Editor's note: Much of the information here was first published in "Critical Mass: The Dangerous Race for Superweapons in a Fragmenting World," by William E. Burrows and Robert Windrem.
Israel is the victim of the changing nature of war.
For decades, it prepared for the apocalypse, building a nuclear deterrent force the equal of a superpower, only to have its national security threatened by a few thousand guerilla armed with small arms and short-range rockets.
Israel is believed to have more than 200 nuclear weapons, made up of five different classes of weapons -- missile warheads, aerial bombs, nuclear landmines, etc. Israel built its first two bombs in late 1966, according to "Israel and the Bomb," a new book by Israeli political scientist Avner Cohen.
Cohen's book reports they were assembled the night of Nov. 2, 1966. In the Six-Day War, it had two weapons on alert; by the Yom Kippur War in 1973, 20 were on alert; by the Gulf War, the number had reached more than 200. It is believed that Israel has at least that many today.
The following represents a grand tour of strategic Israel. Most of the facilities are far outside the range of the Hezbollah rockets. But several in the Haifa area are within range of the shorter-range rockets and should Hezbollah begin launching longer range Zelzal-2 rockets, those near Tel Aviv could also be at risk. (The locations have been well known for more than a decade.)
The "Bor" is Israel's underground command post, located beneath the Defense Ministry complex in Tel Aviv. It is where Israeli officials gather in times of crisis. Israeli officials can command a war from the facility and there are other facilities of a similar but less strategic nature around the country.
The Dimona Centre is located 8.5 miles from Dimona and only 25 miles from the Jordanian border, between Beersheba and Sodom. It produces about 40 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium every year and has been doing so for 10, possibly 20 years.
About 4 kilograms is used in each nuclear weapon. Israel has therefore produced enough plutonium at Dimona to construct between 100 and 200 nuclear weapons. It also has produced about 170 kilograms of Lithium-6, which would produce about 220 kilograms of lithium-6 deuteride. Roughly 6 kilograms are needed to construct a thermonuclear weapon. Israel may therefore have as many as 35 thermonuclear weapons.
Once described as a "textiles factory" by David Ben-Gurion, Dimona is made up of separate blocks. Currently, there are nine of these blocks, called machons. Machons 1, 2, 8 and 9 are directly involved in producing materials for nuclear or thermonuclear weapons; the others provide services for these four. Machon 1, the domed structure, is the reactor built by France. Machon 2 is the reprocessing plant which removes the plutonium produced in the reactor. It also contains an operation that separates the isotope lithium-6 from natural lithium for ultimate use in thermonuclear weapons. This is the key facility and the primary target in any raid on the centre. Without it, there is no nuclear weapons development. Of the 2,700 employees at Dimona, only 150 are permitted access to Machon 2. It is also the facility that extends six floors underground.
Machon 8 contains a gas centrifuge for the production of enriched uranium, an alternative fissile material, by an advanced laser enrichment process. And Machon 9 contains a laser isotope separation facility that can be used to enrich uranium and to increase the proportion of isotope plutonium-239 in plutonium, helping Israeli nuclear weapons scientists get more bang for their buck.
The reactor is now 35 years old, and reaching the end of its practical lifetime. It was originally rated for 26 megawatts. But Israel secretly increased its power in the 1970s to at least 70 megawatts, and possibly again in the 1980s to 150 megawatts, purely for nuclear weapons development. However, there have been problems including a December 1966 "criticality accident" and a January 1992 control room fire.
Machon 2, the key block at the center, began separating plutonium from spent reactor fuel rods in 1966. By 1972, it was working at full capacity, producing about 1.2 kilograms of plutonium a week for 34 weeks a year -- the plant is shut down from July through November -- or about 40 kilograms a year.
The process used by the Israelis is the same process used by the U.S. at the Savannah River reprocessing plant, the frequently shutdown nuclear weapons facility that straddles the Georgia-South Carolina border.
When the plutonium has finally been produced in metal discs, it is sent five floors underground to the most secret and secure section of the most secret and secure block of Israel's most secret and secure facility. In this nuclear holy of holies, the plutonium is machined into solid spheres, each weighing about 4 kilograms. The spheres are made to exact dimensions and the surface is polished (by robot machine tools) to a mirror-like finish.
Lithium-6 production facilities are also at Machon 2. Lithium-6 is the lightest known solid. It is needed for nuclear weapons for two purposes: to create boosted nuclear weapons and thermonuclear weapons. A pilot plant to enrich lithium-6 was built at Machon 2 in 1977. By 1984, it was in full production, indicating strongly that Israel has had boosted nuclear weapons for at least six years.
Between 1984 and 1987, the plant produced 170 kilograms of lithium-6, which was then turned into tritium, enough for 35 boosted fission or thermonuclear weapons.
In addition to nuclear weapons, Dimona is also home to a chemical weapons facility, according to Vanunu. Vanunu, however, admitted he had only heard reports of such weapons development, and did not have any specifics.
The entire plant is protected by U.S.-built air defense units.
Soreq is the equivalent of the U.S. national weapons laboratories, and is probably the facility at which Israeli nuclear weapons are designed. It is near the town of Yavne and shares a security zone with the Palmichim Air Base (see below).
According to a 1987 Pentagon study, "the Soreq Centre runs the full nuclear gamut of activities from engineering, administration and non-destructive testing to electro-optics, pulsed power, process engineering and chemistry and nuclear research and safety. This is the technology base required for nuclear weapons design and fabrication."
Soreq follows much of the technology which has been developed at Sandia, Livermore and Los Alamos national labs in the United States.
"The capability of Soreq to support SDIO (Star Wars) and nuclear technologies is almost an exact parallel of the capability currently existing at our national laboratories," according to the report.
It is involved in research into nuclear explosive detonation as well as the diagnosis of radiation effects on biological systems, including human beings, and the processing of various nuclear fuels. They study codes used in the implosion of nuclear devices.
Overall, the Pentagon study reported with regard to Soreq: "as far as nuclear technology is concerned, the Israelis are roughly where the U.S. was in the fission weapon field from about 1955 to 1960" a time when the U.S. was moving from nuclear to thermonuclear weapons.
The report added, "It should be noted that the Israelis [at Soreq] are developing the kinds of codes which will enable them to make hydrogen bombs." This work, the report notes, is done at Soreq's Plasma Physics Department.
The facility is built around a 5-megawatt reactor supplied by the United States under the Atoms for Peace program in 1960. The United States supplied it with nuclear fuel through 1977, when its contract expired.
Rafael is the Israeli Ministry of Defense's high-tech weapons research and development organization. The Haifa area is home to several Rafael facilities, and Rafael has been responsible for the actual assembly of Israeli nuclear weapons since the first two weapons were built in late 1966.
While the first weapons were built in Haifa, a more modern and more remote facility at Yodefat east of Haifa, is where the weapons are assembled today.
Vanunu told the London Sunday Times that after plutonium is machined at Dimona, it is sent to a facility near Haifa by a convoy comprised of one truck and four vans, much like the convoys used by the U.S. Department of Energy to transport nuclear materials. The truck contains the nuclear material, the vans security and medical personnel. In addition, Vanunu suggested that some materials may also be carried by aircraft to an airfield near Haifa, presumably the IAF base at Ramat David.
Satellite photos of the area show a highly secure underground facility with two large elevators. In addition, the Pentagon report obtained by NBC News says that warheads and Mach-7 reentry vehicles for Israel's ballistic missiles are developed at Rafael. Rafael is home to Israel's ballistic missile R&D effort. Advanced rocket motors and anti-ballistic missiles are under development here.
Scientists from Rafael regularly travel to both the United States weapons labs and the international detonation symposiums and have actually co-written papers on nuclear detonation processes with US scientists. Information on file with the U.S. Senate Government Affairs Committee indicates that Division 24 at Rafael is the site of nuclear weapons research, while Division 20 may be concerned with propulsion. At a 1990 nuclear detonation symposium held in Portland, scientists from Rafael authored papers on two detonation processes used to explode nuclear weapons.
The home of Israel's submarine force, at least two of which are believed capable of firing nuclear-tipped cruise missiles. The subs, built by a German manufacturer, have reportedly test-fired cruise missiles in the Indian Ocean earlier this decade. The cruise missiles are reportedly Israel's "doomsday deterrent force," capable of taking out any attacker who might launch a surprise attack. It is the most secret of Israel's strategic forces.
One of two nuclear weapons storage facilities, according to various sources, is located near the town of Tirosh. Clearly visible from space, the facility appears as a network of roads linking bunkers spaced about 25 meters apart. There are about 70 bunkers. The facility, also off Route 38, is heavily guarded and surrounded by a perimeter road and security fences. At the junction of Route 38 and the entrance road into the facility, there is a sign warning drivers they are approaching a security zone where access is not permitted.
There appears to be one security checkpoint on the entrance road. It is very close to both the Tel Nof Air Base and the Hirbat Zekhrayah missile field (see below). It is possible that Tirosh is the strategic weapons storage site, while Eilabun is the tactical weapons storage site.
The other weapons storage facility is located near the town of Eilabun just west of the Sea of Galilee off Route 65. There, reportedly, are stored the nuclear artillery shells, nuclear landmines and other tactical nuclear weapons -- possibly including neutron bombs -- that would be needed to deter or fight a superior conventional force approaching from the northeast, i.e. Syria.
This facility, like the others, has double security fencing and heavy external security. The landmines stored here would be taken to holes previously dug along the base of the Golan Heights during a crisis with Syria. (The US and Russia both had such landmines, but have abandoned them.) The artillery shells could be used to halt a Syrian tank column or devastate targets as far away as Damascus.
TEL NOF AIR BASE
Home of Israel's "Black Squadrons," the F-4 and F-16 units assigned to the nuclear strike mission. A large airbase off Route 4, it is located only a few miles from both Tirosh, where nuclear weapons for its missions are reportedly stored and Hirbat Zekharyah, the missile base. Like the two other nuclear facilities, Tel Nof is located in Israel's heartland, just south of Tel Aviv.
Several aircraft are beleived to be on 24-hour alert at the base. In 1973, eight F-4's were ready to drop nuclear bombs on Egyptian and Syrian targets.
It would be interesting to see if any of the 24 F-15E "Strike Eagles" bought from the United States will be stationed there. The "Strike Eagles" were originally developed by the U.S. as a tactical nuclear bomber and it is the only Israeli aircraft capable of flying round-trip to Iran without refueling.
The mobile Jericho-I and Jericho-II missiles are deployed near the town of Zekharyah between Jerusalem and the sea. They constitute the Israeli Air Force's "Second Wing." Its northern border is the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem rail line. On the south is Route 38, a main east-west highway. In satellite photos, about 100 missile emplacements can be seen, evenly divided between the short-range Jericho-I and the medium-range Jericho-II. Jericho-I range is about 1,200 kilometers while Jericho-II has a range of 1,800 kilometers. They are kept inside tunnels dug into limestone formations that are prevalent in the area, and rolled out for firing. In December 1990, just before the Gulf War, Israel fired a Jericho from Zekharyah. Another Pentagon document states that the missiles can carry high-explosive, chemical or nuclear warheads.
PALMIKHIM AIR BASE
Palmikhim is the Vandenberg Air Force Base of Israel, where missiles and rockets are assembled and tested. On aviation maps, it is known as Palmikhim Air Base. U.S. intelligence describes the facility simply as Yavne, after the nearby town. It too is off Route 4. It is the main IDF research and development facility.
It is heavily guarded, with double fencing topped by barbed wire. Between the fences are wild dogs tethered to detachable steel cables, giving them ample range to attack anyone who gets inside. Guard towers are also visible and fully loaded Apache attack helicopters range freely over the facility. There are warning signs that advise the area is mined as well. Satellite photos of the area show an airfield with one runway and seven large hangars -- suitable for cargo-liners -- inside the security zone. In addition, there are other manufacturing facilities inside the zone. The missile assembly building is at the south end of the security zone, as is the launch site. Some sources indicate that Palmikhim may also be home to Israel's version of the Doomsday plane, airborne command post to be used in wartime. Other sources suggest it is located in a hangar at Lod Airport.
(The CIA designates Israel missiles as Yavne-1, Yavne-2, etc., or YA-2. The first missiles tested from Yavne--and designated Yavne-1--is what is called the Jericho-1 in the popular press. It originally had a range of only 240 miles, but with improvements to the rocket motor, the mobile two stage missile now has a range of about 1,200 kilometers. The Yavne-2 is not a missile, but the lower stage of the Jericho-2. Although it was tested only once from Yavne, it received a designation. Yavne-3 is the Jericho-2, the full-up version which has a range of 1,800 kilometers.)
Yavne is also the site of Shavit rocket launches. The CIA believes the Shavit launcher is nothing more than the first two stages of the Jericho topped by a rocket motor that gets the payload into space. That small addition, however, has great capabilities as far as missile range. An unclassified October 1988 study of the Shavit by Lawrence Livermore National Lab estimated it could carry a one-ton payload 2,800 miles if employed as a missile.
Israel has tested the Jericho-II/Shavit at least eight times, starting in May 1987 with an unannounced launch of the first Jericho-II. That was followed by initial launch of the Shavit in September 1988; three test launches of the Jericho-II in November 1988, September 1989, and January 1990; another Shavit launch in April 1990; and two Jericho launches in December 1990 and March 1992. The December 1990 launch, from the Hirbat Zekharayah missile field, was the only one that did not take place at Palmikhim.
There are contradictory reports as to whether Israel is developing this intercontinental capability at present, but the Shavit has strategic value in that could launch spy satellites and Israel has, in fact, launched a demonstration satellite called the Offeq or Horizon, which U.S. officials believe could be a mock-up for a full-scale, full-service spy satellite.
Just outside Be'er Yaakov is Israel's main missile assembly facility. There, in a long building, the Jericho and Arrow missiles as well as the Shavit launch vehicle are assembled. The Jericho's and Shavit are assembled in one area, the Arrow in another. The United States has expressed concern about the proximity of the two assembly halls since the United States provides technology for the development of the Arrow but sees the Jericho as a missile proliferation problem.
The missiles are presumably shipped to the Hirbat Zekharayah missile field via a rail line that runs out of the factory and connects to the main Tel Aviv-Jerusalem line that runs past the missile field.
Beyond nuclear weapons, Israel is long believed to have had biological and chemical weapon development programs. A 1989 Defense Intelligence Agency report, obtained by the Natural Resources Defense Council, reported the Jericho could carry high explosive or chemical warheads as well as nuclear.
The leading CBW facility is at Nes Zionyaa, outside Tel Aviv. The Israeli Institute for BioTechnology is believed to be the home of at least defensive research.