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December 06, 1991 - Image 39

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-12-06

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Washington Correspondent


f Hollywood set out to
create on celluloid the
quintessential investiga-
tive reporter, the result would
probably look a lot like
Seymour Hersh.
Mr. Hersh, ace reporter
for the New York Times and
winner of the Pulitzer Prize,
is a fast-moving, brusque
man with an almost ir-
resistible attraction to gov-
ernment secrets.
He does not suffer fools.
Reporters with nosy ques-
tions about his motives,
government officials with a
penchant for secrecy, and
hostile book reviewers feel
the lash of his tongue and
the sting of his meticulous
So when rumors began to
circulate last year that Mr.
Hersh was investigating Is-
rael's nuclear weapons pro-
gram — one of the ultimate
taboo subjects — pro-Israel
people began reaching for
the Maalox.
In his book, The Samson
Option: Israel's Nuclear
Arsenal and American For-
eign Policy, Mr. Hersh
plumbs the depths of one of
the most open secrets of our
generation — the fact that
Israel possesses enough nu-
clear weapons to reduce her
Arab adversaries to radioac-
tive cinders.
But he does not limit him-
self to the obvious. Among
other allegations, Mr. Hersh
suggests that Israel has
more nuclear weapons than
previously believed; that
Jonathan Jay Pollard spied
for Israel for four years, not
17 months; and that there

Seymour Hersh,

author of a controversial book

about Israel's nuclear arsenal,

is more upset at American

policy than Jerusalem's.

was an energetic pattern of
deception as Israel built up
its deadly arsenal under the
apathetic noses of leaders in
Some here believe that
Mr. Hersh set out to embar-
rass Israel, but the author
maintains he stumbled onto
the story while looking into
the Iran-Contra scandal.
"One day I was talking to an
intelligence officer for the

Israeli government," Mr.
Hersh said in an interview
this week, "and he was say-
ing that the real story here
was the crazy thing with Is-
raeli nuclear weapons."
With the information pro-
vided by his original Israeli
informant, Mr. Hersh's
methodology was deceptive-
ly simple — more elbow
grease than flash.
"You go find people and

Seymour Hersh: No grudge against Israel.

get them to talk," he said.
"The trick is to know some-
thing to begin with; if you
know something, people will
talk to you."
But as Mr. Hersh ac-
knowledges, some of his al-
legations have been met
with "a big yawn."
"The problem is that these
are allegations, not revela-
tions," said Thomas
Neumann, executive direc-
tor of the Jewish Institute
for National Security Af-
fairs. "The allegations about
Pollard are haunting — but
they just aren't believable.
There is no rationale for
Shamir to pass on this in-
formation to the Soviets; it's
simply not the way Shamir
behaves. He's always taken
a very tough line with the
Soviets. And Hersh gives us
no proof."
If the Pollard allegations
failed to detonate across the
nation's front pages, his
charge that publishing bar-
on Robert Maxwell had
worked for the Mossad did.
Those allegations were fol-
lowed quickly by Mr. Max-
well's lawsuit against Mr.
Hersh and then by his mys-
terious death.
The coincidence of Mr.
Maxwell's death added to
the best-selling appeal of
The Samson Option.
Another coincidence that
had a less positive effect,
Mr. Hersh argues, is the
Madrid peace conference.
"Everybody was afraid of
disrupting the talks. Inter-
nally, it's had a devastating
One of the most striking
revelations in Mr. Hersh's
book is his allegation that
Israeli nuclear forces were
aimed at Soviet cities.

American officials, he
said, knew about this Israeli
strategic doctrine — but
chose to look the other way.
"Basically, nobody want-
ed to take on the Israelis,"
he said. "This is a core issue
for Israel. Maybe the notion
is, if you don't talk about it,
it will go away. It's almost
as if there's some magic in-
volved, a dybbuk, or spirit.
But the fact is, no matter
what we say about them, Is-
rael will be a nuclear-armed
But others suggest a less
conspiratorial explanation
for the generally tolerant at-
titudes of a string of Ameri-
can administrations.
"We knew all about it, and
we discussed it with the Is-
raelis," said Eugene
Rostow, the director of the
U.S. Arms Control Agency
in the early 1980s and cur-
rently a fellow at the United
States Institute of Peace. "I
think it's fair to say that
this American policy was
always related to the fact
that we understood the de-
fensive character of the Is-
raeli weapons."
When it comes to personal
questions, Seymour Hersh is
as reticent as the govern-
ment officials he interviews.
He dodges the question of
what it is that fuels his re-
lentless desire to learn and
expose the secrets of gov-
ernments and their leaders.
"What's in my psycholog-
ical makeup that makes me
do this?" he said. "God
knows. It's not something I
talk about casually."
But he does provide some
To an extent, Mr. Hersh
seems driven by his anger at
the irrationality of the peo-



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