by Eric Margolis
LONDON -- In 1986, Mordechai Vanunu, a former technician at Israel's Dimona
reactor center, revealed to the `Sunday Times' of London that Israel had
secretly developed 100-200 nuclear warheads, using French and
American-supplied technology. Vanunu was lured to Rome in a classic `honey
trap' and kidnapped by Israeli agents. He was convicted of treason and has
been held in solitary confinement for the past 14 years.
Earlier this month, the `Sunday Times' broke a second major story about
Israel's covert nuclear programs. According to leaked information supplied
to the `Times,' Israel used a newly acquired Dolphin-class submarine to
test a hitherto secret cruise missile designed to carry a nuclear warhead.
The cruise missile is said to have hit a target 900 miles from its launch
point off the coast of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean, and may have a
maximum range of 1,200 mile. Israel has become increasingly involved in Sri
Lanka's civil war, supplying the embattled Colombo government with weapons,
munitions, and military advisors to combat Tamil Tigers rebels.
The state-of-the-art, 1750-ton Dolphin diesel subs were supplied to Israel
by Germany as near freebie `guilt payments' because Iraq used some
German-made components in its military programs during the Gulf War.
Revelations that Israel is using the $440 million each subs as nuclear
launch platforms has deeply embarrassed Germany's ardently anti-nuclear
This also raises the fascinating question of how and where the Dolphins
were modified to accept missiles. The cruise missile used by the Israelis
is believed too large to be fired from the Dolphin's 21-inch torpedo tubes.
The original 1990 design called for lengthening the hull to accommodate a
`wet and dry' compartment for frogmen - unusual in an attack sub- and for
`extra torpedo storage.' This was clearly the cover for what became a
missile compartment of four vertical launch tubes.
If true, this suggests full German collaboration in Israel's covert nuclear
program - in spite of Berlin's anguished denials. The United States was
originally to have supplied the subs to Israel, but claimed to lack the
capability to build modern, conventional powered boats, and bucked the job
to German yards, who have a century of experience in building U-boats. A
cynic might suspect the US pressured Germany into supplying Israel's latest
nuclear weapons platforms to escape an inevitable firestorm of protest by
its Arab oil clients.
Israel now has a complete nuclear triad: air-delivered bombs;
intermediate-range Jericho missiles; and now the sea-launched cruise
missile. This important development means Israel has a counter-force
nuclear capability that can ride out any enemy nuclear attack and riposte
with a devastating strike from the sea. Israel will reportedly base one
Dolphin in the Mediterranean, the second in the Red Sea, and the third in
port for maintenance.
The Dolphin `roving launch platforms' also give Israel the ability to
strike almost anywhere on the globe, and particularly against Iran and
Pakistan, which Israel singles out as `long-range' enemies. Israel's Mossad
long claimed Iran would deploy nuclear weapons by 2000. When proven wrong,
Mossad now claims the date is 2002. US intelligence estimates Tehran will
not even have a prototype weapon before 2010, and no deliverable warhead
until 2012-13 - if ever. Iran denies developing nuclear weapons.
Revelations of Israel's new cruise missile have provoked a storm of outrage
in the rest of the Mideast at an exceptionally delicate time when regional
peace negotiations hang in the balance. One might suspect Israel's missile
test may have been leaked to scupper Arab-Israeli peace talks.
Some defense analysts maintain Israel's sea-launched missiles are actually
a stabilizing factor that eliminated the threat of a decapitating nuclear
attack. Israel's Jericho missile base at Kfar Zachariah near Tel Aviv lacks
hardened silos and is thus vulnerable to a surprise nuclear attack. The
same applies to airbases where nuclear bombs are stored for Israel's
US-supplied F-15E's. Inadequately protected nuclear forces lead to a `use
or loose' mentality in time of crisis.
But the latest revelations about Israel's nuclear arsenal - now the world's
fourth or fifth most powerful - will likely spur the Arab states and Iran
to intensify efforts to acquire a nuclear counter-force, and to develop
`poor man's' weapons of mass destruction to match Israel's extensive
nuclear, chemical and biological arsenal.
This bombshell also comes as Israel faces growing pressure in the UN over
its nuclear weapons. Israel is the only Mideast nation that refuses to sign
the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty(NPT). Egypt insists Israel must sign
NPT as part of a comprehensive Mideast peace. Cairo is pressing for a
Mideast nuclear-free zone and demands Israel allow inspection of its
nuclear complex at Dimona. Egypt claims Israel's 40-year old,
French-supplied reactor there is unsafe and a hazard - a sort of Mideast
The United States, in an unusual volte face, is quietly backing Egypt's
position. Washington is doubtlessly expressing its growing displeasure with
Israel over recent sales of high-tech Israeli arms and technology to China,
much of them American origin, and over Israeli espionage against the United
The first battery of Israel's `Arrow' anti-missile system just went
operational; THEL, a new laser anti-tactical missile system, follows soon.
Now, sea-launched cruise missiles. What next? An Israeli landing on Mars?
[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster,
and author of the just released War
at the Top of the World - The Struggle for Afghanistan, Kashmir, and
Tibet which was reviewed in The Economist, May 13, 2000]
[In 1958, Israel secretly initiated work at what was to become the Dimona
nuclear research site. Only about 15 years after the Holocaust, nuclear
nonproliferation norms did not yet exist, and Israel's founders believed
they had a compelling case for acquiring nuclear weapons. In 1961, the CIA
estimated that Israel could produce nuclear weapons within the
decade. . . .
The Kennedy and Johnson administrations fashioned a complex scheme of annual
visits to Dimona to ensure that Israel would not develop nuclear weapons.
But the Israelis were adept at concealing their activities. By late 1966,
Israel had reached the nuclear threshold, although it decided not to conduct
an atomic test. . . .
By the fall, Assistant Defense Secretary Paul C. Warnke concluded that
Israel had already acquired the bomb when Israeli Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin
explained to him how he interpreted Israel's pledge not to be the first
country to introduce nuclear weapons into the region. According to Rabin,
for nuclear weapons to be introduced, they needed to be tested and publicly
declared. Implicitly, then, Israel could possess the bomb without
"introducing" it.--Avner Cohen and William Burr, "The Untold Story of Israel's Bomb," Washington
Post, April 30, 2006]