Israel's F-16 Warplanes Likely to Carry Nuclear Weapons: Report

Israel's fleet of F-16s, the backbone of its air force, are the most likely candidates to carry nuclear weapons, Monday's Israeli newspaper Haaretz cited a newsletter published by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists as saying.

"It is generally accepted by friend and foe alike that Israel has been a nuclear state for several decades," said the three-page newsletter devoted to Israeli nuclear forces.

It also said Israel has stated that "Israel will not be the first country to introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle East."

In 2001, the newsletter said, the Pentagon omitted Israel from apublished assessment on nuclear proliferation, but a 1991 US Strategic Air Command report "lists Israel, India, and Pakistan as 'de facto' nuclear weapon states."

The 1991-report said Israel had between 75 and 200 weapons at that time, including bombs, missile-mounted warheads and apparentlyalso some tactical, non-strategic nuclear weapons.

The newsletter said 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 cited Tel Nof as one base equipped to load planes with nuclear weapons and said 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 in Israel, 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 Israel Defense Forces (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 United States for nuclear missions. The newsletter said it is not known if Israel has modified the F-15s for nuclear capability.

According to the newsletter, Israel has ground missile capabilities for nuclear warheads.

The Jericho, for example, developed with France, can carry up to750 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, andcan 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, said the newsletter, and by 1997, there were 50Jerichos 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 noted that Israel's Ofek 5 spy satellite, weighing 300 kg and launched with a Shavit launcher, 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.



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