Canadians helped uncover Israel’s secret nuclear weapons program, newly discovered papers from the mid-1960s have revealed, with a key role being played by a Department of National Defence intelligence analyst who was a churchgoing Mennonite committed to peace.
It was only in 1986, when a disgruntled Israeli technician named Mordechai Vanunu contacted the Sunday Times, that the public heard first-hand that Israel had been working on a nuclear arsenal for decades at a factory near the city of Dimona.
The documents reveal that a DND analyst in Ottawa was remarkably prescient in predicting how Israel was developing a nuclear military capacity. They also shine a light on the inner working of Canadian security forces during the Cold War and expose the tensions between the two North American allies as the Canadians struggled to persuade the Americans to share information and treat them as equals, Dr. Cohen said in an interview.
The documents unearthed by Dr. Burr and Dr. Cohen show that by 1960, American officials had discovered that what Israel previously described as a textile plant and later a metallurgical plant in Dimona was instead a nuclear reactor. The Americans however had no conclusive evidence that it was used for a military aim.
Israel has never admitted to this day that it has a nuclear arsenal, strategically leaving the matter ambiguous. In their dealings with western powers in the early 1960s, Israeli officials said their nuclear project was a peaceful endeavour but made sure they would be taken seriously by suggesting that they could quickly move their program to military ends, Dr. Cohen said.