Gwynne Dyer: Israel's hypocrisy on nuclear weapons

When Mordechai Vanunu, a humble Israeli technician who worked for years at Israel’s secret nuclear site at Dimona, spilled the beans about Israel’s nuclear weapons in 1986, very bad things happened to him.

He was lured from safety in England for an Italian holiday by a woman who was an Israeli secret agent, drugged and kidnapped from Italy by other Israeli agents, and imprisoned for 18 years (11 of them in solitary confinement).

When Avraham Burg, the former speaker of the Israeli parliament, said last month that that Israel has both nuclear and chemical weapons (you know, like the nuclear weapons that Iran must not have and the chemical weapons that Syria must give up), nothing bad happened to him at all. He is protected by the Important Persons Act, the unwritten law that gets powerful and well-connected people off the hook in every country.

They didn’t even go after Burg when he said that Israel’s long-standing policy of “non-disclosure" (never confirm or deny that it has nukes) was “outdated and childish”. But even 10 years after Vanunu finished serving his long jail sentence, he is not allowed to leave Israel, go near any foreign embassy, airport or border crossing, or speak to any journalist or foreigner.

Vanunu defies the Israeli authorities and speaks to whomever he pleases, of course. But he really can’t get out of the country, though he desperately wants to leave, and his decision to live like a free man gives his watchers the pretext to yank his chain by arresting him whenever they feel like it.

The Israeli government’s excuse for all this is that he may still know secrets he might reveal, but that is nonsense. Vanunu hasn’t seen Dimona or talked to anybody in the Israeli nuclear weapons business for 30 years.

What drives his tormentors is sheer vindictiveness, and he may well go on being punished for his defiance until he dies—while Avraham Burg lives out his life undisturbed and offers occasional pearls of wisdom to the public.

So here are the “secrets” that Vanunu and Burg revealed, in rather more detail than Burg chose to give and in a more up-to-date form than Vanunu could give from personal knowledge.

Israel has a minimum of 80 and a maximum of 400 nuclear weapons, those limits being based on calculations of the amount of fissile material that it has enriched to weapons grade. The best guess is that the total is around 200 warheads, most of them two-stage thermonuclear devices (hydrogen bombs).

At least some dozens are “tactical” weapons designed to be fired by 175-mm and 203-mm artillery pieces at ranges of 40 to 70 kilometres. The remainder are meant to be delivered by missiles or aircraft, and Israel maintains a full “triad” of delivery systems: land-based missiles, sea-launched missiles, and aircraft.

The missiles are mostly Jericho II medium-range ballistic missiles, which can reach all of Europe and most of western Asia. Since 2008, Jericho III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) have also been entering service, with a range that would allow Israel to strike any inhabited point on the planet except some Pacific islands. Both can carry a one-megaton warhead.

Why such remarkably long ranges, when Israel’s avowed enemies are all relatively close to hand? One speculation is that this is meant to encourage caution in other nuclear states (Pakistan? North Korea?) that might at some future time be tempted to supply nuclear weapons to Israel’s near enemies.

The maritime leg of the triad is highly accurate cruise missiles that are launched from underwater by Israel’s German-built Dolphin-class submarines. These missiles constitute Israel’s “secure second-strike” capability, since it is extremely unlikely that even the most successful enemy surprise attack could locate and destroy the submarines. And finally, there are American-made F-15 and F-16 strike aircraft that can also carry nuclear bombs.

Israel probably tested its bomb in the southern Indian Ocean in 1979 in cooperation with apartheid South Africa, which was also developing nuclear weapons (subsequently dismantled) at that time. The test was carried out under cover of a storm to escape satellite surveillance, but a rift in the cloud cover revealed the characteristic double flash of a nuclear explosion to an American satellite, Vela 6911.

This was a violation of the 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty, which forbids open-air nuclear tests, but the United States did not pursue the matter, presumably in order not to embarrass Israel.

The United States did not help Israel to develop nuclear weapons in the first place (France did that), and even now Washington does not really approve of Israel’s nukes, although it tolerates them in the interest of the broader alliance. But why, after all these years, does Israel still refuse to acknowledge that it has them?

The only plausible answer is: to avoid embarrassing the United States in ways that would make it restrict its arms exports to Israel. But realistically, how likely is that to happen? The U.S. Congress will ensure that Israel goes on getting all the money and arms it wants no matter what it says about its nukes, and it is high time to end this ridiculous dance around the truth.

Comments (22) Add New Comment
Israel used to be most western people's underdog country of choice.

Now, imo, they are quickly becoming a pariah nation.
Rating: +37
If Israel ever had the nerve to Launch & Detonate a Nuclear Weapon - I can't even imagine the Blowback against Israel.

Who would defend Israel?
Rating: +21
Dr. Strangelove
With 75-400 nukes, they don't need anyone to defend them. They will take us all with them, and our leaders know that.
Rating: +15
Juan Carlos
For decades, the US and the USSR had a megatons of these weapons pointed at each other, and it turned out to be a relatively good deterrent. I'd like to think that if the USSR hadn't had their weapons, the US would not have indiscriminately bombed the USSR back to the stone age. Conversely, I'd like to believe that if the US didn't have nukes, the USSR wouldn't have obliterated them either. The propaganda at the time suggested otherwise, but I'd like to believe they weren't that insane.

Which brings us to the present day. Israel has show a great deal of restraint not launching anything and obliterating the threat that challenges its very existence. They've had nukes for close to 30 years, and they've never launched them. They could've obliterated their enemies, the ones who've vowed since 1948 to destroy Israel... and they haven't.

If Iran had nukes... if Hamas had nukes... if Hezbollah had nukes... is there any doubt they'd have used them already? How many minutes after they'd acquired them would they have unloaded one in the middle of Tel Aviv?

I'm not so worried about the US, Russia or Israel having nukes. North Korea concerns me because of the completely confusing leadership and lack of clarity about their intentions. Iran... scares the shit out of me. Hamas? Get real.
Rating: -34
eileen fleming
I began a series of interviews with Vanunu in 2005 and the reason WHY he is still not free to leave 'the only democracy' in the Middle East is because of SECURITY'S/Mossad/Shabak's vendetta against him and because US, France, Britain, Germany collude in Israel's Nuclear Deceptions.

Vanunu told me: “Did you know that President Kennedy tried to stop Israel from building atomic weapons? In 1963, he forced Prime Minister Ben Guirion to admit the Dimona was not a textile plant, as the sign outside proclaimed, but a nuclear plant. The Prime Minister said, ‘The nuclear reactor is only for peace.’

“Kennedy insisted on an open internal inspection. He wrote letters demanding that Ben Guirion open up the Dimona for inspection.

“The French were responsible for the actual building of the Dimona. The Germans gave the money; they were feeling guilty for the Holocaust, and tried to pay their way out.

“In 1955, Perez and Guirion met with the French to agree they would get a nuclear reactor if they fought against Egypt to control the Sinai and Suez Canal. That was the war of 1956. Eisenhower demanded that Israel leave the Sinai, but the reactor plant deal continued on.

“When Johnson became president, he made an agreement with Israel that two senators would come every year to inspect. Before the senators would visit, the Israelis would build a wall to block the underground elevators and stairways. From 1963 to ’69, the senators came, but they never knew about the wall that hid the rest of the Dimona from them.

“Nixon stopped the inspections and agreed to ignore the situation. As a result, Israel increased production. In 1986, there were over two hundred bombs. Today, they may have enough plutonium for ten bombs a year.” -"Beyond Nuclear: Mordechai Vanunu's FREEDOM of SPEECH Trial and My Life as a Muckraker 2005-2010"

PLEASE learn more and help FREE Vanunu at TNT:Telling Nuclear Truths:

Rating: +21

I would respond with a simple question: How many countries has Iran attacked, invaded, occupied since the revolution? One? Two?

None, in fact. They got attacked by Iraq, which was a very silly thing for Saddam to do, they've clashed with Azerbaijan in the past, but they haven't actually gone out and attacked anyone. They're certainly very assertive in regional politics, and fairly unpleasant to their own people, but to suggest that they can't be trusted with nukes, but the US, USSR, Israel, India and Pakistan, can, is ridiculous. The poeple who rule Iran aren't nice, but they aren't stupid either. Obviously it's better if they don't get them, but it's not the end of the world if they do.
Rating: +28
Limited Hangout: "J"
There are articles on line about Israel using tactical nukes in Syria....there was also an Israeli "nuke" deployment in Lebannon which was verified by a proper scientific team.

"They've had nukes for close to 30 years, and they've never launched them."

Little bit of a "spin" on that one; hmm?
Rating: +6
Limited Hangout: "J"
The North Korean Nuclear Detonation mentioned was the exact same "frequency" or energetic signature as the African one tested by Israel in 1979. Guess who gave or sold it to North Korea?

The US and Russian military authorities confirmed it via satellite. The Russian authority was Dimitri Khalezov, KGB.

Rating: +5
Hypocrisy period.
Rating: +10
Juan Carlos

Iran is supporting, both financially and materially, the enemies of Israel that refuse to recognize its existence, refuse to negotiate for peace and continue to call for its destruction.

You know what, I'm kind of curious to run a little poll here. Forget what I said or I believe; let's just use the upvote/downvote for a simple question: Do you think the country of Israel should exist? That implies, of course, that it be given the right to defend itself from destruction by its next-door neighbors, but I don't want to cloud this question with the Israel goes about doing that. That's a different question. Simple question.... Israel: Should exist or not? Up-Yes, Down-No
Rating: -13
Limited Hangout: "J"
You want everybody to forget that you got caught in a lie?.....and a big one at that!

Concealing War Crimes. Last I heard, using nuclear weapons on civilians was a War Crime and Genocidal in nature and intent.
Rating: +8
Cookie Monster
Just an old enemy of Israel grinding his impotent teeth.
Nothing here to convince an undecided.
Why the animus toward Israel Gwynne?
Aren't there bigger killers of Arabs and Muslims in the world?
Rating: -19
One key phrase missing from this article: "Samson option". Although Pakistan (and maybe the DPRK) are doubtless part of the reason for the long range missiles, many have postulated a much more sinister motive. It has been suggested by many, including many Israelis, that the real motive is to wipe out the entire Middle East, or possibly the entire world, if Israel is about to fall. Just a few strikes in Russia, for instance, might be enough to trigger the Perimetr system and cause a general launch against the West. Louisiana State University professor David Perlmutter wrote the following in the Los Angeles Times in 2002:

"Israel has been building nuclear weapons for 30 years. The Jews understand what passive and powerless acceptance of doom has meant for them in the past, and they have ensured against it. Masada was not an example to follow--it hurt the Romans not a whit, but Sampson in Gaza? With an H-bomb? What would serve the Jew-hating world better in repayment for thousands of years of massacres but a Nuclear Winter. Or invite all those tut-tutting European statesmen and peace activists to join us in the ovens?

For the first time in history, a people facing extermination while the world either cackles or looks away--unlike the Armenians, Tibetans, World War II European Jews or Rwandans--have the power to destroy the world. The ultimate justice?" (Source:

There's no guarantee that they'd do that, of course; most Israelis are not crazy and wouldn't want to wipe out most of the Diaspora out of spite. But all that's necessary is that it be possible; it means the US will not abandon Israel no matter what they do. It has been suggested, for instance, that Israel made not so subtle threats in regards to this in order to get the US to abandon its neutral stance in the Yom Kippur war in 1973 and resupply the Israelis (who, to be fair, were in desperate straits). Even if Israel were to go to open genocide against the Palestinians, there's nothing the rest of the world could do; in fact, I'd be the first to agree that we'd have to throw the Palestinians under the bus. Better to lose a small people of a few million than our whole civilization.
Rating: +3
I Chandler
"The United States did not help Israel to develop nuclear weapons..."

Another comment questions Gwynne Dyer's credibility:

“Nixon stopped the inspections and agreed to ignore the situation...”

I sleep better knowing they are backpacking them:
Rating: -2
What "Nitro" means
"Even if Israel were to go to open genocide against the Palestinians........

Discerning people can make up their own minds about that, "N."

"I'd be the first to agree that we'd have to throw the Palestinians under the bus. Better to lose a small people of a few million than our whole civilization."

Wow. Monstrous too.....when you consider your words really mean. You're advocating Genocide. I think you deserve to be investigated by the police.
Rating: +10
Jinho Choi
It is past time for the Zionist entity to sign the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and give up its illegal nuclear weapons. The occupation of Palestine and attempted genocide of the Palestinian people are continuing crimes against humanity. Shame.
Rating: +14
Limited Hangout: "N"
Well..."J" outlived his/her "N" steps into the fold.
Rating: -3
Pointing Out
Jinho Choi: Attempted??

Israel is SUCCEEDING in its Genocide of the Palestinians.
Rating: +5
Consider this: the duplicitous Israeli have a triad of nuclear weapons which they can target far and wide against everybody,against every Goyim. But who pray tell has Israel targeted with nuclear weapons? Their allies,the Americans, British, French? Unlikely! The remote and disinterested Chinese, unlikely? Perhaps, only the Russians, but even they might feel ambivalent about nuking a nation rich in Russian immigrants. So, in a world wide
Rating: -3
Hey, "What Nitro Means", I am not advocating genocide. I am saying that if Israel does decide to go through with it, there's nothing we can do to stop them, because they have the bombs. An appalling reality, but a reality nonetheless.

To my mind, the only hope for the Palestinians is that either (1) due to internal disruption in the US, that country becomes unable (not merely unwilling) to bail out the Israelis if they're in trouble, in which case the Israelis would probably realize that no amount of threats would bring the assistance they might need, or (2) the Israelis have a change of heart on their own. The second condition might conceivably be realized if the BDS movement is highly successful, though that is very double-edged as well because it could also lead to a hardening of Israeli attitudes.

Sadly, the future of the Palestinians as a distinct people is bleak. I do not applaud that fact, but you'd have to be a fool not to recognize it.
Rating: 0


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