"In my home there are few publications that we actually get hard copies of, but [Arms Control Today] is one and it's the only one my husband and I fight over who gets to read it first."

– Suzanne DiMaggio
Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019

Should Israel Close Dimona? The Radiological Consequences of a Military Strike on Israel’s Plutonium-Production Reactor

Bennett Ramberg

Much ink has been spilled about apprehensions in Israel and the West that Iran could develop nuclear weapons, prompting calls in American, Israeli, and now even Arab circles for the application of military force to stop the mullahs. Yet, there is another, more immediate nuclear-related danger to the Jewish state that has received far less attention: the possibility that Israel's adversaries could use more easily acquired conventional weapons to force a deadly release of radioactivity from Israel's plutonium-production reactor at Dimona.

In Middle Eastern tit-for-tat, the concern generated currency when the London Sunday Times reported in late 2007 that Israel went on "red alert" 30 times as anxiety grew that Damascus would retaliate against Dimona for Israel's September 6 strike on a suspected Syrian nuclear site. On Israeli state television, a commander of a Patriot air defense missile battery stated, "Every civilian aircraft en route from Cairo to Amman, or from Jeddah to Cairo and vice versa, which deviates even slightly from its route, sets off an alarm and risks a missile being fired."[1]

Israel's fear reflects the Middle East's unique history: since World War II, the only military strikes on nuclear facilities have taken place in the region.[2] In 1980, Iranian aircraft attempted to destroy Iraq's Osirak reactor but missed the mark, hitting adjacent structures. In June 1981, Israel finished the job in a dramatic cross-regional raid. During the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, Iraqi aircraft mounted multiple attacks on Iran's two partially constructed power reactors at Bushehr.[3] In 1991, during the Persian Gulf War, the United States bombed a small Iraqi research reactor at Tuwaitha,[4] and Saddam Hussein launched several Scud-B rockets toward Dimona.[5] In 2003, a U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq to halt its presumed nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs.

Yet, in no case did these raids on nuclear facilities cause radiological consequences. Either the plants were still under construction (Osirak and Bushehr), had radioactive elements removed prior to the strike (Tuwaitha), or the attacker simply missed the mark. The outcome of a successful strike on the decades-old Dimona reactor could be different. Today, multiple factors may drive Israel's adversaries to hit the plant: its perceived centrality to Israel's nuclear weapons program, revenge for Israeli strikes on neighboring states, Dimona's symbolic significance as one of the Jewish state's most valued assets, and, most disturbingly, an attack to intentionally release the radioactive contents of the plant as a weapon of war or terrorism.

This raises a question: given the likely and serious consequences of a successful attack for Israel's public health, economy, and society, should Israel close Dimona? Does the centrality of the reactor for Israel's nuclear arsenal argue otherwise? On balance, shutting down or mothballing the Dimona reactor would reap both important security and political benefits.

Radiological Consequences of an Attack on the Dimona Reactor

Situated in a relatively remote desert at the Negev Nuclear Research Center, the Dimona reactor, also referred to as IRR-2, lies approximately 25 kilometers west of Jordan, 75 kilometers east of Egypt, and 85 kilometers due south of Jerusalem. Dimona is a heavy-water-moderated, natural-uranium-fueled reactor. Although the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) estimates its power at 26 megawatts thermal (MWt),[6] most independent analysts believe that in the mid-1970s Israel upgraded the installation to generate between 70 and 150 MWt.[7] That output makes it not only the region's largest reactor for the moment-once Iran's Bushehr atomic power plant goes online, it will have more than 20 times the power[8]-but the sole evident producer of plutonium and tritium for nuclear weapons.[9]

Although Israel neither confirms nor denies its atomic arsenal, experts generally accept that it has been a nuclear-armed state for several decades. Its first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, inaugurated the enterprise to compensate for the country's strategic vulnerability, a fledgling army, and the West's unwillingness to enter into a formal alliance to defend Israel's survival.[10] Estimates of the nuclear arsenal range from 75 to 200 weapons, comprising bombs, missile warheads, and possibly tactical weapons.[11] Since it went into operation in the mid-1960s with initial French assistance, the reactor has produced plutonium and tritium for these nuclear weapons, which Israel has fabricated in a nearby underground chemical separation plant and a nuclear component fabrication facility.[12]

To model the consequences of a successful missile attack on the installation, the U.S. Department of Defense's Hazard Prediction and Assessment Capability code (HPAC) was utilized. Described as a counterproliferation and counterforce modeling tool, HPAC estimates the effects of hazardous material discharges and of the use of weapons of mass destruction, including casualties. HPAC's Nuclear Facility model calculates the properties of radioactive material released during incidents at nuclear reactors and related facilities. For Dimona, HPAC provides an input data file that lists the reactor core inventory of radioactive materials (fuel and fission products) for each MWt of operating power.

Given the uncertainties in the precise operating power of Dimona, separate HPAC calculations were performed assuming the reactor generated 26, 70, or 150 MWt, although the lower power level of 26 MWt would have produced only plutonium for a few dozen nuclear warheads over Dimona's lifetime, a figure well below Israel's presumed weapons inventory. To estimate the radionuclide release from a military strike, the first day of the April 26, 1986, Chernobyl Unit 4 accident[13] served as a model, as characteristic of a catastrophic incident involving an explosion, fire, and the bypass of containment (Chernobyl Unit 4 did not have a containment structure). The consequences were scaled to the much smaller release Dimona could emit. It was hypothesized that a military strike could breach the reactor's containment dome, which is visible in ground photographs and satellite imagery; disperse the heavy water surrounding the reactor core; and create explosions and fire involving the nuclear fuel elements, ejecting radioactive material into a puff carried away from Dimona by prevailing winds.

In a military strike, like a reactor accident, two key radionuclides, iodine-131 and cesium-137, would constitute important components of the public impact of elevated cancer risk. Although a short-lived element with an eight-day half-life, iodine-131 poses unique, early health concerns because it concentrates in the thyroid. Cesium-137, with a 30-year half-life, poses a longer-term "ground shine" risk to populations resident or working in contaminated zones. The risk increases with the concentration of the element.

Of the many release scenarios HPAC could generate, three are displayed to communicate a reasonable range of outcomes. The chosen maps also illustrate the broad impact of different reactor power levels and seasonal prevailing winds. In general, estimates show that large populations could receive acute low doses within the first 24 hours, at or below the average total annual dose from natural background radiation and medical procedures. Nevertheless, these low doses slightly increase the cancer incidence. Closer to the Dimona reactor, the release could generate substantially higher doses, risking the health of the nearby communities and the thousands of workers at the site, in addition to the emergency response teams who, at Chernobyl, bore the brunt of the most acute radiological impacts.

Figure 1 (see print edition) characterizes a November attack on the reactor operating at 150 MWt carrying the radioactive plume in the northwesterly direction over the city of Dimona (a community of 30,000 inhabitants) and then toward Beersheba before scattering toward Israel's heavily populated coastal plain housing approximately four million inhabitants. Statistically, this scenario could generate several hundred cancers above the expected natural rate for the exposed population. In a scenario exhibiting lesser impacts, were the reactor operated at only 26 MWt, an August attack would produce a narrower plume concentrated within Jordan's thinly populated south. Finally, in a February attack with the reactor generating 70 MWt, contaminants would settle in the West Bank. This scenario predicts the maximum number of excess cancers, exceeding 600 at the 70 MWt level and 1,000 at 150 MWt level, because of the more concentrated populations and collective doses that population would receive.

Given the secrecy shrouding Dimona, the maps and table provide rough probabilities that change with the input of different variables. Not factored into the calculations are such complicating but unascertainable factors as the age of the fuel (fresh fuel will have a lower buildup of radioactive elements, and as a matter of course, Dimona may not accumulate two-year-old fuel similar to that that blew apart at Chernobyl);[14] reductions in the quantity of iodine-131 in the reactor core were the plant shut down for weeks prior to an attack; operations at very low power to produce tritium; or the possibility that an attack would so fracture and scatter the reactor core that the absence of concentrated fires would diminish the release. Nor, due to the absence of data, do the calculations include the potentially significant contributions that could come from on-site spent fuel and high-level waste from reprocessing or separated plutonium. The modeling does suggest that were the Jewish state's adversaries bent on affecting the greatest number of Israelis, they would take advantage of late fall winds. To wait for winter would risk contaminating Palestinian communities in the West Bank.

In sum, because of Dimona's relatively small size and remote location, only in the worst cases are populations in the hundreds or more found to be at risk, distributed over a large fraction of the Israeli and Palestinian population. Israeli authorities have recognized the jeopardy to communities near Dimona in response to reactor accident concerns, particularly the vulnerability of the thyroid to iodine-131. To address the problem, they have distributed potassium iodide tablets to the nearby towns of Aruar, Dimona, and Yerham to block the absorption of iodine-131.

Risk and Response

These findings suggest that a successful strike on an operating Dimona reactor that breached containment and generated an explosion and fire involving the core would present effects similar to a substantial radiological weapon or dirty bomb. Although consequences would represent only a small fraction of the Chernobyl release, for Israel, a country the size of New Jersey with a population of some six million, the relative economic dislocation, population relocation, and immediate and lingering psychological trauma could be significant.[15]

Israel has not been unmindful of these challenges. From the outset of its nuclear program, it acted to reduce the dangers. It placed the reactor in the Negev. It placed critical facilities for manipulating nuclear material in deeply buried cells. It heavily defended the installations with anti-aircraft and missile defenses.[16] For some years, however, a hubris crept into the evaluation of the plant's vulnerability. Following decisive military defeats of its neighbors in past wars, some Israeli advisers disdained their ability to strike the plant. For example, in May 1984, after I published a book about the consequences of military attacks on nuclear power plants, an Israeli intelligence officer came to the United States to inquire about the book's conclusions regarding reactor vulnerability as Israel planned a nuclear power plant. The officer belittled the peril, arguing that no Arab air force had ever overcome Israeli air defenses and none ever would.

At that time, history provided odd support. Although Soviet reconnaissance aircraft flew over the reactor in May 1967 without incident,[17] during the June 1967 war, Israel shot down one of its own Ouragan jet fighters when it strayed over the facility.[18] In 1973, Dimona's defenders downed a wayward Libyan civilian airliner heading for the reactor, killing 108 people.[19] The 1991 Gulf War upset whatever solace Israel could take from the past. Iraqi Scud missiles rained on Tel Aviv, and one came close to striking Dimona. Hezbollah's bombardment of northern Israel in 2006 further demonstrated the country's vulnerability to crude rocket attack. Although Israel's Arrow ballistic missile defenses, which surround Dimona today, may be superior to the Patriot system that failed in 1991, Syria's more advanced Scuds and Iran's Shahab-3 rocket present a more capable challenge than Saddam's projectiles.

Furthermore, interest in "taking out" the installation, which reached an early pinnacle during Gamal Abdel Nasser's Egypt in the 1960s,[20] has now renewed. Following Israel's September 2007 strike, Syrian legislator Mohammad Habash said, "If Syria feels threatened by Israel, it will be hard to stop our missile operators from responding to the Israeli aggression by attacking the Dimona nuclear reactor."[21] Iranian General Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr remarked in 2004 that "[i]f Israel fires one missile at Bushehr atomic power plant, it should permanently forget about Dimona nuclear center, where it produces and keeps its nuclear weapons, and Israel would be responsible for the terrifying consequence of this move."[22] The March 2008 announcement by Israeli defense officials that Hezbollah had acquired rockets with the range to hit the plant raised further concerns that Dimona continues to be in the crosshairs of Israel's enemies.[23]

The Costs and Benefits of Shutting or Mothballing Dimona

Given mounting regional tensions and the capacity of Israel's adversaries to strike Dimona, does prudence dictate closure of the plant? Certainly Israel would sustain costs. Its capacity to produce weapons-useable plutonium and tritium would end. Absent an enrichment program or nuclear-weapon design improvements, closure would freeze the total size of the Israeli nuclear arsenal based on its current inventory of plutonium. Israel's supply of tritium, which is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen with a half-life of 12.5 years, would decrease, but that element could be produced in an accelerator.

Israel could manage these challenges and take advantage of substantial benefits by closure. Dimona has produced all the plutonium Israel's armed forces could possibly utilize. The numbers of nuclear weapons in the arsenal, even if the weapons were not tritium boosted, suffice to destroy any collection of adversaries multiple times over and are therefore sufficient for deterrence. Closure would eliminate a radiological hostage and a reactor, which is among the world's oldest and which has already suffered minor mishaps, that Israel should shut because it is nearing the end of its life expectancy of safe operation.

In addition, Israel could derive political and strategic benefits. It could demand compensatory security guarantees from the United States and NATO.[24] More broadly, in the public relations war, it could claim that closure marks a step toward a regional fissile material cutoff treaty in the effort to demonstrate its commitment to reducing regional nuclear tensions.

Alternatively, the Jewish state could mothball the plant, removing all radioactive elements from the site while keeping the facility in cold standby in the event circumstances required a restart.

Israel may conclude that avoiding the squeeze a shutdown would impose on weapons production outweighs the environmental threat posed by a successful attack. It may bank on the effectiveness of its defenses, the ineffectiveness or poor accuracy of enemy munitions, or the reluctance of adversaries to risk contamination of Arab populations in Jordan and the West Bank. It may also take solace from the failure of adversaries to effectively attack the plant in past conflicts. Were Israel to anticipate a strike, it could shut the plant and, as Iraq did in 1991, remove the "hot" material to a safe location.[25] A shutdown alone could reduce the inventory of iodine-131.

Public banter about striking Dimona and Iran's nuclear plants raises a host of other troubling questions. Looking to the future, should atomic installations expand through the Middle East-Iran's Bushehr power reactor will be the first to fire up, possibly later this year-Israel's neighbors will see in the mirror their own reactors' vulnerability to military attack. Like Israel, they may take comfort in reactor defenses. Additionally, similar to India and Pakistan, they could replicate the 1990 treaty that the South Asian adversaries negotiated forbidding attacks on nuclear sites.

Nonetheless, such an accord, defenses, or mutual vulnerability acting as a deterrent to attack would not provide a guarantee that plants will be immune from military or even terrorist strikes in such an unstable part of the world. This ought to raise the question whether the planned growth of plants, many orders of magnitude larger than Dimona, should go forward. Until the region resolves its political differences, nuclear energy planners ought to take a second look. In the meantime, Israel would do well to reflect whether, given its own reactor vulnerability, keeping Dimona operating is worth the risk. I believe it does not.

Corrected online September 3, 2008. See explanation.


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The Radiological Dangers of an Israeli Attack on Iran's Nuclear Facilities

Bennett Ramberg

In a region where an "eye for an eye" has defined adversarial relations for millennia, it merits examining what response Israel could exact for an attack on Dimona. Although Syria has the capacity to strike the plant, which it has threatened to do, Syria's proximity to the Jewish state makes it an easy target for reprisal. Given Israel's September 2007 attack on Damascus's suspected nuclear site, Israel would have to apply any revenge on Syria to other, non-nuclear targets.

Iran, Israel's most capable adversary, is another matter. Clearly, a successful blow on Dimona by Iran or Hezbollah surrogates would generate an Israeli public outcry for revenge even were Tehran's attack in response to Jerusalem's destruction of Iran's enrichment facilities.

Although Iran operates several small nuclear research reactors, two larger plants would dominate the attention of Israel's military planners, the 40-megawatt thermal heavy-water reactor at Arak and the 1,000-megawatt electric Russian-supplied nuclear power plant at Bushehr. The Arak installation shares many of Dimona's features as a dedicated plutonium generator but is years away from completion. Obviously, were Israel to strike before the plant commenced operations, as it did in the 1981 bombing of Iraq's Osirak reactor, no radiological consequences would ensue.

Bushehr is quite another matter. The plant may go critical in a matter of months. It is evidently a nuclear power plant, the first of many Iran plans to build over the next decades. Nonetheless, some warn that it could serve as a plutonium mine for nuclear weapons despite the inefficiency of civil-reactor plutonium for bombs.[1] Iran could have such an option once its enrichment program is up and running. At that point, it could rely on its own fuel rather than its current practice of relying on Russian fresh fuel. Moscow has insisted that it will only provide such fuel if the spent fuel and its plutonium content is remitted back to Russia.

Relying on its own fuel would allow Tehran to conduct reprocessing without international encumbrance, unless it violated International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. This risk could also make Bushehr a target for Israeli military action.

Given Bushehr's size and some recent analyses concluding that Israel has the capacity to destroy any Iranian nuclear plant, the radiological releases from Bushehr's destruction could approach the scope of Chernobyl.[2] Fortunately, however, the plant's remote location along the Persian Gulf coupled with prevailing northwesterly winds would carry the most concentrated radioactive plumes south into lightly inhabited parts of Iran and the waters of the gulf, likely limiting public health impacts.

Still, as one of the most valued assets in Iran's economy and one that could contaminate vast regions of the Iranian countryside and beyond, Tehran could not treat the plant's loss lightly. Arguably, the radiological mutual hostage relationship in which Israel and Iran would find themselves could discourage attacks. India's decision not to strike Pakistan's nuclear weapons complex, fearful that retribution would include attacks on its civil nuclear sector, and the subsequent agreement the two countries negotiated provides a precedent that Israel and Iran should consider.[3]


1. Victor Gilinsky, Marvin Miller, Harmon Hubbard, "A Fresh Examination of the Proliferation Dangers of Light Water Reactors," Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, October 2004.

2. Whitney Raas and Austin Long, "Osirak Redux? Assessing Israeli Capabilities to Destroy Iranian Nuclear Facilities" International Security, Vol. 31, No. 4 (Spring 2007).

3. George Perkovich, India's Nuclear Bomb (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999).


Lessons From Chernobyl for Dimona

Bennett Ramberg

The 1986 Chernobyl accident marks the most significant release of radiation from a nuclear reactor mishap to date. The radiological consequences of a successful military strike on Dimona, a reactor with an output of well under 5 percent that of the Soviet plant, would pale in comparison. Still, because a successful attack could generate harmful radiological contamination, Israel could learn much from how the Soviet Union and successor states coped with the tragedy.

Similar to Chernobyl, the heaviest radiological consequences likely would fall within the immediate vicinity of Dimona, although downwind hotspots could emerge. At Chernobyl, Soviet emergency responders performed heroically, but they were ill prepared to deal with the disaster. Many hours elapsed before authorities provided radioiodine blocking tablets to nearby populations. That interval increased the number of thyroid cancers. The additional 40 hours it took authorities to evacuate the nearby community of Pripyat and the weeks it took to remove 100,000 inhabitants residing in more distant but heavily contaminated zones added to the problem.

Still, postmortem analyses concluded that what evacuation did occur "substantially reduced radiation exposures and the radiation-related health impacts of the accident."[1]

Israel can learn from this finding. It should have in place sheltering and evacuation protocols for all potential radiological impact zones. Future national civil defense exercises, such as the April 2008 exercise that tested the country's response to a missile and chemical weapons attack, must include the radiological risks presented by Dimona. Also, authorities should consider a much wider distribution of radioiodine blocking tablets beyond the communities near the plant.

Contaminated foodstuffs, particularly radioiodine-laced milk that impacts the thyroid of its principal consumers-children-posed an additional problem during and following the Chernobyl releases. Israel must prepare to address this and other contaminated-produce risks by stocking food, e.g., powdered milk, in secure warehouses for distribution. Replicating Chernobyl, agriculture will require monitoring for years. In time, natural processes such as rain and soil migration will concentrate radionuclides in some areas and remove some elements from others. Human intervention will help. Land and urban reclamation, along with population relocation and medical monitoring, proved costly in the former Soviet states, running into the hundreds of billions of dollars. The relatively small radionuclide release Dimona could generate should make meeting Israel's challenge and costs somewhat more bearable.

Finally, the failure of Soviet public officials to tell the public the truth about Chernobyl marked one of the most grievous errors in the handling of the accident.[2] The result contributed to a rate of long-term psychosomatic illness three to four times greater than unaffected control groups. The sense of victimization and associated depression continues to be the largest lingering impact on the broadest population. Israeli authorities could reduce needless fears by educating citizens that Dimona is no Chernobyl and that they are well prepared to manage the radiological challenge that destruction of the country's nuclear reactor may pose.


1. Chernobyl Forum, "Chernobyl's Legacy: Health, Environment and Socio-Economic Impacts," IAEA/PI/A.87 Rev.2 / 06-09181, April 2006, p. 7.

2. Evelyn Bromet et al., "Psychological and Perceived Health Effects of the Chernobyl Disaster: A 20-Year Review," Health Physics, Vol. 93, No. 5 (November 2007), pp. 516-521.

Bennett Ramberg served in the Department of State in the George H. W. Bush administration and is author of Nuclear Power Plants as Weapons for the Enemy: An Unrecognized Military Peril (1984).


1. Uzi Mahnaimi, "Israel on Alert for Syria Airstrike," The Sunday Times (London), November 11, 2007.

2. For the history of the use and contemplation of force to halt nuclear weapons programs from World War II to the present, including in the Middle East, see Bennett Ramberg, "Preemption Paradox," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July/August 2006, pp. 48-56.

3. Leonard Spector, Nuclear Ambitions: The Spread of Nuclear Weapons 1989-1990 (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1990), pp. 190, 208-209.

4. Burrus M. Carnahan, "Protecting Nuclear Facilities From Military Attack: Prospects After the Gulf War," American Journal of International Law, Vol. 86, No. 3 (July 1992), p. 524, fn. 1, 5.

5. "Iraq Says It Aimed Missiles at Israeli Reactor, Says Allies Face Defeat," Associated Press, February 17, 1991; "The Gulf War: Nuclear Plant Is Targeted by Iraq," The Guardian (London), February 18, 1991.

6. The IAEA provides multiple citations establishing Dimona's operating power of 26 MWt. For example, see IAEA, Safe Decommissioning for Nuclear Activities: Proceedings of an International Conference (Vienna: IAEA, 2003) (held in Berlin, October 14-18, 2002). Megawatt thermal (MWt) refers to the thermal or heat output of a reactor in contrast to megawatt electric (MWe), which measures the electrical output from the reactor.

7. For a discussion of the range of values for Dimona's thermal power and implications for plutonium production, see David Albright, Frans Berkhout, and William Walker, Plutonium and Highly Enriched Uranium 1996: World Inventories, Capabilities, and Policies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 260-263.

8. The Bushehr nuclear power plant is a 1,000 MWe, 3,000 MWt light-water-moderated, light-water-cooled power reactor. See G. Raisali et al., "Calculation of Total Effective Dose Equivalent and Collective Dose in the Event of a LOCA in Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant," Radiation Protection Dosimetry, Vol. 121, No. 4 (2006), pp. 382-390.

9. Research reactors elsewhere in the Middle East include Algeria's reactors at Es Salam (15 MWt) and Nur (1 MWt); Egypt's ETRR-1 and ETRR-2 at the Inshas Complex (2 MWt and 22 MWt, respectively); Iran's research reactors at the Esfahan Nuclear Technology Centre (.03 MWt) and Tehran Nuclear Research Center (5 MWt); Israel's IRR-1 at Soreq Nuclear Research Center (5 MWt); Libya's IRT-1 at the Tajoura Nuclear Research Center (10 MWt); Morocco's MA-R1 at the National Center for Science and Engineering (2 MWt); Syria's SRR-1 Reactor in Dayr al-Hajar (0.03 MWt); and Turkey's ITU-TRR at the Technical University of Istanbul (0.25 MWt). See IAEA, "Nuclear Research Reactors of the World," www.iaea.org/worldatom/rrdb/.

10. For an excellent history of Israel's nuclear weapons program, see Avner Cohen, Israel and the Bomb (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998).

11. Robert S. Norris, Hans M. Kristensen, and Joshua Handler, "Israeli Nuclear Forces, 2002," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, September/October 2002, pp. 73-75.

12. For a comprehensive description of the weapons activities at the Negev nuclear research center, see Frank Barnaby, The Invisible Bomb (London: I.B. Tauris, 1989), pp. 24-45.

13. To estimate the magnitude of a radiation release following an attack on Dimona, the fractions of various radionuclides released during the first day of the Chernobyl accident were multiplied by the Dimona core inventory of radionuclides assuming the 26 MWt, 70 MWt or 150 MWt power levels. Radiation releases from Chernobyl Unit 4 occurred over a 10-day period before the reactor fire was extinguished. During this period, 20 percent of the core inventory of iodine-131 was released along with 13 percent of the cesium-137 inventory. On the first day, beginning with two explosions involving the reactor core, 5.1 megacuries (MCi) of iodine-131 and 0.6 MCi of cesium-137 were emitted, accounting for 8 percent of the iodine-131 and 4 percent of the cesium-137 core inventory. For the Dimona calculations, iodine-131 releases of 1.7 percent, 4.4 percent, and 9.4 percent of the Chernobyl releases were estimated for Dimona operating powers of 26 MWt, 70 MWt and 150 MWt, respectively. Cesium-137 releases of 0.2 percent, 0.4 percent, and 1.1 percent of the Chernobyl releases were estimated for Dimona operating powers of 26 MWt, 70 MWt and 150 MWt, respectively. Other categories of reactor-core radionuclides were also scaled accordingly from Chernobyl to Dimona. The calculations also assume the reactor's discharge occurs over a one-hour period (one surmises that Israeli emergency response and fire-fighting at the Negev Nuclear Research Center would be more effective than the Soviet response at Chernobyl). Once the radioactive source term is calculated by the HPAC system, HPAC's atmospheric dispersion model calculates the path of the radiation plume from the site, the degree of contamination, and doses to exposed populations based on historical weather and population databases in the code. The radiation dose for a 24-hour exposure to the plume was then tallied (the duration of evacuation or sheltering may be more or less rapid).

14. Frank von Hippel, communication with author, April 2008.

15. The Chernobyl accident has generated much debate about the extent of its consequences. Current documentation finds that several thousand often treatable thyroid cancers dominated evident physical impacts, apart from the 28 people who perished from acute radiation syndrome at the time. However, the mental health effects may have impacted the most people by increasing the rates of serious depressive anxiety and unexplained physical symptoms by 100-300 percent as compared to control groups. Projections out to 2065 suggest that Chernobyl will generate tens of thousands of additional cancers across Europe and the former Soviet states resulting in fatalities that could exceed 15,000. In addition, combating the accident, evacuation, relocation, cleanup, and lost productivity cost hundreds of billions of dollars. Future costs include construction of a new protective structure. Chernobyl Forum, "Chernobyl's Legacy: Health, Environmental and Socio-Economic Impacts," IAEA/PI/A.87 Rev2/06-09181, April 2006; Elizabeth Cardis et al., "Estimates of the Cancer Burden in Europe from Radioactive Fallout From the Chernobyl Accident," International Journal of Cancer, No. 119 (2006), pp. 1224-1235; Evelyn Bromet, et al., "Psychological and Perceived Health Effects of the Chernobyl Disaster: A 20-Year Review," Health Physics 93 (5), November 2007, pp. 516-521.

16. Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez, Foxbats Over Dimona, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007), p. 124.

17. Ibid., p. 122-133; David Horovitz, "Russia Confirms Soviet Sorties Over Dimona in '67," Jerusalem Post, August 23, 2007.

18. Warner D. Farr, "The Third Temple's Holy of Holies: Israel's Nuclear Weapons," The Counterproliferation Papers, Future Warfare Series, No. 2 (September 1999), www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/cpc-pubs/farr.htm.

19. Ahron Bregman, A History of Israel (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), p. 146.

20. Ginor and Remez, Foxbats Over Dimona, pp. 30-31, 38, 123.

21. "Syrian MP Threatens Attack on Dimona," Jerusalem Post, December 24, 2007.

22. "Iran Warns of Preemptive Strike to Prevent Nuclear Attacks," Agence France-Presse, August 18, 2004.

23. "Defense Officials: Hizbullah Has Rockets That Can Reach Dimona," Jerusalem Post, March 27, 2008.

24. For elaboration, see Bennett Ramberg, "Defusing the Nuclear Middle East," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May/June 2004, pp. 45-51.

25. Mordechai Vanunu told the London Sunday Times in September 1986 that Dimona, which normally stored high-level waste in liquid form above ground, had the capacity in an emergency to pipe the material into storage tanks in the bottom floor of the six-story underground reprocessing plant. Barnaby, Invisible Bomb, p. 38.

Much ink has been spilled about apprehensions in Israel and the West that Iran could develop nuclear weapons, prompting calls in American, Israeli, and now even Arab circles for the application of military force to stop the mullahs. Yet, there is another, more immediate nuclear-related danger to the Jewish state that has received far less attention: the possibility that Israel's adversaries could use more easily acquired conventional weapons to force a deadly release of radioactivity from Israel's plutonium-production reactor at Dimona. (Continue)

Clues Emerge Surrounding Airstrike in Syria

Peter Crail

In the wake of a Sept. 6 Israeli airstrike in Syria, members of Congress and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have pressed for more information regarding the attack and any undeclared Syrian nuclear facilities that may have been hit. Since the airstrike, press reports have continued to speculate regarding the target and purpose of the attack. The most detailed reports have recently suggested that the target was a construction site for a nuclear reactor similar to North Korea’s Yongbyon reactor.

After nearly a month of denials or silence regarding the Israeli incursion into Syrian airspace, officials in Syria and Israel have acknowledged that Israel struck a target in northern Syria.

Syrian officials originally denied that Israel successfully bombed any targets during the raid. (See ACT, October 2007.) On Oct. 1, however, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told the BBC that Israel attacked a building “related to the military” that was still under construction. A day later, Israel provided its first official admission that an attack was conducted in Syrian territory. Israel Army Radio reported Oct. 2, “Israeli air force planes attacked a military target deep inside Syria on Sept. 6, the military censor allowed for publication today.” Israel has not provided any further details regarding the target of the attack.

The New York Times reported Oct. 14 that U.S. and Israeli intelligence analysts assessed that the suspected site of the attack was a nuclear reactor in the early phases of construction. Citing unnamed sources, the Times reported that the site resembles North Korea’s five-megawatt reactor at Yongbyon, which was used to produce the plutonium for Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

A subsequent assessment of commercial satellite images by the nongovernmental Institute for Science and International Security also suggested that the structure could house a reactor similar to the Yongbyon reactor. However, the early level of construction prevented any definitive comparisons. Satellite photography taken since the attack has shown that Syria rapidly dismantled the remains of the facility and covered its foundations. Satellite images released from Sept. 2003 also demonstrate that the structure is at least four years old.

If Syria was constructing a reactor, it would still need to develop a plutonium reprocessing capability to separate the plutonium for weapons from the reactor’s spent fuel.

Requests for Briefings to Congress

In an Oct. 20 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Representatives Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), ranking members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, respectively, criticized the Bush administration for its secrecy regarding the strike. Noting that they were among the few members of Congress that were briefed on this issue, they argued that all members of Congress should receive information on the incident.

The lawmakers discussed the airstrike and reports of suspected Syrian nuclear cooperation from North Korea, Iran, or other rogue states in the context of current efforts in the six-party talks to address North Korea’s nuclear weapons program (see page 26). Noting that Congress will be asked to provide funds for energy assistance to North Korea as part of the agreements brokered in the six-party talks, Hoekstra and Ros-Lehtinen assert that “until Congress is fully briefed, it would be imprudent for the administration to move forward with agreements with state proliferators.”

On Sept. 25, Ros-Lehtinen introduced the North Korean Counterterrorism and Nonproliferation Act, which would apply conditions to the provision of nonhumanitarian assistance to North Korea or to Pyongyang’s removal from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. One such condition would require the president to certify that North Korea is not engaged in the proliferation of nuclear or missile technology.

The administration has maintained that concerns regarding North Korean proliferation must be addressed within the six-party talks. (See ACT, October 2007.)

IAEA Inquiries Into the Nuclear Angle

The IAEA issued a press release Oct. 15 indicating that the agency did not have any information regarding an undeclared Syrian nuclear facility and that the IAEA is in contact with Syrian authorities to verify the veracity of reports regarding such a facility. The release also stated that “the IAEA Secretariat expects any country having information about nuclear-related activities in another country to provide that information to the IAEA.”

In an Oct. 22 interview with Le Monde newspaper, IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei reiterated the agency’s request for information states might have regarding nuclear activities in Syria. He also expressed hope that states would attempt to address any such nuclear concerns through the IAEA prior to taking military action, stating, “Frankly, I venture to hope that before people decide to bombard and use force, they will come and see us to convey their concerns.”

On Oct. 18, the agency also began to examine commercial satellite images of the suspected site of the Israeli airstrike. The IAEA has not yet been able to determine whether the building in question was a nuclear facility, although it is continuing this examination.

Syria has a safeguards agreement in force with the IAEA and, according to a February 1992 decision of the IAEA Board of Governors, Syria is required to provide the agency with design information on any nuclear facilities “well before construction actually begins.”

Syria is prohibited from receiving nearly any nuclear technology from North Korea due to the obligations imposed by Security Council Resolution 1718. Adopted Oct. 14, 2006, in response to North Korea’s nuclear test, Resolution 1718 requires that all states prevent North Korean nationals from exporting or providing technical training, advice, services, or assistance related to items on the trigger list of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). The NSG is a group of 45 states that comprise the world’s primary suppliers of nuclear technology and that are required to provide notification prior to transferring any of the items on a list of nuclear-related technologies. North Korea is also obligated not to transfer or provide any assistance regarding items on the trigger list.

In the wake of a Sept. 6 Israeli airstrike in Syria, members of Congress and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have pressed for more information regarding the attack and any undeclared Syrian nuclear facilities that may have been hit. Since the airstrike, press reports have continued to speculate regarding the target and purpose of the attack. The most detailed reports have recently suggested that the target was a construction site for a nuclear reactor similar to North Korea’s Yongbyon reactor. (Continue)

Israel’s Nuclear Trade Proposal in the Context of the U.S.-Indian Nuclear Deal



For Immediate Release: September 27, 2007
Press Contacts: Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association, (202) 463-8270 x107

Documents surfaced this week outlining an Israeli proposal for criteria that nuclear suppliers should use in determining eligible recipients for nuclear commerce. That “criteria-based” approach contrasts sharply with the Bush administration’s pursuit of “India-specific” exemptions to existing U.S. and international nuclear commerce rules. Not only does the Israeli proposal underscore that bending rules for one state will increase pressure from others for similar favours, Israel’s dozen criteria highlights shortcomings in India’s bid for special treatment.

Israel tendered its proposal to the voluntary Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in March 2007. The group’s 45 members, including the United States, aim to coordinate their nuclear export policies in order to prevent the spread of materials and technologies that could aid nuclear weapons programs. In 1992, the group adopted a rule significantly restricting nuclear trade with any non-nuclear-weapon state that does not subject all of its nuclear facilities and activities to international full-scope safeguards, such as inspections. That rule currently constrains India, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan from engaging in international civilian nuclear trade because they do not allow such comprehensive safeguards and, despite possessing nuclear arms, they all are classified as non-nuclear-weapon states under the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

In July 2005, the Bush administration committed itself to nullify for India that full-scope safeguards rule, which was originally promoted by the United States. Pakistan has indicated that it wants a similar arrangement and Israel’s March proposal suggests it does not want to be left out. If any one or all three succeed, the result would be that current nuclear-armed NPT outliers would reap benefits previously reserved for countries abjuring nuclear weapons. That could have severe consequences for global efforts to stem the spread of nuclear weapons. Other states might re-evaluate their policies to forswear nuclear weapons or conclude that global norms and treaties have little value.

Israel’s proposed criteria illustrate some of the reasons why India does not deserve preferential treatment. For instance, one criterion notes that non-NPT states should be “in full compliance with any nuclear cooperation agreement previously entered into.” India had a previous agreement with the United States but blatantly broke it by testing a nuclear device in 1974 that was partially derived from U.S. materials supplied solely for peaceful purposes. India’s government still insists that test was a “peaceful” nuclear explosion, and it also maintains that it has a “right” to conduct future nuclear tests. Other criteria also raise questions for India because of its ongoing relations with Iran, which has violated its international safeguards and is charged by the United States and other countries as illicitly pursuing nuclear arms.

The Israeli proposal, however, fails to include as criteria two other essential measures of good nonproliferation behaviour: signature and ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which outlaws nuclear explosions, and cessation of the production of fissile material, plutonium and highly enriched uranium, for nuclear weapon purposes.

When pondering changes to existing nuclear rules, governments should proceed with extreme caution to avoid undermining the global nonproliferation regime and maintain common sense conditions on nuclear trade that enshrine standards for and require responsible behaviour by all.

A copy of the Israeli proposal and additional information on the proposed U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation agreement are available at http://www.armscontrol.org/projects/india/.


Documents surfaced this week outlining an Israeli proposal for criteria that nuclear suppliers should use in determining eligible recipients for nuclear commerce. That “criteria-based” approach contrasts sharply with the Bush administration’s pursuit of “India-specific” exemptions to existing U.S. and international nuclear commerce rules. Not only does the Israeli proposal underscore that bending rules for one state will increase pressure from others for similar favours, Israel’s dozen criteria highlights shortcomings in India’s bid for special treatment. (Continue)

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U.S. Plans Major Middle East Arms Sales

David Houska

Citing threats from Iran, Syria, and various terrorist groups, the Bush administration is offering more than $60 billion in new weapons and military assistance to Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other U.S. allies in the Middle East.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced the latest U.S. Middle East arms sales campaign July 30 just before she and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates traveled to the region. The specifics of the deals must still be negotiated, but the agreements are anticipated to be ready for formal congressional notification by mid-September.

Although Rice characterized the proposals as the continuation of long-standing U.S. policy, she said that the deals were intended to “help bolster forces of moderation and support a broader strategy to counter the negative influences of al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran.” Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns underscored the threat from Iran, saying that the future sales will “provide a deterrence against Iranian expansionism and Iranian aggression in the future.”

Under the proposed agreements, the United States will supply $3 billion and $1.3 billion of military aid to Israel and Egypt, respectively, each year for 10 years starting in fiscal year 2009, which will begin Oct. 1, 2008. The United States has provided military assistance to Israel and Egypt since the 1970s. The new proposals represent a 25 percent increase in aid to Israel and a continuation of Egyptian aid at present levels. Burns signed the agreement with Israel on Aug. 16.

U.S. negotiators also are discussing major new arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the other five countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates). The sales have been widely reported to be worth around $20 billion with the lion’s share going to Saudi Arabia.

The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency catalogues almost $17 billion in U.S. arms deliveries to Saudi Arabia since fiscal year 1998. An October 2006 Congressional Research Service report says that Saudi Arabia has imported more than $50 billion of weapons over that general period, making it far and away the largest arms importer in the developing world.

Some U.S. lawmakers quickly denounced the Saudi arms sale and have said that they will attempt to block any sale of “high technology armaments” presented for congressional approval. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) had the harshest words for the proposed sale, citing lack of Saudi support for U.S. efforts in Iraq and in fighting terrorism. In an Aug. 2 press release, he called the deal “mind-bogglingly bad policy because the [Saudis] at every turn have been uncooperative. The idea that we are going to reward the [Saudis] with precision weaponry is a stunningly bad idea.”

The 1976 Arms Export Control Act mandates that Congress be notified of all proposed arms sales above $14 million, with a higher threshold for sales to Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and NATO members. By law, Congress has 30 days after notification to stop proposed sales by passing a resolution with a majority vote in each house. However, a two-thirds majority would effectively be required in each house to override an expected presidential veto.

Weiner and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) have announced that they intend to introduce such a resolution when Congress is formally notified of the sales. In an Aug. 2 letter to President George W. Bush, a bipartisan group of 114 representatives questioned whether Saudi Arabia was a true U.S. ally. The letter noted that Saudi King Abdullah recently called the U.S. mission in Iraq an “illegitimate foreign occupation” and that more than 50 percent of all suicide bombers in Iraq were Saudis.

Other members of Congress were more ambivalent. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) has said that he is seeking a complete briefing once the sales are finalized and will “see where we are then.” Lantos said in a July 28 statement that although he was glad that U.S. allies had seen the danger of Iran, “we particularly want to ensure that these arrangements include only defensive systems.” The Saudi deal reportedly would include satellite-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions (J-DAMs), fighter aircraft upgrades, and new warships.

Israel historically has opposed U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and members of the Israeli media and political right have expressed concern that weapons sold to Saudi Arabia could be used against Israel or even the United States. The critics fear that the Saudi government could be overthrown and the weapons fall into the hands of Islamic extremists. Iran’s air force currently flies F-14 fighters that were sold to the pro-American shah just before the 1979 revolution that brought the current regime to power.

Still, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert gave tacit approval to the proposal. He told the Israeli Cabinet that “[w]e understand the need of the United States to support the Arab moderate states and there is a need for a united front between the U.S. and us regarding Iran.” State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey told reporters July 30 that the United States will abide by its long-standing policy of ensuring Israel’s “qualitative military edge” over its neighbors.

The U.S. arms effort coincides with several other confirmed and rumored arms sales to the Middle East. France announced Aug. 2 a $405 million arms deal with Libya in which it would provide Libya with anti-tank missiles and radio equipment. Israeli media have reported that Iran is preparing to place a massive order with Russia for fighters and airborne tankers, but these unconfirmed stories have been categorically denied in Moscow and Tehran.

Citing threats from Iran, Syria, and various terrorist groups, the Bush administration is offering more than $60 billion in new weapons and military assistance to Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other U.S. allies in the Middle East. (Continue)

Israel, Neighbors Mull Nuclear Power Programs

Miles A. Pomper

Soon after the United States and India concluded negotiations on a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement, Israeli officials announced in August that they too may be seeking U.S. help in furthering a civilian nuclear power program. The move comes at a time when Israel is pressuring the international community to clamp down on Iran’s nuclear program and as several other Middle Eastern states have declared their interest in civilian nuclear power programs.

Officials at Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission and Ministry of National Infrastructure confirmed Aug. 1 that the government would be conducting a preliminary feasibility study on constructing a nuclear power reactor. If built, the 1,200-1,500-megawatt reactor at Shivta, in the Negev desert near Egypt, would be the first power reactor to be built in the country. It would meet as much as one-tenth of Israel’s electricity demand, according to the Aug. 16 edition of Nucleonics Week. The publication reported that Israel would be looking to a U.S. vendor to supply the reactor.

Israeli officials said they would subject any new reactor to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards, which aim to prevent the diversion of fissile material from peaceful uses to military ones. An Israeli research reactor at Soreq is already subject to facility-specific safeguards.

Nonetheless, Israel has a widely acknowledged nuclear weapons program using plutonium from an unsafeguarded reactor at Dimona in the Negev desert but has never publicly confirmed that it possesses a nuclear weapons arsenal. Like India and Pakistan, Israel has not signed the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which would bar it from possessing nuclear arms as a non-nuclear-weapon state.

If Israel moves forward with its plans, it could pose a dilemma for the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). The voluntary group, in which nuclear suppliers seek to coordinate their export controls on nuclear transfers to non-nuclear-weapon states, must give its consent to rule changes to allow the pending U.S.-Indian deal to go forward. The United States has proposed a one-time India-specific exception to NSG rules prohibiting nuclear trade with non-nuclear-weapon states that do not subject all of their nuclear facilities to IAEA safeguards (see page 22 ).

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns reiterated that approach at a July 27 briefing on the U.S.-Indian deal. “I can assure you that the United States is not going to suggest a similar deal with any other country in the world,” Burns said. Current Pakistani and former senior Israeli officials have argued that cooperation with NPT outliers should not be decided on a country-by-country basis but by a set of common criteria.

Israel is not the only Middle Eastern state indicating an interest in advancing a civil nuclear power program. About a dozen nations in the region have declared their interest in such programs in the past year.

“The rules governing the nuclear issue have changed in the entire region,” Jordan’s King Abdullah II told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in January.

Some states have hinted at the need to develop a hedge against Iran’s nuclear program. Officials have also cited environmental and economic reasons, saying they need a source of power other than fossil fuels for peaceful purposes such as electricity generation and desalination.

Among the leaders are Egypt and Turkey. Officials in Egypt, which abandoned a previous nuclear program after the 1986 Chernobyl accident, have proposed building a 1,000-megawatt reactor on its Mediterranean coast in the next decade with plans for more. Turkey wants to build at least a pair of power reactors along its Mediterranean or Black Sea coasts within the next five to six years.

In addition, Libya, which abandoned a fledgling nuclear weapons program in December 2003, has signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with France under which Paris would provide a reactor to power a Libyan desalination plant (see below). Algeria and Russia signed a nuclear development agreement in January 2007 as the North African nation, which has operated two research reactors for well more than a decade, aims to produce nuclear power. More controversially, Iran has also offered to share nuclear expertise with Algeria.

At the end of 2006, Saudi Arabia and the five other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates [UAE]) commissioned a year-long joint study on “the use of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.” Russian President Vladimir Putin has discussed nuclear cooperation with Riyadh, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy has agreed to help the UAE launch its own nuclear program.

Not to be left out, Jordan’s Abdullah discussed the possibility of purchasing Canadian reactors with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in July. In March, Jordanian Energy Minister Khaled Sharida said Amman wants to build its first reactor by 2015.

Morocco, Tunisia, and Syria have also indicated interest in peaceful nuclear power programs.

It is not clear how many of these proposals will come to fruition. Previous plans to build such plants in the region never went forward due to lack of financing or because of drops in the price of oil.

Soon after the United States and India concluded negotiations on a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement, Israeli officials announced in August that they too may be seeking U.S. help in furthering a civilian nuclear power program. The move comes at a time when Israel is pressuring the international community to clamp down on Iran’s nuclear program and as several other Middle Eastern states have declared their interest in civilian nuclear power programs. By Miles A. Pomper (Continue)

Iran Allegedly Skirts Hezbollah Arms Ban

C. I. Bosley

A year after the United Nations imposed a ban on arms sales to Hezbollah in the wake of its 2006 clash with Israel, the Shiite group in southern Lebanon is rearming. Iran and Syria have been implicated in the weapons buildup.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a report June 28 on implementation of last year’s UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which calls for a permanent cease-fire between Israel and Lebanon, implements an arms embargo on Hezbollah, and requires disarmament of the group, which the United States and some other Western countries have designated a terrorist organization. The 34-day war began last year when Israel launched a July military offensive into southern Lebanon after Hezbollah militants there abducted two Israeli soldiers. (See ACT, October 2006. )

In his report, Ban furnished details of extensive armaments smuggling across the Syria-Lebanon border to Hezbollah, as well as to Palestinian militants. Israel asserts these transfers occur weekly. One such incident occurred June 5, when Lebanese troops in the Bekaa Valley seized a truckload of rockets and mortars destined for Hezbollah. Ban termed the clandestine weapons shipments “of great concern” and in “clear violation” of Resolution 1701.

In a separate report, a UN team of experts tasked with assessing the situation along the Lebanese border concluded June 26 that Lebanese border guards demonstrated a “worrying lack of performance.” The Security Council had commissioned this fact-finding mission, citing “mounting information” on breaches of the arms embargo.

Although the Lebanese army deployed last fall more than 8,000 troops to guard the 250-kilometer boundary with Syria, the UN team determined that Lebanese security forces lacked adequate resources to accomplish their objective. Moreover, the experts faulted border guards for instances of “corruption.” Still, in recent months Hezbollah has publicly protested the seizure of its munitions by Lebanese authorities.

The majority faction of the Lebanese parliament issued a January statement contending that “forces directly affiliated with Syrian intelligence” were transporting weapons into Lebanon. Syria’s government denies any involvement, but an Israeli official told Arms Control Today Aug. 3 that Hezbollah is “feverishly receiving major supplies” from Syria.

The Israeli government claims that Iran is the source of many of the weapons transferred through Syria to Hezbollah. During the 2006 war, ordnance with Farsi lettering was discovered in southern Lebanon. In May, Turkish officials interdicted two shipments of Iranian weapons en route to Damascus, confiscating 300 rockets hidden underneath construction materials.

Iran’s ties to Hezbollah are long-standing. The organization was co-founded by Ali Akbar Mohtashemi Pour, then Tehran’s ambassador to Damascus. Arms Control Today asked Iran’s Mission to the UN about these links, but it declined to comment for this story.

Should Israel’s allegations prove accurate, both Tehran and Damascus would be acting in violation not only of Resolution 1701 but also Resolution 1747. That resolution, implemented in response to Iran’s failure to address the International Atomic Energy Agency’s concerns over its nuclear program, prohibits all Iranian weapons exports as well as all trafficking in Iranian weapons by third parties.

Ban has urged Iran and Syria to do more to prevent the weapons smuggling. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner also called for an increase in international pressure on those two countries.

Hezbollah contends it has replenished its stockpiles. Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s head, asserted July 28 that his group again possesses “rockets that can hit any area” in what he termed “occupied Palestine,” meaning Israel. (See ACT, October 2006. )

Hezbollah’s Mohtashemi Pour maintained in an August interview with the Iranian newspaper Sharq that in recent months “the Islamic Republic has made available long-range Zelzal-2 missiles” to Hezbollah. Israel contends that it had destroyed all of Hezbollah’s Zelzal rockets during the first night of the 2006 war.


A year after the United Nations imposed a ban on arms sales to Hezbollah in the wake of its 2006 clash with Israel, the Shiite group in southern Lebanon is rearming. Iran and Syria have been implicated in the weapons buildup. (Continue)

The Untold Nuclear Dimension of the Six-Day War



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Press Release

For Immediate Release: June 5, 2007
Press Contacts: Miles Pomper, Editor, Arms Control Today (202) 463-8270 x108

(Washington, D.C.): As the world prepares to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Arab-Israeli or Six-Day War, this month’s issue of Arms Control Today reveals the previously hidden role that the war played in pushing Israel to become a nuclear weapons power.

Avner Cohen, the foremost expert on Israel’s nuclear weapons history and author of the landmark book Israel and the Bomb, writes that in the stressful days leading up to the conflict, Israel, which already had developed the relevant technology, made the fateful leap to assemble complete nuclear weapons.

Cohen writes that “as far as can be determined, these improvised activities were not a response to any specific political or military request that came from the top, surely not in a response to any specific operational need. These steps were taken because it would have been inconceivable not to take them. The nuclear project was at a historical junction, and it was simply unthinkable for its leaders that, at such a national dire moment, when Israel was facing existential threats, they would sit idle and do nothing.”

Cohen also suggests that the Israeli example may have implications for how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program. “New evidence indicates that prior to that war, Israeli leaders were still unsure about their ultimate goals for the program and deeply concerned about world reaction if they were to move forward…. It is likely that Iran today, like Israel before the 1967 war, has taken important technological steps toward a nuclear weapons capability but has delayed making the essential political decision to move forward with such arms,” he writes. “Creative diplomacy may still be able to prevent Tehran from going nuclear.”

Additional information on the Israel's nuclear weapons can be found on ACA’s web site at <http://www.armscontrol.org/country/Israel/>.















As the world prepares to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Arab-Israeli or Six-Day War, this month’s issue of Arms Control Today reveals the previously hidden role that the war played in pushing Israel to become a nuclear weapons power. (Continue)

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Crossing the Threshold: The Untold Nuclear Dimension of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and Its Contemporary Lessons

Avner Cohen

Forty years ago, war dramatically transformed the Middle East. Six memorable days, known by Israelis as the Six-Day War and by Arabs and others as the 1967 War, redrew the landscape of the Arab-Israeli conflict in fundamental ways. In those six days, Israel defeated three Arab armies, gained territory three times its original size, and became the dominant military power in the region. From a nation that perceived itself as fighting for its own survival, Israel became an occupier.

In recent years, new historical research has taught us more about the war and its profound impact on the psyche of Israelis and Arabs alike.[1] Yet, one important aspect of the war and the crisis that preceded it has remained obscure and largely untold: the nuclear dimension of the war. On this issue, both sides still seem to bond together by layers of taboo, silence, and secrecy.

Some bits and pieces of additional historical information have emerged in recent years that permit a more comprehensive and daring reconstruction of the nuclear aspect of the 1967 war, at least on the Israeli side. This new evidence indicates that prior to that war, Israeli leaders were still unsure about their ultimate goals for the program and deeply concerned about world reaction if they were to move forward. The May 1967 crisis, however, also was a critical turning point in Israel’s nuclear history. It was then, in a crash and improvised initiative, that Israel assembled nuclear devices to be ready for the unthinkable.

This narrative not only allows us to understand the past better, but also it may suggest insights into the dynamics of nuclear proliferation, including possible implications for Iran’s nuclear program. It is likely that Iran today, like Israel before the 1967 war, has taken important technological steps toward a nuclear weapons capability but has delayed making the essential political decision to move forward with such arms. Creative diplomacy may still be able to prevent Tehran from going nuclear.

In the year prior to the 1967 war, Israel was moving fast toward wrapping up separate research and development efforts on fissile material production and weapons design and nearing a complete nuclear option. This convergence brought the Israeli nuclear project to a major junction that required a new set of political decisions. For all previous nuclear proliferators, this phase had ended with a full-yield nuclear test. Such a test not only demonstrated technical capability but also indicated that the state has made a nuclear commitment; testing was a membership claim to the nuclear club, a way to acknowledge the state’s new international status and remove political ambiguity.

Israel was in a position to conduct a full-yield nuclear test in the second half of 1966, had its leaders so chosen. Had Israel conducted a test that year, even a so-called peaceful nuclear explosion, it could have declared itself the world’s sixth nuclear state, and subsequently, it could have joined the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as a declared nuclear-weapon state. As a matter of international law, there was nothing illegal about following that path; China and France had just tested a few years earlier. Israel’s strategic situation and unique relationship with the United States, however, made it fundamentally different from previous proliferators. Because of these considerations, Israel’s political leadership was profoundly hesitant about the degree of its nuclear intentions and commitment.

One thing was clear: Prime Minister Levi Eshkol ruled out conducting a nuclear test on political grounds. “Do you think that the world would congratulate us for our achievement?” Eshkol used to ask sarcastically of those people around him who entertained the idea of a test. He had good reasons to reject a test outright.

First, Eshkol knew that a nuclear test would be a blatant violation of Israel’s “nonintroduction” commitment, the pledge that Israel would not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East. This formula had been used orally in 1962 by Israel’s first leader, David Ben-Gurion, and then a year later by Deputy Minister of Defense Shimon Peres, who used it in a response to a query from President John F. Kennedy. Eshkol, in a memorandum of understanding he signed with the United States in March 1965, made it a key pillar in U.S.-Israeli security relations. Israel left the exact meaning of “nuclear introduction” vague, and the United States did not press then for clarifications; but in those days, nonintroduction meant, at the minimum, nontesting, nonpossession, and nonproduction of nuclear weapons.[2]

In addition, Eshkol was aware that the superpowers were leading negotiations on a global treaty aimed at preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Conducting a nuclear test would not only be a catastrophe for U.S.-Israeli bilateral relations, relations that Eshkol had invested so much political capital to cultivate, but also an act of defiance against the entire world community.

Furthermore, the nonintroduction pledge meant more than a pledge to the United States. It reflected an Israeli consensus on the nation’s nuclear program. In the eyes of Eshkol’s closest political allies, in particular Ministers Yisrael Galili and Yigal Allon, both of whom had strong views on the nuclear issue, the nonintroduction pledge was not viewed as a concession to the United States but a genuine Israeli strategic interest, that Israel’s own ultimate interest lay in opposing the introduction of nuclear weapons to the Middle East. They thought that Israel should keep ahead of the Arab countries in nuclear research but should avoid initiating any move that would nuclearize the region.

Then, of course, there was the Egyptian factor. Eshkol knew that an Israeli test would be disastrous from a regional point of view. It would surely bring to an end all the friendly probes he was trying to initiate to the Arab world. In fact, it could well provoke Egypt into an all-out war, as Egyptian leader and Arab nationalist Gamal Abdul Nasser had publicly threatened in early 1966 and as many Israelis feared.

Putting the test issue aside, Israel needed to figure out its response to a set of complicated issues involving the future of its nuclear project:

• What should be the strategic role of the nation’s nuclear option for the post-research and development period? What should be Israel’s real desire: to possess nuclear weapons secretly or to obtain the political assets that nuclear weapons could buy?

• Could the nuclear program be used as a bargaining chip in a larger political deal, either with the United States or Egypt? Should Israel pursue such a bargain?

• What does Israel actually mean when it commits itself to nonintroduction of nuclear weapons? Was this a genuine Israeli interest or just a convenient formula to deflect U.S. pressure?

• How should Israel operationalize its nuclear option? Should it include weaponization and deployment?

• Should Israel move the Dimona nuclear infrastructure to a mode of production? Would that be compatible with the declaratory stance of nonintroduction?

• What should be the future of the missile project?

In 1966-1967, Israel had no clear-cut answers to these questions. Ben-Gurion had left those long-term issues unsettled for years, even untouched; now the project was approaching the threshold point, and they had to be addressed. The challenge was to find the right balance between the two opposite horns of the state’s nuclear dilemma, between technological resolve and political caution. In a way, it was a moment of truth for the national nuclear project.

Of course, the project’s leaders pushed for moving forward. For them, it was almost inconceivable to bring the project to a pause at such a critical junction. The very ethos of the project, as they understood it, was that the nuclear option meant an operational capability available for the existential moment of last resort. Freezing the program in a nondeployable mode was unthinkable. Israel must retain a real nuclear option, not something virtual and amorphous.

New historical evidence suggests that Eshkol and some of his political and military associates saw things differently. While Eshkol generally did not intervene in the project’s development work, there are indications that he was cautious, hesitant, and even ambivalent about its future. During 1965-1967, Eshkol, along with the leadership of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), increasingly worried about the potential Egyptian reaction to the completion of the Dimona complex, especially if the Egyptians concluded that Israel was indeed getting the bomb. Israel was especially concerned about a scenario of an Egyptian surprise aerial attack on the facilities. In “Eshkol, Give the Order!,” a new study based on exclusive IDF archival material, Israeli historian Ami Gluska revealed how deeply engraved those concerns were among the IDF leadership.[3] Specifically, they were concerned that Dimona’s lack of international “legitimacy” would tempt Egypt to attack it while making it difficult for Israel to respond. In a top-level meeting in 1965, IDF Chief of Staff General Yitzhak Rabin expressed this very concern: “If Egypt bombs Dimona, and we want to wage a war, we could be issued an ultimatum from the entire world.”[4]

Although Nasser’s threats of “preventive war” were not perceived as practical in the eyes of Israeli senior intelligence officers, an attack aimed solely at Dimona was something else. It was viewed as a realistic threat.[5] In late 1966, Rabin cited concerns over a possible Egyptian attack on Dimona to explain why Israel should limit its military actions against Syria. “There is one vital object in the south,” Rabin reminded his colleagues, “which is an ideal object for a limited attack, and of which Egypt may have the support of the entire world.”[6]

Those concerns were most critical in shaping the fundamental Israeli perceptions and responses when Egypt massed troops on the Sinai peninsula in May 1967.[7] One could not understand the gravity with which Israel viewed this move without taking into account Israeli apprehensions that the Dimona nuclear complex may have been the motivation for the crisis and that Egypt was planning to attack it.[8] There were high-altitude reconnaissance flights over Dimona on May 17 and May 26 that the Israeli air force was unable to intercept, and those flights had dramatic effects on Israeli perceptions of the situation. [9] Indeed, Egypt may have been very close to launching an aerial attack on Dimona on May 26 or May 27, but it was called off by Nasser on a few hours’ notice.[10]

There are other indications of Israeli apprehensions on the nuclear issue. In the year and a half prior to the Six-Day War, Mossad Chief General Meir Amit promoted the establishment of a direct, secret channel with Egypt. It started as a humanitarian effort—releasing Israeli imprisoned spies—but Amit was pushing to turn the probe into a channel for diplomacy aimed at transforming relations between the two states. Although the nuclear issue was not the trigger that led to the Ikaros initiative (the Mossad code name for that probe) in 1966, there is little doubt that it was a stimulating factor in Amit’s overall interest. By 1966, Amit knew that Israel was fast approaching the nuclear threshold and understood the grave implications of a nuclearized Middle East. He was troubled that the advent of Israel’s nuclear capability could lead potentially to war or to the Soviet Union enfolding Egypt in its nuclear umbrella.

Amit recognized that the period from 1966 to 1968 was a critical time, perhaps the last chance for Israel to reach out to Egyptian leaders on the nuclear issue before the situation became irreversible. The Ikaros initiative could have been put to the test when Amit was invited for a secret visit to Cairo, including a possible meeting with Nasser, but the Eshkol government was afraid to take the risk. Amit continued with efforts to keep Ikaros alive until the 1967 war but without much success.[11]

Another indication of Israel’s nervousness on the nuclear issue came from a different direction. In December 1966, a major industrial accident occurred in one of the “hottest” areas in the Dimona complex. An employee was killed, and a sensitive working area was contaminated. It took weeks of cleanup to decontaminate the area. The accident left Israel’s nuclear chiefs shaken, including Eshkol. Three months later, in a cable to Washington, U.S. Ambassador Walworth Barbour reported that he never saw Eshkol so uncertain about the future of the nuclear project, suggesting that it was time for innovative diplomacy on the nuclear issue. In correspondence in March 1967, Barbour dismissed U.S. intelligence reports that asserted Israel was only weeks from the bomb and noted that Dimona was “not running at full blast.”[12]

The final evidence is extracted from an interview I conducted in 1996 with Dr. Floyd Culler, the team leader of most of the U.S. annual visits at Dimona in the mid- to late 1960s. In that interview, Culler revealed that, at the end of his last visit at Dimona in April 1967, Professor Amos de-Shalit, the official Israeli host, took him aside to raise with him some “nonconventional” ideas how to prevent nuclearization in the Middle East. Culler refused to tell me what exactly those ideas were but noted that he wrote a special report on the topic to the Department of State. De-Shalit presented his ideas as “private,” but Culler took it as if de-Shalit had launched a balloon trial on behalf of Eshkol.[13]

The general picture from the bits and pieces of evidence is that Israel was quickly reaching the threshold point, but its political leadership was still unsure whether doing so would really serve its true interests. I believe Eshkol was open to political solutions that would have allowed him not to do so.

Then came the crisis of May 1967, which dramatically changed the nuclear situation in the Middle East. As the likelihood of war intensified and some Israelis contemplated the need to have temporary burial sites for thousands, even tens of thousands, of Israeli causalities in case of an Egyptian attack, Israel did something it never had done previously. Israeli teams assembled virtually all the components, including the handful of nuclear cores it had, into improvised but operational explosive devices. Preliminary contingency plans were even drawn up for how such improvised devices could be used in a manner that would demonstrate nuclear capability short of a military use. An unpopulated site was even chosen. The idea behind it was highly indicative of Israel’s anxious state of mind in those days of May and June 1967. If all else failed and Israel’s national existence would be in peril, the state would still have its doomsday capability.

Given that the capability was real, there was an inevitable need to contemplate the circumstances under which it could be used or, more accurately, the circumstances under which decision makers would be willing to consider using it. Clearly, such contingencies were incompatible with IDF plans for war that were based on aerial preemption followed by an Israeli armor attack deep into the Sinai. Efforts to rationalize atomic use illustrated the eeriness involved in thinking about the unthinkable. They involved doomsday scenarios of a colossal failure of the IDF and a decisive strategic surprise by Egypt, say, massive use of missiles tipped with chemical warheads against Israeli cities.

As far as can be determined, these improvised activities were not a response to any specific political or military request that came from the top, surely not in a response to any specific operational need. These steps were taken because it would have been inconceivable not to take them. The nuclear project was at a historical junction, and it was simply unthinkable for its leaders that, at such a national dire moment, when Israel was facing existential threats, they would sit idle and do nothing. If the capability could be made available, it must be made available.

In the minds of the project’s leaders, the actual assembly of all the components into one system was momentous because it signified that Israel had became a nuclear power.[14] From their perspective, it was also an irreversible moment. They could not conceive a future Israeli prime minister who would give up this capability for any political assets, except perhaps a real peace. Indeed, while Eshkol may have kept open the option to sign the NPT until mid-1968, he never did do. His successor, Prime Minister Golda Meir, ultimately decided not to join the treaty and Israel’s retention of these weapons was firmly established.[15]

The Israeli nuclear situation in 1966-1967 is intriguing because of the apparent tension between technology and politics, between technical capability and political commitment. Judging by technology, Israel was reaching the nuclear threshold and appeared to have made a commitment to possess nuclear weapons.

Yet, this was not the case. Politically, Israel in 1966-1967 was still far from making a firm political commitment to nuclear weapons, let alone on nuclear strategy. Not only was Eshkol reluctant to take the nuclear plunge, but he was apparently leaning to keep the option open yet not necessarily to go beyond it. At that time, Eshkol probably thought that the country would eventually sign the NPT and position itself on the non-nuclear side of the threshold rather than on the nuclear side. Israel was ambivalent, hesitant, and sitting on the fence on the nuclear issue; the Israeli nuclear case was still undetermined. I would even make the counterfactual suggestion that had the 1967 war not broken, and the NPT had been presented for signature in that year and not a year later, Israel would have signed the NPT and opted for a substantial nuclear infrastructure, including nuclear power, but not pursued actual nuclear weapons. Technology is important and provides options to policymakers, but in itself, it does not determine the course of action.

This account is at odds with the realist picture of the dynamics of nuclear proliferation. Realists often refer to Israel as the purest case of nuclear proliferation, a case of a state determined to go nuclear because of security reasons, a case where soft issues such as prestige, domestic, or bureaucratic politics play a very limited role. The realist picture tends to view the state in deterministic and monolithic terms.

As the Israeli case shows, this realist picture is no more than a poor caricature of the real world of nuclear proliferation. The reality of nuclear proliferation is inherently fluid, tentative, fuzzy, and ultimately undeterministic in its nature. Key proliferation decisions are never solid commitments. It takes states many years, often a decade and longer, to establish full nuclear weapons capability. Given the time frame and complexity of the proliferation reality, decisions tend to be tentative, hesitant, and reversible.

Moreover, states can even complete the research and development phase without forming such clarity, as the Israeli case in 1966-1967 illustrates. By that time, Israel still had no clue how far it would be able to go, how far the world would allow it to go, or how far it would like to go for its own sake. After Israel crossed the nuclear threshold, however, after the dramatic events in late May 1967, the situation changed. At that point, it became much more difficult, perhaps close to impossible, for Israel to roll back what it had achieved.

I would dare to suggest that these historical lessons may be of some relevance even when we consider the current Iranian nuclear situation. It would be a mistake to think about Iran’s nuclear ambitions as irreversible.

One can reasonably make the case that Iran’s nuclear project today is at a similar juncture to Israel in 1963-1964 as it started to operate the Dimona reactor. Iran is commonly believed to be two to three years away from the ability to produce weapons-grade fissile material on an industrial scale, a threshold that Israel crossed sometime in 1966. If Israel in a world without the NPT and without political and economic sanctions was hesitant about its nuclear future, Iran today should be viewed with an even stronger sense of uncertainty and indeterminism.

Notwithstanding the obvious domestic differences between Israeli democracy and Iranian theocracy, Iran’s governing system is more similar to Israel than Iraq was under Saddam Hussein in terms if its national decision-making process. In Iran, significant decisions cannot be made by a sheer dictate without some degree of public support or without considerable consensus within the national elite.[16] Although there is a great and visible popular support in Iran for the notion that it has the right to full industrial enrichment, there is no public support for producing nuclear weapons, nor for leaving the NPT. Furthermore, hurtful sanctions could make more Iranians realize that they would pay a price for defying world opinion on the nuclear issue.

Nothing is inevitable at this point about the Iranian bomb, and it would be a grave mistake to perceive it as such. At the same time, the West must be resolute not to allow Iran to establish “facts on the ground” as a perceived negotiating tactic for, as the Israeli case shows, once established, such capabilities are difficult if not impossible to reverse.

Avner Cohen is a senior research scholar with the Center of Security and International Studies at the University of Maryland and author of Israel and the Bomb (1998), from which some of the material in this article is derived. His new book, Israel’s Last Taboo, will be published in 2008 by Columbia University Press.


1. Michael B. Oren, Six Days of War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002); Tom Segev, 1967: Israel, the War and the Year That Transformed the Middle East (New York: Henry Holt, 2007).

2. Indeed, in his speech in the Knesset in May 1966, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol confirmed that interpretation when he stated plainly that Israel had no nuclear weapons.

3. Ami Gluska, Eshkol, Give the Order! (Tel Aviv: Ministry of Defense, 2004) (in Hebrew).

4. Ibid., p. 71. IDF Chief of Staff General Yitzhak Rabin’s statement sounds off-course to contemporary readers, but it reveals how Israelis thought about the nuclear project in those days. Ironically, Israel took the initiative 16 years later and attacked the Iraqi Osiraq reactor, which was under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.

5. There was even some vague concern as to possible Soviet reaction to the discovery that Israel was approaching the nuclear threshold. In retrospect, it appears that Israel should have been even more concerned about Soviet reaction to Dimona. In a new book, Israeli researchers Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez make a circumstantial case that the Soviets instigated the false reports that led to the Six-Day War as part of a larger plot aimed at Israel’s nuclear program. Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez, Foxbats Over Dimona (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007).

6. Gluska, Eshkol, Give the Order!, p. 71.

7. Ibid., pp. 70-71, 73, 225, 227-230, 234, 244, 245, 250-251, 253, and 285.

8. Gluska, Eshkol, Give the Order!, pp. 300-301 and 495, n. 17. In Foxbats Over Dimona, Ginor and Remez make a claim that those reconnaissance flights were made by Soviet MiG-25s (Foxbats) flown by Soviet pilots.

9. Gluska, Eshkol, Give the Order!, pp. 227-230, 300-303, and 495, n. 17. The second flight, on May 26, was reported to Israeli decision makers as they were attending a special cabinet meeting. During a consultation between Eshkol and Rabin, following the first report, Rabin told Eshkol that Israeli intelligence intercepted “a strange and worrisome transmission indicating possible coordination between interceptors and bombers.” The high-altitude flight was initially interpreted as a possible prelude to a full aerial attack on Dimona. Decades later, a participant in that cabinet meeting revealed the sense of shock among the ministers when they were notified that “a squadron” of Egyptian aircraft was flying over Dimona.

10. Egyptian Chief of Staff General Muhammad Fawzi alluded to an Egyptian aerial attack in his memoirs. See William B. Quandt, Peace Process (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1993), p. 512, n. 38; Gluska, Eshkol, Give the Order!, pp. 288-289 and 492-493, nn. 51-52.

11. Meir Amit, Head to Head: A Personal View of Great Events and Clandestine Operations (Or Yehuda: Hed Artzi, 2000) (in Hebrew); Ronen Bergmann, “Peace, Try After: How Peace Was Missed on the Eve of the Six Day War,” Yediot Achronot, June 6, 2005 (interview with Meir Amit).

12. Walworth Barbour letter to Rodger Davies, March 9, 1967, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-68, Vol. XVIII, p. 391.

13. Floyd Culler, interviews and correspondence with author, May-June 1996. Culler declined in 1996 to specify the details of the de-Shalit message but suggested that I talk to him again a few years later. Culler died in late 2004.

14. One of them recalls, as he told me decades later, that he proposed after the war to seize the moment and to conduct a test with one of those cores. His proposal was never seriously considered. “It was a total taboo to them,” he recalled years later. It shows the strength of nuclear caution at the political level, but one can only speculate the outcome had that proposal been accepted.

15. Avner Cohen and William Burr, “Israel Crosses the Threshold,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 62, No. 3 (May/June 2006), pp. 22-30.

16. Michael Herzog, “Iranian Public Opinion on the Nuclear Program: A Potential Asset for the International Community,” Policy Focus, No. 56 (Washington, D.C.: Washington Institute for Near East Policy, June 2006).

Forty years ago, war dramatically transformed the Middle East. Six memorable days, known by Israelis as the Six-Day War and by Arabs and others as the 1967 War, redrew the landscape of the Arab-Israeli conflict in fundamental ways. In those six days, Israel defeated three Arab armies, gained territory three times its original size, and became the dominant military power in the region. From a nation that perceived itself as fighting for its own survival, Israel became an occupier. (Continue)

Israeli Cluster Munitions Use Examined

Wade Boese

The Department of State recently informed Congress that Israeli use of U.S.-origin cluster munitions in Lebanon last summer might have broken U.S. export rules. Washington has yet to announce if it will take any action against its close ally, but some lawmakers are proposing new U.S. cluster munitions export and use policies.

Responding to an attack by Lebanon-based Hezbollah guerrillas last July, Israel launched a military offensive into its northern neighbor. During the ensuing month-long campaign, Israel employed cluster munitions, which are weapons dropped by aircraft, shot from artillery, or launched by rockets that can scatter up to several hundred small bomblets or grenades over broad areas. The dispersed submunitions sometimes fail to explode as intended, sowing wherever they land with potentially lethal or harmful explosives.

The UN Mine Action Service recently reported that, by mid-February, some 840 cluster munitions strike areas had been identified and that an estimated one million unexploded cluster submunitions litter southern Lebanon. It also noted that 30 deaths and 186 injuries have resulted from the detonation of leftover cluster munitions and other ordnance.

The United States launched an investigation last fall into whether Israel may have used U.S.-supplied cluster munitions in Lebanon contrary to a bilateral export agreement restricting their use. The regulations are secret, but they are generally understood to bar the use of cluster munitions against targets that are in populated areas or that are not strictly military. Washington initially imposed the regulations after previously suspending cluster munitions exports to Israel from 1982 to 1988 following allegations that Israeli forces improperly used such arms in attacks against Lebanese civilians.

In a classified report delivered to the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs Committees, the State Department made a preliminary finding that there “could have been some violations” of U.S. export rules during last year’s war, State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack said Jan. 29. He told reporters that he would not speculate on actions Congress or the administration might take in response because the investigation was still ongoing.

A State Department official told Arms Control Today Feb. 20 that “we are continuing to gather information.” The official added, “As we learn more, we will take action as appropriate.”

Some lawmakers are not waiting on a final investigation outcome to address the cluster munitions issue. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), and Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced legislation Feb. 14 to prohibit U.S. use, sale, or transfer of cluster munitions that have submunitions with failure rates greater than one percent. The bill also requires that cluster munitions only be used against “clearly defined military targets” and not in areas where civilians are present or normally inhabit. The president for national security reasons could waive the first restriction on failure rates, but not the second limitation.

Feinstein and Leahy proposed similar legislation last year as an amendment to the annual defense spending bill, but the Senate rejected it 70-30. Opponents argued the measure might impair U.S. military operations.

U.S. policy since the fall of 2004 has prohibited the Pentagon from procuring new cluster munitions with submunitions that have failure rates greater than one percent. The policy, however, does not forbid U.S. armed forces from using some 5.5 million older, stockpiled cluster munitions that might not meet the higher performance standard.

“The impact of unexploded cluster bombs on civilian populations has been devastating,” Feinstein said Feb. 14, citing estimates that past U.S. use of such weapons in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, and Laos has caused thousands of civilian casualties. She also noted that she had been motivated in part by “recent developments in Lebanon.”

Israeli officials contend they took every precaution to avoid civilian casualties, including warnings to noncombatants through leaflets, talks with local leaders, and phone calls to evacuate areas where Hezbollah fighters were present. Still, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) initiated a review last November of its cluster munitions use in Lebanon.

David Siegel, a spokesperson for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, told Arms Control Today Feb. 21 that the IDF inquiry was “still underway” but nearing completion. He also said Israel had provided “detailed responses” to U.S. investigators.

In the conflict’s aftermath, Siegel also said Israel had provided assistance “as extensive as possible,” including maps, coordinates, and training, to help locate and clear the cluster munitions remnants. Some UN officials and nongovernmental humanitarian and demining groups have contended that Israel has not given enough specific details to help with the cleanup.

Governments, including the United States, have donated at least $21.5 million for cleaning up and disposing of the cluster submunitions contaminating southern Lebanon. The UN Mine Action Service predicts the work might be completed by the end of this year.

Meanwhile, 46 governments agreed Feb. 23 in Oslo, Norway, to negotiate by 2008 a legally-binding treaty to ban cluster munitions that cause “unacceptable harm to civilians.” Participating countries, which currently do not include Israel or the United States, will meet again in May in Lima, Peru.

Israel Looks to Bolster Arms Capabilities

Wade Boese

After absorbing thousands of rocket and missile attacks this summer, Israel is keener than ever to expand its missile defenses. As international tensions with Iran mount, Israel also is moving to boost its offensive military capabilities with the purchase of two new submarines.

Reacting to the July 12 kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah militants, Israel launched a four-week offensive to root out and eliminate members of the radical Shiite group in southern Lebanon. As Israeli air strikes pounded targets across southern Lebanon and its ground forces poured across the border, Hezbollah unleashed a torrent of rocket attacks against northern Israeli cities.

By the time hostilities ended Aug. 14, 3,970 rockets and missiles had struck inside Israel, according to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The projectiles killed 43 Israeli civilians and forced more than a million people to seek protection in shelters, the ministry reported.

Israel possesses two operational anti-missile systems: the joint U.S.-Israeli Arrow and the U.S.-manufactured Patriot Advanced Capability-2 (PAC-2). Although both systems were activated during the recent conflict, no interceptors were fired because the incoming rockets were of a shorter range capability than the two missile defenses are designed to counter.

An estimated 80 percent of the rockets that struck Israel were 122-millimeter Katyushas with ranges of 20 kilometers or less and flight times of roughly one to two minutes. Hezbollah also fired 220-millimeter and 302-millimeter rockets but did not apparently launch many Fajr-type missiles, with ranges of 40 to 70 kilometers, or a single one of its longest-range missiles, the Zelzal, which has an estimated range of up to 200 kilometers. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) claimed that it succeeded in destroying some of these more potent missiles before they could be fired.

Prior to the recent conflict, the Israeli government had estimated that Hezbollah had stockpiled up to 12,000 rockets and missiles primarily from its patrons in Iran and Syria. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs asserted in an Aug. 15 statement that “most of the missiles [that] hit Israeli cities were manufactured by Iran.”

To prevent Hezbollah from importing additional arms, UN Security Council Resolution 1701, approved Aug. 11, calls on countries to prevent arms shipments into Lebanon except to the Lebanese government. The resolution also reiterates a demand from Resolution 1559 two years ago that Lebanon disband and disarm all militias inside its borders.

On Sept. 12, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan reported to the Security Council that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had provided personal assurances that his country, a key conduit for arms into Lebanon, would “undertake all necessary measures” to implement the arms embargo. The Lebanese government also pledged to deploy more troops along its border with Syria to prevent arms flows into Lebanon and requested that the United Nations help step up maritime patrols along the 200 kilometers of Lebanese coastline. France, Greece, Italy, and the United Kingdom have pledged to provide forces for this mission.

Still, Israel harbors doubts about the potential effectiveness of the embargo, particularly because it blames Lebanon for failing to disarm Hezbollah over the past two years. The group “would never have obtained the missiles and military equipment at its disposal had the Lebanese government not allowed this weaponry to reach Lebanon,” according to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Hezbollah remains defiant. In a Sept. 22 speech, Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah claimed the group still possessed 20,000 rockets and that “no army in the world” could disarm it, according to several press reports.

Consequently, Israel is looking to secure itself, in part, by augmenting its missile defense capabilities to intercept shorter-range rockets. Earlier this year, Israel started moving in this direction by selecting Raytheon Corp. and Israel’s Rafael Corp. to develop the Short Range Ballistic Missile Defense (SRBMD). This program is supposed to produce an interceptor missile that is faster and has a greater range than the PAC-2.

Yet, the system will be geared toward destroying projectiles with greater ranges than the Katyushas, leaving Israel vulnerable to attacks by these and similar shorter-range rockets. To address this void, Israel is evaluating a series of weapons concepts, including lasers, with the goal of selecting an option by the end of this year.

The United States and Israel previously explored a joint laser system, the Mobile Tactical High Energy Laser, for the Katyusha-type threat, but Washington terminated the program in September 2005. Dan O’Boyle, a spokesman for Army missile defense programs at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, told Arms Control Today Sept. 20 that the program was cancelled because of “higher priority funding requirements and pressing financial obligations to support our deployed soldiers.”

In general, Israel relies on U.S. funding to pursue its anti-missile projects. For example, the United States has provided roughly $1.5 billion since 1988 to the Arrow program. Israel keeps its missile defense funding secret.

With U.S. help, Israel is also aiming to improve the Arrow. Israel wants to expand the interceptor’s range, enable it to conduct intercepts at a higher altitude, and possibly shift it to a kinetic, or hit-to-kill, capability. Current Arrow interceptors employ a conventional explosive warhead.

Israel’s motivation for pursuing these upgrades is to stay ahead of what it views as Iran’s efforts to enhance its ballistic missile arsenal and develop nuclear weapons. Iran’s Shahab-3 is estimated to be capable of striking Israel. (See ACT, November 2004. )

The recent conflict with Hezbollah, which Israel considers an Iranian proxy, appears to have sharpened Israel’s concerns about Iran. “I think the Iranian threat is now also clearer,” Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told reporters Sept. 13 in Washington.

In a move aimed at bolstering its military capabilities vis-à-vis Iran, Israel in July signed a contract to purchase two Dolphin submarines from Germany. The deal came to light in August.

Israel already has three earlier versions of the diesel-electric-powered vessels, which allegedly have been outfitted to carry nuclear-armed missiles. (See ACT, November 2003. ) Although generally suspected of building up an inventory of nuclear weapons numbering in the tens to low hundreds, Israel adheres to a policy of nuclear ambiguity, only saying that it will not be the first country to “introduce” nuclear arms into the region. The German government has said the submarines are not designed to deliver nuclear weapons.



After absorbing thousands of rocket and missile attacks this summer, Israel is keener than ever to expand its missile defenses. As international tensions with Iran mount, Israel also is moving to boost its offensive military capabilities with the purchase of two new submarines. (Continue)


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