Index

London Sunday Times
June 18, 2000

Fears Of New Arms Race As Israel Tests Cruise Missiles

By Uzi Mahnaimi and Peter Conradi

Israel has test-fired cruise missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, fuelling fears of an escalation in the Middle East arms race.

Israeli defence sources revealed that the tests, involving two German-built Dolphin-class submarines, took place last month off Sri Lanka.

The Israeli-made missiles, which were equipped with conventional warheads, hit targets at sea at a range of about 930 miles, they said. Israel is the third country - after America and Russia - to be able to fire nuclear cruise missiles from submarines.

The tests will alarm Israel's neighbours and embarrass the German government. It paid for the 200m submarines to compensate for Iraq's use of German-made weapons against Israel during the Gulf war. A third submarine is expected to be operational within weeks.

Despite moves towards Middle East peace, Israel remains concerned about its vulnerability to attack, particularly from Iran. Israeli intelligence believes Tehran will develop nuclear weapons within two years.

Israel has never acknowledged its nuclear programme, revealed by The Sunday Times in 1986. However, its military planners are believed to have produced between 100 and 200 nuclear weapons. Sources said these included several 200kg warheads - each containing 6kg of plutonium - that could be mounted on cruise missiles.

Israel already has land and air-based nuclear weapons. It now plans to equip each of the three submarines, which have the advantage of being almost impossible to detect, with four cruise missiles.

Their ability to strike back after a non-conventional attack on Israel makes them a formidable deterrent. Under a system of rotation, two of the vessels will remain at sea: one in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, the other in the Mediterranean. A third would remain on standby.

The missiles could be fired only after approval by four people: the prime minister, defence minister, chief of staff of the Israeli army and the commander of the navy.

The 1,720-ton diesel-electric submarines, which are among the most technically advanced of their kind in the world, can remain at sea for up to 30 days.