There was a secret back-channel confrontation between Kennedy and Israeli PM Ben Gurion that came to a head in 1963. It started in December 1960 when US intelligence informed the White House that the Israelis were building a nuclear facility at Dimona, Israel.
Construction at Dimona began in 1958, and the delay in informing the White House is considered one of those ‘intelligence community blunders’. I’ll leave it to readers to process why it was presented to the Eisenhower White House one week after the 1960 election. Eisenhower merely passed it on for the new Administration to deal with. Kennedy was informed ten days after he took office in January 1961 .
Kennedy and Secretary of State Dean Rusk summoned the Israeli ambassador to arrange an inspection of the Dimona facility. The ambassador agreed – “if it is done on a secret basis.”
Ben Gurion was embroiled in a domestic political crisis (the Lavon Affair ), so as a courtesy Kennedy agreed to wait for an inspection.
An inspection was carried out in May 1961, reporting to the President that they found the facility “within the scope of peaceful character”. The tensions relaxed for two years.
Kennedy, however, expected the inspections to be ongoing. Ben Gurion stepped down in 1963 appointing a new Prime Minister, Levi Eshkol. Kennedy took the occasion to write a polite diplomatic letter to Eshkol, and asked for date for another inspection of of the Dimona facility “within six months”, to be followed with regular inspections every six months. And he added the following ultimatum,
“As I wrote Mr. Ben-Gurion, this Government’s commitment to and support of Israel could be seriously jeopardized if it should be thought that we were unable to obtain reliable information on a subject as vital to the peace as the question of Israel’s effort in the nuclear field.”
There were no nuclear proliferation treaties in those days, so Kennedy was informing the Israeli government that US direct aid and more im…