In an op-ed published in Ha’aretz, Avner Cohen, author of The Worst-Kept Secret, remembers Israel Dostrovsky, one of the key figures in the development of Israel’s nuclear program, who recently passed away.
Cohen views Dostrovsky, who played various roles in Israel’s defense program from the very beginning, as embodying “Ben-Gurion’s ideal of a Zionist scientist—a researcher who divided his time between science and security.” He helped to get Israel’s nuclear program off the ground in the 1950s and later stepped in to organize the various components of the Dimona program. Cohen writes, “The principles of caution and internal review that [Dostrovsky] established are still, to this day, fundamental elements in the way Israel conducts itself in this realm.”
Cohen concludes the piece by describing his conversations with Dostrovsky about contemporary Israel and the possibility of a nuclear Iran:
It was the lucidity of his thought in particular that intensified the strong sense of sadness, almost depression, that I felt upon hearing his words. He was anxious about the country’s future and fate. At the base of his anxiety was the feeling that it had lost its compass, that it was moving toward self-ruin. It was saddening to realize that someone who had devoted so much of his life to ensure the physical existence of the Zionist homeland seemed to be losing his faith in and assurance of the Zionist project.
We spoke also about Iran’s nuclear plans. Once again, he expressed a deep pessimism. He thought it was very likely that Iran already had a bomb in the basement; at all events, he was convinced Iran could well have had enough fissile material for the preparation of a bomb or two. He also believed that one should treat with gravity the possibility that Iran would use a bomb to destroy the Zionist enterprise. I was amazed to realize just how little faith the person who built Israel’s existential deterrence had in its actual value as a means for preventing destruction.
I couldn’t help but ponder what the true legacy was of this son of giants.