When Argentina sold uranium oxide to Israel

In 1963, the Latin American country provided Israel with key material for its nuclear weapons program, report says

The Dimona nuclear reactor as viewed from a satellite. (United States Government)
The Dimona nuclear reactor as viewed from a satellite. (United States Government)

Israel obtained a key component for its nuclear weapons program from Argentina in 1963, evading US, Canadian and British inquiries about reports of the sale, according to a new report in Foreign Policy Magazine.

The report, which was published this week, and is based on declassified archival documents, by the National Security Archive and the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project, says Argentina sold between 80 to 100 tons of “yellowcake,” or uranium oxide — “an essential product for fueling a nuclear reactor and thereby producing plutonium that can be used in weapons” — to Israel.

The report asserts that for historians, certain aspects of the Israeli nuclear program have remained exceptionally mysterious because, to this day, Israel’s policy of nuclear ambiguity remains in place.

Despite Israeli assurances to world powers that its nuclear program was for peaceful purposes only, the declassified documents “demonstrate how vigorously Israel sought raw materials for its nuclear program and how persistently it tried to cultivate relations with nuclear suppliers,” according to the report.

The United States at the time was trying to closely monitor Israeli developments on the nuclear front, worrying that an “Israeli bomb would threaten stability in the Middle East and complicate American efforts to curb nuclear proliferation worldwide” — concerns that were echoed by the Canadians and the British.

While following up on the Argentine sale, the US government was also investigating rumors in 1965 that a French company in Gabon had requested permission to sell uranium to Israel — a potential sale that remains a mystery to this day, the report said.

According to the 2013 yearbook put out by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) last month, Israel possesses some 80 nuclear warheads — fewer than once thought, and lower than the nuclear arsenal of countries that are officially in possession of atomic weapons.

Of those warheads, 50 are for medium-range ballistic missiles and 30 are for bombs carried by aircraft, the report said. In addition, “Israel may also have produced non-strategic nuclear weapons, including artillery shells and atomic demolition munitions,” the Guardian reported.

Israel is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and has long maintained an official position of ambiguity with regards to its nuclear capabilities.

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