Nuclear weapons and Israel
Israel Nuclear program start date mid-to-late 1950s First nuclear weapon test Unknown; possible joint nuclear test with South Africa on September 22, 1979 First fusion weapon test Unknown Last nuclear test Unknown Largest yield test Unknown Total tests Unknown Peak stockpile Unknown Current stockpile allegedly 75–400 warheads Maximum missile range 11,500 km with 1000 kg payload; probably significantly greater with smaller payload (Jericho III) NPT signatory No Nuclear weapons Nuclear-armed states
Israel is widely believed to be the sixth country in the world to have developed nuclear weapons and to be one of four nuclear-armed countries not recognized as a Nuclear Weapons State by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the others being India, Pakistan and North Korea. Former International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Mohamed ElBaradei regarded Israel as a state possessing nuclear weapons, but Israel maintains a policy known as "nuclear ambiguity" (also known as "nuclear opacity"). Israel has never officially admitted to having nuclear weapons, instead repeating over the years that it would not be the first country to "introduce" nuclear weapons to the Middle East, leaving ambiguity as to whether it means it will not create, will not disclose, will not make first use of the weapons or possibly some other interpretation of the phrase.  The "not be the first" formulation goes back to before March 11 1965, when a cable from the US Embassy in Tel Aviv to Washington noted "The Government of Israel has reaffirmed that Israel will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Arab-Israel area."  Israel has refused to sign the NPT despite international pressure to do so, and has stated that signing the NPT would be contrary to its national security interests.
Israel started investigating the nuclear field soon after its founding in 1948 and with French support secretly began building a nuclear reactor and reprocessing plant in the late 1950s. Although Israel first built a nuclear weapon in the late 1960s, it was not publicly confirmed from the inside until Mordechai Vanunu, a former Israeli nuclear technician, revealed details of the program to the British press in 1986.
- 1 Development history
- 2 Nuclear testing
- 3 Revelations
- 4 Stockpile
- 5 Delivery systems
- 6 Policy
- 7 References
- 8 Bibliography
- 9 External links
Israel first showed interest in procuring nuclear materials in 1949, when a unit of the Israel Defense Forces Science Corps, known by the Hebrew acronym HEMED GIMMEL, carried out a two year geological survey of the Negev. While a preliminary study was initially prompted by rumors of petroleum fields, one objective of the longer two year survey was to find sources of uranium; some small recoverable amounts were found in phosphate deposits. That same year, HEMED GIMMEL funded six Israeli physics graduate students to study overseas, including one to go to the University of Chicago and study under Enrico Fermi, who had overseen the world's first artificial and self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction.
Israel's first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion was "nearly obsessed" with obtaining nuclear weapons to prevent The Holocaust from reoccurring. He stated, "What Einstein, Oppenheimer, and Teller, the three of them are Jews, made for the United States, could also be done by scientists in Israel, for their own people". In early 1952 HEMED GIMMEL was moved from the IDF to the Ministry of Defense and was reorganized as the Division of Research and Infrastructure (EMET). That June, Ernst David Bergmann, the chief of research at the Defense Ministry and Ben-Gurion's scientific advisor, was appointed by Ben-Gurion to be the first chairman of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC).
HEMED GIMMEL was renamed Machon 4 during the transfer, and was used by Bergmann as the "chief laboratory" of the IAEC; by 1953, Machon 4, working with the Department of Isotope Research at the Weizmann Institute, developed the capability to extract uranium from the phosphate in the Negev and new technique to produce indigenous heavy water. Bergmann, who was interested in increasing nuclear cooperation with the French, sold both patents to the Commissariat à l'énergie atomique (CEA) for 60 million francs. Although they were never commercialized, it was a consequential step for future French-Israeli cooperation. In addition, Israeli scientists probably helped construct the G-1 plutonium production reactor and UP-1 reprocessing plant at Marcoule. France and Israel had close relations in many areas. France was principal arms supplier for the young Jewish state, and as instability spread through French colonies in North Africa, Israel provided valuable intelligence obtained from contacts with Sephardi Jews in those countries. At the same time Israeli scientists were also observing France's own nuclear program, and were the only foreign scientists allowed to roam "at will" at the nuclear facility at Marcoule.
After US President Dwight Eisenhower announced the Atoms for Peace initiative, Israel became the second country to sign on (following Turkey), and signed a peaceful nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States on 12 July 1955. This culminated in a public signing ceremony on 20 March 1957 to construct a "small swimming-pool research reactor in Nachal Soreq," which would be used to shroud the construction of a much larger facility with the French at Dimona.
The French justified their decision to provide Israel a nuclear reactor by claiming it was not without precedent. In September 1955 Canada publicly announced that it would help the Indian government build a heavy-water research reactor, the CIRUS, for "peaceful purposes". When Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, France proposed Israel attack Egypt and invade the Sinai as a pretext for France and Britain to invade Egypt posing as "peacekeepers" with the true intent of seizing the Suez Canal (see Suez Crisis). In exchange, France would provide the nuclear reactor as the basis for the Israeli nuclear weapons program. Shimon Peres, sensing the opportunity on the nuclear reactor, accepted. On 17 September 1956, Peres and Bergmann reached a tentative agreement in Paris for the CEA to sell Israel a small research reactor. This was reaffirmed by Peres at the Protocol of Sèvres conference in late October for the sale of a reactor to be built near Dimona and for a supply of uranium fuel. After the Suez Crisis led to the threat of Soviet intervention and the British and French were being forced to withdraw under pressure from the US, Ben-Gurion sent Peres and Golda Meir to France. During their discussions the groundwork was laid for France to build a larger nuclear reactor and chemical reprocessing plant, and French Prime Minister Guy Mollet, ashamed at having abandoned his commitment to fellow socialists in Israel, supposedly told an aide, "I owe the bomb to them."
This deal was finalized on 3 October 1957 in two agreements: one political that declared the project to be for peaceful purposes and specified other legal obligations, and one technical that described a 24 megawatt EL-102 reactor. The one to actually be built was to be two to three times as large and be able to produce 22 kilograms of plutonium a year.
Before construction began it was determined that the scope of the project would be too large for the EMET and IAEC team, so Shimon Peres recruited Colonel Manes Pratt, then Israeli military attaché in Burma, to be the project leader. Building began in late 1957 or early 1958, bringing hundreds of French engineers and technicians to the Beersheba and Dimona area. In addition, thousands of newly immigrated Sephardic Jews were recruited to do digging; to circumvent strict labor laws, they were hired in increments of 59 days, separated by one day off.
Rupture with France
When Charles de Gaulle became French President in late 1958 he wanted to end French-Israeli nuclear cooperation, and said that he would not supply Israel with uranium unless the plant was opened to international inspectors, declared peaceful, and no plutonium was reprocessed. Through an extended series of negotiations, Shimon Peres finally reached a compromise with Foreign Minister Maurice Couve de Murville over two years later, in which French companies would be able to continue to fulfill their contract obligations and Israel would declare the project peaceful. Due to this, French assistance did not end until 1966.
Top secret British documents obtained by BBC Newsnight show that Britain made hundreds of secret shipments of restricted materials to Israel in the 1950s and 1960s. These included specialist chemicals for reprocessing and samples of fissile material—uranium-235 in 1959, and plutonium in 1966, as well as highly enriched lithium-6 which is used to boost fission bombs and fuel hydrogen bombs. The investigation also showed that Britain shipped 20 tons of heavy water directly to Israel in 1959 and 1960 to start up the Dimona reactor. The transaction was made through a Norwegian front company called Noratom which took a 2% commission on the transaction. Britain was challenged about the heavy water deal at the International Atomic Energy Agency after it was exposed on Newsnight in 2005. British Foreign Minister Kim Howells claimed this was a sale to Norway. But a former British intelligence officer who investigated the deal at the time confirmed that this was really a sale to Israel and the Noratom contract was just a charade. The Foreign Office finally admitted in March 2006 that Britain knew the destination was Israel all along. Israel admits running the Dimona reactor with Norway's heavy water since 1963. French engineers who helped build Dimona say the Israelis were expert operators, so only a relatively small portion of the water were lost during the years past since the first operation of the reactor.
In 1961, the Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion informed the Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker that a pilot plutonium-separation plant would be built at Dimona. British intelligence concluded from this and other information that this "can only mean that Israel intends to produce nuclear weapons". The nuclear reactor at Dimona went critical in 1962. By 1965 the Israeli reprocessing plant was completed and ready to convert the reactor's fuel rods into weapons grade plutonium.
The exact cost for the construction of the Israeli nuclear program are unknown, though Peres later said that the reactor cost $80 million in 1960 dollars, half of which was raised by foreign Jewish donors, including many American Jews. Some of these donors were given a tour of the Dimona complex in 1968.
Weapons production 1967–present
Israel is believed to have begun full scale production of nuclear weapons following the 1967 Six-Day War, although it may have had bomb parts earlier. A CIA report from early 1967 stated that Israel had the materials to construct a bomb in six to eight weeks and some authors suggest that Israel had two crude bombs ready for use during the war. According to US journalist Seymour Hersh, everything was ready for production at this time save an official order to do so. Another CIA report from 1968 states that "(...) Israel might undertake a nuclear weapons program in the next several years." Moshe Dayan, then Defense Minister, believed that nuclear weapons were cheaper and more practical than indefinitely growing Israel's conventional forces. He convinced the Labor Party's economic boss Pinchas Sapir of the value of commencing the program by giving him a tour of the Dimona site in early 1968, and soon after Dayan decided that he had the authority to order the start of full production of four to five nuclear warheads a year. Hersh stated that it is widely believed that the words "Never Again" were welded, in English and Hebrew, onto the first warhead.
In order to produce plutonium the Israelis needed a large supply of uranium ore, some of which was procured by the Mossad on the pretense of buying it for an Italian chemical company in Milan. Once the uranium was shipped from Antwerp it was transferred to an Israeli freighter at sea and brought to Israel. The orchestrated disappearance of the uranium, named Operation Plumbat, became the subject of the 1978 book The Plumbat Affair.
Estimates as to how many warheads Israel has built since the late 1960s have varied, mainly based on the amount of fissile material that could have been produced and on the revelations of Israeli nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu.
By 1969, U.S. Defense Secretary Melvin Laird believed that Israel might have a nuclear weapon that year. Later that year, U.S. President Richard Nixon in a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir pressed Israel to "make no visible introduction of nuclear weapons or undertake a nuclear test program", so maintaining a policy of nuclear ambiguity. Before the Yom Kippur War Peres nonetheless wanted Israel to publicly demonstrate its nuclear capability to discourage an Arab attack, and fear of Israeli nuclear weapons may have discouraged Arab military strategy during the war from being as aggressive as it could have been.
The CIA believed that Israel's first bombs may have been made with highly enriched uranium stolen in the mid-1960s from the US Navy nuclear fuel plant operated by the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation, where sloppy material accounting would have masked the theft.
By 1974 US intelligence believed Israel had stockpiled a small number of fission weapons, and by 1979 were perhaps in a position to test a more advanced small tactical nuclear weapon or thermonuclear weapon trigger design.
The CIA believed that the number of Israeli nuclear weapons stayed from 10 to 20 from 1974 until the early 1980s. Vanunu's information in October 1986 said that based on a reactor operating at 150 megawatts and a production of 40 kg of plutonium per year, Israel had 100 to 200 nuclear devices. Vanunu revealed that between 1980–1986 Israel attained the ability to build thermonuclear weapons. By the mid 2000s estimates of Israel's arsenal ranged from 75 to 400 nuclear warheads.
Several reports have surfaced claiming that Israel has some uranium enrichment capability at Dimona. Vanunu asserted that gas centrifuges were operating in Machon 8, and that a laser enrichment plant was being operated in Machon 9 (Israel holds a 1973 patent on laser isotope separation). According to Vanunu, the production-scale plant has been operating since 1979–80. The scale of a centrifuge operation would necessarily be limited due to space constraints.[specify] Laser isotope separation, however, if developed to operational status, could be quite compact. If highly enriched uranium is being produced in substantial quantities, then Israel's nuclear arsenal could be much larger than estimated solely from plutonium production. Uranium enrichment could also be used to re-enrich reprocessed uranium into reactor fuel to more efficiently use Israel's uranium supply.
In 1991 alone, as the Soviet Union dissolved, nearly 20 top Jewish Soviet scientists reportedly emigrated to Israel, some of whom had been involved in operating nuclear power plants and planning for the next generation of Soviet reactors. In September 1992, German intelligence was quoted in the press as estimating that 40 top Jewish Soviet nuclear scientists had emigrated to Israel since 1989.
In a 2010 interview Uzi Eilam, former head of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission, told to the Israeli daily Maariv that the nuclear reactor in Dimona had been through extensive improvements and renovations and is now functioning as new, with no safety problems or hazard to the surrounding environment or the region.
Israel may have conducted an underground test in the Negev in 1963. On 2 November 1966, the country may have carried out a non-nuclear test, speculated to be zero yield or implosion in nature.
On 22 September 1979, a US Vela satellite, built in the 1960s to detect nuclear tests, reported a flash resembling a nuclear detonation in the southern Indian Ocean. The United States, under the Carter administration, initiated an investigation, and the United States' intelligence agencies concluded that the explosion was nuclear, and was a test conducted on an island controlled by South Africa. The intelligence community's estimate was that it was 90% likely to be a nuclear test and a secret study by the Nuclear Intelligence Panel agreed with that initial finding. However, the Carter administration then created a scientific panel led by MIT professor Jack Ruina, to analyze the reliability of the Vela detection; they concluded in July 1980 that the flash "was probably not from a nuclear explosion," Author Richard Rhodes asserts that the Carter administration was concerned about disrupting relations with South Africa, so the administration deliberately obscured their conclusions by putting forward a cover story that the flash was a result of natural causes. According to authors Richard Rhodes and Seymour Hersh, the explosion was a nuclear test conducted by Israel with the cooperation of South Africa. Hersch writes that the explosion was actually the third joint Israeli-South African nuclear test in the Indian Ocean, and the Israelis had sent two IDF ships and "a contingent of Israeli military men and nuclear experts" for the test.
The Israeli nuclear program was first revealed publicly on 13 December 1960 in a small Time article, which said that a non-Communist non-NATO country had made an "atomic development." On December 16, the Daily Express revealed this country to be Israel, and on December 18, US Atomic Energy Commission chairman John McCone appeared on Meet the Press to officially confirm the Israeli construction of a nuclear reactor and announce his resignation. The following day The New York Times, with the help of McCone, revealed that France was assisting Israel.
This flurry of media reporting led Ben-Gurion to make the only statement ever by an Israeli Prime Minister about Dimona. On December 21 he announced to the Knesset that the government was building a 24 megawatt reactor "which will serve the needs of industry, agriculture, health, and science," and that it "is designed exclusively for peaceful purposes." However, Ernst David Bergmann, chairman of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission from 1954 to 1966, said that "There is no distinction between nuclear energy for peaceful purposes or warlike ones"  and that "We shall never again be led as lambs to the slaughter".
The first public revelation of Israel's nuclear capability (as opposed to development program) came from NBC News, which reported in January 1969 that Israel decided "to embark on a crash course program to produce a nuclear weapon" two years previously, and that they possessed or would soon be in possession of such a device. This was initially dismissed by Israeli and US officials, as well as in an article in The New York Times. Just one year later on July 18, The New York Times made public for the first time that the US government believed Israel to possess nuclear weapons or to have the "capacity to assemble atomic bombs on short notice." Israel reportedly assembled 13 bombs during the Yom Kippur War as a last defense against total defeat, and kept them usable after the war.
The first extensive details of the weapons program came in the London based Sunday Times on 5 October 1986, which printed information provided by Mordechai Vanunu, a technician formerly employed at the Negev Nuclear Research Center near Dimona. For publication of state secrets Vanunu was kidnapped by the Mossad in Rome, brought back to Israel, and sentenced to 18 years in prison for treason and espionage. Although there had been much speculation prior to Vanunu's revelations that the Dimona site was creating nuclear weapons, Vanunu's information indicated that Israel had also built thermonuclear weapons.
South African documents
In 2010, The Guardian released South African government documents that it alleged confirmed the existence of Israel's nuclear arsenal. According to the newspaper, the documents are minutes taken by the South African side of alleged meetings between senior officials from the two countries in 1975. The Guardian alleged that these documents reveal that Israel had offered to sell South Africa nuclear weapons that year. The documents appeared to confirm information disclosed by a former South African naval commander, who said there was an agreement between Israel and South Africa which involved an offer by Israel to arm eight Jericho missiles with atomic bombs. Waldo Stumpf—who led a project to dismantle South Africa's nuclear weapons program—doubted Israel or South Africa would have contemplated a deal seriously, saying that Israel could not have offered to sell nuclear warheads to his country due to the serious international complications that such a deal could have. Shimon Peres, now Israeli President and then defence minister, has officially rejected the newspaper's claim that the alleged negotiations took place. He also asserted that The Guardian's conclusions were "based on the selective interpretation of South African documents and not on concrete facts."
Avner Cohen, author of Israel and the Bomb and the forthcoming The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel's Bargain with the Bomb, said "Nothing in the documents suggests there was an actual offer by Israel to sell nuclear weapons to the regime in Pretoria."
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. Estimates may vary due to the amount of material Israel has on store versus assembled weapons, and estimates as to how much material the weapons actually use, as well as the overall time in which the reactor was operated. Israel nuclear might is commonly estimated as moving between 200 to 400 warheads, equivalent to almost four thousand Hiroshima-type bombs.
- 1969– 5–6 bombs of 19 kilotons yield each
- 1974– 3 capable artillery battalions each with 12 175 mm tubes and a total of 108 warheads; 10 bombs
- 1976– 10–20 nuclear weapons
- 1985– at least 100 nuclear bombs
- 1986– 100 to 200 fission bombs and a number of fusion bombs
- 1991– 50–60 to 200–300
- 1992– more than 200 bombs
- 1995– 66–116 bombs (at 5 kg/warhead); 70–80 bombs; "A complete Repertoire" (neutron bombs, nuclear mines, suitcase bombs, submarine-borne)
- 1996– 60–80 plutonium weapons, maybe more than 100 assembled, ER variants, varitable yields
- 1997– More than 400 deliverable thermonuclear and nuclear weapons 
- 2002– Between 75 and 200 weapons
- 2004– 82
- 2006– Federation of American Scientists believes that Israel "could have produced enough plutonium for at least 100 nuclear weapons, but probably not significantly more than 200 weapons".
- 2008– 150 or more nuclear weapons.
- 2008– 80 intact warheads, of which 50 are re-entry vehicles for delivery by ballistic missiles and the rest bombs for delivery by aircraft. Total military plutonium stockpile 340–560 kg.
- 2009– Estimates of weapon numbers differ sharply with plausible estimates varying from 60 to 400.
- 2010– According to Jane's Defense Weekly Israel has between 100 and 300 nuclear warheads, most of them are probably being kept in unassembled mode but can become fully functional "in a matter of days".
- 2010– "[M]ore than 100 weapons, mainly two-stage thermonuclear devices, capable of being delivered by missile, fighter-bomber, or submarine"
Israeli military forces possess land, air, and sea based methods for deploying their nuclear weapons, thus forming nuclear triad that is mainly medium to long ranged, the backbone of which is submarine launched cruise missiles and medium and intercontinental ballistic missiles, with Israeli Air Force tactical aircraft fulfilling the role normally played by strategic bombers in the Russian and American strategic deterrent. During 2008 the Jericho III ICBM became operational, giving Israel extremely long range nuclear strike abilities.
Israel is believed to have second-strike abilities in the form of its submarines fleet and its nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, which are buried so far underground they would survive a nuclear strike. Ernst David Bergmann was the first to seriously begin thinking about ballistic missile capability and Israel test-fired its first Shavit II missile in July 1961. It was not until 1963 when Israel actually put a large-scale project into motion, spending $100 million to jointly develop and build 25 short-range missiles with the French aerospace company Dassault. The Israeli project, codenamed Project 700, also included the construction of a missile field at Hirbat Zacharia, a site west of Jerusalem. The missiles that were first developed with France became the Jericho I system, first operational in 1971. It is possible that the Jericho I was removed from operational service during the 1990s. In the mid 1980s the Jericho II medium-range missile, which is believed to have a range of 2800–5000 km, entered service. It is believed that Jericho II is capable of delivering nuclear weapons with a superior degree of accuracy. The Shavit three stages solid fuel space launch vehicle produced by Israel to launch many of its satellites into low earth orbit since 1988 is actually a civilian version of the Jericho II. The Jericho III ICBM, became operational in January 2008  and some reports speculate that the missile may be able to carry MIRVed warheads. The maximum range estimation of the Jericho III is 11,500 km with a payload of 1000–1300 kg (up to six small nuclear warheads of 100 kt each or one 1 megaton nuclear warhead), and its accuracy is considered high. In January 2008 Israel has carried out the successful test launch of a long-range, ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead from the reported launch site at the Palmachim air base south of Tel Aviv. Israeli radio identified the missile as a Jericho III and the Hebrew YNet news Web site quoted unnamed defence officials as saying the test had been "dramatic" and that the new missile can reach "extremely long distances," without elaborating. Soon after the successful test launch, Isaac Ben-Israel, a retired army general and Tel Aviv University professor who is now an MP, told Israeli Channel 2 TV:
- "Everybody can do the math and understand that the significance is that we can reach with a rocket engine to every point in the world"
The test came two days after Ehud Olmert, then Israel's Prime Minister, warned that "all options were on the table to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons" and few months after Israel bombed Syrian facility that was suspected as nuclear plant, built with extensive help from North Korea. At the same time, regional defence experts said that by the beginning of 2008 Israel has already launched a programme to extend the range of its existing Jericho II ground attack missiles. The Jericho-II B missile is capable of sending a one ton nuclear payload 5,000 kilometers. The range of Israels' Jericho II B missiles is reportedly capable of being modified to carry nuclear warheads no heavier than 500 kg over 7,800 km, making it an ICBM. It is estimated that Israel has between 50 and 100 Jericho II B missiles based at facilities which were built in the 1980s. However, the number of Jericho III missiles that Israel possesses is unknown.
Israel lacks strategic bombers to deliver nuclear weapons over a long-range, although its F-16 fighter aircraft have been cited as possible nuclear delivery systems. The U.S. Air Force F-15 has tactical nuclear weapon capability.
The Israeli Air Force possesses the following types of strike fighters:
The Israeli Navy operates modern German-built Dolphin-class submarines. First three Dolphins were delivered to Israel in 1999 and replaced the aging Gal class submarines, which had served in the Israeli navy since the late-1970s. Various reports indicate that these submarines are equipped with Popeye Turbo cruise missiles that can deliver nuclear warheads with extremely high accuracy. The proven effectiveness of cruise missiles of its own production may have been behind Israel’s recent acquisition of these submarines which are equipped with torpedo tubes suitable for launching long-range (1500–2400 km) nuclear-capable cruise missiles that would offer Israel a second strike capability. Israel is reported to possess a 200 kg nuclear warhead, containing 6 kg of plutonium, that could be mounted on cruise missiles. The missiles were reportedly test launched in the Indian Ocean near Sri Lanka in June 2000, and are reported to have hit their target at a range of 1500 km.In June 2002, former State Department and Pentagon officials confirmed that the U.S. Navy observed Israeli missile tests in the Indian Ocean in 2000, and that the Dolphin-class vessels have been fitted with nuclear-capable cruise missiles of a new design.It is believed by some to be a version of Rafael Armament Development Authority’s Popeye turbo cruise missile while some believe that the missile may be a version of the Gabriel 4LR that is produced by Israel Aircraft Industries. However, others claim that such a range implies an entirely new type of missile. During the second half of the 1990s, Israel asked the United States to sell it 50 Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles to enhance its deep-strike capabilities. Washington rejected Israel's request in March 1998, since such a sale would have violated the Missile Technology Control Regime guidelines, which prohibit the transfer of missiles with a range exceeding 300 km. Shortly after the rejection, an Israeli official told Defense News, "History has taught us that we cannot wait indefinitely for Washington to satisfy our military requirements. If this weapon system is denied to us, we will have little choice but to activate our own defense industry in pursuit of this needed capability." In July 1998, the Air Intelligence Center warned the U.S. Congress that Israel was developing a cruise missile of new type.
According to Israeli defence sources, in June 2009 Israeli Dolphin-class submarine sailed from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea via Suez Canal during a drill that showed that Israel can access the Indian Ocean, and the Persian Gulf, far more easily than before. IDF sources said the decision to allow navy vessels to sail through the canal was made recently and was a definite "change of policy" within the service. Israeli officials said the sub passed through the canal above water. In the event of a conflict with Iran, and if Israel decided to involve its Dolphin-class submarines, the quickest route would be to send them through the Suez Canal.
The Israeli fleet was expanded after Israel signed 1.3 billion euro contract to purchase two additional submarines from ThyssenKrupp's subsidiary HDW in 2006. These two U212s are to be delivered to the Israeli sea corps in 2011 and are "Dolphin II" class submarines. The submarines are believed to be capable of launching cruise missiles carrying nuclear warheads, despite statements by the German government in 2006, in confirming the sale of the two vessels, that they were not equipped to carry nuclear weapons. The two new boats are an upgraded version of the old Dolphins, and equipped with an Air-independent propulsion system, that allow them to remain submerged for longer periods of time than the three nuclear arms-capable submarines that have been in Israel's fleet since 1999. In October 2009 it was reported that the Israeli navy sought to buy a sixth Dolphin class submarine.
It has been reported that Israel has several other nuclear weapons capabilities:
- Suitcase bomb: Seymour Hersh reports that Israel developed the ability to miniaturize warheads small enough to fit in a suitcase by the year 1973.
- Tactical nuclear weapon: Israel may also have 175 mm and 203 mm self-propelled artillery pieces, capable of firing nuclear shells. There are three battalions of the 175mm artillery (36 tubes), reportedly with 108 nuclear shells and more for the 203mm tubes. If true, these low yield, tactical nuclear artillery rounds could reach at least 25 miles (40 km), while by some sources it is possible that the range was extended to 45 miles (72 km) during the 1990s.
- EMP strike capabilities: Israel allegedly possesses several 1 megaton bombs, which give it a very large EMP attack abilities. For example, if a megaton class weapon were to be detonated 400 kilometers above Omaha, Nebraska, USA, nearly the entire continental United States would be affected with potentially damaging EMP experience from Boston to Los Angeles and from Chicago to New Orleans. Similarly, a high altitude airburst could cause serious damage to electrical systems in most of Iran.
- Enhanced Radiation Weapon (ERW): Israel also is reported to have an unknown number of neutron bombs.
Israel’s refusal to admit it has nuclear weapons or to state its policy on use of them make it necessary to gather details from other sources, including unauthorized statements by its political and military leaders.
Although Israel has officially acknowledged the existence of Dimona since Ben-Gurion's speech to the Knesset in December 1960, Israel has never officially acknowledged its construction or possession of nuclear weapons. In addition to this policy, on 18 May 1966 Prime Minister Levi Eshkol told the Knesset that "Israel has no atomic weapons and will not be the first to introduce them into our region," a policy first articulated by Shimon Peres to US President John F. Kennedy in April 1963. In the late 1960s, Israeli Ambassador to the US Yitzhak Rabin informed the United States State Department that its understanding of "introducing" such weapons meant that they would be tested and publicly declared, while merely possessing the weapons did not constitute "introducing" them. Avner Cohen defines this initial posture as "nuclear ambiguity," but he defines the stage after it became clear by 1970 that Israel possessed nuclear weapons as a policy of amimut, or "nuclear opacity."
In 1998, former Prime Minister Shimon Peres said that Israel "built a nuclear option, not in order to have a Hiroshima but an Oslo". The "nuclear option" may refer to a nuclear weapon or to the nuclear reactor near Dimona, which Israel claims is used for scientific research. Peres, in his capacity as the Director General of the Ministry of Defense in the early 1950s, was responsible for building Israel's nuclear capability.
In a December 2006 interview, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stated that Iran aspires "to have a nuclear weapon as America, France, Israel and Russia." Olmert's office later said that the quote was taken out of context; in other parts of the interview, Olmert refused to confirm or deny Israel's nuclear weapon status.
Israel's nuclear doctrine is shaped by its lack of strategic depth: a subsonic fighter jet could cross the 72 kilometres (39 nmi) from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea in just 4 minutes. It additionally relies on a reservist-based military which magnifies civilian and military losses in its small population. Israel tries to compensate for these weaknesses by emphasising intelligence, maneuverability and firepower.
As a result, its strategy is based on the premise that it cannot afford to lose a single war, and thus must prevent them by maintaining deterrence, including the option of preemption. If these steps are insufficient, it seeks to prevent escalation and determine a quick and decisive war outside of its borders.
Strategically, Israel's long-range missiles, nuclear capable aircraft, and possibly its submarines present an effective second strike deterrence against unconventional and conventional attack, and if Israel's defences fail and its population centres be threatened, the Samson Option, an all out attack against an adversary, would be employed. Its nuclear arsenal can also be used tactically.
Although nuclear weapons are viewed as the ultimate guarantor of Israeli security, as early as the 1960s the country has avoided building its military around them, instead pursuing absolute conventional superiority so as to forestall a last resort nuclear engagement.
According to historian Avner Cohen, Israel first articulated an official policy on the use of nuclear weapons in 1966, which revolved around four "red lines" that could lead to a nuclear response:
- A successful military penetration into populated areas within Israel's post-1949 (pre-1967) borders.
- The destruction of the Israeli Air Force.
- The exposure of Israeli cities to massive and devastating air attacks or to possible chemical or biological attacks.
- The use of nuclear weapons against Israeli territory.
On 8 October 1973 just after the start of the Yom Kippur War, Golda Meir and her closest aides decided to put eight nuclear armed F-4s at Tel Nof Airbase on 24 hour alert and as many nuclear missile launchers at Sedot Mikha Airbase operational as possible. Seymour Hersh adds that the initial target list that night "included the Egyptian and Syrian military headquarters near Cairo and Damascus." This nuclear alert was meant not only as a means of precaution, but to push the Soviets to restrain the Arab offensive and to convince the US to begin sending supplies. One later report said that a Soviet intelligence officer did warn the Egyptian chief of staff, and colleagues of US National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger said that the threat of a nuclear exchange caused him to urge for a massive Israeli resupply. Hersh points out that before Israel obtained its own satellite capability, it engaged in espionage against the United States to obtain nuclear targeting information on Soviet targets.
Israeli military and nuclear doctrine increasingly focused on preemptive war against any possible attack with conventional, chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, or even a potential conventional attack on Israel's weapons of mass destruction.
Louis René Beres, who contributed to Project Daniel, urges that Israel continue and improve these policies, in concert with the increasingly preemptive nuclear policies of the United States, as revealed in the Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations.
After Iraq attacked Israel with Scud missiles during the 1991 Gulf War, Israel went on full-scale nuclear alert and mobile nuclear missile launchers were deployed. In the build up to the United States 2003 invasion of Iraq, there were concerns that Iraq would launch an unconventional weapons attack on Israel. After discussions with President George W. Bush, the then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon warned "If our citizens are attacked seriously — by a weapon of mass destruction, chemical, biological or by some mega-terror attack act — and suffer casualties, then Israel will respond." Israeli officials interpreted President Bush's stance as allowing a nuclear Israeli retaliation on Iraq, but only if Iraq struck before the US military invasion.
Maintaining nuclear superiority
Alone or with other nations, Israel has used diplomatic and military efforts as well as covert action to prevent other Middle Eastern countries from acquiring nuclear weapons.
For example, it is believed that Israel filed a false laser patent in the late 1970s to mislead Arab nuclear research. Mossad agents triggered explosions in April 1979 at a French production plant near Toulouse, damaging the two reactor cores destined for the Iraqi reactors. Mossad agents may also have been behind the assassinations of an Egyptian nuclear engineer in Paris as well as two Iraqi engineers, all working for the Iraqi nuclear program.
On 7 June 1981, Israel launched a preemptive air strike against Saddam Hussein's breeder reactor in Osirak, Iraq, in Operation Opera. The Mossad – as well as any number of other intelligence agencies – are also frequently said to have assassinated professor Gerald Bull, an artillery expert, who was allegedly building a massive cannon or "super gun" for Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, which was capable of delivering a tactical nuclear payload.
On 6 September 2007, Israel launched an air strike dubbed Operation Orchard against a target in the Deir ez-Zor region of Syria. While Israel refused to comment, unnamed US officials said Israel had shared intelligence with them that North Korea was cooperating with Syria on some sort of nuclear facility. Both Syria and North Korea denied the allegation and Syria filed a formal complaint with the United Nations. The International Atomic Energy Agency concluded in May 2011 that the destroyed facility was "very likely" an undeclared nuclear reactor.
Journalist Seymour Hersh speculated that this air strike might have been intended as a trial run for striking alleged Iranian nuclear weapons facilities. On January 7, 2007 The Sunday Times reported that Israel had drawn up plans to destroy three Iranian nuclear facilities with low-yield nuclear bunker-busters that would be launched by aircraft through "tunnels" created by conventional laser-guided bombs. These tactical nuclear weapons would then explode underground to reduce radioactive fallout. Israel swiftly denied the specific allegation and analysts expressed doubts about its reliability. However, in 2004 its then Defense minister said that it rules out no option. The death of the Iranian physicist Ardeshir Hassanpour, who may have been involved in the nuclear program, has been reported by the intelligence group Stratfor to have been a Mossad assassination. Iran is currently conducting atomic research that Israel fears is aimed at building a nuclear weapon. Israel has pressed for United Nations economic sanctions against Iran, and has repeatedly threatened to launch a military strike on Iran if the United States does not do so first.
The 2010 Stuxnet malware targeting Iran's nuclear program is widely believed to have been sponsored by Israel. In 2009, a year before Stuxnet was discovered, researcher Scott Borg suggested that Israel might prefer to mount a cyber-attack rather than a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. Iran uses IR-1 centrifuges at Natanz, which are based on the P-1 centrifuge, the design A. Q. Khan stole in 1976 and took to Pakistan. His black market nuclear-proliferation network sold P-1s to, among other customers, Iran and Libya. Experts believe that Israel also somehow acquired P-1s and tested Stuxnet on the centrifuges, installed at the Dimona facility that is part of its own nuclear program. The equipment may be from the United States, which received P-1s from Libya's former nuclear program.
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and United Nations’ Resolutions
Israel was originally expected to sign the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and on 12 June 1968 Israel voted in favor of the treaty in the UN General Assembly. But when the invasion of Czechoslovakia in August by the Soviet Union delayed ratification around the world, Israel's internal division and hesitation over the treaty became public. The Johnson administration attempted to use the sale of 50 F-4 Phantoms to pressure Israel to sign the treaty that fall, culminating in a personal letter from Lyndon Johnson to Israeli PM Levi Eshkol. But by November Johnson had backed away from tying the F-4 sale with the NPT after a stalemate in negotiations, and Israel would neither sign nor ratify the treaty. After the series of negotiations, US assistant secretary of defense for international security Paul Warnke was convinced that Israel already possessed nuclear weapons. In 2007 Israel sought an exemption to non-proliferation rules in order to import atomic material legally.
In 1996 the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the region of the Middle East. Arab nations and annual conferences of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) repeatedly have called for application of IAEA safeguards and the creation of a nuclear-free Middle East. Arab nations have accused the United States of practicing a double standard in criticizing Iran's nuclear program while ignoring Israel's possession of nuclear weapons. According to a statement by the Arab League, Arab states will withdraw from the NPT if Israel acknowledges having nuclear weapons but refuses to open its facilities to international inspection and destroy its arsenal.
In a statement to the May 2009 preparatory meeting for the 2010 NPT Review Conference, the U.S. delegation reiterated the longstanding U.S. support for "universal adherence to the NPT," but uncharacteristically named Israel among the four countries that have not done so. An unnamed Israeli official dismissed the suggestion that it would join the NPT and questioned the effectiveness of the treaty. The Washington Times reported that this statement threatened to derail the 40-year-old secret agreement between the US and Israel to shield Israel's nuclear weapons program from international scrutiny, while Avner Cohen, author of Israel and the Bomb, argued that acknowledging its nuclear program would allow Israel to take part constructively in efforts to control nuclear weapons.
The Final Document of the 2010 NPT Review Conference calls for a conference in 2012 to implement a resolution of the 1995 NPT Review Conference that calls for the establishment of a Middle East Zone free of weapons of mass destruction. The United States joined the international consensus for Final Document, but criticized the section on the Middle East resolution for singling out Israel as the only state in the region that is not party to the NPT, while at the same time ignoring Iran's non-compliance with its NPT obligations.
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- ^ Walter Pincus, Push for Nuclear-Free Middle East Resurfaces; Arab Nations Seek Answers About Israel, Washington Post, Sunday, March 6, 2005, page A24; Israel-Arab spat at nuclear talks, BBC, September 28, 2005;IAEA conference urges efforts for nuclear-free Mideast
- ^ "Arab League vows to drop out of NPT if Israel admits it has nuclear weapons". Haaretz. 2008-03-05. http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/961275.html. Retrieved 2008-03-10.
- ^ Stronger Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Needed, Obama Says, Global Security Newswire, May 6, 2009
- ^ Lake, Eli, "Secret U.S.-Israel Nuclear Accord In Jeopardy", Washington Times, May 6, 2009, p. 1.
- ^ COHEN: Nuclear ban benefits for Israel, Avner Cohen, Washington Times, May 6, 2009.
- ^ Statement by the National Security Advisor, General James L. Jones, on the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, White House, Office of the Press Secretary, May 28, 2010.
- Cohen, Avner. Israel and the Bomb. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-231-10483-9
- Hersh, Seymour M. The Samson Option. New York: Random House, 1991. ISBN 0-394-57006-5
- Rhodes, Richard (24 August 2010). The Twilight of the Bombs: Recent Challenges, New Dangers, and the Prospects for a World Without Nuclear Weapons. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. ISBN 9780307267542. http://books.google.com/books?id=SdKtAYCLvJAC. Retrieved 4 June 2011.
- Israel Profile at 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
- Bibliography of Israeli Nuclear Science Publications, Mark Gorman, Federation of American Scientists
- History of a hot potato by Yehiam Weitz, Haaretz, January 14, 2005
- IIBR official website The Israel Institute for Biological Research
- Israel at Nuclear Files.org, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
- Nuclear Stockpiles Current information on nuclear stockpiles in Israel at Nuclear Files.org, 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
- Israel deploys nuclear arms in submarines by Peter Beaumont and Conal Urquhart, The Observer, October 12, 2003
- 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
- Annotated bibliography for the Israeli nuclear weapons program from the Alsos Digital Library on Nuclear Issues
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