Israel had a secret plan to detonate an atomic bomb in Egypt in the event that it faced defeat during the 1967 West Asia war, a leading American think tank said today, citing newly released documents.
The operation was never carried out, as Israel swiftly vanquished its enemies in six days. But details about the doomsday scenario, in which Israel planned to set off a nuclear weapon atop a mountain in the Sinai Peninsula, shed new light on the fearful climate at the time. It also could undermine Israel’s decades-long policy of nuclear ambiguity.
The Nuclear Proliferation International History Project of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington unveiled a website today devoted to “Operation Shimshon,” the codename for the hastily arranged contingency plan of placing an improvised nuclear device in Sinai to be detonated upon the prime minister’s orders.
The operation’s name, Hebrew for Samson, invoked the biblical figure of great power and aimed to scare Arab armies into quitting their offensive should Israel face what was feared to be an existential threat.
The new information was based on interviews with Yitzhak Yaakov, a retired brigadier general who in 1967 was the chief liaison between the Israeli military and the civilian defence industries, including those overseeing the nuclear project.
In a series of interviews in 1999 with Avner Cohen, a leading scholar of Israeli nuclear history, Yaakov detailed how he came up with the plans at his superiors’ urging and how a pair of helicopters was chosen for the mission along with forces from the elite Sayeret Matkal unit.
The selected landing site was a mountain in eastern Sinai, about 20 kilometres from the large Egyptian military complex in Abu Ageila. There, the semi-assembled “spider” device was to be connected with its nuclear core and linked to ignition wires.