Report of Soviet nukes sent US on highest alert during ’73 war
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Report of Soviet nukes sent US on highest alert during ’73 war

President Nixon feared USSR ship was carrying nuclear weapons to Egypt, threatening Israel, declassified documents show

Prime minister Golda Meir touring the southern front with Maj. Gen. Ariel Sharon several days after the 1973 Yom Kippur War (Yehuda Tzion/ GPO)
Prime minister Golda Meir touring the southern front with Maj. Gen. Ariel Sharon several days after the 1973 Yom Kippur War (Yehuda Tzion/ GPO)

WASHINGTON — The United States went on high alert in October 1973 because of intelligence indicating that the Soviet Union was delivering nuclear weapons to Egypt at the height of the Yom Kippur War, newly declassified CIA papers show.

It has long been known that the National Security Council under President Richard Nixon ordered a DEFCON III (or Defense Condition III) alert, the highest available in peacetime, because of a possible nuclear threat against Israel.

What was not known until last week, when the CIA declassified its briefings for Nixon, was what triggered the concern.

Tim Naftali, a presidential historian who has directed the Nixon presidential library, reviewed the documents in a post Friday on CNN’s website.

“American intelligence had detected a Soviet ship headed for Egypt that it believed was carrying nuclear weapons,” Naftali wrote. “In addition, the United States detected two Soviet amphibious ships nearing Egypt.”

Former US president Richard Nixon. (photo credit: National Archives & Records Administration, public domain)
Former US president Richard Nixon. (photo credit: National Archives & Records Administration, public domain)

Previous reporting showed that the Soviets were alarmed by the DEFCON III alert and sought to quickly defuse the situation, reassuring the Americans that no nuclear action was planned.

The DEFCON III alert put in place on October 24, 1973, was removed the next day. The Soviet ships near Egypt dispersed, Naftali wrote. However, it is not known what happened to the ship that reached Egypt, which intelligence officials believed to be carrying nuclear weapons.

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