Martin Kramer eviscerates the Democrats' Israeli shill, Ephraim HalevyNew York Times last week:
Whenever the United States has put serious, sustained pressure on Israel’s leaders—from the 1950s on—it has come from Republican presidents, not Democratic ones…. Despite the Republican Party’s shrill campaign rhetoric on Israel, no Democratic president has ever strong-armed Israel on any key national security issue.Martin Kramer strongly disagrees. But instead of taking an example from recent times - from President Obama's and President Clinton's pressure on Israel with respect to the 'Palestinians' - Kramer discusses an example that is older, but in many ways more relevant: The Kennedy administration's handling of Israel's purported nuclear capability.
Former Mossad head Efraim Halevy likes Barack Obama and dislikes Mitt Romney. He’s entitled to his opinion. What he isn’t entitled to do is make categorical statements that do violence to the historical record.
I’m teaching a graduate course this semester on relations between Israel and the United States, and one of my purposes in following a historical approach is to fortify my students against people who misrepresent the past for some present purpose. Just the other week, we spent two hours discussing how President John F. Kennedy (yes, a Democrat) put the screws on Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and his successor, Levi Eshkol, over Israel’s nuclear end-run. The story has been told at considerable length elsewhere, most ably by Avner Cohen, Zaki Shalom, Michael Karpin, and Warren Bass, so I’ll just recap it here. It’s relevant not only as a corrective to Halevy’s erroneous claim. It’s essential background to the renewed debate over Israel’s nuclear posture that the Obama administration has helped to prompt.
When Kennedy entered the White House in January 1961, the CIA had just concluded that the facility under construction in Dimona, with French assistance, was destined to become a nuclear reactor. U.S. intelligence had been one to two years behind the curve on the pace of Israel’s nuclear program, and Kennedy was worried. He had campaigned on a promise to stop proliferation. In his third debate with Richard Nixon, he had warned that “there are indications because of new inventions, that 10, 15, or 20 nations will have a nuclear capacity, including Red China, by the end of the Presidential office in 1964. This is extremely serious.” The CIA would soon list Israel right behind China as a potential proliferator.
In May 1961, just months after his inauguration, Kennedy raised the issue of Dimona with visiting Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, and received a boilerplate assurance that the project had a peaceful purpose. Kennedy and his advisers continued to suspect otherwise, given the size of the plant. Israel allowed informal visits, but they were far from thorough, and in May 1963, Kennedy finally decided to press the issue and insist on regular inspections. He wrote a letter to Ben-Gurion (May 18), warning that an Israeli weapon would throw open the gates of proliferation everywhere:Read it all.
We are concerned with the disturbing effects on world stability which would accompany the development of a nuclear weapons capability by Israel. I cannot imagine that the Arabs would refrain from turning to the Soviet Union for assistance if Israel were to develop a nuclear weapons capability—with all the consequences this would hold. But the problem is much larger than its impact on the Middle East. Development of a nuclear weapons capability by Israel would almost certainly lead other larger countries, that have so far refrained from such development, to feel that they must follow suit.Then came the threat. Kennedy, noting the ways the United States had assisted Israel, warned Ben-Gurion that the U.S. commitment to his country “would be seriously jeopardized in the public opinion in this country and in the West as a whole if it should be thought that this Government was unable to obtain reliable information on a subject as vital to peace as the question of the character of Israel’s efforts in the nuclear field.” Years later, Yuval Ne’eman, the physicist who helped Ben-Gurion write his replies, told a journalist that “Kennedy was writing like a bully. It was brutal.” Kennedy’s “Scylla and Charybdis-like letter,” writes Zaki Shalom, “made it absolutely clear that he wanted Israel to accede to his demands unconditionally and immediately, and a request of this sort from the pinnacle of American power, in language so blunt, left Israel no space for maneuvering.”
For a different perspective on Ben Gurion's dealings with Kennedy over the nuclear issue go here.
The gentleman between Ben Gurion and Kennedy in the picture at the top (which was taken when Kennedy was still a Senator) is Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr.