How Israel Went Nuclear

The Fellowship  |  September 27, 2017

Several older men in suits and uniforms smiling and talking together.
How Israel Went Nuclear

Shimon Peres, who served the Jewish state in many capacities, including as both Prime Minister and President, passed away last year on September 28. His newly released autobiography, No Room for Small Dreams, looks at a life spent in service to Israel, including this excerpt featured in Tablet, in which Peres – the father of the Israeli nuclear deterrent program – tells how said program was built:

It was October 24, 1956, at the villa in Sèvres where the French and Israeli leadership were meeting to finalize the plans for Operation Suez. Ben-Gurion and I stood in one of the mansion’s sweeping spaces; it was at once a ballroom, an art museum, and a well-stocked saloon. Across the way, French foreign minister Christian Pineau and defense minister Maurice Bourgès-Maunoury were deep in conversation, but otherwise unoccupied. I sensed an opportunity, perhaps the perfect moment.

I turned to Ben-Gurion and said in the quietest whisper, “I think I can get it done now.” He gave me a subtle nod of agreement. I took a deep, steeling breath.

I approached the two gentlemen, who by then were dear friends, and raised an issue that caught both by surprise. I had come over to discuss one of Israel’s most ambitious aspirations: to enter the nuclear age. To do so, we would need something from France—something no country in history had ever given another.

Our interest in nuclear energy was not new. It had been a subject of great intellectual curiosity for Ben-Gurion and myself long before that fateful moment in Sèvres. Neither of us was an expert regarding nuclear energy; at best, we were enthusiasts. But we both saw great potential in its peaceful pursuit…

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