Israeli Nuclear Forces
Columnist Col (Retd) EAS BOKHARI analyses the depth of Israel’s nuclear capability.
Declaration was perhaps one of the most improbable and worrisome political
declaration, and the creation of the state of Israel has created a host of
other problems which have completely destroyed peace in the Middle East.
In fact the creation of the state of Israel out of the Arab lands and then
its sustenance mainly through US support makes peace in the Middle East an
impossibility. This can be judged from the present US predicament in
Middle East and the massacre of Muslims in the Occupied territory by the
Israelis. There is hardly any let up in this gargantuan human carnage.
This is analogous to situation in Kashmir, yet another British legacy.
a period of time Israel has become a major military power both
conventionally as well as it is the only nuclear power in Middle East.
Israel has a burgeoning defence industry and very active nexus with India
besides a potent nuclear capability. Israel is pioneer in the production
of RPVs (Remotely Piloted Vehicles) and the largest manufacturer of UAVs
(Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). These vehicles or rather aircraft are used for
real time reconnaissance of the forward areas especially those which are
beyond the line of sight and are therefore the bread and butter of a field
commander for acquisition of battlefield intelligence. Israel has already
supplied some of these vehicles to India along with the technology of
licence production of these.
is no doubt that such vehicles are great ‘force multipliers’ and
Israel is the premier manufacturers of these. In the Gulf War, 1991 nearly
all such vehicles used by the Allies, and these were used most profitably,
were of Israeli origin.
evolution of the Israeli defence and nuclear production technology can be
well gauged from the fact that ‘Arrow’, the only anti-missile and with
a proven efficacy is built by Israeli Air Force, of course with US
finances and as a spin off of the famous SDI (Strategic Defence
Initiative) programme which had to be shelved by the US as it was cost
prohibitive and with the end of the cold war it had also become somewhat
infructuous. (It is reappearing again in a somewhat down sized form as TMD
i.e. Theatre Missile Defence) but it is not as ambitious as the fabulous
SDI of President Reagan. TMD is much more sensible and is also workable
although President Clinton has not sanctioned further trials. ‘Arrow’
I am told has been successfully flight tested and it is functional.
Although basically it is designed to make a quick work of a fast high
flying aircraft, it has worked equally satisfactorily against Cruise
Missiles (CM) and may well be more effective than the much publicised
has a host of defence production companies some of the important ones
the above infrastructure available, and the Jewish scientific genius ready
at hand, Israel could go in for any manufactural venture including the
nuclear one. The idea to list some of the outfits is to indicate the
versatility which the Israelis have developed ‘ab initio’ and its
sophistication. The most amazing thing is that some of the most advanced
defence producers go in for Israeli products preferring these to those
which are produced in their own countries. It simply shows the quality of
Israeli defence production and engineering skills. All this comes handy in
the fabrication of nuclear and other devices too.
a tiny country which could be easily pushed into the Mediterranean by the
Arabs if they could act united, and which they never managed to do during
the Arab-Israeli wars, the Israelis rely on innovation, stealth and
novelty in tactics. Even in conventional fighting they prefer surprise
night actions as learned from Gen Orde Wingate (a gunner officer of great
repute) who had trained the earlier Jewish settlers and Hagana. It fact
the Israelis were never sure but on count they always believed that man
for man and weapon for weapon they could not match the Arabs, at least
soon enough the Yom Kippur October 1973 War proved for a change that Joint
Egyptian/Syrian action almost rattled Golda Meir. It was on 8 October
1973, when the one eyed Jewish legend Gen Moshe Dayan, the Israeli Defence
Minister offered to resign due to Israeli failure across the Bar-Lev line,
and on the Syrian front. He warned Mrs Meir “We are going to lose the
is interesting to study some of the Jewish reports of this period. Here is
an interesting account which indicates that the Israelis had nuclear
devices at that time. “.... Against this apocalyptic background, it
seems that a decision to consider the use of a nuclear threat was made by
Israel’s top establishment officials... There are indications that Dayan
gave an order secretly to put in combat readiness, for the first time,
Israeli made Jericho SS missiles carrying nuclear war heads as well as
Kfir and Phantom Bombers equipped with nuclear devices. Altogether 13
Israeli, made nuclear weapons were put on the alert. If this was so, it
was the first time Israel had fulfilled her nuclear option.”
that such an activity will not go unnoticed by USA and USSR, Dayan hoped
for an expeditious help from USA to change the battle situation in the
favour of Israel. And of sure the Israeli signal worked and this ‘bomb
in the basement’ policy worked in their favour as the final result of
the October War 1973 indicates. Surely the ‘Yom Kippur’ created a
crisis in Israel, and Golda Meir and Dayan had to leave the cabinet, and
were replaced by Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres respectively.
burning topic for these two leaders i.e. the new leadership resolved to
the hawk was very emphatic and is quoted as have said “... Peace will
not come by itself ... It will not be brought by outside foreign nations
... It will not grow on the present political background of the Middle
East, but Israel can bring it closer if she convinces the Arabs that by
using science they will have no chance to hit us, not only in the present
but also in future....”
is no doubt that the Israelis had a nuclear capability at the time of
October War and they used it to their best advantage by just indicating
the intention to use it.
the intervening period the Israelis were bent upon making sure that they
maintain the nuclear hegemony in Middle East. Surely such articles in the
world press like “A nuclear Arab bomb: A ‘casus belli’ for
Israel”, were a terribly new phenomenon in Israel. And then suddenly in
July 1980 the entire Israeli Press and television started discussing the
Iraqi nuclear project and the cooperation between Iraq, France and Italy.
Israeli chief of staff Rafael Eitan generally known as reticent and
unassuming person gave a somewhat longish answer and said “... If the
Iraqis get the bomb, it will be as though all the countries in this region
are hanging from a light sewing thread, high above. Any attempt to use the
nuclear bomb will lead immediately to the tearing of that thread and the
crashing of the states.”
officials were even more explicit and less reticent. Here is a sampling of
what a top aide to Prime Minister Mattitiahau Shmulevitch said “...
Israel cannot allow itself to sit and wait until an Iraqi atomic bomb
falls on our heads....”
Israeli operation ‘Babylon’, a two minute Entebbe-style raid on the
Iraqi nuclear assets at Tammuz (Osirak) was a meticulously planned
operation in which US supplied F-16s and F15’s were used and the Iraqis
nuclear assets destroyed once for all. This was in keeping with the
Israeli policy of maintenance of a hegemony in nuclear capability in the
region. A detailed account of this very daring intrusion can be found in
the paper back ‘Two Minutes Over Baghdad’ — by Amos Perlmutter,
Michael Handel and Uri Bar-Joseph.
Israeli appreciation was that once the Iraqi threat has been eliminated
the region will be free from any nuclear competition in the region. They
did have certain reservations and these have been expressed well in the
book mentioned above in its concluding para. “... The most likely Third
World state to acquire an independent nuclear option in the near future
— and the state which is most in sympathy with Arab-Islamic aims — is
one which unlike Iraq is practically invulnerable to an Israeli
pre-emptive strike ... Neither short-term strategic necessity, nor the
brilliance of the Israeli Air Force, nor the holocaust fears of Prime
Minister Begin would surely dare tempt Israel to launch a future raid
against Pakistan, the state
which, with the aid of France and Libya, is now concentrating much of its
resources on the development of what may well, in the light of
Indian-Pakistani hostilities, be the most dangerous to the world nuclear
balance in the 1980s. Project 706 — The Muslim Bomb.”
there is no doubt that Kahuta was almost ready with fissile material in
1981, though a go ahead with the fabrication of device was given much
brings us to the topic of nuclearisation of the sub-continent and which
the Indians had started as early as 1974. So the three latest entrants in
this dubious and harrowing field are Israel, India and Pakistan.
Unfortunately like the developed countries who have somehow started hating
the ‘nuclear’ bombs and have unilaterally cut the size of their
nuclear arsenals, India, Pakistan and notably Israel have kept an aura of
opacity around their growing nuclear arsenals, and it is really difficult
to get authentic information of their programmes. My presentation is,
therefore, based on the published material and, whatever, is available in
the open press.
was very interesting, and scintillating to read Humayun Akhter in the
‘Nation’ of 04 and 05 September 2000 on the Israeli bomb, and its
opacity as against our hilarious press projection of the same capability
(whatever it is) in our press. It is in any case established that the
Israeli capability emanates from initial French helping hand at Dimona,
and later US assistance. Yet it still remains undeclared officially.
is the only country in the Middle East with nuclear capability, but
perhaps the more worrisome for us is the present Indo-Israeli military
many countries in Middle East have tried to be nuclear, and the foremost
amongst these was Iraq, whose nuclear capabilities were mercilessly
obliterated by a daring air attack of the Israelis F-15 and F-16s in 1981.
Iran had tried perhaps with the help of USSR to be nuclear, but the
programme never flourished. The Libyan effort was equally abortive. I
would recommend to the readers “Two Minutes Over Baghdad” to indicate
how ruthless and meticulous the Israelis can be in planning operations of
national importance. Another example is their air raid on Entebbe, equally
in another field, it has been established that Israel is perhaps the only
country in the world with an ‘anti-missile missile’ capability in the
form of ‘Arrow’, which is essentially an anti-aircraft (against very
fast aircraft) missile, yet accidentally like the much trumpeted
‘Patriot’, it works satisfactorily against older type of missiles, and
the slow moving ‘cruise missiles’.
have been number of trials of ‘Arrow’, and very satisfactory results
have been achieved. Be it known that the ‘Arrow’ programme is an
offshoot, or rather a spin off of the much publicised, but technically
improbable SDI (Strategic Defence Initiative) which was a wild and
incoherent dream of President Reagan. The obsession of SDI remained with
the US Government for quite sometime in the peak period of the cold war,
and it died its natural death with the end of the cold war and demise of
it is re-emerging now in the form of Theatre Missile Defence (TMD), and
then again luckily President Clinton has stopped this venture for the time
being and left it to his successors to continue with a more sensible
defence initiative. President Clinton apparently was forced to take this
decision due to continuous failure of the anti-missile missile trials, and
its collision with well meaning ABM Treaty 1972.
is surprising, but true that some of the best physicists (and Physics is
the queen of sciences) in the recent past have been Jews — just to name
a few — Einstein gave the epoch-making equation E-Mc2 and the work of
Oppenheimer and Hans Bethe cannot be ignored. There are of course a host
of other Jewish scientists of note. Hans Bethe even rebutted the hastily
formulated anti-missile missile architectures in the grand SDI
infrastructure as scientifically impossible. He argued that it is not
possible even with the massive US wealth and technology to create a large
space platform, with enormous electrical energy for a laser attack on the
hostile missiles with the object of incinerating their electrical systems,
and thus make them inoperable. It’s just not on.
of course there was a band of dedicated and shrewd scientists in the
‘Union of Concerned Scientists’ (UCS) who openly ridiculed the SDI and
the work of SDI-0 — an organisation which had been set up under the
watchful eyes of Gen Abrahamson the creator of the F-16 aircraft (which is
still operational with many countries.)
Reagan had thought that SDI could provide some ‘spin offs’ in the
private sector in case of its failure. I am not sure if it has done that
because generally it is the civilian technologies which are inducted by
the military and not the vice versa. So SDI could be compared to the
‘God That Failed’, of Arthur Koestler who is another Jew of note, but
now coming down to earth, and to more mundane military matters, the
worrisome issue is the Indo-Israeli nexus in militarisation.
is known for certain that some of the important Israeli defence production
companies have visited India, and offered assistance in many fields. In
some fields the Israeli equipment is already in India along with its
licence production. The case in point is the RPV/UAV (Unmanned Aerial
Vehicles) which are used for gathering intelligence which is not readily
available to field commanders especially beyond the FEBA (Forward Edge of
the Battle Area.) Such information is the bread and butter of field
commander and paid hands down in the 1991 Gulf War where these Israeli
artifacts were used most extensively, and of course Israel is the pioneer
and world leader in the fabrication of these vehicles.
Israelis I am told have offered assistance in the upgradation of Indian
fighter aircrafts and MBTs (Main Battle Tanks).
it is worrisome to imagine that Israel could possibly transfer
‘Arrow’, and its connected technology to India, and if that happens
most of our missiles would become partially ineffective.
is time that our leadership takes an account of the Israeli factor in our
defence preparedness, and make necessary arrangements to meet the added
threat that exists now with the Israeli factor and Indian collusion.
three entrants in the prestigious ‘Nuclear Club’ have an aura of
opacity around their programmes but the most secretive programme is the
Israeli programme. For that matter there being no official pronouncements,
and press conjectures being what these are, the best published material is
the Sipri Year Book-2000, and I have gleaned the Israeli programme from
Sipri, and is presented in the paragraphs that follow. A word of caution
that it is extremely difficult to authenticate this.
stated above estimating the size and composition of the Israeli nuclear
stockpile is extremely difficult. It is estimated that Israel may have as
many as 200 warheads consisting of aircraft bombs missile warheads, and
non-strategic/battlefield types. Israel has been a nuclear weapon power
since late 1966, when its first bombs were manufactured. Although small in
size and propulsion, Israel has created an extensive and modern nuclear
weapons are assembled at the design lab at Rafael, outside Haifa, known as
Division 20. Dimona in the Negev desert is the location of a
plutonium-tritium production reactor and underground chemical separation
and nuclear component fabrication facilities. A facility in the town of
Yavne, south of Tel-Aviv near the coast controls and monitors missile test
flights launched into the Mediterranean Sea. There are probably nuclear
weapon bunkers for aircraft and missiles at Tel Nof AB, in the Negev
desert. A storage site (bunkers) is believed to be in the village of
has a variety of aircraft with nuclear capabilities such as F-4 Phantom
and A-4 Sky-Hawk besides F-16 and F-15 E. “In 1999 the Israeli
Government announced that it would purchase 50 F161s worth $ 2.5 billion.
The aircraft will start pouring in the beginning of 2003.” Israel
selected Boeing F-15 Strike Eagle for long range strike and air
superiority roles. It is called F-151 Ra’am (Thunder) in Israel. This
was done in January 1994.
second, but less likely air base where nuclear bombs may be stored is
Ramat David in the Northern Israel. Here squadrons No 109, 110 and 117 are
located. It is to be noted that the aircrafts F-16C/D flown by Squadron
110 and 117 attacked and destroyed the Iraqi nuclear facility (reactor)
Osirak outside Baghdad on 07 June 1981.
missile capability is as old as the quest for nuclear weapons. Several
months before the operation of Dimona reactor (April 1963) Israel signed
an agreement with French company Dassault for the production of a surface
to surface ballistic missile. Its specifications were:
missile system known as Jericho (MD-620) takes two hours to prepare and
can be launched from fixed for mobile launchers. Its rate of fire is 4-8
per hour. A conventional Jericho makes little sense and is, therefore,
II is more like the US Pershing II. Its initial range of 1300 Km has been
increased to the listed range of 1800 Km. The missiles are apparently
stored in caves and both the types are kept quite near each other.
Israelis contacted the German firm-HDW (Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft) in
Kiel to build three Dolphin class diesel-powered submarines for the
Israeli Navy. The first of these arrived in Haifa on 27 July 1999. “It
is possible that the IDF/N may plan to equip the Dolphin submarines with a
nuclear attack capability by modifying US-supplied Harpoon anti-ship
missiles (130 Km range) with an indigenously developed nuclear artillery
shells/Atomic Demolition Mine (ADM).
far as testing is concerned an explosion high in the atmosphere off the
coast of South Africa in the South Indian Sea on 22 September 1979 is
believed by some to have been a clandestine Israeli test possibly of a
neutron weapon. There are also reports that Israel has developed nuclear
artillery shells and ADMs.