OTTAWA — Crucial evidence of Israel’s suspected nuclear weapons program was discovered by Canada in 1964, sending shivers through Washington, Ottawa and London, according to newly-surfaced U.S. and British national archives’ papers.
A spring 1964 Canadian intelligence report revealed Argentina had secretly agreed to supply Israel with at least 80 tons of uranium oxide “yellowcake” to fabricate fuel for a mysterious nuclear reactor Israel was constructing with French assistance near the town of Dimona in the Negev Desert.
Spent, or irradiated, reactor fuel can be reprocessed to harvest plutonium for making nuclear weapons and, since 1960, the U.S. and its allies conjectured Israel was pursuing a nuclear weapons program.
But the eye-opening Canadian report, which the U.S. initially doubted, confirmed fears that Israel was ambitiously seeking a secret uranium supply, under which there would be no international safeguards to ensure the yellowcake was used for peaceful purposes.
Forty-three previously secret U.S. and British government archival documents related to the Israeli yellowcake file recently surfaced and have now been published by the U.S. National Security Archives in concert with two nuclear non-proliferation organizations.
At the time, the Canadian intelligence report was supported by additional evidence gathered by Ottawa: local defence scientist Jacob Koop, a career intelligence analyst at the Defence Research Board, prepared a detailed and highly impressive analysis of Dimona’s military potential. Koop concluded Israel had all of the “prerequisites for commencing a modest nuclear weapons development project.”
The two Canadian assessments markedly stoked western anxieties that an Israeli bomb could destabilize the Middle East and inflame Cold War hostilities with the Soviet Union.
“These nearly unknown documents shed light on one of the most obscure aspects of Israel’s nuclear history — how secretly and vigorously Israel sought raw materials for its nuclear program and how persistently it tried to cultivate relations with certain nuclear suppliers,” William Burr, of the National Security Archive, and Avner Cohen, of the James Martin Centre for Non-proliferation Studies, write in an online introduction to the archival find. (The pair also authored a July 1 expose in Foreign Affairs magazine.)
“The story of the Argentine yellowcake sale to Israel has remained largely unknown in part because Israel has gone to great lengths to keep tight secrecy to this day about how and where it acquired raw materials for its nuclear program.”
That Argentina made the yellowcake sale to Israel has already been disclosed in declassified U.S. intelligence estimates. “But how and when Washington learned about the sale and how it reacted to it” can now be credited to Canadian intelligence officers, they write.
“The Canadian government was interested in the Israeli nuclear program from its very inception. When Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion met Prime Minister John Diefenbaker on May 25, 1961, Dimona was at the centre of the discussion … (and) Ben-Gurion pledged that the Dimona project was peaceful.”
But, “closely monitoring Israeli nuclear activities, Canadian intelligence discovered the yellowcake sale sometime in the spring of 1964 and soon shared this sensitive information with the British.”
The intelligence was that Argentina had secretly negotiated a long-term contract in late 1963 to provide 80 to 100 tons of yellowcake to Israel. Argentina later confirmed the deal, though the Israelis remained evasive. (Israel still does not acknowledge the existence of a nuclear weapons program.)
British Foreign Office official Alan Goodison, after receiving the Canadian information, calculated that the Israelis could produce a nuclear bomb by the summer of 1965. “Their anxiety to obtain such a large quantity of safeguard-free uranium suggests … sinister motives,” he wrote in a memo.
Publicly, however, the U.S., Canada and Britain remained silent. “The United States has always been ambivalent about Israel’s nuclear program, and exposing what it knew or suspected about the Israeli nuclear program could have caused the United States serious diplomatic problems with Israel’s Arab neighbours and possibly the Soviet Union,” Burr and Cohen write in Foreign Policy.
The source who gave Canadian intelligence details of the yellowcake deal has never been revealed, nor has the identity of the department or agency involved.
Koop, whose insightful analysis was commended by Canadian and British officials, died in Ottawa in July 2009 at the age of 86.
(Source / 17.07.2013)