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The Arms Control Association is an "exceptional organization that effectively addresses pressing national and international challenges with an impact that is disproportionate to its small size." 

– John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
January 19, 2011
Israel

The Knesset Debates Israel's Nuclear Program

March 2000

For the first time in its history, the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, held a discussion of Israel's nuclear program February 2. Issam Mukhul, an Arab member of the communist Hadash Party, spurred debate on the controversial and previously off-limits subject by petitioning the Israeli Supreme Court to allow a hearing in the face of stiff opposition from the Knesset leadership. But before the Supreme Court could rule, the leadership agreed to a very limited public airing of the issue.

The abbreviated debate, which lasted just under one hour, featured loud exchanges between angry parliamentarians who objected to public discussion of the nuclear issue, and Mukhul and other Arab members who strongly criticized the program on environmental and security grounds. Chaim Ramon, the government's minister for Jerusalem affairs, reiterated Israel's long-standing policy that it would not be the first nation to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East.

While neither Israel nor the United States has ever officially acknowledged the existence of an Israeli nuclear weapons program, Israel is widely considered a de facto nuclear weapons state. Estimates of the size and composition of the Israeli arsenal vary from 50 to hundreds of warheads. Israel is not a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It has signed but not ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

The Knesset Debates Israel's Nuclear Program

Mixed U.S. Signals on Israel-China Deal

A Russian-made aircraft destined for the Chinese military arrived in Israel October 25 to be outfitted with the Phalcon advanced airborne early-warning (AEW) radar system, eliciting contradictory reactions from the Clinton administration. While press reports indicated that the White House had raised concerns about the sale and other Israeli military transfers to China, the State Department publicly downplayed the deal.

In a November 12 press briefing State Department spokesman James Rubin said the U.S. government had "no reason to believe" that the Israeli radar contained any U.S.-controlled technology and therefore American law could not prohibit the sale. However, Rubin stressed that the U.S. regularly holds discussions with Israel on arms sales, particularly ones that involve "sophisticated technology."

Though receipt of the Israeli Phalcon radar system, which enables surveillance activities up to a range of 250 miles, will give China its first AEW capability, the benefit to the Chinese air force will be restricted by a number of practical factors, including the limited time that a single plane can be in service. Beijing will also have to train new crews to operate the plane and will be dependent upon Israel for future maintenance. The initial contract, signed in 1996, called for Israel to equip four Russian-manufactured IL-76 planes with the Phalcon radar, costing $250 million apiece, but Beijing may postpone radar installation on and delivery of the three remaining planes for budgetary reasons and to assess the performance of the first plane.

Israel and China have a history of arms deals and military cooperation dating back to 1979, including work on air-to-air missiles and China's latest indigenously built fighter aircraft, the J-10. On an October visit to Israel, Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian reportedly discussed Israeli upgrade of China's aging MiG-21 fleet.

Israel Conducts Successful Arrow Test

On November 1, Israel conducted its first successful system-wide test of the joint U.S.-Israeli Arrow 2 ballistic missile defense system. The Arrow system, comprised of a fire-control radar system and battle-management center, in addition to the missiles and launcher, intercepted and destroyed a Scud-type target launched from a ship in the Mediterranean. Arrow project manager Danny Peretz said the interceptor missile was not programmed with the target's trajectory before the test, reported Ha'aretz newspaper.

Designed to intercept ballistic missiles at altitudes between six and 25 miles, the Arrow system will be deployed at fixed sites in Israel. Unlike the U.S. Theater High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) systems under development, the Arrow interceptor missile has a blast-fragmentation warhead rather than a hit-to-kill warhead, making it more likely that an incoming missile will be intercepted, but less likely that it will be completely destroyed.

Similar to U.S. theater missile defense efforts, Arrow has been plagued by delays. When Israel first started its theater missile defense program in 1986, the deployment of an initial operating capability was slated for 1995, but Israeli defense officials now estimate that such a capability will not be available until the middle of next year. The United States is paying for approximately $600 million of the estimated $1.6 billion program, which will finance deployment of two Arrow batteries, and the U.S. Congress recently approved $45 million to help fund Israeli acquisition of a third.

New U.S.-Israeli Strategic Dialogue Announced; Israel Acquires New Submarine

Howard Diamond

HINTS OF ISRAEL'S normally hidden nuclear deterrent surfaced twice in July, first with the announcement of a new mechanism for U.S.-Israeli strategic dialogue, and then with the arrival in Israel of a new German-built submarine capable of providing a secure second-strike capability. Though neither of the two events was explicitly nuclear-related, their high profile was clearly intended to warn potential Israeli adversaries, such as Iran and Iraq. Long believed to be the only Middle Eastern country with nuclear weapons, Israel faces a security environment changed by Tehran's July 1998 test of its 1,300-kilometer-range Shahab-3 missile and Baghdad's continued success in preserving parts of its weapons of mass destruction programs in defiance of the UN Security Council.

On July 19, after meeting with new Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, President Clinton announced the creation of a new U.S.-Israeli Strategic Policy Planning Group to consider ways to "bolster Israel's indigenous defense and deterrent capabilities, as well as the bilateral cooperation to meet the strategic threats Israel faces." Clinton said the new group would report directly to himself and Barak every four months. According to the Israeli paper Ha'aretz, the agenda for the group will include "Israel's security requirements...ways and means of assuring and increasing Israel's deterrent power by supplies of modern technologies and weapons systems…[and] a broad mandate to discuss joint strategic planning, over and above any other similar bilateral forums currently in existence."

The new strategic dialogue mechanism supersedes a joint planning committee created in October 1998 to secure Israeli acceptance of the Wye River Memorandum, a key step in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. A memorandum of agreement signed October 31, 1998 by President Clinton and then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu committed the United States to "enhancing Israel's defensive and deterrent capabilities and upgrading the strategic and military relationships, as well as technological cooperation between them." The October agreement also said that the United States "would view with particular gravity direct threats to Israel's security arising from the regional deployment of ballistic missiles of intermediate range or greater. In the event of such a threat, the United States government would consult promptly with the government of Israel with respect to what support, diplomatic or otherwise, or assistance it can lend to Israel."

The joint consultative group established in October 1998 met twice but failed to make much progress, allegedly due to the sensitivity of the topics being discussed and the size of the two delegations. The new group will include only three or four "senior representatives" from each side, half as many as the previous effort. The strategic dialogue will be paralleled by a new Defense Policy Advisory Group meant to coordinate Israeli military planning with the U.S. Department of Defense.

Together with the new modes of consultation, President Clinton announced his intention to restructure U.S. aid to Israel by phasing out economic aid while increasing U.S. military assistance by one-third to $2.4 billion per year. The president said he would seek an additional $1.2 billion from Congress to subsidize Israeli military redeployments called for under the Wye River agreement and would request funding for a third battery of Israel's Arrow theater missile defense system.

Submarines and Deterrence

The July 27 arrival in Israel of the first of three Dolphin-class diesel-electric submarines may indicate further maturation of Israel's suspected nuclear arsenal. While refusing to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) since the 1960s, Israeli officials have maintained that they would not be the first to "introduce" nuclear weapons into the Middle East. Although a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Israel has refused to accept international safeguards on its Dimona reactor facility, which is believed to house a plutonium reprocessing plant. At the submarine's acceptance ceremony in Haifa, Barak said the Dolphin (the first of class) and its two sister ships would "change the entire face of the [Israeli] navy and the long-arm capabilities of Israel."

Germany agreed to pay for two-and-a-half of the three $300 million Dolphin-class submarines in 1991, after the role of German companies in supporting Iraq's chemical weapons program became public. Israel's initial contract for the subs was canceled in 1989 for budgetary reasons. The Dolphin has 10 torpedo tubes (six 533-millimeter and four 650-millimeter) and can carry surface-to-surface missiles or torpedoes. Israel, which already produces several types of unmanned aerial vehicles and air-launched cruise missiles, is widely believed to be technically capable of building a submarine-launched cruise missile (SLCM). The larger-diameter torpedo tubes would also provide additional flexibility to Israeli designers seeking to develop a long-range nuclear-capable SLCM.

In the past, senior Israeli officials have made statements suggesting the new submarines will have a nuclear role. In a 1995 interview with Ha'aretz, David Ivry, the director-general of the Ministry of Defense, suggested Israel needed a strategic deterrent force with a "second-strike" capability. Major General Avraham Botzer, former chief of the Israeli navy, said in a 1990 interview with Israeli television, "Submarines all over the world serve as part of the deterrent system against non-conventional warfare. They are a way of guaranteeing that the enemy will not be tempted to strike pre-emptively with non-conventional weapons and get away scot-free."

Based on plutonium production estimates, Israel's nuclear arsenal is thought to range from 75-130 weapons, including warheads for its 50 mobile 660-kilometer-range Jericho-1 missiles and an estimated 50 1,500-kilometer-range Jericho-2 missiles. The Israeli air force is also believed to be nuclear capable, and Israel's recent acquisition of 25 F-15Is and announced purchase of 50 F-16Is have emphasized extended range as a key performance criterion.

Israel, Syria Seek Arms

Wade Boese

WHILE PROSPECTS OF reviving the stalled Middle East peace process appeared to have received a boost with the May 17 election of Ehud Barak as Israel's new prime minister, both Israel and Syria looked to strengthen their militaries in July. Syrian President Hafez al-Assad reportedly explored resuming arms buys from Russia, its long-time supplier, during a July 5-6 trip to Moscow. Less than two weeks later, Barak told U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen, in a long-awaited decision, that Israel would use U.S. military aid funds to purchase 50 F-16I fighter jets, with an option for 60 more.

In his first visit to Russia since 1991, Assad met with President Boris Yeltsin and other top defense and arms officials. Damascus, which owes Moscow at least $11 billion for past Soviet arms purchases, wants to upgrade its largely outdated weaponry by purchasing advanced aircraft, tanks and anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles. However, no discussions or deals were publicly confirmed.

The U.S. State Department said on July 6 that it was "very concerned" about possible Russian arms deals with Syria, a country Washington classifies as a state-sponsor of terrorism. U.S. law proscribes appropriation of Foreign Assistance Act funds for governments that export "lethal military equipment" to countries designated as state-sponsors of terrorism. However, in March, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright waived that provision for $90 million in financial assistance to Moscow, despite Russia's sale of anti-tank missiles to Syria. Instead, Washington imposed sanctions on three Russian companies involved in the deal. (See ACT, March 1999.)

On his first U.S. visit as Israeli prime minister, Barak informed Cohen on July 16 that Israel would purchase 50 F-16I fighters for $2.5 billion. As part of the deal, Israel can opt to buy 60 more for $2 billion within two years of signing the contract. Delivery of the fighters would start approximately 42 months after contract signature, expected later this year.

Israel has received 260 F-16s of various models and already has the largest fleet of F-16s in the world after the United States. This will be the first sale to Israel of the F-16I model, which will be equipped with additional fuel tanks to allow for extended range, as well as updated avionics and cockpit displays.

Lockheed's F-16I prevailed over Boeing's F-15I in the Israeli fighter competition, partly because approximately 25 percent of the F-16I package will be supplied by Israeli companies. Moreover, the F-15 costs roughly twice as much as the F-16, and the F-15's advantage of being a long-range fighter, its most attractive feature, was overcome by the addition of the extra fuel tanks on the F-16I.

The F-16I fighters will be bought with funds from Israel's annual U.S. military aid package of more than $1.86 billion. In a July 19 joint statement by President Clinton and Barak, the two leaders said that, subject to congressional approval, the annual military aid package will grow to $2.4 billion over the next decade as U.S. economic assistance is phased out.

Clinton further agreed to fund Israel's acquisition of a third Arrow battery to counter tactical ballistic missiles and to expand U.S.-Israeli cooperation on developing new anti-ballistic missile technologies and systems. Clinton repeated past pledges that Washington was committed to maintaining Israel's qualitative security edge.

Details of a separate $1.2 billion military aid package for Israeli implementation of the Wye River Memorandum, which calls for a partial Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, were also worked out. Both houses of Congress, however, opted in August not to include any funds for implementing the Wye accord in their foreign aid bills.

U.S.-Israel Fighter Sale; Buyer for Pakistani F-16s?

The October 22 deadline passed without action by Congress to block a proposed $2.5 billion sale of U.S. fighters to Israel. The Pentagon had notified Congress on September 22 that Israel is seeking to buy 60 F-16C/D fighters or 30 F-15I fighters from Washington; under the 1976 Arms Export Control Act, Congress has 30 days following notification (15 in the case of NATO members, Australia, Japan and New Zealand) to block a proposed sale.

Currently, Israel is incorporating a 1994 buy of 25 F-15I fighters into its inventory, estimated at more than 200 F-16s and 60 to 100 F-15s. An Israeli announcement on the purchase, which is likely to be a combination of both fighters, is expected early next year.

In other fighter news, New Zealand has expressed interest in purchasing the 28 F-16 fighters that Pakistan paid $658 million for in a 1989 deal, but never received. Washington stopped delivery of the aircraft in 1990 in accordance with the 1985 Pressler Amendment, which proscribes delivery of U.S. military equipment or assistance to Pakistan if the president cannot certify that Islamabad does not possess a "nuclear explosive device." Since an April 1995 pledge by President Clinton to resolve the issue, the United States has been seeking a way to repay Pakistan and avoid a possible court case. Washington has already paid back $157 million to Islamabad, which has until February 1999 to file suit.

U.S.-Israel Fighter Sale; Buyer for Pakistani F-16s?

The October 22 deadline passed without action by Congress to block a proposed $2.5 billion sale of U.S. fighters to Israel. The Pentagon had notified Congress on September 22 that Israel is seeking to buy 60 F-16C/D fighters or 30 F-15I fighters from Washington; under the 1976 Arms Export Control Act, Congress has 30 days following notification (15 in the case of NATO members, Australia, Japan and New Zealand) to block a proposed sale.

Currently, Israel is incorporating a 1994 buy of 25 F-15I fighters into its inventory, estimated at more than 200 F-16s and 60 to 100 F-15s. An Israeli announcement on the purchase, which is likely to be a combination of both fighters, is expected early next year.

In other fighter news, New Zealand has expressed interest in purchasing the 28 F-16 fighters that Pakistan paid $658 million for in a 1989 deal, but never received. Washington stopped delivery of the aircraft in 1990 in accordance with the 1985 Pressler Amendment, which proscribes delivery of U.S. military equipment or assistance to Pakistan if the president cannot certify that Islamabad does not possess a "nuclear explosive device." Since an April 1995 pledge by President Clinton to resolve the issue, the United States has been seeking a way to repay Pakistan and avoid a possible court case. Washington has already paid back $157 million to Islamabad, which has until February 1999 to file suit.

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