The truth about Israel's Jericho nuclear missile finally uncovered

The truth about Israel's Jericho nuclear missile finally uncovered
Comment: As information comes to light concerning Israel's nuclear arsenal, the US's refusal to concede such weapons exist appears ever more hypocritical, writes Richard Silverstein
5 min read
14 Oct, 2016
No Israeli official has ever confirmed the existence of the Jericho missile programme [Getty]

It may be the second-worst-kept secret in the Israeli military arsenal (after the existence of Israel's 200 nuclear weapons), but Israel has never acknowledged that it possesses intercontinental ballistic missiles ICBMs capable of attacking any capital in the Middle East - and virtually any world capitals outside it).  

Israel's missile series is named Jericho. Since the 1960s, several generations of missile have been produced, the first of which was a short range ballistic missile (Jericho I). The current Jericho III is a long-range missile or ICBM.

Israel began its missile programme in the early 1960s in collaboration with French arms maker, Dassault. The company provided the first missile systems to Israel in 1963, shortly after Israel had completed its Dimona nuclear reactor.  

A few years later, in 1966, Israel rushed its first nuclear weapon into production just in time for the 1967 War. No doubt, Jericho had always been intended as the delivery-vehicle for Israel's WMD payload.

Avner Cohen, Israel's foremost nuclear historian, told me he believes that Arab states were tempted to attack Israel in 1967 as it was on the cusp of nuclearisation. According to him, this may have been a factor in the willingness of Arab states to go to war in 1967, as they believed it would be the only way to stop Israel from going nuclear - and in doing so, gaining a formidable strategic superiority over them.

Israel Hayom
is a free daily newspaper known for promoting Netanyahu, and is owned by Sheldon Adelson, disparagingly known in Israel as "Bibiton". It published a profile of the Ansel Adams of Israeli photography - Dan Hadani - mostly devoted to his brilliant photographic career documenting Israeli leaders and society over many decades.

Israel has never acknowledged that it possesses intercontinental ballistic missiles

But Hadani adds a scintillating side-note in discussing his military career. He says that he transferred into military intelligence (AMAN) in 1962. His main responsibility was coordinating a top secret course for all senior officers in the Israeli army, to familiarise them with the new Jericho missile.

The reporter writes:

"At the age of 38 [1962], after my divorce, I no longer wanted to remain in Krayot [Haifa's suburbs]. So I transferred to the intelligence branch and was assigned to General Aharon Yariv [then senior officer in AMAN], who headed a special unit devoted to a new missile whose name was Jericho, which was then top-secret.  

"All of the IDF's generals had to take this special course to familiarise themselves with the new weapon. I was the course administrator. I made all the arrangements for the course, but I was forbidden from entering during a portion of it [the presentations]."

I've reported here that Moshe Dayan, in the throes of an imminent nervous breakdown, as he feared an Israeli defeat in the 1973 War, urged Golda Meir to "demonstrate" a nuclear weapon in the Arab desert. Though she rejected his advice, she did indeed prepare at least ten such warheads for potential use, should Israeli forces be routed on both the Syrian and Egyptian fronts.  

Historians believe that the US detection of these preparations provoked Israel's massive resupply effort, which enabled it to turn the tide and push back Arab forces on both fronts.

As far as I know, no Israeli official has ever confirmed the existence of Jericho. This is probably the first such reference, and it is surprising the military censor - which remains an active part of the daily Israeli media world - permitted publication of this portion of the profile. Bibiton is either so sacrosanct that the censor didn't imagine it would publish such information; or the newspaper holds special status and isn't censored.

US law requires that nuclear states which refuse to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) may not receive foreign aid from the US

On a related matter, last month a reporter asked State Department spokesperson John Kirby about leaked Colin Powell emails, in which one of his senior aides told him that Israel had "200 nukes aimed at Tehran".

The reporter asked this provocative question:

"So an email has recently come to light, an exchange between Jeffrey Leeds and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, in which he acknowledges that Israel has, quote - has - he says 200 nuclear weapons. And the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty has not been signed by Israel. Under US law, the United States should cut off support to Israel because it's a nuclear power that has not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty according to Colin Powell. Correct?"

The reporter was referring (indirectly) to a lawsuit filed by perennial Israel-policy gadfly Grant Smith, who asserts that US law requires that nuclear states which refuse to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) may not receive foreign aid from the US.

In particular, Smith seeks to end US military aid to Israel including any aid that may advance Israel's nuclear ambitions. The original 1976 law, named after its authors, Senators Stuart Symington and John Glenn, was proposed in the aftermath of the 1960s theft, likely by Israeli agents, of enough enriched US uranium to fuel Israel's first nuclear weapon.

It may be hard to enforce this provision and sustain the suit because - despite widespread public knowledge and even affirmation by Shimon Peres and former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that Israel has nuclear weapons - this has not been formally ascertained by the NPT or the IAEA.

The reporter offered an equally intriguing critique of US nuclear policy:

"So there are sanctions imposed on North Korea in response to their nuclear proliferation. There were sanctions put on Iran in response to allegations of nuclear proliferation. And now we have this email from Colin Powell saying that Israel has 200 nuclear weapons. Why is Israel not facing any consequence for this?"

Of course, the US can get away with observing such nuclear "blindness" by refusing to concede that Israel has nuclear weapons. That way it absconds from any moral or legal responsibility to address Israel's nuclear impunity. But the rank hypocrisy of US policy is self-evident.

Richard Silverstein writes the Tikun Olam blog and is a freelance journalist specialising in exposing secrets of the Israeli national security state. He campaigns against opacity and the negative impact of Israeli military censorship.

Follow him on Twitter: @richards1052

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.