Israel's F-16s Said Equipped to Carry Nuclear Weapons

Amnon Barzilai, Ha'aretz Correspondent
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Amnon Barzilai, Ha'aretz Correspondent

Israel's fleet of F-16s, the backbone of the air force, are the most likely candidates to carry Israeli nuclear weapons says Nuclear Notebook, the newsletter published by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, in its upcoming September-October issue.

"It is generally accepted by friend and foe alike that Israel has been a nuclear state for several decades," says the three-page newsletter devoted to Israeli nuclear forces. It also notes that Israel's "declaratory policy" states "Israel will not be the first country to introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle East."

In 2001, says the report, the Pentagon omitted Israel from a published assessment on nuclear proliferation, but a 1991 U.S. Strategic Air Command report "lists Israel, India, and Pakistan as `de facto' nuclear weapon states."

That 11-year-old report said at the time that Israel had between 75 and 200 weapons, including bombs, missile-mounted warheads and apparently also some tactical, non-strategic nuclear weapons.

Nuclear Notebook is written by Robert Norris, William Arkin, Hans Kristensen, and Joshua Handler.

The newsletter says a small group of pilots have been trained for nuclear strikes, which would be launched from one or two bases, or possibly dispersed across several. It cites Tel Nof as one base equipped to load planes with nuclear weapons, and says the most likely squadrons to carry such weapons into action are the 111, 115, 116 at the Nevatim Air Force base southeast of Be'er Sheva, and squadrons 140 and 253 at the Ramon base on the Negev plateau.

Other squadrons named in the report as possible nuclear strike forces are the 109, 110, and 117 at Ramat David, and the 101, 105, and 144 at Hazor.

According to the newsletter, the IDF received a 25-plane squadron of F-15 Ra'am's (Thunder) in 1998, with ranges of some 4,450 kilometers, and capable of carrying 4.5 tons of fuel and 11 tons of munitions.

F-15 Eagles are earmarked by the U.S. for nuclear missions. The newsletter says it is not known if Israel has modified the F-15s it received for nuclear capability.

According to Nuclear Notebook, Israel has ground missile capabilities for nuclear warheads.

The Jericho, developed with France, can carry up to 750 kilograms over a 235-500 km range, with a one-kilometer degree of accuracy.

The Jerichos are meant to be mission ready within two hours, and can be launched from either stationary positions or from mobile launchers. They can be fired at the rate of four-eight an hour.

In a series of tests in the 1980s, Jericho II missiles achieved ranges of 1,450 km, says the newsletter, and by 1997, it goes, there were 50 Jerichos at the Zechariya missile base, about 45 km southeast of Tel Aviv in the Judean mountains, where, according to satellite image analysis, the Jerichos are stored in caves.

The newsletter notes that the Ofek 5 spy satellite, weighing 300 kg, was launched with a Shavit, and it gives the Shavit a range of up to 7,000 km, depending on the weight of its payload.

As for Israel's naval forces, the newsletter says three Israeli Dolphin-class submarines, the Dolphin, Tekumah, and Leviathan, are all equipped with cruise missile capability.