THE SAMSON OPTION: ISRAEL'S NUCLEAR ARSENAL AND AMERICAN FOREIGN POLICY
Chapter 3: The Frnch Connection
In late 1953, a disillusioned Ben-Gurion, convinced that Israeli society was losing its pioneering, volunteerist spirit, retired to his desert kibbutz at Sdeh Boker, in the Negev, near the future site of Dimona. He believed he could revive that spirit and ,set an example by resettling in the desert with his wife. His political control over the Mapai Party remained total, however-like that of a Mafia don-and the government that was left behind was one of his creation. Ben-Gurion would be replaced by not one but two people, for he decreed that his jointly held positions of prime minister and defense minister be separated. Ben-Gurion then appointed Moshe Sharett as the new prime minister. No two men could have differed more in their approach to the Arab question. Sharett, who had lived in an Arab village as a child and who, unlike Ben- Gurion, spoke Arabic, believed that peace with the Arab world was possible, but only through military restraint and with the possible intervention of the United Nations. As prime minister, he would begin secret peace negotiations with Nasser.
Before leaving office, Ben-Gurion also designated Pinhas Lavon, more hard-line than Sharett on the Arab question, as the new defense minister. His goal, obviously, was to ensure that Sharett's views would not go unchallenged. Ben-Gurion also arranged for another hard-liner, Moshe Dayan, to become the new army chief of staff. Shimon Peres would stay on the job as director general of the defense ministry: he was a known Ben-Gurion favorite.
Ben-Gurion's concerns about Sharett did not extend to the nuclear question. Sharett, as his voluminous personal diaries -- as yet unpublished in full in English -- make clear, shared the Old Man's ambition for the "Enterprise," without sharing Ben-Gurion's confidence in Bergmann. In one typical entry, Sharett wrote off Bergmann "as a chemist sunk in research and teaching with no ability to oversee the 'problem' "-one of many synonyms for the bomb. Bergmann's lack of administrative skills, added Sharett, would "limit and disrupt the horizons of the 'Enterprise' and sabotage its development."
How to handle the Arab question was the dominant issue, however, and over the next year there was inevitable tension as Dayan and Peres, in almost constant contact with Ben-Gurion at his kibbutz, sought to stifle Sharett's dovish policies and his secret talks with the Egyptians. Scandal broke in mid-1954 when Egyptian authorities announced the arrest of an Israeli spy ring that had bombed and sabotaged American, British, and Egyptian targets earlier in the year in what became known as the Lavon Affair. The goal of the bombings had been to derail pending British and American negotiations-and possible rapprochement-with the Nasser government; Egypt was to remain isolated from the Western powers. An internal Israeli investigation was unable to determine who had given the order for the sabotage activities, and Sharett, who had not known of the operation, accepted Lavon's resignation in January 1955. Ben-Gurion was recalled a few days later from retirement to replace Lavon as defense minister.  Sharett remained as prime minister, although there was little doubt about who would be running the government.
The Old Man's immediate public mission was to restore the army's morale and the citizens' confidence in the government. He entered office, however, more convinced than ever that a policy of military reprisal was essential; any interference with defense planning, he warned Sharett in writing, would force him once again to resign and call for new elections. Six days after taking office, on February 28, 1955, Ben-Gurion responded to a cross-border attack by Palestinian guerrillas, or fedayeen, by authorizing a large-scale retaliation against an Egyptian military camp at Gaza. The Israeli attack, which killed thirty-six Egyptians and Palestinians, was led by Lieutenant Colonel Ariel Sharon, whose reputation for skill and brutality already was well established. The Gaza attack escalated what had been a series of skirmishes into something close to guerrilla war; Arab casualties were four times greater than Sharett had been told to expect. The raid ended the secret contacts between Sharett and Nasser and resulted in an Egyptian decision to step up its fedayeen attacks from Gaza. The Israeli historian Avi Shlaim has written that Sharett viewed the subsequent increases in Gaza Strip border clashes as the "inevitable consequence" of the February 28 raid, while Ben-Gurion saw them "as a sign of growing Egyptian bellicosity which, if allowed to go unchallenged, would pose a threat to Israel's basic security."
Nasser responded to the increased tension by turning to the Communist world for military aid. He traveled in April 1955 to the Bandung Conference of African and Asian nations and received a promise from Chou En-lai, the Chinese premier, for as many arms as Egypt could afford. In July, Soviet delegations arrived in Cairo to offer military aid. In September, Nasser announced that Egypt would receive the staggering total of 200 modern Soviet bombers, 230 tanks, 200 troop carriers, and more than 500 artillery pieces. Soviet advisers also were promised.
In Tel Aviv, there was dismay. Israel's third temple was in danger.  Ben-Gurion, still denied American support, turned anew to the French. The Israelis wanted more than guns. The French had their needs, too.
In late 1954, the coalition government led by Pierre Mendes-France, one of fourteen coalitions that held office during the chaotic Fourth Republic, had granted authority for a nuclear weapons planning group to be formed inside the French Atomic Energy Commission. Senior officials of the ministry of defense thus were brought into nuclear planning for the first time. Many French military men had been skeptical of an independent nuclear deterrent, but that attitude was changed by France's disastrous defeat at the hands of Ho Chi Minh at Dienbienphu, North Vietnam, in 1954, and the subsequent collapse of French colonialism in the wars of liberation in North Africa. It was clear to many Frenchmen that France could not depend on its NATO allies to protect purely French interests. This was especially true in Algeria, where the bloody revolution and French repression were turning the casbahs and deserts into a killing field.
In January 1955, the French government fell again and a new socialist government headed by Guy Mollet assumed power. Mollet took a much harder line on the war in Algeria and those Arab leaders, such as Nasser, who supported the revolutionaries. Israel, which had been intensively waging guerrilla war against Egypt, was now widely seen as one of France's most dependable allies. Mollet agreed later in the year to begin secretly selling high-performance French bombers to Israel; the sales, arranged by Shimon Peres, were from one defense ministry to another, with no diplomatic niceties and no involvement of the French or Israeli foreign ministries. Arms continued to flow from France to Israel for the next twelve years.
In return, Israel agreed to begin sharing intelligence on the Middle East, the United States, and Europe with the French. The Israeli intelligence networks in North Africa were particularly good, former Israeli officials recalled, because the Jews there tended to live and work as merchants and businessmen in the Arab quarters. Of special significance were the more than 100,000 Jews in Algeria, many of them trapped by the violence and irrationality of both sides. Those Jews were encouraged by the Israeli government to provide intelligence on the leadership of the National Liberation Front and in other ways to cooperate with the French.
It was inevitable that Bergmann and Peres would conclude that Israel now had enough leverage to seek French help for the Israeli bomb: would the Mollet government match the extraordinary Israeli support in Algeria and elsewhere by agreeing to construct a large reactor-and a chemical reprocessing plant -- in Israel? The Israelis understood that no plutonium weapon could be made without a reprocessing plant, and they also understood that the construction of the plant would be impossible without a French commitment. The French Atomic Energy Commission was scheduled to begin construction in mid-1955 on its own chemical reprocessing plant at Marcoule, and Israeli scientists had been involved at every step along the way.
Having the French say yes could, ironically, trigger a crisis inside the top ranks of the Israeli government. A French commitment would force Peres and Bergmann to inform the cabinet that Israel was going to build a secret nuclear complex. There already were plenty of objections from those few who knew. Levi Eshkol, the finance minister, shared Ben-Gurion's belief in ein brera, but also was convinced that a nuclear-armed Israel would be financial madness. Eshkol would hold on to that view after becoming prime minister in 1963. There were concerns other than financial among the Israeli leadership. How could Israel keep the reactor secret? Was it moral for Israel, whose citizens had suffered so much from indiscriminate slaughter, to have a weapon of mass destruction? What would the American government say? Would America continue to be the land of deep pockets?
The nuclear advocates got a huge break in September 1955. The Canadian government announced that it had agreed to build a heavy-water research reactor for the Indian government. The Canadian offer included no provision for international inspections, since no international agreement on nuclear safeguards had yet been promulgated. India promised to utilize the reactor only for "peaceful purposes." There was now international precedent for an Israeli reactor.
In late 1955, a new Israeli government was formed with Ben-Gurion once again serving as both defense minister and prime minister. Moshe Sharett, despite misgivings, stayed on as foreign minister. National elections that summer had eroded the Mapai plurality in the Knesset and provided more evidence that the Israeli public was dissatisfied with the dovish policies of Moshe Sharett.  An American attempt, authorized by Eisenhower, to mediate a settlement between Nasser and Ben-Gurion failed early in 1956 when the Egyptian president refused to negotiate directly with Jerusalem and presented demands, as many Israelis thought, that he knew to be unacceptable. A few months later, the long-standing direct talks between Jerusalem and Washington also collapsed; there would be no American security agreement with Israel. On June 10, Ben-Gurion authorized General Moshe Dayan to open secret negotiations with Paris on a joint war against Egypt. In July, Nasser, as expected, nationalized the Suez Canal, bringing the outraged British government into the secret planning for war. Shimon Peres was now shuttling between Paris and Tel Aviv on behalf of Ben-Gurion; the line between public policy and personal diplomacy was eroding daily, to the muffled protests of many inside each government.
That summer Moshe Sharett quietly resigned as foreign minister. He had sought an open debate on Israel's foreign policy in front of Mapai Party members, but Ben-Gurion fought it off by threatening to resign. The Israeli public would not learn of the deep divisions at the top of its government until the publication of Sharett's personal diaries in 1980. Sharett's replacement was Golda Meir, the minister of labor, whose main qualification, Ben-Gurion would later acknowledge, was her ignorance of international affairs. Meir endorsed Ben-Gurion's argument for preventive war; nonetheless, her ministry would be repeatedly bypassed by Ben-Gurion, Peres, Dayan, and Ernst David Bergmann as Israel broadened its involvement with France.
In mid-September, with the Suez War against Egypt six weeks away and with no international protest over the Canadian reactor sale, Ben-Gurion decided it was time to formally seek French help for the Israeli bomb. Israeli nuclear scientists working at Saclay had been involved since 1949 in planning and constructing the French experimental reactor, known as EL 2, which was powered by natural uranium and moderated by heavy water. Building a similar reactor in Israel was eminently feasible. Uranium was indigenous to Israel, and there was some heavy water available locally in Israel; more heavy water, if needed, as seemed likely, could be supplied by the French or illicitly purchased from Norway or the United States, then the world's largest producers. Ben-Gurion already had picked out a location for the Israeli reactor-in the basement of an old deserted winery at Rishon LeZion, a few miles from the Weizmann Institute.
It was decided to send Shimon Peres with Ernst Bergmann to Paris. Bertrand Goldschmidt vividly recalled a subsequent meeting of the French Atomic Energy Commission: "They came to me and said they'd like to buy a heavy-water research reactor similar to the one the Canadians were building in India. They said that when the Americans will realize we have a nuclear capacity, they will give us the guarantee of survival. All of this was decided before the Suez affair."
Four days later, on September 17, Bergmann and Peres had dinner with Francis Perrin and Pierre Guillaumat at the home of Jacob Tzur, the Israeli ambassador to France. Once again France was asked to provide a reactor. "We thought the Israeli bomb was aimed against the Americans," Perrin later explained. "Not to launch it against America but to say, 'If you don't want to help us in a critical situation we will require you to help us. Otherwise we will use our nuclear bombs.'"
Goldschmidt remained convinced years later that the basic decision to help Israel get the bomb was made during those two meetings in mid-September. There is no written record of the meetings, and it is impossible to determine what happened when. What is clear, nonetheless, is that Israel sought French help for the bomb--and got it-at least six weeks before the shooting started in the Suez War.
Many Israelis viewed the conduct of their partners in the Suez War as a betrayal. Israel's immediate tactical goal in the war was to destroy the Egyptian Army and its ability to support and train the growing Palestinian fedayeen movement. The strategic goal was far more ambitious: to destroy Nasser's ability to achieve Arab unity. Keeping the Arab world in disarray has always been a focal point of Israeli strategy, and Nasser, with his calls for Pan-Arabism-Egyptian hegemony, in Israeli eyes -- was a serious national security threat. The Israelis further believed that a humiliating Egyptian defeat in the Suez War inevitably would lead to Nasser's overthrow.
The battle plan called for Israel to initiate the attack on October 29, sending paratroopers into the Sinai and destroying the ability of Egypt to operate from Gaza. France and Britain would then demand that both sides halt hostilities and withdraw ten miles from the Suez Canal, creating a buffer zone. When the Egyptians, who owned the canal, refused to do so--a refusal that was inevitable-France and England would launch bombing and airborne assaults on November 6 to neutralize and occupy the canal.
The battle plan went much better than scheduled. Israel stormed through the Egyptian Army and had captured all of the Sinai by November 4. There was nothing, other than a United Nations call for a cease-fire, to stop the Israeli Army from crossing the Suez and taking Cairo. Guy Mollet began urging Anthony Eden, Britain's prime minister, to move up the date of their combined assault, but Eden, made anxious by the fast pace of the Israeli Army and the United Nations ceasefire call, refused. The British and French finally landed, as prearranged, on the morning of November 6 at Port Said, only to stop again when the Soviet Union, then involved in the bloody suppression of the Hungarian revolution, issued what was perceived in Israel to be a nuclear ultimatum in separate notes to Ben-Gurion, Mollet, and Eden.
The Soviet telegram to Ben-Gurion accused Israel of "criminally and irresponsibly playing with the fate of peace, with the fate of its own people. It is sowing a hatred for the state of Israel among the people of the east such as cannot but make itself felt with regard to the future of Israel and which puts in jeopardy the very existence of Israel as a State." A separate note signed by Prime Minister Nikolai Bulganin explicitly warned Ben-Gurion that the Soviet Union was capable of attacking with "remote-controlled vehicles." There also was a threat to send troops as "volunteers" into the Middle East.
Anthony Eden, already under extreme pressure to pull out of the war from the Eisenhower administration as well as from the opposition Labor Party at home, was the first to break ranks, informing Paris that he had ordered his troops to cease firing. The French followed. Israel, deserted by its two allies, was forced a few days later to agree to a cease-fire and the eventual deployment of the United Nations' peacekeeping force in the Sinai.
The Israelis were disappointed by the French and enraged by Eisenhower, who, so Ben-Gurion had believed, would never turn away from supporting Israel in the weeks before the presidential elections. There was a widespread belief in Israel and in France that the United States, considered to be Israel's superpower friend, had backed down in the face of the Soviet nuclear threat.  For Ben-Gurion, the lesson was clear: the Jewish community in America was unable to save Israel.
"You Americans screwed us," one former Israeli government official said, recalling his feelings at the time. "If you hadn't intervened, Nasser would have been toppled and the arms race in the Middle East would have been delayed. Israel would have kept its military and technological edge. Instead, here comes the golf player Ike, dumb as can be, saying in the name of humanity and evenhandedness that 'we won't allow colonial powers to play their role.' He doesn't realize that Nasser's reinforced and Israel's credibility is being set back."
The Israeli, who has firsthand knowledge of his government's nuclear weapons program, added bitterly: "We got the message. We can still remember the smell of Auschwitz and Treblinka. Next time we'll take all of you with us."
On November 6, after learning of the French and British cease-fire, Ben-Gurion sent Peres, accompanied by Golda Meir, to Paris. Mollet had fought against the cease-fire but, when faced with Britain's insistence on withdrawal, felt he had no choice but to go along. Even worse, Mollet was now going to have to persuade Ben-Gurion to accept a United Nations peacekeeping role in the Sinai. Israel would have to withdraw from the land for which its paratroopers had fought and died.
Peres later told a biographer of his feelings toward Eisenhower at the time: "... [A] man with healthy teeth, beautiful eyes and a warm smile who hadn't the vaguest notion what he was talking about. And what he did know, he couldn't express properly. There was no connection between one sentence and the next. The only question he could answer well was 'How are you?'"
One American defense analyst, in a conversation many years later about Israel's drive for the nuclear option after Suez, posed this rhetorical query and answer: "What is the lesson the United States draws from the Suez Crisis?
"It is terribly dangerous to stop Israel from doing what it thinks is essential to its national security."
Israel's unhappiness with Eisenhower was matched by Guy Mollet's sense of guilt and shame at France's failure to carry out commitments made to his fellow socialists in Israel. There was an obvious trade-off: Ben-Gurion agreed to withdraw his troops from the Sinai and accept a United Nations peacekeeping role in return for France's help in building a nuclear reactor and chemical reprocessing plant. Israel was no longer interested in an experimental reactor, such as at Saclay, but in the real thing-a reactor patterned after Marcoule. Mollet, obsessed with the consequences of France's failure, was quoted as telling an aide at the time of meetings with Peres and Meir: "I owe the bomb to them. I owe the bomb to them." The deal was struck, although it would be nearly a year before Peres would conclude the final negotiations.  The formal agreement between France and Israel has never been made public.
Mollet also formally cleared the way later in 1956 for the French nuclear weapons program by establishing a committee on the military use of atomic energy, to be led by the army chief of staff. Israeli scientists were on hand as observers when the first French nuclear test took place in 1960.
Over the next few years, as weapons-grade plutonium began rolling out of Marcoule, the French strategic goal would incorporate the lesson learned in Suez: avoid reliance on the United States-and the NATO allies. The nuclear tests in the South Pacific, although marred by misfires, enabled France to develop its nuclear deterrent, the force de frappe, by the mid-1960s, with ambitions-not reached until the 1980s-of independently targeting the Soviet Union with intercontinental missiles. Charles de Gaulle would stun Washington and its allies by pulling France out of NATO in 1966. The intellectual spokesman for the French nuclear program was a retired general named Pierre Gallois, whose argument, as eventually published, came down to this: "When two nations are armed with nuclear weapons, even if they are unequally armed, the status quo is unavoidable." The Soviets would conclude, so Gallois's reasoning went, that there was no military target in Paris or anywhere in France that was worth the risk of having one nuclear bomb falling on Moscow. A nuclear-armed France would no longer need to wonder, as did all of Europe, whether the United States would come to its defense-and risk a Soviet retaliation-in a nuclear crisis.
Gallois was taken very seriously by the Israelis, and France's force de frappe became the role model for Israel's strategic planning- and its ultimate decision not to count on the American nuclear umbrella. Israel would complement its new reactor with a major research effort to design and manufacture long-range missiles capable of targeting the Middle East and, eventually, the Soviet Union. The reactor at Dimona was just the beginning for Ernst Bergmann; he would now have to begin putting together a nuclear arsenal.
Herman Mark explained years later why Ben-Gurion had picked the right man: "Bergmann was one of the few scientists who saw the lamp and knew how to make a light bulb. He understood that different types of activity would be necessary. The first part is to prepare new and unknown materials. Then you make them in ample quantities and store them. Finally there's delivery-how to put it somewhere."
Bergmann's role in developing Israel's nuclear arsenal remains a state secret today. In the years after his death, as the Israeli nuclear arsenal became fixed, he became a virtual nonperson, a victim of stringent Israeli security and the self-censorship that such security involves. For example, in a book he wrote that was published in the United States in 1979, Shimon Peres eulogized Bergmann, with whom he worked closely for thirteen years, as one of the seven founders of the State of Israel. Peres, of course, did not mention nuclear weapons, but he did report that Chaim Weizmann considered Bergmann to be "a future candidate for the presidency" of Israel. And yet Ber.gmann is not even cited once in a biography of Peres published in 1982 and written by Matti Golan, a former government official who had access to Peres's papers; nor is he mentioned in the English edition of Michael Bar-Zohar's definitive biography of Ben-Gurion.
By the spring of 1957 it was clear that the old winery at Richonel-Zion wouldn't do and a new site was needed for the larger reactor, known then only as EL 102. It wasn't difficult for Peres to convince Ben-Gurion to locate it at Dimona, near the ancient city of Beersheba in his beloved Negev. Money was transferred directly to Paris from the prime minister's account and Saint-Gobain, the French chemical firm, then two years away from completing the reprocessing plant at Marcoule, was selected to build the Israeli reprocessing facility-underground. As they began work, Saint-Gobain's engineers were given access to the initial construction plans for the reactor, and were stunned by what they learned. The French-Israeli agreement called for the plant to be capable at its peak of producing 24 million watts (twenty-four megawatts) of thermal power, but its cooling ducts, waste facilities, and other specifications suggested that the plant would operate at two to three times that capacity.  If so, it could produce more plutonium than the re- actor at Marcoule-more than twenty-two kilograms a year, enough for four nuclear bombs with the explosive force of those dropped at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Ground-breaking for the EL 102 reactor took place in early 1958. Over the next few years, thousands of tons of imported machinery and hundreds of imported technicians, engineers, wives, children, mistresses, and cars turned a quiet corner of the Negev desert into a French boom town. Nothing comparable- or as secret-had been created since Los Alamos.
1. Lavon, one of the intellectual leaders of the Mapai Party, maintained that Dayan and other witnesses against him in the various internal Israeli inquiries had perjured themselves in an effort to shift the blame to him alone. He was exonerated by a cabinet committee inquiry seven years later. Sharett, in his diaries, made it clear that he was convinced that Dayan was involved in both the original unauthorized operations inside Egypt and the subsequent attempt to shift the blame to Lavon. Any involvement of Dayan, of course, inevitably raises the possibility that Ben-Gurion had personal knowledge of the operation and, in fact, bad approved it.
2. The first temple and Jewish state, as every Israeli schoolchild knows, was destroyed in 537 B.C. by the Babylonians. The second temple was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70, although Jews continued to live in the area through the centuries. Modern Zionist resettlement of Palestine began in the 1880s, and Jews had become a political force in Palestine by 1917, when Britain, in the Balfour Declaration, pledged to establish in Palestine "a national home for the Jewish people," with safeguards for the other, i.e., Arab, inhabitants.
3. Pocketbook politics played a significant role in these politically complicated years, along with the always important Arab question. Within the labor movement there were three main parties, the dominant one Mapai, the most centrist and pragmatic faction of Israel's socialist-Zionist movement. Achdut Avodah. the Unity of Labor, was domestically more socialistic than Mapai. and more hawkish and nationalistic in foreign policy. Mapam, the United Workers' Party, was far more dovish in foreign policy, and even opposed the creation of Israel in 1948 as an exclusively Jewish state; it urged, instead, a secular bi-national Jewish and Palestinian state. (The three main elements of the labor movement joined forces in the late 1960s to create the Labor Party.) Ben-Gurion's Mapai Party had lost seats in the 1955 election to the right-wing Herut Party in what amounted to a voter backlash by new immigrants, resentful of their treatment by the Mapai leadership. The General Zionists, conservative on economic matters and moderate on defense and military issues, lost seats. (The free-market General Zionists would merge in 1966 with the Herut Party, Menachem Begin's populist- conservative party, to form the Gahal Party. Gahal, in turn, merged in 197r-after relentless pressure from newly retired General Ariel Sharon-with three right-wing factions to create the Likud Party, which took office in 1977-ending twenty- nine years of Labor control of the government.) The most hawkish political factions in the mid-1950s, in terms of military policy toward the Arabs, were the group led by Moshe Dayan and Shimon Peres, Mapai; Achdut Avodah, led by Yisrael Galili and former 1948 War of Independence hero Yigal Allon; and Herut. Both groups were opposed by moderate members of the Mapai Party such as Moshe Sharett, Levi Eshkol, Abba Eban, and Pinhas Sapir. Even among the hawks there were divisions, with Begin and his Herut Party followers believing the primary task of Israel to be the redemption of biblical lands in order to reestablish Greater, or Eretz, Israel. Ben-Gurion, Dayan, Peres, and Galili (who played a major and secret role in future governments) were hawks of Realpolitik considerations-a belief in force as a necessary ingredient of international relations. They were thus adamantly opposed to the fundamentalist views of Begin and his Herut Party. In essence, the Mapai Party's loss of seats in the 1955 elections reflected economic worries as well as a move within the Labor faction away from the dovish policies of Sharett and toward the more hawkish views of Ben-Gurion, Dayan, Peres, and Allon.
4. Eisenhower's refusal to back the attack on Egypt had nothing to do with the Bulganin threat, which was analyzed at an all-night meeting at CIA headquarters and subsequently discounted as a bluff. The Suez War was viewed by Washington not as an anti-Soviet or anti-Communist move, but as a last-ditch attempt by two powers -- England and France -- to stanch their continuing international decline. Eisenhower and his senior aides believed that Nasser and other Third World leaders much preferred alliances with the United States rather than with the Soviets, and thus were more likely to become pro-American if the administration disassociated itself from the Middle East colonialism of England and France. The President was distressed at the two American allies for continuing to practice what he viewed as their colonialistic policies; he also resented the obvious Israeli belief that he would pander to the American Jewish vote by endorsing the Suez War. (Eisenhower, as the French and British knew only too well, was perfectly prepared to act as a colonialist himself -- as he did in ordering the CIA to help overthrow governments in Iran in 1953 and Guatemala in 1954 -- to protect what he believed to be vital American interests.) CIA officials recalled another point of White House concern in 1956: Eisenhower's realization from the secret U-2 overflights -- the first U-2 spy mission had taken place a few months earlier -- that Israel had purchased sixty Mystere attack aircraft from the French, and not the twenty- four they had publicly announced. No public mention was made of the larger-than-reported Israeli purchase -- the new aircraft were seen on runways -- since the existence of U-2 overflights was then the government's biggest national security secret.
5. A major complication for Peres in working out the official government-to-government agreement was the continuing collapse of the French governments. Guy Mollet's government fell in mid.1957 and was replaced by one led by Maurice Bourges-Maunoury. There were last-minute qualms about the Israeli reactor expressed by Christian Pineau, the new foreign minister. Peres would later tell a biographer that he had overcome Pineau's doubts by insisting that the reactor- already understood by engineers and officials throughout the French nuclear bureaucracy to be for a bomb--would he utilized only for "research and development." Pineau's meeting with Peres and his signed authorization for the reactor came in late September 1957, precisely at the time that the Bourges-Maunoury administration-that is, Pineau's government -- was being voted out of office by the French National Assembly. In essence, the formal authorization for Dimona was signed by an official who was already out of office.
6. The reactor at Dimona did not produce any electrical power; its output is measured therefore in terms of thermal power. It takes three megawatts of thermal power to produce one megawatt of electrical power; Dimona's electrical power output thus would be eight megawatts. The average electricity-producing nuclear power station operates at one thousand megawatts of electrical power (or three thousand megawatts of thermal power). The first U.S. weapons-grade plutonium plants, built during and after World War II, operated at about 250 megawatts. Nuclear scientists have determined that one megawatt-day of production (that is, energy output) will produce one gram of plutonium. Dimona's reported output of twenty-four megawatts would pro duce, if the reactor were operating 80 percent of the time, about seven kilograms of enriched plutonium per year, enough for two low-yield weapons.