Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Israel and the Nuclear Double Standard Part 2 - The Later Years and Israel's Nuclear Inventory

In the first part of this two part posting, I looked at the early history of Israel's nuclear/nuclear weapons program, outlining France's participation in the project and how Israel's leadership clearly lied to the United States about the nation's plans for a nuclear weapons future.  In the second part of this posting, I want to look at the later years of Israel's highly secretive nuclear chronology as well as estimates regarding the nation's inventory of nuclear weapons.

In December 1963, Israel's Dimona reactor aka the Negev Nuclear Research Center, located in the Negev Desert, went into operation, a plant that was largely designed with the assistance of the French government.  Back in January 1962, then-Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion informed the Knesset that the Dimona complex was not a textile mill (as you will have read in the first part of this posting) or pumping station, rather, it was a "scientific institute for research in problems of arid zones and desert flora and fauna".  Once it was revealed that Dimona was, in fact, a nuclear research facility, Israel and the United States arranged for American scientists to visit the Dimona complex with the goal of reassuring the American government that nuclear weapons research was not taking place.  In early 1964, American scientists on a prearranged inspection tour of the Dinoma complex learn that the reactor went critical on December 26, 1963.  By 1965, the facility is under extreme levels of protection; over half of the 50 HAWK missiles that Israel received from the United States are reportedly positioned around the Dimona complex.  In 1966, French nuclear officials announce that Israel is capable of producing weapons-grade fissile material with the first plutonium extraction tests taking place during the second half of 1965 and that Israel had sufficient plutonium to manufacture a nuclear weapon during 1966 or early 1967.  Despite repeated pronouncements by Israeli politicians that Israel will not be the first nation in the Middle East to introduce nuclear weapons, some Western sources state that Israel conducted an underground nuclear test at Al-Naqab in the Negev Desert.  In 1967, French sources announce that Israel sent France 40 tons of Dimona's spent plutonium-rich fuel which French technicians separated, returning about half or an amount sufficient for 15 to 20 bombs to Israel.  In May 1967, according to a  former Israeli government official, Israel assembled two nuclear bombs ten days before the outbreak of the Six Day War.  In June 1967, Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol orders that both Israeli nuclear warheads be armed during the nation's first nuclear alert.  In early 1968, the CIA reported that Israel had successfully produced four nuclear weapons.  On July 12, 1969, American scientists visit the Dimona complex for the last time; the annual inspection visits had been arranged under a 1963 agreement between President John Kennedy and Prime Minister Levi Eshkol.  The American inspection team complained that the Israelis did not permit them to move freely about the Dimona complex and that they could not guarantee that no nuclear weapons-related work was being done at Dimona.

Here is a letter from Henry Kissinger to President Nixon dated October 7, 1969 regarding the uncertainty of Israel's nuclear intentions:

Interestingly, in February 1970, Israeli Ambassador Rabin informed Henry Kissinger that Israel had no intention to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a pledge that they have stuck to for nearly 50 years.

Let's close this section with an overhead view of the Dimona complex then....

...and now:

You can very clearly see the protected perimeter of this "textile mill/pumping station" in both photos.

Now, let's look at the various estimates of Israel's stockpile of nuclear weapons.  In 1986, Mordechai Vanunu, a former Israeli nuclear technician at the Dimona complex, provided the outside world with a great deal of information regarding Israel's nuclear program.  He indicated that Israel was producing weapons-grade plutonium at a rate of about 40 kilograms annually.  Here is a quote from the Jewish Virtual Library about Israel's Dimona reactor and its plutonium productivity levels:

"The upper and lower plausible limits on Israel's stockpile may be bounded by considering several variables, several of which are generic to any nuclear weapons program. The reactor may have operated an average of between 200 and 300 days annually, and produced approximately 0.9 to 1.0 grams of plutonium for each thermal megawatt day. Israel may use between 4 and 5 kilograms of plutonium per weapon [5 kilograms is a conservative estimate, and Vanunu reported that Israeli weapons used 4 kg].

The key variable that is specific to Israel is the power level of the reactor, which is variously reported to be at least 75 MWt and possibly as high as 200 MWt. New high-resolution satellite imagery provides important insight this matter. The imagery of the Dimona nuclear reactor was acquired by the Public Eye Project of the Federation of American Scientists from Space Imaging Corporation's IKONOS satellite. The cooling towers associated with the Dimona reactor are clearly visible and identifiable in satellite imagery. Comparison of recently acquired commercial IKONOS imagery with declassified American CORONA reconnaissance satellite imagery indicates that no new cooling towers were constructed in the years between 1971 and 2000. This strongly suggests that the reactor's power level has not been increased significantly during this period. This would suggest an annual production rate of plutonium of about 20 kilograms."

As such, here is a chart showing the estimates of Israel's nuclear weapons stockpile:

Here is another chart showing additional stockpile estimates and ranges:

It is key to keep in mind that Dimona may just be a small part of Israel's nuclear weapons facilities.  Here is a list of the nation's other components of its nuclear capabilities and their functions:

Soreq--center for research and development of nuclear weapons.
Yodefat--installation for assembling and dismantling nuclear weapons.
Kfar Zekharya--nuclear missile base and atomic bomb storehouse.
Ilabun--tactical nuclear weapons storehouse.
Here are some additional estimates:

1.) U.S. Intelligence Community - late 1990s - 75 to 130 warheads

2.) Nuclear Threat Initiative - July 2017 - 100 to 200 warheads

3.) Federation of American Scientists - current - 80 warheads

4.) Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter (keeping in mind that as a former president he still receives security briefings) - 2008 - 150 warheads

With that information in mind, let's close this posting.  From these two postings, one thing becomes very clear; there is a double standard in Washington when it comes to states other than the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China and their potential development of nuclear weapons.  Just as it is apparent that Israel has acquired a significant number of nuclear warheads, it is clear that Israel has a long history of both hiding and lying about its nuclear arsenal.  The nation's refusal to sign the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons or NPT makes the nation a standout with such pariah nations as North Korea.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Poland's Open Invitation to the United States and Its Military Might

With Donald Trump making the following comments on NATO and the deadbeat nations that weren't paying their share:

...a recent publication from Poland's Ministry of National Defense is of particular interest.  Here is a summary of what is found in this document that received very little media coverage.

The document, "Proposal for a U.S. Permanent Presence in Poland" opens by noting Donald Trump's July 6, 2017 speech given in Warsaw as you can see here:

...where he made the following comments:

"Today, the West is also confronted by the powers that seek to test our will, undermine our confidence, and challenge our interests.  To meet new forms of aggression, including propaganda, financial crimes, and cyberwarfare, we must adapt our alliance to compete effectively in new ways and on all new battlefields.

We urge Russia to cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere, and its support for hostile regimes — including Syria and Iran — and to instead join the community of responsible nations in our fight against common enemies and in defense of civilization itself.

As long as we know our history, we will know how to build our future.  Americans know that a strong alliance of free, sovereign and independent nations is the best defense for our freedoms and for our interests.  That is why my administration has demanded that all members of NATO finally meet their full and fair financial obligation.

As a result of this insistence, billions of dollars more have begun to pour into NATO.  In fact, people are shocked.  But billions and billions of dollars more are coming in from countries that, in my opinion, would not have been paying so quickly...  

Words are easy, but actions are what matters.  And for its own protection — and you know this, everybody knows this, everybody has to know this — Europe must do more.  Europe must demonstrate that it believes in its future by investing its money to secure that future.

That is why we applaud Poland for its decision to move forward this week on acquiring from the United States the battle-tested Patriot air and missile defense system — the best anywhere in the world.  That is also why we salute the Polish people for being one of the NATO countries that has actually achieved the benchmark for investment in our common defense.  Thank you.  Thank you, Poland.  I must tell you, the example you set is truly magnificent, and we applaud Poland.  Thank you."

Let's start this posting by looking at NATO's current infrastructure in Poland:

Poland is one of only five NATO members that spends at least two percent of its GDP on defense, with plans to expand that to 2.5 percent of GDP by 2030, as shown here:  

...however, as shown here, the size of its military in terms of armed forces personnel has declined significantly:

Poland joined NATO in 1999 along with two other post-Soviet states; Hungary and the Czech Republic, bringing the organizations total membership to 19 member states.  Poland currently hosts the NATO Multinational Corps Northeast, a NATO Force Integration Unit and a U.S. aviation detachment and units from a rotational U.S. Armoured Combat Brigade Team and will host a ballistic defence missile site under the European Phased Adaptive Approach, scheduled for completion in 2018.  Poland also hosted over 16,000 U.S. military personnel for various military exercises during 2017.  Nonetheless, the document goes on to note that:

"Given Moscow's predilection for aggressive posturing, now is not the time for a reduced U.S. presence in Europe, particularly on NATO's eastern flank along Poland's border...A permanent American military presence in Poland would significantly reduce security vulnerabilities in the region, particularly in the Suwalki Gap. U.S. military leaders, like U.S. Army Europe commander Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, have noted that a narrow piece of land connecting two NATO member states Poland and Lithuania (the Suwalki Gap) could be a target of Russian military aggression, thereby needlessly exposing Polish and NATO forces in the region to a period of potentially escalated conflict.
For your illumination, here is a map showing the Suwalki gap, a 64-mile long stretch of land along the border between Poland and Lithuania, searing Belarus from Kaliningrad which, if was controlled by Russia, would mean that the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia would be cut off from the rest of Europe:

So, in light of the so-called Russian threat, what does Poland propose?  They propose that a permanent American military presence in Poland will result in a reduction in Poland's security vulnerabilities, particularly given that Poland's leadership feels that it is in the crosshairs of Moscow's invasion agenda (i.e. Georgia and Ukraine/Crimea) and that it is under the threat of Russian troops that could, in the future, be left behind following military exercises in neighbouring Belarus.  To encourage the United States to permanently station troops in Poland, the document suggests the following:

1.) establish a framework for financing the construction and upkeep of military installations including allowing American personnel to us additional infrastructure that belongs to Poland's Ministry of National Defense, state and local administrative facilities and other state-owned or state-managed entities.

2.) contribute $1.5 to $2.0 billion to cover the cost of facilitating the stationing of one U.S. armoured division or equivalent in Poland.

Since under Poland's tax law, Allied Armed Forces are exempt from most taxes, investments made by U.S.-based companies to build infrastructure will not be subject to Polish taxes, something that will make the American military-industrial complex very happy.  

Here's the conclusion of the report:

"Poland is a steadfast ally of the United States and is committed to advancing our shared interests and values, which are increasingly being threatened by Russian interference. A permanent U.S. presence in Poland will ensure that both nations can continue to advance, strengthen, and protect these values and interests.

The Government of Poland understands that such a burden must be shared, which is why the Government is committed to providing significant host-nation support for this undertaking. Such expenses cannot and should not be financed by one country alone.

A U.S. permanent presence in Poland will provide U.S. allies on NATO’s Eastern flank with increased security and strengthen transatlantic security. Additionally, it will underscore U.S. commitment to maintain peace and security in Eastern and Central Europe and serve as a deterrence against Russia, which has shown its increasing propensity for violating international norms by invading Georgia and Ukraine."

From this document, we can see that Poland is extremely anxious to see NATO and, in particular, the United States expand its presence in Eastern Europe in a desperate effort to fend off a future Russian invasion.  While the drums of war may not yet be beating, the drummer is certainly sitting on his stool, drumsticks in hand and the American military-industrial complex is just waiting for the music to start.