Washington D.C., May 2, 2019 – During 1963, President John F. Kennedy was preoccupied with issues such as Vietnam, the nuclear test ban negotiations, civil rights protests, and Cuba. It is less well known, however, that one of his most abiding concerns was whether and how fast Israel was seeking a nuclear weapons capability and what the U.S. should do about it. Beginning in April 1963, Kennedy insisted that the Israeli leadership accept regular bi-annual U.S. inspections, or in diplomatic language, “visits,” of Israel’s nuclear complex at Dimona in the Negev Desert. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and his successor, Levi Eshkol, tried to evade and avoid inspections, but Kennedy applied unprecedented pressure, informing them bluntly, in a near ultimatum tone, that Washington’s “commitment to and support of Israel “could be “seriously jeopardized” if it was thought that the U.S. government could not obtain “reliable information” on the Dimona reactor and Israel’s nuclear intentions.
Throughout the spring and summer of 1963, the leaders of the United States and Israel – President John F. Kennedy and Prime Ministers David Ben-Gurion and Levi Eshkol – were engaged in a high-stakes battle of wills over Israel’s nuclear program. The tensions were invisible to the publics of both countries, and only a few senior officials, on both sides of the ocean, were aware of the severity of the situation