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Israel’s Nuclear Weapons Program

From Nuclear Archive

Vanunu1

Israel is believed to possess the largest and most sophisticated arsenal outside of the five declared nuclear powers. Israel has never admitted possessing nuclear weapons, but abundant information is available showing that the capability exists.

The center of Israel’s weapons program is the Negev Nuclear Research Center near the desert town of Dimona (the center is usually identified simply as “Dimona”). A nuclear reactor and plutonium production facility was built by France at this facility in the late 1950s and early 60s. All of the production and fabrication of special nuclear materials (plutonium, lithium-6 deuteride, and enriched and unenriched uranium) occurs at Dimona although the design and assembly of nuclear weapons occurs elsewhere.

October 1997 news stories about workers health and safety at Dimona

The most specific and detailed information to be made public about its nuclear program came from a former mid-level nuclear technician named Mordechai Vanunu. Vanunu had worked at the Machon 2 facility, where plutonium is produced and bomb components fabricated, for 9 years before his increasing involvement in left wing pro-Palestinian politics led to his dismissal in 1986. Due to lax internal security, prior to his departure he managed to take about 60 photographs covering nearly every part of Machon 2.

After travelling around the world for several months in Bohemian style, he converted to Christianity in Australia. The religious group he associated with has an activist anti-nuclear bent and he soon decided to make public his knowledge of Israel’s nuclear weapons capability. He made contact with the London Sunday Times which flew him to London and began preparing an exclusive news story. Unfortunately for Vanunu, the Israeli government had found out about his activities and the Mossad arranged to kidnap him and bring him back to Israel for trial.

He was successfully lured into a trap by a female Israeli agent named Cheryl Bentov operating under the name of “Cindy”. His sudden disappearance before the publication of the Sunday Times story was mysterious at the time. The story was finally published several days later on 5 October 1986. A few motnhs later Vanunu’s status as a prisoner of the Israeli government was confirmed when it was revealed that he would stand trial. Despite being essentially incommunicado, Vanunu managed to reveal details of his capture in dramatic fashion when he wrote the information on the palm of his hand, and held it up for news photographers as he was being whisked away from the courthouse.

As described by Vanunu, the Dimona complex has nine buildings (“Machons”, Hebrew for “facility”) including to the reactor building. The plant employs 2700 people.

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