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Is Israel a real threat?
Designation Stages Type Range Inventory
Lance 1 solid 130 km
Jericho 1 1 solid ~500 km ? 50
Jericho 2 2 solid 1,500-4,000 km ? 50
Popeye Turbo 1 turbojet 200 - km 2000 12 Submarine- launched
The Israeli nuclear weapons program grew out of the conviction that the Holocaust justified any measures Israel took to ensure its survival. Consequently, Israel has been actively investigating the nuclear option from its earliest days. In 1949, HEMED GIMMEL a special unit of the IDF's Science Corps, began a two-year geological survey of the Negev desert with an eye toward the discovery of uranium reserves. Although no significant sources of uranium were found, recoverable amounts were located in phosphate deposits.
The program took another step forward with the creation of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC) in 1952. Its chairman, Ernst David Bergmann, had long advocated an Israeli bomb as the best way to ensure "that we shall never again be led as lambs to the slaughter." Bergmann was also head of the Ministry of Defense's Research and Infrastructure Division (known by its Hebrew acronym, EMET), which had taken over the HEMED research centers (HEMED GIMMEL among them, now renamed Machon 4) as part of a reorganization. Under Bergmann, the line between the IAEC and EMET blurred to the point that Machon 4 functioned essentially as the chief laboratory for the IAEC. By 1953, Machon 4 had not only perfected a process for extracting the uranium found in the Negev, but had also developed a new method of producing heavy water, providing Israel with an indigenous capability to produce some of the most important nuclear materials.
For reactor design and construction, Israel sought the assistance of France. Nuclear cooperation between the two nations dates back as far as early 1950's, when construction began on France's 40MWt heavy water reactor and a chemical reprocessing plant at Marcoule. France was a natural partner for Israel and both governments saw an independent nuclear option as a means by which they could maintain a degree of autonomy in the bipolar environment of the cold war.
In the fall of 1956, France agreed to provide Israel with an 18 MWt research reactor. However, the onset of the Suez Crisis a few weeks later changed the situation dramatically. Following Egypt's closure of the Suez Canal in July, France and Britain had agreed with Israel that the latter should provoke a war with Egypt to provide the European nations with the pretext to send in their troops as peacekeepers to occupy and reopen the canal zone. In the wake of the Suez Crisis, the Soviet Union made a thinly veiled threat against the three nations. This episode not only enhanced the Israeli view that an independent nuclear capability was needed to prevent reliance on potentially unreliable allies, but also led to a sense of debt among French leaders that they had failed to fulfill commitments made to a partner. French premier Guy Mollet is even quoted as saying privately that France "owed" the bomb to Israel.
On 3 October 1957, France and Israel signed a revised agreement calling for France to build a 24 MWt reactor (although the cooling systems and waste facilities were designed to handle three times that power) and, in protocols that were not committed to paper, a chemical reprocessing plant. This complex was constructed in secret, and outside the IAEA inspection regime, by French and Israeli technicians at Dimona, in the Negev desert under the leadership of Col. Manes Pratt of the IDF Ordinance Corps.
Both the scale of the project and the secrecy involved made the construction of Dimona a massive undertaking. A new intelligence agency, the Office of Science Liasons,(LEKEM) was created to provide security and intelligence for the project. At the height construction, some 1,500 Israelis some French workers were employed building Dimona. To maintain secrecy, French customs officials were told that the largest of the reactor components, such as the reactor tank, were part of a desalinization plant bound for Latin America. In addition, after buying heavy water from Norway on the condition that it not be transferred to a third country, the French Air Force secretly flew as much as four tons of the substance to Israel.
Trouble arose in May 1960, when France began to pressure Israel to make the project public and to submit to international inspections of the site, threatening to withhold the reactor fuel unless they did. President de Gaulle was concerned that the inevitable scandal following any revelations about French assistance with the project, especially the chemical reprocessing plant, would have negative repercussions for France's international position, already on shaky ground because of its war in Algeria.
At a subsequent meeting with Ben-Gurion, de Gaulle offered to sell Israel fighter aircraft in exchange for stopping work on the reprocessing plant, and came away from the meeting convinced that the matter was closed. It was not. Over the next few months, Israel worked out a compromise. France would supply the uranium and components already placed on order and would not insist on international inspections. In return, Israel would assure France that they had no intention of making atomic weapons, would not reprocess any plutonium, and would reveal the existence of the reactor, which would be completed without French assistance. In reality, not much changed - French contractors finished work on the reactor and reprocessing plant, uranium fuel was delivered and the reactor went critical in 1964.
The United States first became aware of Dimona's existence after U-2 overflights in 1958 captured the facility's construction, but it was not identified as a nuclear site until two years later. The complex was variously explained as a textile plant, an agricultural station, and a metallurgical research facility, until David Ben-Gurion stated in December 1960 that Dimona complex was a nuclear research center built for "peaceful purposes."
There followed two decades in which the United States, through a combination of benign neglect, erroneous analysis, and successful Israeli deception, failed to discern first the details of Israel's nuclear program. As early as 8 December 1960, the CIA issued a report outlining Dimona's implications for nuclear proliferation, and the CIA station in Tel Aviv had determined by the mid-1960s that the Israeli nuclear weapons program was an established and irreversible fact.
United States inspectors visited Dimona seven times during the 1960s, but they were unable to obtain an accurate picture of the activities carried out there, largely due to tight Israeli control over the timing and agenda of the visits. The Israelis went so far as to install false control room panels and to brick over elevators and hallways that accessed certain areas of the facility. The inspectors were able to report that there was no clear scientific research or civilian nuclear power program justifying such a large reactor - circumstantial evidence of the Israeli bomb program - but found no evidence of "weapons related activities" such as the existence of a plutonium reprocessing plant.
Although the United States government did not encourage or approve of the Israeli nuclear program, it also did nothing to stop it. Walworth Barbour, US ambassador to Israel from 1961-73, the bomb program's crucial years, primarily saw his job as being to insulate the President from facts which might compel him to act on the nuclear issue, alledgedly saying at one point that "The President did not send me there to give him problems. He does not want to be told any bad news." After the 1967 war, Barbour even put a stop to military attachĂ©s' intelligence collection efforts around Dimona. Even when Barbour did authorize forwarding information, as he did in 1966 when embassy staff learned that Israel was beginning to put nuclear warheads in missiles, the message seemed to disappear into the bureaucracy and was never acted upon.
In early 1968, the CIA issued a report concluding that Israel had successfully started production of uclear weapons. This estimate, however, was based on an informal conversation between Carl Duckett, head of the CIA's Office of Science and Technology, and Edward Teller, father of the hydrogen bomb. Teller said that, based on conversations with friends in the Israeli scientific and defense establishment, he had concluded that Israel was capable of building the bomb, and that the CIA should not wait for an Israeli test to make a final assessment because that test would never be carried out.
CIA estimates of the Israeli arsenal's size did not improve with time. In 1974, Duckett estimated that Israel had between ten and twenty nuclear weapons. The upper bound was derived from CIA speculation regarding the number of possible Israeli targets, and not from any specific intelligence. Because this target list was presumed to be relatively static, this remained the official American estimate until the early 1980s.
The actual size and composition of Israel's nuclear stockpile is uncertain, and is the subject of various estimates and reports. It is widely reported that Israel had two bombs in 1967, and that Prime Minister Eshkol ordered them armed in Israel's first nuclear alert during the Six-Day War. It is also reported that, fearing defeat in the October 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Israelis assembled 13 twenty-kiloton atomic bombs.
Israel could potentially have produced a few dozen nuclear warheads in the period 1970-1980, and might have possessed 100 to 200 warheads by the mid-1990s. In 1986 descriptions and photographs of Israeli nuclear warheads were published in the London Sunday Times of a purported underground bomb factory. The photographs were taken by Mordechai Vanunu, a dismissed Israeli nuclear technician. His information led some experts to conclude that Israel had a stockpile of 100 to 200 nuclear devices at that time.
By the late 1990s the U.S. Intelligence Community estimated that Israel possessed between 75-130 weapons, based on production estimates. The stockpile would certainly include warheads for mobile Jericho-1 and Jericho-2 missiles, as well as bombs for Israeli aircraft, and may include other tactical nuclear weapons of various types. Some published estimates even claimed that Israel might have as many as 400 nuclear weapons by the late 1990s, but these numbers appear exaggerated.
The Dimona nuclear reactor is the source of plutonium for Israeli nuclear weapons, and the number of nuclear weapons that could have been produced by Israel can be estimated on the basis of the power level of this reactor. Information made public in 1986 by Mordechai Vanunu indicated that at that time, weapons grade plutonium was being produced at a rate of about 40 kilograms annually. If this figure corresponded with the steady-state capacity of the entire Dimona facility, analysts suggested that the reactor might have a power level of at least 150 megawatts, about twice the power level at which is was believed to be operating around 1970. To accomodate this higher power level, analysts had suggested that Israel had constructed an enlarged cooling system. An alternative interpretation of the information supplied by Vanunu was that the reactor's power level had remained at about 75 megawatts, and that the production rate of plutonium in the early 1980s reflected a backlog of previously generated material.
The upper and lower plausible limits on Israel's stockpile may be bounded by considering several variables, several of which are generic to any nuclear weapons program. The reactor may have operated an average of between 200 and 300 days annually, and produced approximately 0.9 to 1.0 grams of plutonium for each thermal megawatt day. Israel may use between 4 and 5 kilograms of plutonium per weapon [5 kilograms is a conservative estimate, and Vanunu reported that Israeli weapons used 4 kg].
The key variable that is specific to Israel is the power level of the reactor, which is variously reported to be at least 75 MWt and possibly as high as 200 MWt. High-resolution satellite imagery from Space Imaging Corporation's IKONOS satellite provided important insight this matter. The cooling towers associated with the Dimona reactor are clearly visible and identifiable in satellite imagery. Comparison of this commercial IKONOS imagery with declassified American CORONA reconnaissance satellite imagery indicates that no new cooling towers were constructed in the years between 1971 and 2000. This suggests that the reactor's power level has not been increased significantly during this period. This would suggest an annual production rate of plutonium of about 20 kilograms. It is also possible that the Israelis increased the thermal capacity of the existing cooling towers by means that are not readily apparent in this imagery, and thus the imagery cannot positively exclude an increase in the reactor's power level and plutonium output.
Based on plausible upper and lower bounds of the operating practices at the reactor, Israel could have thus produced enough plutonium for at least 100 nuclear weapons, but probably not significantly more than 200 weapons.
Some type of non-nuclear test, perhaps a zero yield or implosion test, occurred on 2 November 1966 [possibly at Al-Naqab in the Negev]. There is no evidence that Israel has ever carried out a nuclear test, although many observers speculated that a suspected nuclear explosion in the southern Indian Ocean in 1979 was a joint South African-Israeli test.
Three 1,925 ton Type 800 Dolphin class submarines have been built in German shipyards for the Israel Navy. Modern submarines with the most advanced sailing and combat systems in the world, they combine extensive sophistication with very easy operation. The purpose of these submarines is to enable the Israel Navy to meet all the tasks faced in the Mediterranean Sea in the 21st century. The submarines cost $320 million each, and are twice as big as the aging Gal-class submarines that the Israeli navy has relied on to date.
The submarine has the capacity to carry anti-ship missiles, mines, decoys and STN Atlas wire-guided DM2A3 torpedoes. The surface-to-surface missiles may include the submarine-launched Harpoon which delivers a 227 kilogram warhead to a range of 130 kilometres at high subsonic speed. It is generally agreed that these submarines are outfitted with six 533-millimeter torpedo tubes suitable for the 21-inch torpedoes that are normally used on most submarines, including those of the United States.
Some reports suggest that the submarines have a total of ten torpedo tubes -- six 533-millimeter and four 650-millimeter. Uniquely, the Soviet navy deployed the Type 65 heavy-weight torpedo using a 650-millimeter tube. The four larger 25.5 inch diameter torpedo tubes could be used to launch a long-range nuclear-capable submarine-launched cruise missile (SLCM). According to some reports the submarines may be capable of carrying nuclear-armed Popeye Turbo cruise missiles, with a goal of deterring an enemy from trying to take out its nuclear weapons with a surprise attack.
Under a system of rotation, some sources claim that two of the vessels would remain at sea: one in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, the other in the Mediterranean. A third would remain on standby.
The project initially was structured to include an industrial team consisting of HDW and Thyssen Nordseewerke, lead by Ingalls Shipbuilding. The project, under which the boats would be built in the United States by Ingalls using US FMS funds, was cancelled in 1990. The crews of the submarines started training in 1994, and participated in the building process as well as in the acceptance procedures for weapon systems. Germany donated two of these submarines to Israel, which were delivered in 1997. Israel bought a third Dolphin submarine from Germany. The project to build the Israeli Navy's third submarine, named "Tekumah ," was launched in Germany on 09 July 1998 with the participation of Defense Ministry Director General Ilan Biran and other naval officers. Tekumah [T'kuma] is the Hebrew word for "revival." The third submarine arrived in Israel during mid-1999.
A major role for hunter, killer and patrol submarines is the destruction of enemy submarines and shipping. In order to achieve this, the submarine must load, store and launch a range of stores. The submarine must also detect its target while attempting to remain covert. The Israel Navy has three Gal submarines. They were built in the 1970s at the Vickers shipyard in Britain, based on German blueprints. The Gal submarines are an important part of the main combat force of the Israel Navy.
The German Type 209 diesel electric submarine is the most popular export-sales submarine in the world, and sales continue as smaller nations modernize their aging fleets. Greece was the first country to order this type of submarine from Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft AG (HDW) of Kiel, Germany, and the first batch of these submarines entered service in 1971. The 1,200-ton Type 209 submarine is a hunter killer submarine that India purchased from HDW, Germany. The initial contract was for 2 submarines to be sold and for 4 more to be constructed at the Mazagaon docks in Mumbai. The deal however went sour when it was hit by a bribery scandal, after the first four ships were delivered to the Indian Navy.
Advances in electric drive and power conditioning were introduced into the German Type 212. This German submarine has low and balanced signatures including acoustic signatures, longer submerged mission capability and a modern combat system with sophisticated sensors and state of the art torpedoes. The technologies inherent in this design include a fuel cell air independent propulsion (AIP) system with a back up single diesel generator, highly modular arrangements of critical areas and the frame carrying the diesel generator and auxiliary equipment such as the hydraulic pumps, compressors, etc.- is enclosed in a sound absorbent capsule and isolated from the pressure hull. The AIP system utilized is more commonly called 'MESMA'. Translated it means Autonomous Submarine Energy Module and was developed for submarines.
The 1,720-ton Dolphin class is evidently somewhat larger than the 1,500-ton Type 212 submarines, and incorporates a conventional diesel-electric propulsion system rather than the AIP system.
The detection that the submarines were equipped with two types of torpedo tubes (533mm and 650mm respectively) fueled speculation that the submarine might have a possible nuclear role, given that 533mm torpedo tubes would have been sufficient for the weaponry that was to be installed on board.
When questioned about this in parliament, the German government confirmed the presence of the 650mm tubes in the Dolphin submarines but could not provide an explanation, other than that the tubes were to be fitted with liners upon delivery to reduce the tubes' diameters to 533mm. Because 50% of design rights are reported to belong to Israel, and, as a result it had no 'design authority', the German government claimed that it could not have any knowledge of the larger tubes' purpose.
An article published by the Los Angeles Times in mid-October 2003, indicated that Israel had successfully modified American-supplied Harpoon cruise missiles for use with nuclear warheads on its submarines. The process would have involved reducing the size of the warheads to fit inside the missiles as well as altering the guidance systems so as to be able to hit land-based targets, but would enable Israel to deliver nuclear weapons from the sea virtually unimpedded. The claim was however disputed by Israeli and others who questioned the ability of the Harpoon missile to carry a nuclear payload.
As of early November 2003, it was reported by the German newspaper Berliner Zeitung, that Germany`s leading shipyard company HDW was involved in negotiations with Israel to construct two additional Dolphin submarines. HDW confirmed these conversations, which were said to be of a purely technical nature and claimed the German government had approved them. It was also reported that Israeli engineers had modified the missile launching pads of earlier Dolphin submarines at the Kiel's HDW dockyard, possibly to accomodate nuclear warheads.
The German Focus magazine reported on November 24, 2003, that the German government had halted the delivery of the two submarines to Israel. It was later clarified that while Israel did have an interest in additional submarines, given the financial burden associated with such a deal for Israel, Washington or Germany, only technical negotiations were being conducted with HDW, and that as a result, neither a formal nor preliminary request for any export license had been issued. The German Green party, however, who had originally opposed the delivery of the first three dolphin submarines, demanded that, in the future, additional submarines could only be delivered to Israel on the basis of a binding assurance that they would not be used as nuclear weapons platforms.