Just the Facts: Nuclear Israel

Understanding Nuclear Israel: Just the Facts…

  • Israel began to research nuclear weapons soon after it declared independence in 1948 and secretly built the Shimon Peres Negev Nuclear Research Center with French assistance.
  • Its first nuclear weapon was completed in late 1966 or early 1967, making it the sixth nuclear power.
  • Israel is believed to be able to launch nuclear warheads by aircraft, as submarine-launched cruise missiles, and via intermediate to intercontinental range ballistic missiles.
  • Israel is believed to possess 90 plutonium-based nuclear warheads and have enough plutonium for 100-200 weapons.
  • It is believed that Israel conducted a nuclear weapons test with South Africa in 1979 known as the Vela incident.
  • There are reports that 300 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium was diverted from the U.S. to Israel in the late 1960s.
  • Israel is not a party to any of the major treaties governing WMD nonproliferation, including the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), and the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC).
  • It has signed, but not ratified, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).
  • Israel’s nuclear arms secrets were disclosed to the London Sunday Times by nuclear reactor technician Mordechai Vanunu in 1986.
  • Mossad agents abducted him from Europe and returned him to Israel to stand trial for espionage and treason.
  • He was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment, 12 of which were served in solitary confinement.
  • Since his release in 2004, Vanunu has been barred from speaking to foreigners and leaving the country, and has his internet and phone usage monitored.
  • Vanunu has been repeatedly arrested for offenses such as talking to foreigners in bookshops, meeting his girlfriend, traveling to the West Bank, and giving interviews.

This week’s Just the Facts comes from:

Learning More

To learn more you can start by reading “The truth about Israel’s secret nuclear arsenal” by Julian Borger for the Guardian. Then watch “Everything We Don’t Know About Israel’s Nuclear Program” from Unpacked. ​To go deeper, we are developing an extensive list of Additional Resources at the bottom of this week’s entry as well as a YouTube playlist on the subject.