A. R. Norton Boston University

Table of Contents

1 Men and Ethos
2 Before the Beginning
3 The Beginning
4 The Road to Dimona
5 Dimona Revealed
6 Kennedy and the Israeli Project
7 The Battle of Dimona
8 Debate at Home
9 Kennedy and Eshkol Strike a Deal
10 The Dimona Visits (1964-1967)
11 Ambiguity Born
12 Growing Pains
13 The Arabs and Dimona
14 The Six-Day War
15 Toward Opacity
16 The Battle Over the NPT
17 Opacity Takes Hold