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Any Which Way They Can... 'Doomsday Weapons': Israel's Nuclear Triad

The Iranian mission wrote on its X (formerly Twitter) handle a message which warned that, in such a scenario, his country had kept open all options, including the total induction into the battlefront all its resistance fronts.

Any Which Way They Can... 'Doomsday Weapons': Israel's Nuclear Triad AJR
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First Published Jul 8, 2024, 7:10 PM IST

The spectre of a major conflict between Israel’s formidable ‘war machine’ and the strong Iran-backed Hezbollah militia in Lebanon has raised tensions and briefly put the spotlight on Israel’s nuclear capabilities which have long been in the shadows. An Israeli official from a leading government aerospace organization recently noted Israel’s status as one of the few countries with nuclear weapons and multiple delivery methods.

Chairman of the Israel Aerospace Industries Workers’ Council Yair Katz was reported by Business Insider as saying last weekend (Saturday, July 6) that, if Israel recognized a potential threat to its existence from a gang-up by Iran, Yemen, Syria, Iraq and other West Asian nations, his country would have no other option but to use its ‘doomsday weapons’.

Iran’s UN mission had warned just a day earlier, on Friday (July 5), that “a catastrophic war” would begin if Israel launched full-fledged military attacks against the Hezbollah. The warning, according to The Times of Israel, had come after the Israel Defense Force attacked several Hezbollah positions, in retaliation to the terror group’s latest barrage on northern Israel hours before that, in the midst of rising tensions on the Lebanese border.

The Iranian mission wrote on its X (formerly Twitter) handle a message which warned that, in such a scenario, his country had kept open all options, including the total induction into the battlefront all its resistance fronts. This was clearly hinting at Iran’s proxy militias in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, the very countries that Katz had obviously referred to.

Katz’s mention of ‘doomsday weapons’ was oblique reference to Israel’s nuclear armoury. What was clear as daylight, however, was that , when he used the term, ‘capabilities’, he meant Israel’s ground-, sea- and air-based systems to deliver its nuclear weapons, which, of course, forms a deadly nuclear triad.

  • For one, Israel is believed to be fully capable of delivering its nuclear weapons stockpile ranging between 90 and 400 nuclear warheads by aircraft, in the form of cruise missiles launched via sub-surface submarines, and through intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) of the Jericho series. The Jericho missiles are both silo-based (an underground structure used to store and launch ballistic missiles) and ground-based. Its ground-based, Israel Aerospace Industries-manufactured Jericho 3 IRBMs can hit targets 3,000 miles away.
  • Next, Israel also possesses Dolphin 2 diesel-electric submarines manufactured in Germany, which, experts believe, carry nuclear-armed Popeye Turbo cruise missiles with a 200-kiloton nuclear warhead for long-range attacks and can accurately pick up targets even 930 miles away.
  • Additionally, Israel’s fighter jets, too, can deliver nuclear bombs.

Israel’s Policy of Nuclear Ambiguity

Israel has been deliberately ambiguous about its nuclear policy and has never officially denied nor admitted to having nuclear weapons, saying instead that it would not be the first country in the region to introduce nuclear weapons.

In November 2023, with a full-blown Israel-Hamas war raging, a junior minister, Amihay Eliyahu, issued a public statement calling for dropping a nuclear bomb on Gaza, in what was seen as a tacit admission that Israel did possess nuclear capability. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reprimanded the minister and immediately suspended him.

Israel has resisted international pressures from many quarters for signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). In 2012, Prime Minister Yair Lapid had referred to Israel's "other capabilities" that would "keep us alive as long as we and our children are here". His comments were seen as hinting at the necessity of maintaining an N-weapons stockpile.

Israel's nuclear triad is remarkably potent considering the country's size and has a focus on its immediate regional boundaries. It is meant to counter threats from such regional powers like Egypt and Iran and its proxies, but not world powers, such as Russia or China. Its intercontinental ballistic missiles would allow limited strikes beyond its immediate vicinity, but could, in no way, be comparable to the firepower of a superpower.

IAF's Fighter Jets as Defence Strategy

Business Insider quotes Sebastien Roblin, a well-known military-aviation journalist, as saying that it is widely believed that certain Israeli Air Force (IAF) units with F-16 and, especially, F-15I Ra’am jets with their longer range and bigger payload capacity are entrusted with nuclear missions, which would prove crucial in long-distance conflicts, as in the case of Iran.

Israel has in its arsenal various types of air-launched ballistic missiles, and even used some of these in a strike on central Iran in April. But it is not known if these missiles can carry nuclear warheads. Making these missiles nuclear-capable is the real challenge and it depends purely on whether Israel can ‘miniaturize’ the nuclear warheads so they fit the missile's payload capacity, according to Roblin. Missiles that can carry larger warheads are easier to convert to nuclear use.

For the past 51 years, the IAF has been in possession of nuclear gravity bombs. The US, for one, has spent billions of dollars turning its B61 nuclear bombs into bunker busters. Roblin thinks Israel may have trod the same path.

However, the secret to Israel’s strength lies in its strong backing from the US. Israel’s strike power is limited by its relatively small arsenal and fewer systems for deploying nuclear weapons beyond its immediate vicinity, although within that range, its nuclear capabilities are unmatched. The US is Israel’s failover nuclear shield to protect against threats from beyond its immediate surroundings.

(The author of this article is a Defence, Aerospace & Political Analyst based in Bengaluru. He is also Director of ADD Engineering Components, India, Pvt. Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany. You can reach him at: girishlinganna@gmail.com)

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