While the world focuses on the nuclear programs of both Iran and North Korea, one rogue nuclear nation gets a complete pass; Israel. While Israel's nuclear program has long been a guarded secret, thanks to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and this year's 2019 Yearbook, we know have a better idea of what nuclear weapons Israel has in its possession.
Let's start by looking at a summary of the world's nuclear arsenal. At the beginning of 2019, nine nations – the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, China, France, India, Pakistan, Israel and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea possessed approximately 13,865 nuclear weapons, down from 14,465 at the beginning of 2018. Of the 13,865 nuclear weapons, 3,750 are deployed (i.e. placed on missiles or located with operational forces) and nearly 2000 of these are considered to be in a state of "high operational alert". The year-over-year decline in nuclear weapons is due to Russia and the United States reducing their inventory because of the terms of the 2010 Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms or New START as well as unilateral reductions on both sides. While this is an improvement, both nations have reduced the rate of nuclear weapons reductions over the past decade and both have programs in place to replace and modernize their nuclear weapons production facilities, warheads, missiles and aircraft delivery systems. China is also increasing the size and diversifying its inventory of nuclear weapons. India and Pakistan are expanding their capabilities to produce fissile materials that could ultimately lead to future increases in their nuclear weapons inventories over the next ten years.
Now, let's focus on Israel, a nation that has a long history of being very secretive about its nuclear weapons program. According to SIPRI and the Jerusalem Post, Israel currently has between 80 and 90 nuclear warheads. SIPRI claims that approximately 30 of these weapons are gravity bombs that can be delivered to their targets by fighter jets and 50 warheads that have the capability of being delivered by land-based ballistic missile systems including the Jericho III intermediate-range ballistic missile which has a range of between 4,800 and 6,500 kilometres (which puts it into the intercontinental ballistic missile family) as shown on this spec sheet:
According to Missile Threat, the Jericho III missile is equipped with a 750 kg nuclear warhead which has a yield of between 150 kilotons and 400 kilotons. These missiles are currently stationed in underground caves located to the south-west of Tel Aviv.
There are also unconfirmed reports that Israel has modified its Dolphin class submarine fleet to carry nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missiles.
You will notice that there is a great deal of uncertainty about Israel's inventory of nuclear weapons. According to the Federation of American Scientists, there are a wide range of estimates as shown on this graphic:
Israel has two nuclear research facilities at Dimona and Soreq. The Dimona facility is located in the Negev Desert, 13 kilometres to the south-east of the city of Dimona. Construction on the Dimona facility began in 1958 and was founded with the following mandate:
1.) The Nuclear Research Center NEGEV or NRCN was part of the national policy to develop the Negev desert.
2.) The IRR-2 reactor operates on the NRCN with nuclear fuel, heavy water cooled and moderated.
3.) Periodic authorizations to operate the reactor are granted following extensive safety tests.
4.) The research conducted at the NRCN is designed to broaden the basic knowledge in nuclear sciences and adjacent fields, and to provide the foundation for the practical and economic utilization of nuclear energy.
5.)A national radioactive waste disposal site is situated at the NRCN. Radioactive waste from hospitals, research institutions, higher education facilities and factories is delivered to the site.
6.) NRCN personnel are involved in the community, especially in the field of education, and maintain good connections with the local authorities around NRCN.
It is believed that the Dimona research centre produced its first nuclear weapon in 1967. The reactor at Dimona is the source for the fissile material used in Israel's nuclear weapons.
Here is a satellite photo of the Dimona research centre:
With that background, let's look at recent developments in Israel and the links to its nuclear program. In August 2018, Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a speech at the Dimona nuclear research centre, announcing the renaming of the facility to the Shimon Peres Negev Nuclear Research Center. In the speech, he made the following comment when discussing the relationship between Syria and Iran, a comment that must be put into the context of his presence at Israel's key nuclear research facility:
"Those who threaten to wipe us out put themselves in a similar danger, and in any event will not achieve their goal…our enemies know very well what Israel is capable of, they know our policy, and anyone who tries to harm us – we will harm them.”
In other words, if you see something that looks even remotely like this and you happen to be in Iran, you might want to consider ducking and covering:
He also tweeted the following rather ironic threat:
I guess that the beauty of "strength" depends on your point of view, doesn't it?
Let's close with this thought. Israel is one of only four nations in the world that has refused to sign the 1970 Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons or NPT. The other nations that have not signed the NPT are India and Pakistan with North Korea announcing its withdrawal in 2003. Somehow Israel's refusal to sign the NPT is seen as acceptable by Washington yet these same people are paranoid about Iran and North Korea's development of nuclear weapons capabilities. Given that Israel lied to the United States about its nuclear weapons development program, one has to wonder what goes through the minds of the braintrust in Washington when it comes to the double standard that it has set for nuclear weaponization.
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