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Israeli Nuclear: 90 warheads, ability to launch from planes, missiles and submarines

SIPRI report: “‘We are now in one of the most dangerous periods in human history… it is time for the great powers to reflect together.”

Israel Nuclear
The 40th Flight Test Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., prepares to release a GBU-72 Advanced 5K Penetrator bomb for the first time, Oct. 7, 2021. (Samuel King U.S. Air Force)

SIPRI Report raises concerns about the world’s nuclear landscape. The global nuclear club includes eight countries. The Israeli nuclear secretive program is part of a broader trend of nuclear modernization.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute ( SIPRI) Yearbook emphasizes the deteriorating state of global security, with the wars in Ukraine and Gaza just two examples of numerous conflicts worldwide.

Israel’s Nuclear

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The report suggests Israel is likely upgrading its plutonium reactor at Dimona. This reactor has been a source of international scrutiny since it began operation in the 1960s. While the exact purpose of the upgrade remains unclear, experts believe it could be linked to efforts to increase plutonium production or improve the efficiency of existing processes. A larger plutonium stockpile could theoretically allow Israel to expand its nuclear arsenal in the future, although SIPRI estimates the current stockpile remains around 90 warheads.

Israel’s Nuclear Ambiguity

Israel’s policy of “nuclear ambiguity” dates back to the early days of its nuclear program. Unlike the eight other countries acknowledged to possess nuclear weapons, Israel has never officially confirmed or denied its nuclear capabilities. This strategy has been driven by several factors, including deterrence against potential adversaries in the Middle East and a desire to avoid triggering regional arms races. However, “nuclear ambiguity” also raises concerns about transparency and accountability. Critics argue it creates uncertainty and hinders efforts towards nuclear non-proliferation.

SIPRI Director Dan Smith expresses concern: “‘While the global total of nuclear warheads continues to fall as cold war-era weapons are dismantled, we continue to see year-on-year increases in the number of operational nuclear warheads. This trend is extremely concerning.'”

“The upgrade at Dimona is a cause for concern,” says Dr. Shannon Green, an expert on Israeli security at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “While it’s difficult to say definitively what this means, it underscores the need for greater transparency from Israel regarding its nuclear program.”

“Nuclear ambiguity may have served Israel well in the past,” argues Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. “However, in today’s increasingly volatile world, it’s time for a more open and responsible approach to nuclear deterrence.”

SIPRI estimates that out of 12,121 nuclear warheads in the world, 9,585 are active and in military stockpiles for potential use. An estimated 3,904 are deployed on missiles and aircraft—60 more than in January last year—and the rest are in storage.

World nuclear weapon
An exercise by the Russian army with a mobile ballistic missile launcher (Photo EPARUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY PRESS-SERVICE)

The World

Russia and USA: These two superpowers possess nearly 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons. While their stockpiles appear relatively stable, Russia has reportedly deployed additional warheads with operational forces. Transparency regarding nuclear forces has declined in both countries since the Ukraine war.

China: SIPRI estimates China’s nuclear arsenal has grown from 410 to 500 warheads in the last year. China may also be deploying a small number of warheads on missiles for the first time.

India, Pakistan, and North Korea: These countries are all pursuing the capability to deploy multiple warheads on ballistic missiles, potentially leading to a significant increase in deployed warheads.

UK and France: The UK plans to increase its nuclear warhead stockpile, while France continues to develop new nuclear delivery systems.

According to Wilfred Vann, head of SIPRI’s nuclear disarmament research, “This is a worrying trend that significantly increases the risk of accidental nuclear war due to miscalculation or technical malfunction.” Nuclear weapons experts warn that even a limited nuclear exchange could have catastrophic consequences, causing widespread radioactive contamination and disrupting global climate patterns.

Weakening Nuclear Diplomacy

The Russia-Ukraine war has significantly hampered nuclear arms control efforts. Russia suspended participation in the New START treaty, the last remaining nuclear arms control agreement between the US and Russia.

Russia withdrew its ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), further undermining global efforts towards nuclear non-proliferation.

Both the Ukraine and Gaza wars have contributed to heightened tensions between major powers, with Russia even conducting tactical nuclear weapon drills near the Ukrainian border.

Dan Smith concludes with a stark warning: “‘We are now in one of the most dangerous periods in human history… The abyss is beckoning and it is time for the great powers to step back and reflect. Preferably together.'”



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