Israel is widely believed to possess nuclear weapons, though the country neither acknowledges nor denies the existence of a nuclear arsenal. Israel is not a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and has not accepted IAEA safeguards on some of its principle nuclear activities. Their policy of nuclear opacity has been generally tolerated by both allies and adversaries.
Most estimates posit that Israel possesses about 90 plutonium-based nuclear warheads and has produced enough plutonium for 100-200 weapons. These estimates have been fairly consistent for decades, which points to a nuclear posture defined by Israel’s deterrence needs. Israel appears focused strictly on survival and does not seek to threaten other nuclear-armed states.
It is widely believed that the plutonium for Israel’s nuclear weapons program was produced by a reactor built with French assistance. The IRR-2 research reactor at the Negev Nuclear Research Center is commonly referred to by the city that hosts it, Dimona. It is officially a 26-megawatt thermal reactor, but some believe that is an underestimation of its capacity. The facility is not under IAEA safeguards. The IRR-2 went critical in December 1963 and likely helped Israel produce its first nuclear weapon in 1966-67, although these reports have not been officially confirmed. The declassification of sensitive government documents show that at least by 1975 the U.S. government was convinced Israel had nuclear weapons.
The lack of clarity surrounding an Israeli nuclear weapons program is a key obstacle to establishing a weapons of mass destruction free zone in the Middle East. The global pledge to create such a zone in 1995 was crucial to securing the indefinite extension of the NPT. The absence of the zone today presents a continuing challenge to this critical agreement.
Recent Analysis on Israel
- Fact Sheet: Israel’s Nuclear Inventory March 31, 2020
- Iran Announces Additional Uranium Enrichment January 16, 2020
- Civil Society Leaders Demand the Entry into Force of Nuclear Testing Ban Treaty September 26, 2019
- New Language in the 2019 report on “Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments.” August 22, 2019
- Women in Nuclear History: Bella Abzug March 8, 2019
- Broken Arrow News July Recap: Japan, Russia, India & Israel August 7, 2018
- Fact Sheet: Chemical Weapons July 24, 2018
- Fact Sheet: Biological Weapons July 17, 2018
- Broken Arrow News: Week of June 17 June 26, 2018
- Broken Arrow News: The United States June 6, 2018