It is also about America’s ability not to see what it does not want to see. All American presidents since John F. Kennedy have turned a blind eye toward Israel’s growing nuclear capacity while paying lip service to the goal of nuclear nonproliferation.
In The Samson Option, Seymour M. Hersh, the Pulitzer Prize-winner who wrote the first account of the My Lai massacre in South Vietnam, reveals one of the classic clandestine operations of our time: Israel’s spectacular underground nuclear facility in the Negev Desert, where its technicians and scientists began manufacturing nuclear warheads in the late 1960s. It describes the bitter infighting within the Israeli government over the bomb and its huge cost. It tells how the money for me nuclear program was raised abroad, and how the early technology was acquired with the aid of France. And it shows how and when Israel threatened to use its nuclear power.
The Samson Option reveals many startling events that played a secret and significant role in the history of our times from the early 1960s through the Gulf War:
• How, in the late 1970s, Israel not only stole reconnaissance intelligence from our most secret of satellites, the KH-11, but used that data to help target the Soviet Union;
• How Jonathan Pollard, the American spy now serving a life sentence in jail, was a key figure in Israel’s nuclear program (and how some of Pollard’s intelligence was turned over to the Soviet Union at the express direction of Yitzhak Shamir, the Israeli prime minister);
• How Israel created a false control room at the nuclear reactor at Dimona to give U.S. inspectors the false impression that the facility was solely for research;
• How the Eisenhower administration made a concerted last-ditch effort in December 1960 to force Israel to acknowledge its nuclear ambitions—and failed;
• How Israel threatened Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon with the use of nuclear weapons on the third day of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, successfully blackmailing the White House to airlift much needed supplies;
• How South Africa cooperated with Israel to create a mysterious 1979 “flash” in the South Atlantic, actually a test of an Israeli-South African nuclear artillery shell;
• How Israel used a top London newspaper editor to help catch Mordecai Vanunu, its nuclear traitor;
• How a prominent American Jewish Democratic party fund-raiser also raised money for the Israeli bomb—and was able to intervene repeatedly at the White House; and
• How the American intelligence community was finally able to learn what Israel was doing at Dimona—though it was understood that no one’s career would be enhanced by providing such intelligence to the White House.
The Samson Option is ultimately a narrative of how the bomb influenced the diplomatic relations between Israel and America far more than was seen or understood by the press and the public. It shows that, in every sense, Israel was born a nuclear power. Since its founding, some of its leaders, including David Ben-Gurion and Ernst David Bergmann—the little-known scientist who was the father of the Israeli bomb—were determined that no future enemy would be able to carry out another Holocaust. Just as Samson brought down the temple and killed himself along with his enemies, so would Israel destroy those who sought its destruction.
The message of The Samson Option is stark: The next Middle East war might very well be nuclear.