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Document Notes


These are portions from the official transcripts (minutes) of two key meetings that were held on May 26, 1967. The first meeting, started around noon at the prime minister office in Tel Aviv, was of the Defense Ministerial Committee (aka, the defense cabinet). The second one, started about 4 p.m. at the same site, was a meeting of the Knesset’s Foreign Relations and Defense Committee. 

Both documents are available at the Israel State Archives.  The official transcript of first one is now available online while the second is not yet online but available at the Archives' reading room (we received that document through the generous assistance of Mr. Adam Raz).  The first document is partially censored, the second document is available in its entirety.  In both transcripts, there is reference to the nuclear dimension of the crisis and that’s why we include them in this collection.   

To understand the context of both documents we need some historical context.  For Israel Friday May 26 was among the worst days of the crisis. Three days earlier Nasser declared the closing of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli naval shipping; at the same time, Egypt continued with its massive military mobilization into the Sinai; Egyptian propaganda machine was on all out anti-Israel belligerent mode.  Closing the strait constitutes an Israeli casus bello, a direct act of defiance to Israeli deterrence, yet Israel – in response to a personal appeal from President Johnson – agreed to wait (at least) 48 hours before taking any action, while sending its Foreign Minister, Abba Eban, to London and the United States for consultation.  

Two days later, on the May 25, the situation worsened. By now the focus was no longer on the Straits of Tiran and freedom of naval shipping as a casus belli but rather on the Egyptian military buildup in Sinai as a direct and immediate existential threat to Israel.  On that evening, the crisis reached new heights as Israeli intelligence received indications as if a surprise Egyptian air attack – targeting Dimona and Israeli air bases – is imminent.  An urgent message was sent to Eban about the imminence of attack, urging the United States to intervene immediately with Cairo. 

The Defense Ministerial meeting dealt with a twofold and simultaneous crisis: the worsening external crisis with Egypt along with fast developing internal crisis in the cabinet itself.  According to the minutes, the cabinet was deliberating if time had come for a military action, while still anxiously waiting to hear about Eban meeting with Johnson.  As impasse prevailed and no decision is taken, some ministers proposed to broaden the cabinet by adding the opposition parties.  Prime Minister Eshkol was facing a dual crisis.    

While the ministerial meeting was in session Chief of Staff Rabin was asked out to be informed about the (second) Egyptian reconnaissance flight over Dimona.  Rabin updated the cabinet and left again.  Then, about half an hour later, Rabin and Weizmann returned and provided the cabinet with some more details. According to the meeting transcript (the first document, p.38), Rabin reported that four Egyptian Migs penetrated Israeli air space in the Negev, two of them diverted south, while the other two flew towards Dimona’s restricted air space (code worded, “metachim”).  Rabin added, that Israeli jets were scrambled and were to intercept them on their way back, even chased them into “half of Sinai,” but were unable to shoot them down. The Egyptian Migs flew in high altitude, about 50,000-55,000 feet.

The transcript then reports that Eshkol was asked out to have further private discussion with Rabin and Weizmann. The protocol does not say what was discussed, but two authoritative historians -- Shimon Golan and Amy Gluska -- report that Rabin informed Eshkol that Israeli intelligence just intercepted a “strange and worrisome transmission referring to coordination between fighter jets and bombers.” Rabin added that this might be indication of a coordinated aerial attack on Dimona. Weizmann was even more alarmist, saying that all indications were that Egypt planned to attack Dimona, with at least 40 aircraft, possibly even that night.[1] Then Eshkol returned to the conference, apparently keeping this additional information to himself, just (according to the minutes) informing his colleagues the aerial incident would be shared with the US, but without telling them it was over Dimona.

Three hours later, Prime Minister Eshkol had another meeting at his Tel Aviv office, this time with members of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.  We have a full and uncensored transcript of that meeting.  Here, too, the concern about a surprise Egyptian attack is the air.  Shimon Peres, by now an opposition leader who a former deputy minister of defense, expresses his concerns by noting that in his assessment Israel “is now in the worst difficult moment in its history, worse than in 1956, worse than even than in 1948.” 

The meeting included updates from Chief of Military intelligence Yariv, Chief of Staff Rabin, and Prime Minister Eshkol. Towards the end of the meeting, Prime Minister Eshkol gave his own update, in which he reiterated his conviction that Israel could not resort to military action before exhausting all diplomatic means available. Then, the prime minister told the committee about the Egyptian flight over Dimona, and added something else—a few opaque words about a certain mysterious weapon. The minutes go as follows:

Today [Egyptian] Aircrafts crossed Israeli sky. We immediately cabled (Foreign Minister) Eban about it. The purpose of a certain weapons could be significant on this matter. And I do not talk here about a weapon as if out of this world; we talk about weapons that exist by others in hundreds, even thousands.

It is a bit confusing paragraph, not fully clear what the prime minister was referring to.  The language of the minutes is already veiled and self-censored—we cannot be completely sure how much Eshkol told the committee and possibly asked not to be left off the minutes— and yet it is not that difficult to read behind the lines.  Eshkol seems to refer to the Israeli bomb as an actual eventuality.  We appear to learn from this paragraph two important things: first, that Eshkol is fully informed of the crash nuclear activity, even if he did not initiate that crash activity; second, that Eshkol thought that there could be circumstances that that the presence of that weapons “could be significant.” 

And this is why this document is so intriguing.  

[1]  A censored version of the entire meeting is now available at the Israel State Archives, A near verbatim account of the ministerial meeting appears in Golan, A War in Three Fronts, p. 112; Gluska, Eshkol, Give the Order!, pp. 300-303 Gluska, The Israeli Military and Origins of the 1967 War, p. 177