Israel and weapons of mass destruction

Israel and weapons of mass destruction

Israel is widely believed to possess a substantial arsenal (an estimated 100 to 200) of nuclear weapons, []

Nuclear weapons capability

According to Nuclear Threat Initiative, based on Vanunu's information, Israel has approximately 100–200 nuclear explosive devices by 1980 and the Jericho missile delivery system. A United States Defense Intelligence Agency report (leaked and published in the book "" by journalist Rowan Scarborough in 2004) estimates the number of weapons at 82. US intelligence sources in the late 1990s estimated 75–130 weapons; most sources today estimate between 100 and 200 weapons. [cite web|title=Nuclear weapons - Israel|publisher=Federation of American Scientists|url=|accessdate=2006-07-02] The difference might lie in the amount of material Israel has on store versus assembled weapons, and estimates as to how much material the weapons actually use (which depends on their sophistication).

Israel has operated three modern German-built "Dolphin"-class submarines [cite web|title=Dolphin Class Submarines|publisher=Uri Dotan-Bochner|url=|accessdate=2006-07-02] since 1999. Various reports indicate that these submarines are equipped with American-made Harpoon missiles modified to carry small nuclear warheads [cite news|title=Israel Adds Fuel to Nuclear Dispute|publisher=Los Angeles Times|first=Douglas|last=Frantz|date=2003-12-10|url=|accessdate=2006-07-02] and/or, and more possible [ [ Israel Missile Update 2005 ] ] , medium range (1500-2400km) larger Israeli-made "Popeye Turbo" cruise missiles, originally developed by Israel for air-to-ground strike capability. [cite web|title=Popeye Turbo||url=|accessdate=2006-07-02] [cite web|title=Nuclear Weapons Inventories of the Eight Known Nuclear Powers|publisher=PLRC|url=|accessdate=2007-11-02|format=PDF]

No known nuclear weapons test has been conducted within Israel, although the boosted weapons shown in Vanunu's photographs may well have required testing. It is also possible that the Israelis received results from French nuclear testing in the 1960s. In June 1976, the West Germany Army magazine, "Wehrtechnik", claimed that a 1963 underground test took place in the Negev, and other reports indicate that some type of non-nuclear test, perhaps a zero yield or implosion test, may have occurred on 2 November 1966. [cite web|title=The Third Temple's holy of holies: Israel's nuclear weapons|authorlink=Warner D. Farr|work=The Counterproliferation Papers, Future Warfare Series No. 2|publisher=USAF Counterproliferation Center, Air War College, Air University, Maxwell Air Force Base|url=|date=September 1999|accessdate=2006-07-02] In September 1979, a Vela satellite may have detected a 3 kiloton oceanic nuclear explosion near South Africa, accompanied by underwater acoustic and ionospheric effects which may have been a joint nuclear test between Israel and South Africa (see Vela Incident and Israel-South Africa relations).

In an interview the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert appeared to have admitted that Israel possesses nuclear weapons. However, an Israeli spokesman later stated that Olmert meant to give no such statement, and there has been no change in policy on nuclear weapons. [cite web
url =
title = Israel Denies Policy Change After Olmert Nuclear Arms Hint
accessdate = 2007-02-11
date = December 12, 2006
publisher =
quote = In an interview with German television on December 11, Olmert said Iran has threatened to wipe Israel off the map and accused Tehran of trying to make nuclear weapons. Seeking to draw a distinction with Iran, Olmert listed Israel alongside nuclear powers the United States, France, and Russia. "Iran openly, explicitly, and publicly threatens to whip Israel off the map", Olmert said. "Can you say that this is the same level when they are aspiring to have nuclear weapons, as America, France, Israel, Russia?" An Israeli spokesman later said Olmert did not mean to say that Israel has nuclear weapons, but instead had meant to describe America, France, Israel, and Russia as democracies, in contrast to Iran, which the spokesman described as an "extremist theological regime." Israel is widely believed to have an arsenal of nuclear weapons, but has never confirmed or denied this.

On 1 February 2007, President Chirac of France commented on the nuclear ambitions of Iran, hinting on possible nuclear countermeasures from Israel:
:"Where will it drop it, this bomb? On Israel? It would not have gone 200 metres into the atmosphere before Tehran would be razed". [cite web
url =
title = Chirac Strays From Assailing a Nuclear Iran
accessdate = 2007-02-11
last = Sciolino
first = Elaine
coauthors = Katrin Bennhold
date = February 1, 2007
publisher = The New York Times

In arguing that the United States should directly talk to Iran rather than through intermediaries, former President Jimmy Carter stated in May 2008 that Israel has "150 or more" nuclear weapons in its arsenal. [cite news|url=|title=Israel 'has 150 nuclear weapons'|publisher=BBC|date=26 May 2008|accessdate=2008-05-26]

Timetable of estimates of the Israeli nuclear arsenal

The State of Israel has never made public any details of its nuclear capability or arsenal. The following is a history of estimates by many different reputable sources on the size and strength of Israel's nuclear arsenal.

*1967 (Six Day War)- 2 bombs [150. Burrows and Windrem, op. cit., 280 and Cohen, Israel and the Bomb, op. cit., 273-274.] ; 13 bombs [Data from Time, 12 April 1976, quoted in Weissman and Krosney, op. cit., 107.]
*1969- 5-6 bombs of 19 kilotons yield each [Tahtinen, Dale R., The Arab-Israel Military Balance Today (Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 1973), 34. ]
*1973 (Yom Kippur War)- 13 bombs [How Israel Got the Bomb.” Time, 12 April 1976, 39.] ; 20 nuclear missiles plus developed a suitcase bomb [ Burrows and Windrem, op. cit., 302.]
*1974- 3 capable artillery battalions each with 12 175 mm tubes and a total of 108 warheads [Kaku, op. cit., 66 and Hersh, op. cit., 216. ] ; 10 bombs [Valéry, op. cit., 807-09.]
*1976- 10-20 nuclear weapons [Data from CIA, quoted in Weissman and Krosney, op. cit., 109. ]
*1980- 200 bombs [Ottenberg, Michael, “Estimating Israel's Nuclear Capabilities,” Command, 30 (October 1994), 6-8.]
*1984- 12-31 atomic bombs [Pry, op. cit., 75.] ; 31 plutonium bombs and 10 uranium bombs [Ibid., 111.]
*1985- at least 100 nuclear bombs [Data from NBC Nightly News, quoted in Milhollin, op. cit., 104 and Burrows and Windrem, op. cit., 308. ]
*1986- 100 to 200 fission bombs and a number of fusion bombs [Data from Vanunu quoted in Milhollin, op. cit., 104.]
*1991- 50-60 to 200-300 [Harkavy, Robert E. “After the Gulf War: The Future of the Israeli Nuclear Strategy,” The Washington Quarterly (Summer 1991), 164. ]
*1992- more than 200 bombs [Burrows and Windrem, op. cit., 308.]
*1994- 64-112 bombs (5 kg/warhead) [Albright, David, Berkhout, Frans and Walker, William, Plutonium and Highly Enriched Uranium 1996. World Inventories, Capabilities, and Policies (New York: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute And Oxford University Press, 1997), 262-263. ] ; 50 nuclear tipped Jericho missiles, 200 total [Hough, Harold, “Israel's Nuclear Infrastructure,” Jane's Intelligence Review 6, no. 11 (November 1994), 508. ]
*1995- 66-116 bombs (at 5 kg/warhead) [Ibid., 262-263. ] ; 70-80 bombs [Spector, and McDonough, with Medeiros, op. cit., 135.] ; "A complete Repertoire" (neutron bombs, nuclear mines, suitcase bombs, submarine borne) [Burrows and Windrem, op. cit., 283-284. ]
*1996- 60-80 plutonium weapons, maybe more than 100 assembled, ER variants (neutron bombs), varitable yields [Cordesman, op. cit., 1996, 234. ]
*1997- More than 400 deliverable thermonuclear and nuclear weapons [Brower, Kenneth S., “A Propensity for Conflict: Potential Scenarios and Outcomes of War in the Middle East,” Jane's Intelligence Review, Special Report no. 14, (February 1997), 14-15. ]
*2002– Between 75 and 200 weapons [Norris, Robert S., William Arkin, Hans M. Kristensen, and Joshua Handler. "Israeli nuclear forces, 2002," "Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists" 58:5 (September/October 2002): 73-75. [ Excerpt online.] ]

The figure dropped between 1997 and 2002 due to satellite photographs showing the power of the reactor had not increased since the 1970s.Fact|date=March 2008

Chemical weapons

Israel has signed but not ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). There are speculations that a chemical weapons program might be located at the Israel Institute for Biological Research ( [ IIBR] ) in Ness Ziona [] . Professor Marcus Klingberg, deputy director of the institute, was sentenced in 1983 to 20 years in prison after being found guilty of the charge of being a Soviet spy. The government kept the matter secret for a decade, arguing it was a sensitive issue. [cite news|title=Last KGB Spy to be Released in Israel|publisher=Pravda|first=Dmitri|last=Chirkin|url=|date=2003-01-15|accessdate=2006-07-02]

190 liters of dimethyl methylphosphonate, a CWC schedule 2 chemical used in the synthesis of Sarin nerve gas, was discovered in the cargo of El Al Flight 1862 after it crashed in 1992 en route to Tel Aviv. Israel insisted the material was non-toxic, was to have been used to test filters that protect against chemical weapons, and that it had been clearly listed on the cargo manifest in accordance with international regulations. The shipment was from a U.S. chemical plant to the IIBR under a U.S. Department of Commerce license. [cite news|title=Israel says El Al crash chemical 'non-toxic'|date=1998-10-02|publisher=BBC|url=|accessdate=2006-07-02]

In 1993, the U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment WMD proliferation assessment recorded Israel as a country generally reported as having undeclared offensive chemical warfare capabilities.Citation|url=|title=Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction: Assessing the Risks|publisher=U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment|date=August 1993|id=OTA-ISC-559|accessdate=2007-05-27] Former US deputy assistant secretary of defense responsible for chemical and biological defense, Bill Richardson, said in 1998 "I have no doubt that Israel has worked on both chemical and biological offensive things for a long time ... There's no doubt they've had stuff for years". [cite news|url=|title=Debunking the "ethno-bomb"|author=Jeff Stein|date=1998-12-02|accessdate=2006-07-11|]

Biological weapons

Israel is not a signatory to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). It is assumed that the Israel Institute for Biological Research in Ness Ziona develops vaccines and antidotes for chemical and biological warfare.cite web
url =
title = Nes Ziyyona
accessdate = 2007-02-11
date = April 28, 2005
publisher =
quote = Israel is believed to have the capacity to produce chemical warfare agents, and probably has stocks of bombs, rockets, and artillery shells. Public reports that a mustard and nerve gas production facility was established in 1982 in the Dimona restricted area are apparently erroneous. Israel is also probably poised to rapidly produce biological weapons, though there are no public reports of currently active production effort or associated locations.…Israel's primary chemical and biological warfare facility is at Nes Ziyyona [Noss Ziona] , near Tel Aviv. The Israeli Institute for Bio-Technology is believed to be the home of both offensive and defensive research.
] While it is believed that Israel is not currently producing chemical or biological weapons, there remains speculation that Israel's ability to start production and dissemination, if necessary, remains active. [cite web
url =
title = Israel and WMD: Incentives and Capabilities
accessdate = 2007-02-11
last = Normark
first = Magnus
coauthors = Anders Lindblad, Anders Norqvist, Björn Sandström, and Louise Waldenström
year = 2005
month = December
format = PDF
work =
publisher = FOI
pages = pg. 38
language =
archiveurl =
archivedate =
quote = Israel does not stockpile or produce BW in large-scale today. However, we assess that Israel has a breakout capability for biological weapons and also CW, i.e. the knowledge needed to implement theoretical knowledge into the practical management of production and deployment of CBW. The knowledge base would be the one that was built during the 1950s and 1960s where today’s advanced research can be used to upgrade potential BW and CW agents and their behaviour in the environment. We have not found any conclusive evidence that show that Israel’s offensive programs still remain active today.

In 1993, the U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment WMD proliferation assessment recorded Israel as a country generally reported as having an undeclared offensive biological warfare program.

Delivery systems


*Israel is known to have tested two versions of the Jericho missile system. The Jericho I with a range of 500km and the Jericho II with a range of 1,500km.
*The Shavit rocket is used for inserting objects into a low earth orbit.
*Third version of the Jericho missile is possible. Jericho III is thought to have been in service since mid-2005. On 17 January, 2008 Israel test fired a multi-stage ballistic missile believed to be of the Jericho III type. With a payload of 1,000 - 1,300 kg it has a range of 4,800 km, or 7,800km with a payload of 350 kg (one Israeli nuclear warhead). This gives Israel, at least, nuclear strike capability against Africa, Europe, and most of Asia.
*Popeye turbo cruise missile with a range of 1,500km.


*Lockheed Martin F-16I Sufa ("Storm")
*McDonnell Douglas/Boeing F-15 Eagle Baz 2000 (A/B/C/D/E)


*Dolphin Class - Type 800 coastal submarines - "Nuclear capable", according to "The Washington Post" []

ee also

*Project Daniel
*Samson Option
*South Africa and weapons of mass destruction
*Vela Incident or the South Atlantic Flash

External links

* [ Britain's dirty secret - Secret papers show how Britain helped Israel make the A-bomb in the 1960s] , "New Statesman" by Meirion Jones, 10 March 2006
* [ Secret sale of UK plutonium to Israel] , BBC, 10 March 2006
* [ How Britain helped Israel get the bomb] by Michael Crick, BBC Newsnight
* [ Strategic Doctrine] in Israel Special Weapons Guide, Federation of American Scientists
* [ Israel Profile] at The Nuclear Threat Initiative
* [ Israel and the Bomb] Avner Cohen's website, including [ official documents]
* [ Israel crosses the threshold] - Israel, the bomb and the NPT in the Nixon era, based on [ documents released 28 April 2006]
* [ Marcus Klingberg, last KGB Spy to be Released in Israel] by Dmitry Chirkin, Pravda. Ru
* [ History of a hot potato] by Yehiam Weitz, "Haaretz", January 14, 2005
* [ IIBR official website] The Israel Institute for Biological Research
* [ Israel] at Nuclear, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
* [ Nuclear Stockpiles] Current information on nuclear stockpiles in Israel at Nuclear, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
* [ Israel and Chemical/Biological Weapons: History, Deterrence, and Arms Control] , Avner Cohen, The Nonproliferation Review/Fall-Winter 2001
* [ Should Israel give up its nukes?] , Pentagon study about nuclear nonproliferation in Middle East, by George Bisharat, "LA Times", December 2005
* [,6903,1061381,00.html Israel deploys nuclear arms in submarines] by Peter Beaumont and Conal Urquhart, "The Observer", October 12, 2003
* [ The Untold Story of Israel's Bomb] By Avner Cohen and William Burr, "Washington Post", April 30, 2006
* [ The Third Temple's Holy Of Holies: Israel's Nuclear Weapons] by Lt. Col. Warner D. Farr, US Army.
* [ JIC Israel Nuclear file 1960-61 Part 1]
* [ JIC Israel Nuclear file 1960-61 Part 2]
* [ Time to Open the Nuclear Gates - Israel’s “nuclear ambivalence” strategy]
* [ Israel 'has 150 nuclear weapons'] BBC News 26 May 2008
* [ Annotated bibliography for the Israeli nuclear weapons program from the Alsos Digital Library on Nuclear Issues]


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.