By Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman
So far, in the 65 years of the State of Israel’s history, more relevantly, in what we’ve learned is a 46-year period of possessing nuclear weapons have Israeli authorities ever come close to using “the bomb”? Yes. Twice.
One occasion, long rumored, came during the Yom Kippur War in October 1973 — this time of year, 40 years ago. That is the statutory period that permits the State Archives in Jerusalem to declassify many official papers from that period.
Egypt and Syria, in a coordinated attack on two widely separated fronts, had taken Israel’s celebrated and cocky military by surprise.
The defense minister, the eyepatch-wearing General Moshe Dayan, panicked. Other military officers and officials of the time had the clear impression that he believed Israel might lose — and losing might mean the end of Israel.
We — and some other historians — already reported that Dayan suggested “the end of the Third Temple” was nigh. Now the State Archives confirm that.
Official documents, just released now thanks to the passage of four decades, show that Defense Minister Dayan and General Rehavam (“Gandhi”) Ze’evi both hinted at the need to use “the strategic weapons.”
The declassified papers don’t use the word “nuclear,” but the meaning is clear: a very drastic step, using a weapon to that point totally hidden, to turn back the seemingly unstoppable invaders (the Egyptians, having crossed the Suez Canal and heading eastward through the Sinai, perceived perhaps as more surprisingly dangerous to Israel than the Syrians on the Golan Heights).
The papers show that Prime Minister Golda Meir and the military chief of staff, General David (“Dado”) Elazar rejected the idea of unsheathing “the strategic weapons.” Meir and Elazar were forced to resign in 1974, when an investigatory commission revealed severe mistakes made in the run-up to the 1973 war; and Elazar died of a heart attack while swimming (in 1976) at age 50.
The first occasion when a plan was developed for using a nuclear weapon was in 1967, just after Israel built its very first atomic bomb — according to sources who decline to be named but have helped establish unofficial chronologies of Israel’s secret nuclear program. Here is an excerpt from our book, Spies Against Armageddon (Chapter 11):