When Israel Stepped Back from the Brink

Avner Cohen
October 4, 2013

Israel Flag Image: wikicommons.org

Israel Flag, WikiMedia Commons

View the full New York Times Article.

The Nuclear Myth

In the four decades since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, rumors have blossomed that Israel stood at the nuclear brink during the war’s darkest hours. A number of journalists and scholars have asserted that during a dramatic meeting in one of the war’s early days, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan persuaded the Israeli war cabinet, including the prime minister, Golda Meir, to arm the country’s nuclear weapons with warheads for possible use. This mythology, based exclusively on anonymous sourcing and circumstantial evidence, has become a central part of the lore surrounding the Yom Kippur War.

An Eyewitness Account

In this New York Times op-ed, CNS Senior Fellow Avner Cohen describes a January 2008 interview he conducted with Arnan “Sini” Azaryahu, a senior aide to an Israeli cabinet minister at the time of the war, whose testimony refutes or defies the nearly four-decade-old mythology alleging that Israel almost reached the nuclear brink in 1973. Mr. Azaryahu describes a meeting in the early afternoon of Oct. 7, 1973, at the end of which Mr. Dayan asked the prime minister to authorize preparations for a nuclear “demonstration option,” or nuclear test. Golda Meir and two of her cabinet ministers, including Sini’s boss Yisrael Galili, flatly rejected the idea, according to Sini, and told Mr. Dayan to “forget it.”

Mr. Azaryahu’s dramatic testimony is the first and only credible Israeli eyewitness account to date of the nuclear dimension of the Yom Kippur War. This secrecy is because of Israel’s code of silence on all nuclear matters.

Although the Azaryahu interview leaves many questions unanswered, it challenges the popular and misguided narrative that the Israeli government was on the verge of using nuclear weapons in October 1973. Moreover, Mr. Azaryahu’s testimony reveals that Israel’s leaders, especially Ms. Meir, demonstrated remarkable restraint at a time when the country’s survival hung in the balance.

The Azaryahu testimony is an item of the “Avner Cohen’s Collection” which is presented in the digital archive of the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project (NPIHP).

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