Israel and weapons of mass destruction

Israel is believed to possess weapons of mass destruction, and to be one of four nuclear-armed countries not recognized as a Nuclear Weapons State by the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).[1] The US Congress Office of Technology Assessment has recorded Israel as a country generally reported as having undeclared chemical warfare capabilities, and an offensive biological warfare program.[2] Officially, Israel neither confirms nor denies possessing nuclear weapons.

Nuclear weapons


It is believed that Israel had possessed an operational nuclear weapons capability by 1967, with the mass production of nuclear warheads occurring immediately after the Six-Day War.[2] Experts estimated the stockpile of Israeli nuclear weapons range from 60 to as many as 400.[3][4][5] It is unknown if Israel's reported thermonuclear weapons are in the megaton range.[6] Israel is also reported to possess a wide range of different systems, including neutron bombs, tactical nuclear weapons, and suitcase nukes.[7] Israel is believed to manufacture its nuclear weapons at the Negev Nuclear Research Center.

On 5 November 2023, amid the 2023 Israel-Hamas War, Heritage Minister Amihai Eliyahu stated that the use of atomic weapons in the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip could be "one of the possibilities". He was neither a member the security cabinet nor of the war cabinet, and was subsequently suspended from cabinet meetings.[8]

Nuclear weapons delivery


Nuclear weapons delivery mechanisms include Jericho 3 missiles, with a range of 4,800 km to 6,500 km (though a 2004 source estimated its range at up to 11,500 km), and which are believed to provide a second-strike option, as well as regional coverage from road mobile Jericho 2 IRBMs. Israel's nuclear-capable ballistic missiles are believed to be buried so far underground that they would survive a nuclear attack.[9][10] Additionally, Israel is believed to have an offshore nuclear second-strike capability, using submarine-launched nuclear-capable cruise missiles, which can be launched from the Israeli Navy's Dolphin-class submarines.[11] The Israeli Air Force has F-15I and F-16I Sufa fighter aircraft which are capable of delivering tactical and strategic nuclear weapons at long distances using conformal fuel tanks and supported by their aerial refueling fleet of modified Boeing 707s.[12]

In 2006, then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert appeared to acknowledge that Israel had nuclear weapons when he stated on German TV that Iran was "aspiring to have nuclear weapons as America, France, Israel, Russia".[13][14][15] This admission was in contrast to the long-running Israeli government policy of deliberate ambiguity on whether it has nuclear weapons. The policy held that Israel would "not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle East."[16] Former International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Mohamed ElBaradei regarded Israel as a state possessing nuclear weapons.[17] Much of what is known about Israel's nuclear program comes from revelations in 1986 by Mordechai Vanunu, a technician at the Negev Nuclear Research Center who served an 18-year prison sentence as a result. Israel has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) but supports establishment of a Middle East Zone free of weapons of mass destruction.[18]

Chemical weapons

PDF file of the CIA report as described. This version is partially complete, showing only the relevant passages on Israel.

Israel has signed but not ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).[19] In 1983 a report by the CIA stated that Israel, after "finding itself surrounded by frontline Arab states with budding CW capabilities, became increasingly conscious of its vulnerability to chemical attack... undertook a program of chemical warfare preparations in both offensive and protective areas... In late 1982 a probable CW nerve agent production facility and a storage facility were identified at the Dimona Sensitive Storage Area in the Negev Desert. Other CW agent production is believed to exist within a well-developed Israeli chemical industry."[20][21]

There are also speculations that a chemical weapons program might be located at the Israel Institute for Biological Research (IIBR[22]) in Ness Ziona.[23]

190 liters of dimethyl methylphosphonate, a CWC schedule 2 chemical used in the synthesis of sarin nerve gas, was discovered in the cargo of El Al Flight 1862 after it crashed in 1992 en route to Tel Aviv. Israel said the material was non-toxic and was to have been used to test filters that protect against chemical weapons. It had also been clearly listed on the cargo manifest in accordance with international regulations. The shipment was from a U.S. chemical plant to the IIBR under a U.S. Department of Commerce license.[24]

In 1993, the U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment WMD proliferation assessment recorded Israel as a country generally reported as having undeclared offensive chemical warfare capabilities.[2] Former US deputy assistant secretary of defense responsible for chemical and biological defense Dr. Bill Richardson said in 1998 "I have no doubt that Israel has worked on both chemical and biological offensive things for a long time... There's no doubt they've had stuff for years."[25]

Biological weapons


Israel is suspected to have developed an offensive biological warfare capability, per the US Congress Office of Technology Assessment.[2] Israel is not a signatory to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC).[26] It is assumed that the Israel Institute for Biological Research in Ness Ziona develops vaccines and antidotes for chemical and biological warfare.[27] It is generally agreed Israel does not have a stockpile of chemical weapons; it is speculated that Israel retains an active ability to produce and disseminate biological weapons, likely as a result of its extremely complex biodefense program.[28][29] Israel has taken steps to strengthen its export control regulations on dual-use biotechnologies.[28] Israel has conducted biological warfare previously, in the 1948 operation Cast Thy Bread. [30]


  1. ^ "Background Information, 2005 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons". United Nations. Retrieved July 2, 2006.
  2. ^ a b c d "Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction: Assessing the Risks" (PDF). U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment. August 1993. OTA-ISC-559. Retrieved December 9, 2008. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. ^ "Israel's Nuclear Weapon Capability: An Overview". Archived from the original on April 29, 2015. Retrieved May 3, 2015.
  4. ^ Toukan, Abdullah, Senior Associate; Cordesman, Anthony H., Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy. "Study on a Possible Israeli Strike on Iran's Nuclear Development Facilities" (PDF). Center for Strategic and International Studies. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 17, 2009. Retrieved April 2, 2015.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  5. ^ Brower, Kenneth S., “A Propensity for Conflict: Potential Scenarios and Outcomes of War in the Middle East,” Jane's Intelligence Review, Special Report no. 14, (February 1997), 14-15.
  6. ^ Lewis, Jeffrey (March 8, 2024). "Does Israel Really Have a Thermonuclear Weapon?".
  7. ^ Hersh, Seymour M. The Samson Option: Israel's Nuclear Arsenal and American Foreign Policy. New York: Random House, 1991. ISBN 0-394-57006-5 p.220
  8. ^ [bare URL]
  9. ^ Plushnick-Masti, Ramit (August 25, 2006). "Israel Buys 2 Nuclear-Capable Submarines". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 20, 2010.
  10. ^ "Missile Survey: Ballistic and Cruise Missiles of Foreign Countries". Scribd. Archived from the original on September 28, 2008.
  11. ^ Ben-David, Alon (October 1, 2009). "Israel seeks sixth Dolphin in light of Iranian 'threat'". Jane's Defence Weekly. Retrieved November 3, 2009.
  12. ^ Pike, John. "Israel Air Force - Israel". Global security.
  13. ^ "Israeli PM in nuclear arms hint". BBC Online. December 12, 2006. Retrieved July 30, 2015.
  14. ^ "In a Slip, Israel's Leader Seems to Confirm Its Nuclear Arsenal". The New York Times. December 12, 2006. Retrieved July 30, 2015.
  15. ^ "Israeli PM admits to nuclear weapons". ABC Online. December 12, 2006. Retrieved July 30, 2015.
  16. ^ Dawoud, Khaled (December 2, 1999). "Redefining the bomb". Al-Ahram Weekly. Archived from the original on June 26, 2006. Retrieved July 2, 2006.
  17. ^ Mohamed ElBaradei (July 27, 2004). "Transcript of the Director General's Interview with Al-Ahram News". International Atomic Energy Agency. Retrieved June 3, 2007.
  18. ^ "43 nations to seek Middle East free of WMDs". NBC News. July 13, 2008. Retrieved September 6, 2011.
  19. ^ United Nations Treaty Collection. Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction Archived April 7, 2015, at the Wayback Machine. Accessed January 14, 2009.
  20. ^ Matthew M. Aid (September 10, 2013). "Exclusive: Does Israel Have Chemical Weapons Too?". Foreign Policy. Retrieved March 17, 2018.
  21. ^ "1NIE on Israeli Chemical Weapons".
  22. ^ IIBR, IL, archived from the original on November 15, 2012.
  23. ^ Cohen, Avner. "Israel and Chemical/Biological Weapons: History, Deterrence, and Arms Control" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on June 11, 2009. Retrieved April 27, 2010.
  24. ^ "Israel says El Al crash chemical 'non-toxic'". BBC. October 2, 1998. Archived from the original on August 18, 2003. Retrieved July 2, 2006.
  25. ^ Stein, Jeff (December 2, 1998). "Debunking the "ethno-bomb"". Archived from the original on June 29, 2006. Retrieved July 11, 2006.
  26. ^ "Membership of the Biological Weapons Convention". United Nations Office At Geneva. Retrieved March 12, 2011.
  27. ^ "Nes Ziyyona". April 28, 2005. Retrieved February 11, 2007. Israel is believed to have the capacity to produce chemical warfare agents, and probably has stocks of bombs, rockets, and artillery shells. Public reports that a mustard and nerve gas production facility was established in 1982 in the Dimona restricted area are apparently erroneous. Israel is also probably poised to rapidly produce biological weapons, though there are no public reports of currently active production effort or associated locations.…Israel's primary chemical and biological warfare facility is at Nes Ziyyona [Noss Ziona], near Tel Aviv. The Israeli Institute for Bio-Technology is believed to be the home of both offensive and defensive research.
  28. ^ a b "Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: Israel | Arms Control Association". Retrieved September 3, 2021.
  29. ^ Normark, Magnus; Anders Lindblad; Anders Norqvist; Björn Sandström; Louise Waldenström (December 2005). "Israel and WMD: Incentives and Capabilities" (PDF). FOI. p. 38. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 8, 2007. Retrieved February 11, 2007. Israel does not stockpile or produce BW in large-scale today. However, we assess that Israel has a breakout capability for biological weapons and also CW, i.e. the knowledge needed to implement theoretical knowledge into the practical management of production and deployment of CBW. The knowledge base would be the one that was built during the 1950s and 1960s where today's advanced research can be used to upgrade potential BW and CW agents and their behaviour in the environment. We have not found any conclusive evidence that show that Israel's offensive programs still remain active today.
  30. ^ "'Place the Material in the Wells': Docs Point to Israeli Army's 1948 Biological Warfare". Haaretz.