When Israel Stepped Back From the Brink


Avner Cohen in the NYT:

Mr. Azaryahu’s testimony, released now for the first time, sheds new light on a critical moment in the history of the Yom Kippur War and of the nuclear age. Although he was never a policy maker, Mr. Azaryahu was a senior political insider. As a trusted aide and confidant to Yisrael Galili, a minister without portfolio and Ms. Meir’s closest political ally, Mr. Azaryahu was privy to some of Israel’s most fateful decisions. In the early afternoon of Oct. 7, as a fierce battle with Syrian forces raged and the Israeli Army appeared to be losing its grasp on the Golan Heights, Mr. Azaryahu was waiting for his boss, Mr. Galili, outside the prime minister’s office in Tel Aviv, where a small group of ministers had hastily convened to discuss the desperate military situation. Shalheveth Freier, then the director general of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission, suddenly arrived and uneasily took a seat several benches away from Mr. Azaryahu outside of the office. The two had known each other for years, but Mr. Freier’s silence and body language suggested he was deeply uncomfortable.

Then, as the meeting adjourned, Mr. Dayan, casually leaning against the door and talking as if he were raising only a minor point, asked the prime minister to authorize Mr. Freier to initiate the necessary preparations for a “demonstration option” — that is, a demonstration of Israel’s nuclear weapons capability.

According to Mr. Azaryahu’s account, Mr. Dayan gave the impression that he’d already authorized such a demonstration and all that was needed was Ms. Meir’s approval. Mr. Dayan explained that an immediate authorization of preparatory steps for a nuclear blast would save precious time and allow the order to detonate a bomb to be executed rapidly should the need arise. At that point, Mr. Azaryahu told me, Mr. Galili and the deputy prime minister, Yigal Allon, spoke up to oppose Mr. Dayan’s plan, saying it was premature to consider the nuclear option and that Israel would prevail using conventional weapons.

Siding with her two senior ministers, the prime minister told Mr. Dayan to “forget it.” He responded by saying that he remained unconvinced but that he respected the prime minister’s decision. He then left the room.

More here.