Israel’s Secret Plan to Nuke the Egyptian Desert

by Avner Cohen

The following is an excerpt of a piece published in Politico Magazine June 5, 2017. 

The Six-Day War is probably the most researched event in the history of the modern Middle East. Volumes of studies have been produced over the five decades since. Yet one important aspect of the conflict and the months preceding it has remained largely untold: The nuclear dimension. On this issue, both sides still seem bound by layers of taboo, silence and secrecy.

On Monday, the 50th anniversary of the start of the 1967 war, the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project (NPIHP) at the Woodrow Wilson Center’s History and Public Policy Program is releasing historical testimonies and documents—some never before published—that highlight the nuclear dimension of the crisis, and reveal of the existence of a crash effort to assemble Israel’s first nuclear device. In May 1967, facing an unprecedented existential threat from Egypt and its other neighbors, Israel assembled for the first time two or three rudimentary nuclear explosives. And some in the Israeli government and military drew up a plan to detonate the nukes in the Egyptian desert—in a massive demonstration of Israeli power.

Of course, Israel never went through with it. The plan—called Operation Shimshon—was intended as a last resort. As it happened, Israel destroyed the Egyptian Air Force on the ground in 3 hours, and Shimshon was never spoken of again, just another victim of Israel’s nuclear taboo—until now.

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