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Foxbats Over Dimona

Foxbats Over Dimona: The Soviets' Nuclear Gamble in the Six-Day War

ISABELLA GINOR
GIDEON REMEZ
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 304
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1nq709
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    Foxbats Over Dimona
    Book Description:

    Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez's groundbreaking history of the Six-Day War in 1967 radically changes our understanding of that conflict, casting it as a crucial arena of Cold War intrigue that has shaped the Middle East to this day. The authors, award-winning Israeli journalists and historians, have investigated newly available documents and testimonies from the former Soviet Union, cross-checked them against Israeli and Western sources, and arrived at fresh and startling conclusions.

    Contrary to previous interpretations, Ginor and Remez's book shows that the Six-Day War was the result of a joint Soviet-Arab gambit to provoke Israel into a preemptive attack. The authors reveal how the Soviets received a secret Israeli message indicating that Israel, despite its official ambiguity, was about to acquire nuclear weapons. Determined to destroy Israel's nuclear program before it could produce an atomic bomb, the Soviets then began preparing for war--well before Moscow accused Israel of offensive intent, the overt trigger of the crisis.

    Ginor and Remez's startling account details how the Soviet-Arab onslaught was to be unleashed once Israel had been drawn into action and was branded as the aggressor. The Soviets had submarine-based nuclear missiles poised for use against Israel in case it already possessed and tried to use an atomic device, and the USSR prepared and actually began a marine landing on Israel's shores backed by strategic bombers and fighter squadrons. They sent their most advanced, still-secret aircraft, the MiG-25 Foxbat, on provocative sorties over Israel's Dimona nuclear complex to prepare the planned attack on it, and to scare Israel into making the first strike. It was only the unpredicted devastation of Israel's response that narrowly thwarted the Soviet design.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13504-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xi)
  4. MAPS
    (pp. xii-xiv)
  5. CHAPTER 1 Historiography as Investigative Journalism
    (pp. 1-9)

    THE RESEARCH THAT RESULTED in this book has produced, against our own expectations, a challenge to the predominant views—in Israel, the United States, and the West—regarding the genesis and conduct of an event that has shaped subsequent history in the Middle East. Israel’s lightning triumph, in the Six-Day War of June 1967, against the combined forces of its Arab neighbors redrew both the map and the international lineup in a regional clash that has figured constantly and often centrally on the global scene. It led, on one hand, to a series of further wars, and on the other...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Threat or Bluster
    (pp. 10-14)

    AT 8:48 A.M. ON 10 JUNE 1967, the White House situation room was a scene of “great concern and utmost gravity,” according to US ambassador to the USSR Llewellyn Thompson, one of the presidential advisers present.¹ A message had just been received over the Moscow–Washington hotline from the Soviet premier, Alexei Kosygin, demanding an immediate halt to Israel’s invasion of Syria and threatening Soviet military action that might lead to nuclear confrontation with the United States.²

    Although it evoked extreme consternation in Washington at the time, Kosygin’s threat was ultimately dismissed as mere bluster or, at most, an attempt...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Antecedents and Motivations
    (pp. 15-27)

    FOR THE USSR, THE MIDDLE EASTERN EVENTS of 1967 marked the confluence of several processes that had begun long before, in tsarist Russia. The following sketch points out only the highlights of this complex and uneasy relationship.

    The imperial regime’s long record of anti-Semitic repression and incitement, often designed as an outlet for popular resentment, was one of the prime causes for the rise of Zionism among the Jews of Russia. The first wave of Jewish agricultural resettlement in what was then Ottomanruled Palestine was touched off by a wave of pogroms in the 1880s. Political Zionism—the doctrine aimed...

  8. CHAPTER 4 The Nuclear Context
    (pp. 28-35)

    RECENTLY PUBLISHED EXCERPTS of the Israeli leadership’s deliberations during the crisis of May–June 1967, based on still-classified military and political records, confirmed that two perceived threats were consistently foremost among the Israelis’ considerations. One was an Egyptian air strike at the Negev Nuclear Research Center—the reactor complex that Israel had constructed near the town of Dimona in the Negev desert, and had initially described as a “textile plant.”¹ The other threat dreaded by the Israeli leaders, which came to the fore somewhat later, was direct Soviet military intervention. The released excerpts do not, however, specify whether these fears...

  9. CHAPTER 5 The Spymaster and the Communist: A DISCLOSURE IN DECEMBER 1965
    (pp. 36-48)

    THE SEQUENCE OF DEVELOPMENTS in the nuclear proliferation sphere that ultimately led the USSR to instigate a Middle Eastern war in 1967 can be traced back to a remarkable incident, a year and a half earlier, that has only now come to light in an officially published document.

    Though not unprecedented in the annals of intelligence, it is highly extraordinary for a nation’s foremost security figure intentionally to divulge its most guarded strategic secret to its most feared adversary, while contradicting his own nation’s public policy statements. It is even more astonishing for such a disclosure to be so misguided...

  10. CHAPTER 6 A Nuclear Umbrella for Egypt
    (pp. 49-57)

    AFTER REPORTING HAREL’S DISCLOSURE, the Soviet Foreign Ministry memorandum of 23 February 1966 continues in precisely the style that Gromyko prescribed. Even though the document was intended for internal use only, it continues with a typical propaganda blast:

    In Moscow, there is total agreement with Comrade Sneh’s opinion in respect of the threat posed to Israel itself by this potentially disastrous policy of nuclear weapons proliferation and procurement. . . . Only madmen might address such a serious issue . . . from narrow local and nationalist positions. . . . If Israel really sets out on the road of...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Converging Timelines: SYRIAN COUP AND PARTY CONGRESS
    (pp. 58-67)

    ON 23 FEBRUARY 1966, the very day that the Soviet Foreign Ministry memorandum about the Sneh-Harel meeting was promulgated, a coup d’état in Syria brought the military wing of the Baath Party to power. Ever since the crisis of mid-May 1967, its genesis has been dated over a year earlier, and specifically traced to the Syrian coup.¹ The inception of this coup and its consequences, as aspects of Soviet Cold War policy planning, stand out in even starker contrast in view of the facts that are known today.

    The Soviet fingerprints on this development were observed even at the time.²...

  12. CHAPTER 8 The “Conqueror” and “Victor” Plans: SOVIET SIGNATURES
    (pp. 68-77)

    SOME OF THE FIRST MEASURES THAT WERE TAKEN to implement the new Soviet policy in the Middle Eastern arena were organizational, and were hardly noticed at the time. In May 1966, the Soviet navy ships that had reestablished a permanent presence in the Mediterranean only two years earlier were for the first time grouped under the command of a separate, “semi-independent” formation, which only after the war, on 14 July 1967, was formally designated as the FifthEskadra.For the time being, it was referred to less ostentatiously as the “combined eskadra,” as it included ships from the Northern and...

  13. CHAPTER 9 The Naval and Aerial Buildup
    (pp. 78-87)

    ON 19 MAY 1966, the day after Kosygin left Egypt, the Soviet ambassador Dmitri Pozhidayev was instructed to inform Amer “confidentially about the Soviet government’s intention to carry out, in May–July, certain measures pertaining to the Soviet Navy in the Eastern Mediterranean”— probably referring to the establishment and activity of the “combined eskadra.” He was also “to obtain Amer’s opinion as to the advisability of Soviet warships paying friendly calls at an Egyptian port (Port Said or Alexandria) in July of this year.”¹ Western observers soon noticed that the “Soviets had obtained concessions for improved facilities” in Egypt’s Mediterranean...

  14. CHAPTER 10 Mid-May: DISINFORMATION OR DIRECTIVE?
    (pp. 88-103)

    THE JEWISH LUNAR CALENDAR CYCLE realigns its dates with the solar calendar every 19 years. Thus, in 1967, Israel celebrated its Independence Day on the same Gregorian date, 15 May, as the end of the British mandate in 1948. The annual military parade was held that year at the Hebrew University Stadium in the Israeli part of Jerusalem, under the severe demilitarization provisions that had been imposed by the 1949 armistice, which left the city divided with Jordan. It was a brief and low-key affair, considered even disgraceful by many, and compatible with the malaise that had set in with...

  15. CHAPTER 11 Escalation and Denial: 14 – 26 MAY
    (pp. 104-112)

    ADDRESSING THE PARTY LEADERSHIP after the Soviet initiative foundered, Brezhnev did not specify what measures the Politburo had “advised” or expected Egypt and Syria to take following its message in mid-May. In the event, Egypt took three steps: On 14 May it began to move massive forces into Sinai, on the 16th it asked UNEF to leave its positions along the Egyptian border with Israel, and on the 22nd Nasser declared a blockade on Israeli shipping through the Straits of Tiran. In his retrospective review, Brezhnev ignored the first move entirely—a significant omission, given the Soviet inspiration of Egypt’s...

  16. CHAPTER 12 The Badran Talks: RESTRAINING AN ALLY
    (pp. 113-120)

    THE MOST SENSATIONAL CLAIM made by Victor Grajewski, Israel’s newly acknowledged double agent, is that “about 10 days before the war began”—that is, on or about 26 May 1967—he was urgently entrusted by the Israeli security services with conveying a genuine message to his Soviet handlers, instead of the usual disinformation. Meeting in his car, in a wooded area near Jerusalem, he told a KGB operative from the Soviet embassy: “From the information I have, I understand that Israel intends to go to war and to attack Nasser,” as it could not put up with Egypt’s closure of...

  17. CHAPTER 13 Foxbats over Dimona
    (pp. 121-137)

    WE CHOSE THE TITLE OF THIS CHAPTER for our book as it encapsulates our three main claims: that the USSR deliberately instigated the crisis and war of 1967; that it did so in the context of blocking Israel’s nuclear program; and that it committed Soviet personnel and weapons for a direct military intervention.

    Fourteen years after the Six-Day War, the Soviet Union’s timeless foreign minister, Andrei Gromyko, gathered his “think tank” at the ministry. Oleg Grinevsky, who was in attendance, published his account of this meeting only after another 21 years, so since he names all the other participants and...

  18. CHAPTER 14 Poised for a Desant: 5 JUNE
    (pp. 138-152)

    MUNYA MARDOR, THE HEAD OF ISRAEL’S weapons development agency RAFAEL, relates in his memoirs that he was in charge of both the “main project” (the usual Israeli euphemism for all or part of the nuclear program) and the IAF’s home-built air-to-air missile system Shafrir. In the latter capacity, he was called upon in May 1967 to adapt the missile for use by Israel’s captured Iraqi MiG-21, when—as he was told—“it transpired that . . . Egyptian MiG-21s were penetrating our territory for high-altitude photoreconnaissance” but could not be overtaken by the Mirages.

    One page before this episode in...

  19. CHAPTER 15 Un-Finnished Business: PREEMPTIVE DIPLOMACY
    (pp. 153-163)

    THE MILITARY MOVES THAT THE Soviet Union commenced on 4–5 June were begun before Israel had launched its first strike, and certainly before the USSR became fully aware of its effect. This preplanning, and its subsequent disruption, is also evident on the diplomatic level, thanks to documents recently released by the Russians themselves.

    Late in the night of 5 June, after the “battle fog” had lifted somewhat to reveal the destruction wreaked on the Arab air forces, Ambassador Chuvakhin handed Prime Minister Eshkol a note from the Soviet government. It expressed the USSR’s indignation at Israel’s “adventurist act,” which...

  20. CHAPTER 16 Debates, Delays, and Ditherings: 6 – 8 JUNE
    (pp. 164-179)

    DURING THE CRISIS AND WAR OF 1967, a staffer of the Israeli embassy in West Germany, Nitzan Hadas, held regular meetings with officials of the Foreign Ministry in Bonn. Hadas’s dispatches indicate that the Germans’ perception of the Soviet role differed substantially from those that were held by other Western European, as well as American, diplomatic observers—or at least those that they shared with the Israelis. In view of the facts that are now being exposed, the German assessments—which described Soviet policy as far more aggressive than the others did—were astonishingly accurate. The East German Stasi is...

  21. CHAPTER 17 The Liberty Incident: SOVIET FINGERPRINTS
    (pp. 180-190)

    THE CONTINUING DEBATE OVER ISRAEL’S MOTIVE in attacking the USSLiberty(AGTR-5) signal-intelligence-gathering ship has tended to obscure the Soviet context that recurs throughout this affair. One reason is that the ship’s survivors, in their vocal campaign to prove that Israel alone was deliberately responsible, have stressed the Israeli angle. To the extent that the superpower relationship has been discussed in this context, it was mainly to point out that the initial American response to the attack on theLibertywas to scramble Sixth Fleet carrier aircraft, and that only a hotline exchange between Johnson and Kosygin defused what was...

  22. CHAPTER 18 Offense Becomes Deterrence: 10 JUNE
    (pp. 191-206)

    ONE OF THE GROUNDS OFFERED FOR ISRAEL’S allegedly intentional attack on theLibertyhas been an attempt to prevent the exposure of the IDF’s plans to attack and capture the Syrian stronghold on the Golan Heights. The idea, according to this theory, was to secure US acquiescence by creating the appearance of Israeli self-defense rather than a premeditated aggression. However, on the Syrian, unlike the Egyptian, front Israel had indeed been attacked first by Syrian aircraft, artillery, and even a ground incursion. Israel’s land counterattack on the heights did begin on 9 June, the day after theLibertyincident, according...

  23. CHAPTER 19 Aftermath
    (pp. 207-218)

    RESTORING DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS with Israel was one of the final acts performed by the USSR before it ceased to exist at the end of 1991; Brezhnev’s former speechwriter Aleksandr Bovin became the last Soviet ambassador to present his credentials in a foreign country. This was a condition for Soviet co-sponsorship of an Arab-Israeli peace process—the Madrid Conference. It illustrated the magnitude of the error that, as latter-day Soviet spokesmen admitted with increasing candor, Moscow committed by breaking off its official ties. The Soviets lost not only any standing as brokers, but also any measure of direct influence on the...

  24. NOTES
    (pp. 219-264)
  25. WORKS CITED
    (pp. 265-274)
  26. INDEX
    (pp. 275-287)