In May 1967, facing an unprecedented existential threat from Egypt and its other neighbors, Israel assembled for the first time two or three rudimentary nuclear explosives. And some in the Israeli government and military drew up a plan to detonate the nukes in the Egyptian desert—in a massive demonstration of Israeli power.
The secret plans were called a “doomsday operation” by Itzhak Yaakov, a retired brigadier general who described them in a series of interviews with Middlebury Institute Professor Avner Cohen. The New York Times, in an article on the front page of the Sunday edition on June 4 called this new information the “last secret” of the 1967 War.
Monday June 5th marks the 50th anniversary of the start of the 1967 war (known as the Six-Day War in Israel), and is the date the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project (NPIHP) at the Woodrow Wilson Center’s History and Public Policy Program released historical testimonies and documents—some never before published—that highlight the nuclear dimension of the crisis, and reveal of the existence of a crash effort to assemble Israel’s first nuclear device. The documents are accessible free of charge and were collected and edited by a team of scholars led by Cohen.
The war is probably the most researched events in the history of the modern Middle East. Volumes of studies have been produced over the five decades since. Yet one important aspect of the conflict and the months preceding it has remained largely untold: The nuclear dimension. On this issue, both sides still seem bound by layers of taboo, silence and secrecy. The new release “sheds a new light on what led to the war, in particular on the Israeli side,” says Cohen, who hopes for similar information from the Egyptian side.