July 1, 1998 The Washington Times
Israel buying 3 submarines to carry nuclear missiles
By Martin Sieff
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Israel is buying three large submarines from Germany capable of carrying nuclear-armed cruise missiles, with the reported goal of deterring any enemy from trying to take out its nuclear weapons with a surprise attack.
The first of the submarines is undergoing tests in the North Sea as Israel completes a major review of its strategic defense doctrine, which some generals believe is dangerously outdated.
Without the submarines, Israeli political and intelligence sources say, the armed forces fear their nuclear arsenal is vulnerable to a pre-emptive strike by Iran or any other Middle East nation that may acquire nuclear weapons.
These sources note that Israeli intelligence estimates Iran will develop its own nuclear weapons and missiles with the range to reach Israel within five to seven years.
Israeli leaders and intelligence analysts believe it is highly likely that Iran already has four nuclear warheads that were stolen or secretly bought from a former Soviet republic in 1992, an Israeli government source said.
Mounting nuclear cruise missiles on submarines at sea would give Israel a credible capability to retaliate against a pre-emptive nuclear attack, the sources said.
The respected Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported June 8 that Israeli military planners want to mount nuclear-armed cruise missiles on the new submarines.
The three Dolphin-class subs are among the most technically advanced of their kind in the world. They weigh 1,700 tons when immersed and are twice as big as the 20-year-old Gal class submarines the Israeli navy previously has relied upon.
The first sub is undergoing operational trials in the North Sea between Germany and Britain and is expected to be operational by early next year, Ha'aretz said.
A Pentagon official said the United States expects all three submarines to be delivered before the end of this year.
Israel ordered the three submarines from Germany when it could not find a U.S. shipyard to produce the diesel and electric-powered boats it wanted, Ha'aretz said.
Following a disclosure that German companies supplied materials for Iraq's chemical and other nonconventional weapons programs, the Bonn government announced it would fund the construction of two of the three submarines, Ha'aretz said.
The paper said the Israeli government decided to pay for the third submarine itself.
Experts say the deterrence problem has become urgent for Israeli military planners, who have produced hundreds of nuclear weapons but have made no serious effort to protect their few launch bases against a pre-emptive nuclear attack.
Libya's Col. Moammar Gadhafi repeatedly has expressed his dream of wiping out the Jewish state in a nuclear strike. On one occasion, he expressed the ambition of annihilating New York City.
Gen. Matan Vilnai, Israel's retiring deputy chief of staff, warned in recent days that Israel's survival was threatened by failure to update its defense doctrine, according to the London Daily Telegraph.
The newspaper said some 90 defense experts, intelligence officials, economists, scientists and academics have been participating since January in a secret review of the doctrine.
Israel first ordered the Dolphin submarines in 1989 but canceled the order a year later, saying the subs would be too expensive.
The Likud-led government of then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir reinstated the order in 1991 after Saddam Hussein's Scud missile attacks on Israel during the Persian Gulf war.
Maj. Gen. Avraham Botzer, former commander of the Israeli navy, told Israeli television in December 1990 that his country needed submarines not just to attack enemy warships but also as platforms for weapon systems to deter against an attack by weapons of mass destruction.
"The submarines must be [an instrument] of the state of Israel, not just the navy," Gen. Botzer said.
"Submarines all over the world serve as part of the deterrent system against nonconventional warfare. They are a way of guaranteeing that the enemy will not be tempted to strike pre-emptively with nonconventional weapons and get away scot-free."
A recent Pentagon study said Israel has developed an air-launched cruise missile that should be operational by 2002. The missile, called the Popeye Turbo, will have a range of more than 200 miles, the U.S. report said.
U.S. military analysts said the Popeye could easily be adapted for launch from a submarine.
Anthony Cordesman, co-director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote in a study published June 3 that the Popeye cruise missile was capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.
Jane's Intelligence Review reported Sept. 1 that photo reconnaissance indicated Israel had stored around 150 nuclear warheads and 50 Jericho II intermediate range missiles to carry them at Zachariah air force base southeast of Tel Aviv. Zachariah means in Hebrew, "God remembers with vengeance."
The London-based Jane's also estimated "that the Israeli arsenal may contain as many as 400 nuclear weapons with a total combined yield of 50 megatons."
The Jericho is believed to have a 3,000-mile range and carry a payload of just under 1 ton, easily enough to accommodate even a hydrogen bomb.
But Jane's said the Israelis had not constructed hardened silos at Zachariah to protect these weapons, and that the buildings and limestone caves in which they were housed were vulnerable to a nuclear blast.
"The vulnerability of the missile base appears to show an inertia within the Israeli military, U.S. military analyst Harold Hough wrote in Jane's.
"Instead of reviewing its nuclear strategy after the fall of the Soviet Union and focusing on making a nuclear deterrent that could survive an attack by Third World nuclear weapons, Israel continued to focus on producing more nuclear weapons as if envisioning a nuclear exchange with a geographically large country," Mr. Hough wrote.
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