Nuclear Weapons Potential
Israel had been involved in nuclear research since the country's
inception. With French assistance that began about 1957, Israel
constructed a natural uranium research reactor that went into
operation at Dimona, in the Negev Desert in 1964. Dimona's operations
were conducted in secret, and it was not brought under international
inspection. According to a 1982 UN study, Israel could have produced
enough weapons-grade plutonium at Dimona for a number of explosive
devices. Under an agreement with the United States in 1955, a
research reactor also was established at Nahal Soreq, west of
Beersheba. This reactor was placed under United States and subsequently
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection. The Nahal
Soreq facility was not suspected of involvement in a weapons program.
American and other Western specialists considered it possible
that Israel had developed a nuclear weapons capability incorporating
enriched uranium as an alternative to plutonium. The United States
suspected that up to 100 kilograms of enriched uranium missing
from a facility at Apollo, Pennsylvania, had been taken in a conspiracy
between the plant's managers and the Israeli government. In 1968,
200 tons of ore that disappeared from a ship in the Mediterranean
probably were also diverted to Israel. Foreign experts found indications
that Israel was pursuing research in a laser enrichment process
although no firm evidence had been adduced that Israel had achieved
a capability to enrich uranium. In a 1974 analysis, the United
States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) expressed the belief
that Israel had already produced nuclear weapons. Among the factors
leading to this conclusion were the two incidents of disappearance
of enriched uranium and Israel's costly investment in the Jericho
Officially, Israel neither acknowledged nor denied that nuclear
weapons were being produced. The government held to the unvarying
formulation that "Israel will not be the first to introduce nuclear
weapons into the Middle East." As of 1988, Israel had not acceded
to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (1968).
It was, however, a party to the Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons
Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space, and Under Water (1963).
There was no evidence that Israel had ever carried out a nuclear
test, although some observers speculated that a suspected nuclear
explosion in the southern Indian Ocean in 1979 was a joint South
In 1986 descriptions and photographs were published in the London
Sunday Times of a purported underground bomb factory.
The photographs were taken by a dismissed Israeli nuclear technician,
Mordechai Vanunu. His information led experts to conclude that
Israel had a stockpile of 100 to 200 nuclear devices, a far greater
nuclear capability than had been previously estimated.
A nuclear attack directed against targets almost anywhere in
the Middle East would be well within Israel's capacities. Fighter-bombers
of the Israeli air force could be adapted to carry nuclear bombs
with little difficulty. The Jericho missile, developed in the
late 1960s, was believed to have achieved a range of 450 kilometers.
An advanced version, the Jericho II, with a range of nearly 1,500
kilometers, was reported to have been testflown in 1987.
Data as of December 1988