Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East

Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East


Weapons of Mass Destruction Capabilities and Programs1

Updated: April 2006

Nuclear [2]

  • Sophisticated nuclear weapons program with an estimated 100-200 weapons, which can be delivered by ballistic missiles or aircraft.
  • Nuclear arsenal may include thermonuclear weapons.
  • IRR-2 40-150MW heavy water reactor and plutonium processing facility at Dimona, which are not under IAEA safeguards.
  • IRR-1 5MW research reactor at Soreq, under IAEA safeguards.
  • Not a signatory of the NPT; signed the CTBT on 9/25/96.

Chemical [3]

  • Active weapons program, but not believed to have deployed chemical warheads on ballistic missiles.
  • Production capability for mustard and nerve agents.
  • Signed the CWC on 1/13/93; has not yet ratified.

Biological [4]

  • Production capability and extensive research reportedly conducted at the Biological Research Institute in Ness Ziona.
  • No publicly confirmed evidence of production.
  • Not a signatory of the BTWC.

Ballistic missiles [5]

  • Approximately 50 Jericho-2 missiles with 1,500km range and 1,000kg payload, nuclear warheads may be stored in close proximity.
  • Approximately 50-100 Jericho-1 missiles with 500-1,000km range and 500kg payload.
  • MGM-52 Lance missiles with 130km range and 450kg payload.
  • Shavit space launch vehicle (SLV) with 4,500km range and 150-250kg payload.
  • Unconfirmed reports of Jericho-3 program under development using Shavit technologies, with a range up to 4,800km and 1,000kg payload.
  • Developing LK-1 and LK-2 (Shavit upgrades) with 350kg and 800kg payloads, respectively.

Cruise missiles [6]

  • Gabriel-4 anti-ship cruise missile with 200km range and 500kg payload.
  • Harpoon anti-ship cruise missile with 120km range and 220kg payload.
  • Alleged Popeye Turbo air-launched cruise missile with 200-300km range and unknown payload.

Other delivery systems [7]

  • Fighter and ground-attack aircraft include: 25 F-15I, 6 F-15D, 18 F-15C, 2 F-15B, 36 F-15A, 52 F-16I, 54 F-16D, 76 F-16C, 8 F-16B, 67 F-16A, 50 F-4E-2000, 20 F-4E, 5 Kfir C7 (in service), and 79 A-4N (in service).
  • Ground systems include artillery and rocket launchers. Also, Popeye-3 land-attack air-launched missile with 350km range and 360kg payload, and Popeye-1 land-attack air-launched missile with 100km range and 395kg payload.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) [8]

  • Harpy lethal unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with 500km range and unknown payload.
  • Delilah/STAR-1 UAV with 400km range and 50kg payload.
  • Hunter UAV with 300km range and 114kg payload.
  • Heron UAV with up to 1,000km range and 250kg payload.
  • Hermes 450 UAV with 200km range and 150kg payload.
  • Pioneer UAV with 185km range and approximately 15-25kg payload.
  • Scout and Mastif UAVs with unknown ranges and payloads.
  • Searcher UAV with 250km range and 100kg payload.
  • Ranger UAV with 100-150km range and 45kg payload.
  • Development of Skylark Mini-UAV with range of 10km and unknown payload.


  1. This chart summarizes data available from public sources. Precise assessment of a state’s capabilities is difficult because most weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs remain secret and cannot be verified independently.
  2. Most public estimates range between 100-200 weapons (e.g., Amy Dockser Marcus, “Growing Dangers: U.S. Drive to Curb Doomsday Weapons In Mideast Is Faltering,” Wall Street Journal, 9/6/96, p. A1), but one analyst concludes that “the Israeli nuclear arsenal contains as many as 400 deliverable nuclear and thermonuclear weapons.” Harold Hough, “Could Israel’s Nuclear Assets Survive A First Strike?” Jane’s Intelligence Review, 9/97, p. 410. Israel’s nuclear capability is by most accounts quite sophisticated, and may include “intercontinental-range, fractional-orbit-delivered thermonuclear weapons; thermonuclear or boosted nuclear-armed, two-stage, solid-fuel, intermediate-range ballistic missiles with a range of 3,000km; older, less accurate, nuclear-armed, theatre-range, solid-fuel ballistic missiles; air-deliverable, variable-yield, boosted nuclear bombs; artillery-delivered, enhanced-radiation, tactical weapons; and small nuclear demolition charges.” Kenneth S. Brower, “A Propensity For Conflict: Potential Scenarios And Outcomes Of War In The Middle East,” Jane’s Intelligence Review Special Report No. 14, p. 15. See also: Anthony H. Cordesman, “Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East: National Efforts, War Fighting Capabilities, Weapons Lethality, Terrorism, and Arms Control Implications” (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2/98), p. 19. “Nuclear Forces Guide,” Federation of American Scientists, 10/10/97, [Online] http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/israel/facility/index.html. International Atomic Energy Agency, “Situation on 31 December 1996 with respect to the conclusion of safeguards agreements between the Agency and non-nuclear-weapon States in connection with the NPT,” [Online] http://www.iaea.or.at/worldatom/program/safeguards/96tables/safenpt.html. Nuclear Engineering International, 1998 World Nuclear Industry Handbook (Essex, UK: Wilmington Publishing Ltd, 1998), p. 114. Cordesman, “Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East: The Impact on the Regional Military Balance,” CSIS (Working Draft), 3/25/05, p. 49, [Online] http://www.csis.org/media/csis/pubs/050325_proliferation%5B1%5D.pdf.
  3. Dana Priest, “In U.S. Weapons Crusade, Allies Get Scant Mention,” Washington Post, 4/14/98, p. 1. Cordesman, 1998, p. 18-19. Steve Rodan, “Bitter Choices: Israel’s Chemical Dilemma,” Jerusalem Post, 8/18/97, [Online] http://www.jpost.co.il. David Makovsky, “Israel Must Ratify Chemical Treaty,” Ha’aretz, 1/8/98, [Online] http://www3.haaretz.co.il/eng.
  4. Cordesman, 1998, p. 19. “Chemical and Biological Weapons Facilities,” Federation of American Scientists, 10/10/97, [Online] http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/israel/facility/cbw.htm. P.R. Kumaraswamy, “Marcus Klingberg and Israel’s ‘Biological Option,'” Middle East International, 8/16/96, pp. 21-22. Zafir Rinat, “Nerve Gas Antidote in Works,” Ha’aretz, 12/12/97, [Online] http://www3.haaretz.co.il/eng. Edna Homa Hunt, “Israel’s Biological and Chemical Research and Development – Potential Menace at Home and Abroad,” Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, 4/98, pp. 84, 93. Liat Collins, “Bio Institute to Come Under Close Inspection,” Jerusalem Post, 2/19/97, [Online] http://www.jpost.co.il. P.R. Kumaraswamy, “Has Israel Kept its BW Options Open?” Jane’s Intelligence Review, 3/98, p. 22.
  5. “Missile and Space Launch Capabilities of Selected Countries,” The Nonproliferation Review, forthcoming 1998. Duncan Lennox, ed., “Country Inventory – In Service,” “In-Service Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missiles,” “In Service Short-Range Ballistic Missiles,” “Shavit,” and “Offensive Weapons – Unclassified Projects, Israel,” Jane’s Strategic Weapons Systems Issue 24, 5/97. Cordesman, 1998, p.18. Cordesman, 2005, pp, 46-47. “Missile Master Table: Finland-Japan,” Centre for Defence and International Security Studies, [Online] http://www.cdiss.org/master2.htm. Directorate of Space Programs, US Air Force Acquisitions, “Shavit,” [Online] http://www.safaq.af.hq.mil/aqs/vehicle/shavit.htm. Pierre Langereux, “Dassault Lifts the Lid on the Jericho Missile Story,” Air & Cosmos/Aviation International, no. 1590, 12/6/96, p. 36. Shawn L. Twing, “Israel Seeks US Permission to Launch Rockets from NASA Facility in Virginia,” Washington Report On Middle East Affairs, 4-5/97, pp. 29, 85. Tim Furniss, “Satellite Launcher Directory,” Flight International, 12/10-16/97, pp. 28-34. Foreign Defense Assistance and Defense Export Organization (SIBAT), Israel’s Defense Sales Directory, 1997/98 (Tel Aviv: Ministry of Defense, 1997), p. 84. “Worldwide Ballistic Missile Inventories,” Arms Control Association, 6/02, [Online] http://www.armscontrol.org/pdf/missiles.pdf. “Missile Capabilities,” Nuclear Threat Initiative, 4/04, [Online] http://www.nti.org/profiles/israel/missile/3564.html. “Shavit,” Israel Aircraft Industries, 2002, [Online] Http://www.iai.co.il/Default.aspx?docID=15689&FolderID=14471&lang=en.
  6. Lennox. Cordesman, 1998, p. 18. CDISS. Lennox, “Offensive Weapons – Unclassified Projects, Israel.” SIBAT, pp. 53, 55, 57. Israel possesses all three versions of the US-made Harpoon cruise missile, which are designed for launch from ships (AGM 84A), submarines (RGM 84A), and aircraft (UGM 84A). “Popeye Turbo,” Federation of American Scientists, 6/20/00, [Online] http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/israel/missile/popeye-t.htm. “Popeye Turbo,” GlobalSecurity.org, 4/28/05, [Online] http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/world/israel/popeye-t.htm. “Israel, Iran Reportedly Competing in Nuclear Arms Race,” Yedi’ot Aharonot, 12/4/05 in FBIS Document GMP20051204618002. Cameron S. Brown, “Israel and the WMD Threat: Lessons for Europe,” Middle East Review of International Affairs 8(3), 9/04, p. 6.
  7. The Military Balance 1997/98 (London: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1997), pp. 129-130. Arieh O’Sullivan, “New F-15I Warplanes Extend Israel’s Reach,” The Jerusalem Post [Online] http://www.jpost.co.il/. Ze’ev Schiff, “F-15Is Are Not The Complete Answer To The Iran Threat,” Ha’aretz, 1/20/98, [Online] http://www3.haaretz.co.il/. “Israel,” Middle East Military Balance, 3/05, pp. 17-20, [Online] http://www.tau.ac.il/jcss/balance/Israel.pdf. “Israel Air Force [IAF] / Air Corps (Hel Avir),” GlobalSecurity.org, 4/27/05, [Online] http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/israel/iaf.htm. Alon Ben David, “IDF Adapts Doctrine and Structure in Response to Shifting Regional Priorities,” International Defense Review, 3/1/05. Reuven Predatzur and Steve Rodan, “Israel Country Briefing: Centre Stage,” Jane’s Defense Weekly, 3/1/02. The IAF has ordered 102 F-16Is from the U.S. company Lockheed Martin in two batches of 52 aircraft. The second delivery is to take place between 2006 and 2009.
  8. Predatzur, 2002. “Israel Aircraft Industries’ HUNTER Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Receives Praise from the United States Department of Defense for its Role in the Kosovo – Macedonia Arena,” Israel Aircraft Industries, 11/20/01, [Online] http://www.iai.co.il/Default.aspx?docID=22329&FolderID=16724&lang=en. “Searcher MK-II,” Israel Aircraft Industries, 2002, [Online] http://www.iai.co.il/Default.aspx?docID=15742&FolderID=18894&lang=EN&res=0&pos=0. “Hunter Family,” Israel Aircraft Industries, 2002, [Online] http://www.iai.co.il/Default.aspx?FolderID=18898&lang=EN&res=0&pos=0. “Heron,” Israel Aircraft Industries, 2002, [Online] http://www.iai.co.il/Default.aspx?docID=16382&FolderID=18900&lang=EN&res=0&pos=0. “Hermes 450,” Federation of American Scientists, 9/21/99, [Online] http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/ac/row/hermes-450.htm. Maj. Christopher A. Jones, USAF, “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs): An Assessment of Historical Operations and Future Possibilities,” U.S. Air Command and Staff College, 3/97, p. 31, [Online] http://www.fas.org/irp/program/collect/docs/97-0230D.pdf. “Israel,” Middle East Military Balance, 11/05, p. 20, [Online] http://www.tau.ac.il/jcss/balance/Israel.pdf. “Skylark UAV Makes its First Flight/ Rafael Conducts Successful Trial Flight of the Skylark Shoulder-Launched Mini – UAV,” RAFAEL Armament Development Authority, Ltd., 2/17/04, [Online] http://www.rafael.co.il/marketing/news.aspx?FolderID=427&docID=1287.

Originally prepared by Michael Barletta and Erik Jorgensen, May 1998;
Updated by Sammy Salama and Alexis Zeiger, April 2006.

© Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies. April 2006