Strategic Weapons: July 5, 2000

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More information is becoming available on the recent Israeli test launch of a cruise missile from a new Dolphin-class submarine. The cruise missile flew 900 miles before striking a target near Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan government allowed the test due to Israel's support for them in the civil war, providing weapons to fight the LTTE rebels. Israel bought the brand new submarines from Germany for a bargain basement price of $440 million each, apparently due to German guilt over arms and technology sales to Iraq. Use of the submarines to launch nuclear-capable missiles has deeply embarrassed the anti-nuclear German government. It is unclear how the subs were modified to fire missiles. The cruise missile that the Israelis are using is thought to be too big to be fired from the 21-inch torpedo tubes, meaning separate missile tubes must have been provided. It is known that the Germans modified their original design to incorporate an airlock compartment for frogmen, and a compartment for "extra torpedo storage". This may have been the cover for a missile compartment; leaks indicate that the subs have four missile tubes. The subs, if they do indeed have a capability to fire nuclear missiles with a range of 1200 miles, give Israel two key new capabilities. One is a nuclear deterrent that can ride out an attack and still hit back. There are open questions as to whether the caves that store the Jericho-II launchers
can survive a nuclear hit. The other is that Israel now has the capability to attack a much broader range of targets, including Iran and Pakistan. Israeli intelligence says Iran will have a nuclear missile able to hit Israel by 2002; US intelligence puts this at 2012. Some analysts believe that the new Israeli submarines improve regional stability. Arab states are now much less likely to risk an attack on Israel, and Israel is much less likely to use its nuclear weapons rather than risk losing them in a pre-emptive attack. Others think that this will simply inspire the Arabs to build more and different weapons. Some think that the entire report is Israeli disinformation, using phantom missiles as a deterrent.-Stephen V Cole


 


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