18-02-13

The Nuclear Threat: Israel

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ISRAEL'S NUCLEAR WEAPONS
Warner D. Farr, LTC, U.S. Army
The Counterproliferation Papers
Future Warfare Series No. 2
USAF Counterproliferation Center
Air War College - Air University
Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama

September 1999

Shortly after the 1973 war, Israel allegedly fielded considerable nuclear artillery consisting of American 175 mm and 203 mm self-propelled artillery pieces, capable of firing nuclear shells. If true, this shows that Dimona had rapidly solved the problems of designing smaller weapons since the crude 1967 devices. If true, these low yield, tactical nuclear artillery rounds could reach at least 25 miles. The Israeli Defense Force did have three battalions of the 175mm artillery (36 tubes), reportedly with 108 nuclear shells and more for the 203mm tubes. Some sources describe a program to extend the range to 45 miles. They may have offered the South Africans these low yield, miniaturized, shells described as, “the best stuff we got.”

By 1976, according to one unclassified source, the Central Intelligence Agency believed that the Israelis were using plutonium from Dimona and had 10 to 20 nuclear weapons available.

In 1972, two Israeli scientists, Isaiah Nebenzahl and Menacehm Levin, developed a cheaper, faster uranium enrichment process. It used a laser beam for isotope separation. It could reportedly enrich seven grams of Uranium 235 sixty percent in one day.

Sources later reported that Israel was using both centrifuges and lasers to enrich uranium.

Questions remained regarding full-scale nuclear weapons tests. Primitive gun assembled type devices need no testing. Researchers can test non-nuclear components of other types separately and use extensive computer simulations. Israel received data from the 1960 French tests, and one source concludes that Israel accessed information from U.S. tests conducted in the 1950s and early 1960s. This may have included both boosted and thermonuclear weapons data.

Underground testing in a hollowed out cavern is difficult to detect.

A West Germany Army Magazine, Wehrtechnik, in June 1976, claimed that Western reports documented a 1963 underground test in the Negev. Other reports show a test at Al-Naqab, Negev in October 1966.

A bright flash in the south Indian Ocean, observed by an American satellite on 22 September 1979, is widely believed to be a South Africa-Israel joint nuclear test. It was, according to some, the third test of a neutron bomb. The first two were hidden in clouds to fool the satellite and the third was an accident (the weather cleared).  

Experts differ on these possible tests. Several writers report that the scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory believed it to have been a nuclear explosion while a presidential panel decided otherwise.

President Carter was just entering the Iran hostage nightmare and may have easily decided not to alter 30 years of looking the other way.

The explosion was almost certainly an Israeli bomb, tested at the invitation of the South Africans. It was more advanced than the “gun type” bombs developed by the South Africans.

One report claims it was a test of a nuclear artillery shell.

A 1997 Israeli newspaper quoted South African deputy foreign minister, Aziz Pahad, as confirming it was an Israeli test with South African logistical support.

Controversy over possible nuclear testing continues to this day.

In June 1998, a Member of the Knesset accused the government of an underground test near Eilat on May 28, 1998. Egyptian “nuclear experts” had made similar charges. The Israeli government hotly denied the claims. Not only were the Israelis interested in American nuclear weapons development data, they were interested in targeting data from U.S. intelligence. Israel discovered that they were on the Soviet target list.

American-born Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard obtained satellite-imaging data of the Soviet Union, allowing Israel to target accurately Soviet cities. This showed Israel's intention to use its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent political lever, or retaliatory capability against the Soviet Union itself.

Israel also used American satellite imagery to plan the 7 June 1981 attack on the Tammuz-1 reactor at Osiraq, Iraq. This daring attack, carried out by eight F-16s accompanied by six F-15s punched a hole in the concrete reactor dome before the reactor began operation (and just days before an Israeli election). It delivered 15 delay-fused 2000 pound bombs deep into the reactor structure (the 16th bomb hit a nearby hall). The blasts shredded the reactor and blew out the dome foundations, causing it to collapse on the rubble.

This was the world's first attack on a nuclear reactor.

Since 19 September 1988, Israel has worked on its own satellite reconnaissance system to decrease reliance on U.S. sources. On that day, they launched the Offeq-1 satellite on the Shavit booster, a system closely related to the Jericho-II missile. They launched the satellite to the west away from the Arabs and against the earth's rotation, requiring even more thrust. The Jericho-II missile is capable of sending a one ton nuclear payload 5,000 kilometers.

Offeq-2 went up on 3 April 1990. The launch of the Offeq-3 failed on its first attempt on 15 September 1994, but was successful 5 April 1995.

Mordechai Vanunu provided the best look at the Israeli nuclear arsenal in 1985 complete with photographs.

A technician from Dimona who lost his job, Vanunu secretly took photographs, immigrated to Australia and published some of his material in the London Sunday Times. He was subsequently kidnapped by Israeli agents, tried and imprisoned.

His data shows a sophisticated nuclear program, over 200 bombs, with boosted devices, neutron bombs, F-16 deliverable warheads, and Jericho warheads.

The boosted weapons shown in the Vanunu photographs show a sophistication that inferred the requirement for testing.

He revealed for the first time the underground plutonium separation facility where Israel was producing 40 kilograms annually, several times more than previous estimates.

Photographs showed sophisticated designs which scientific experts say enabled the Israelis to build bombs with as little as 4 kilograms of plutonium. These facts have increased the estimates of total Israeli nuclear stockpiles.

In the words of one American, “[the Israelis] can do anything we or the Soviets can do.”

Vanunu not only made the technical details of the Israeli program and stockpile public but in his wake, Israeli began veiled official acknowledgement of the potent Israeli nuclear deterrent. They began bringing the bomb up the basement stairs if not out of the basement.

Israel went on full-scale nuclear alert again on the first day of Desert Storm, 18 January 1991. Seven SCUD missiles were fired against the cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa by Iraq (only two actually hit Tel Aviv and one hit Haifa). This alert lasted for the duration of the war, 43 days. Over the course of the war, Iraq launched around 40 missiles in 17 separate attacks at Israel. There was little loss of life: two killed directly, 11 indirectly, with many structures damaged and life disrupted. Several supposedly landed near Dimona, one of them a close miss. Threats of retaliation by the Shamir government if the Iraqis used chemical warheads were interpreted to mean that Israel intended to launch a nuclear strike if gas attacks occurred. One Israeli commentator recommended that Israel should signal Iraq that “any Iraqi action against Israeli civilian populations, with or without gas, may leave Iraq without Baghdad.”

Shortly before the end of the war the Israelis tested a “nuclear capable” missile which prompted the United States into intensifying its SCUD hunting in western Iraq to prevent any Israeli response. The Israeli Air Force set up dummy SCUD sites in the Negev for pilots to practice on they found it no easy task.

American government concessions to Israel for not attacking (in addition to Israeli Patriot missile batteries) were: Allowing Israel to designate 100 targets inside Iraq for the coalition to destroy, Satellite downlink to increase warning time on the SCUD attacks (present and future), “Technical parity with Saudi jet fighters in perpetuity.”

All of this validated the nuclear arsenal in the minds of the Israelis. In particular the confirmed capability of Arab states without a border with Israel, the so-called “second tier” states, to reach out and touch Israel with ballistic missiles confirmed Israel's need for a robust first strike capability.

Current military contacts between Israel and India, another nuclear power, bring up questions of nuclear cooperation. Pakistani sources have already voiced concerns over a possible joint Israeli-Indian attack on Pakistan's nuclear facilities.

A recent Parameters article speculated on Israel's willingness to furnish nuclear capabilities or assistance to certain states, such as Turkey.

A retired Israeli Defense Force Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Amnon Shahak, has declared, “all methods are acceptable in withholding nuclear capabilities from an Arab state.” As the Israeli bomb comes out of the basement, open discussion, even in Israel, is occurring on why the Israelis feel they need an arsenal not used in at least two if not three wars. Avner Cohen states: “It [Israel] must be in a position to threaten another Hiroshima to prevent another holocaust.”

In July 1998 Shimon Peres was quoted in the Jordan Times as saying, “We have built a nuclear option, not in order to have a Hiroshima, but to have an Oslo,” referring to the peace process.

20:10 Gepost door Jan Boeykens in Israel, Latest News, The Nuclear Threat | Permalink | Commentaren (0) |  Facebook |

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