DOD Report Details Israel's Quest for Hydrogen Bomb
In the midst of controversy over the Israeli prime minister's plans to address Congress next month, a researcher has won the release of a decades-old Defense Department report detailing the U.S. government's extensive help to Israel in that nation's development of a nuclear bomb.
"I am struck by the degree of cooperation on specialized war making devices between Israel and the US," said Roger Mattson, a former memer of the Atomic Energy Commission technical staff.
The 1987 report, "Critical Technology Assessment in Israel and NATO Nations," compares the key Israeli facilities developing nuclear weapons to Los Alamos and Oak Ridge National Laboratories, the principal U.S. laboratories that developed the bomb for the United States.
The tightly held report notes that the Israelis are "developing the kind of codes which will enable them to make hydrogen bombs. That is, codes which detail fission and fusion processes on a microscopic and macroscopic level."
The release comes after Grant Smith, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy filed filed a FOIA request last year and followed with a lawsuit in September seeking to compel release of the report.
The government fought to delay release of the 386-page report in hearings before Judge Tanya Chutkan in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, who expressed skepticism with the government's reasons for refusing to provide a single unclassified document.
The report's release this week has substantial political ramifications.
In the controversial plan by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to address the U.S. Congress -- widely interpreted as a violation of protocol and a snub of President Obama -- the prime minister is expected to argue against reaching any agreement with Tehran over Iran's nuclear weapons program.
The program is legal under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran is a signatory to the treaty, while Israel is not.
During a hearing late last year, Smith told Judge Chutkan: "It's our basic position that in 1987 the Department of Defense discovered that Israel had a nuclear weapons program, detailed it and then has covered it up for 25 years in violation of the Symington and Glenn amendments, costing taxpayers $86 billion."
The government handed over the document in the midst of political controversy involving Israel, after months of fighting its release. The government, represented by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Jennings and DOD counsel Mark Herrington, had taken the position that confidentiality agreements necessitated a "line by line" review of the report.
Government lawyers then argued that the document's release is optional rather than mandatory, adding that "Diplomatic relations dictate that DoD seeks Israel's review."
In its release, the government redacted sections on NATO countries, with Smith's agreement. The portions relating to Israel provide a detailed and straightforward assessment of that nation's nuclear program.
"The capability of SOREQ to support SDIO and nuclear technologies is almost an exact parallel of the capability currently existing at our National Laboratories," said the report, produced by the Institute for Defense Analysis for the Department of Defense. "SOREQ and Dimona/Beer Sheva facilities are the equivalent of our Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore and Oak Ridge National Laboratories ... [and have] the technology base required for nuclear weapons design and fabrication."
Authors Edwin Townsley and Clarence Robinson continue: "As far as nuclear technology is concerned, the Israelis are roughly where the U.S. [w]as in the fission weapon field in about 1955 to 1960. It should be noted that the Israelis are developing the kind of codes which will enable them to make hydrogen bombs."
The report's Capability Assessment for Israel finds Israel to have overall Category 1 capability in all aspects of conventional, ATBM and SDI -- "Star Wars" weapons programs.
In his federal complaint, Smith wrote, "The Symington Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 prohibits most U.S. foreign aid to any country found trafficking in nuclear enrichment equipment or technology outside international safeguards. The Glenn Amendment of 1977 calls for an end to U.S. foreign aid to countries that import nuclear reprocessing technology."
In a statement Thursday, Smith said: "Informal and Freedom of Information Act release of such information is rare. Under two known gag orders -- punishable by imprisonment -- U.S. security-cleared government agency employees and contractors may not disclose that Israel has a nuclear weapons program."