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Context of 'Summer 1981: Israel Considers Strike against Pakistani Nuclear Weapons Facility, Dissuaded by US'

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Israel considers attacking a key part of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. The idea is sparked when the Indian intelligence service Research and Analysis Wing intercepts a US cable saying that Pakistan will be able to explode a bomb within two or three years (see 1979). The Israelis knew that Pakistan was working on a nuclear weapons project, but thought it was not close to making such progress. Shocked by the Pakistani advances, they begin to plan a pre-emptive strike against one of the Pakistani facilities, the laboratory of scientist A. Q. Khan in Kahuta. However, the US learns of the plan and pressures the Israelis to put it on ice, which they do. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 86]

Entity Tags: Research and Analysis Wing (Indian external intelligence agency)

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

According to a story in the New York Times, the Carter administration is considering its options for dealing with Pakistan’s secret nuclear weapons program. One possibility is a covert operation aimed at destroying the Pakistani nuclear research facility in Kahuta, where uranium is being enriched to make a nuclear bomb. However, no such strike will be carried out and US policy will become more favorable to Pakistan after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan at the end of the year. [New York Times, 8/12/1979; Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 98]

Entity Tags: Carter administration

Timeline Tags: US International Relations, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

In response to information it has received about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program (see June 2, 1981), Israel begins planning a pre-emptive strike against one of Pakistan’s main nuclear facilities. The complex to be targeted is in Kahuta, near Islamabad, and houses Pakistan’s uranium enrichment centrifuges. However, the plan is not implemented due to US pressure, applied due to friendly US relations with Pakistan and Pakistani co-operation on anti-Soviet efforts in Afghanistan. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 86]

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Israel’s permanent representative to the UN, Yehuda Blum, tells the UN General Assembly that “there is abundant evidence indicating that [Pakistan] is producing nuclear weapons.” He adds that “at the Engineering Research Labs… Pakistan is secretly constructing a plant for the production of weapons-grade enriched uranium by centrifuges” based on a technology “stolen from the URENCO plant in the Netherlands.” He also says that Pakistan has established front companies in 14 countries to acquire components, and that Pakistan is close to building a cascade of at least 1,000 centrifuges. In addition, the Pakistanis intend to build more than 10,000 of them, “which in turn could produce about 150 kg of enriched uranium a year, sufficient for seven nuclear explosive devices every year.” Authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark will write that this information is “what the US had known for several years but had chosen not to share with the rest of the world.” [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 85-86]

Entity Tags: Adrian Levy, Yehuda Blum, Catherine Scott-Clark, United Nations

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

The US State Department writes a cable to Israel to allay Israeli fears about Pakistan’s nuclear program (see June 2, 1981). However, the communication contains information the US must know to be untrue. The cable says, “We believe that the Pakistanis have so far been unable to make their centrifuge machines work and that they have not yet produced any significant quantities of enriched uranium.” Authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark will say this is a “blatant lie,” as the US knows the opposite is true. The cable concludes, “Even if the Pakistanis do manage to eventually overcome their problems in the enrichment area, it would likely take them a few years of successful operations to produce sufficient fissile material to fabricate a single device.” It also estimates that it will take Pakistan another decade before it has a suitable missile system to go with warheads. Levy and Scott-Clark will add, “Not only was the US misrepresenting the available intelligence, but it was also ignoring several articles published by Khan himself in Western nuclear gazettes in which he had explicitly laid out the hurdles his centrifuge construction program had overcome.” Moshe Ya’alon, later head of Israeli military intelligence, will say that the Israelis are stunned by this response. “The US was glib on Pakistan,” he will add. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 85-86]

Entity Tags: Adrian Levy, US Department of State, Moshe Ya’alon, Catherine Scott-Clark

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

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