Ever since the start of the nuclear age, there were worries about fissile material being diverted from civil nuclear power programmes into weapon development. India was the first to demonstrate this could happen when, in May 1974 they tested a fission bomb ironically named “Smiling Buddha”, in an underground test with a yield estimated all over the place, but with modern analysis converging on 4 to 6 kilotons.
The device, which was described as a “peaceful nuclear explosion”, was a plutonium implosion design, using 6 kg of plutonium produced in the CIRUS research reactor supplied by Canada in 1954, using heavy water furnished by the U.S. as its moderator.
Somewhat surprisingly, this did not lead to a rapid break-out into a full-fledged nuclear weapons programme, with India subsequently supporting nuclear non-proliferation efforts (but never ratifying the Non-Proliferation Treaty).
In 1998, almost a quarter century after Smiling Buddha, India conducted a series of five underground nuclear bomb tests called Pokhran-II, including a thermonuclear device designed for a maximum yield of 200 kilotons but scaled down to 56 kilotons for the test, and experimental devices demonstrating the use of non-weapons grade plutonium and Thorium/U-233 in fission bombs. India has conducted no subsequent nuclear tests to date.
As of 2023, India is estimated to have a nuclear weapons stockpile of 164 bombs and warheads, along with ballistic missile, aircraft, and submarine-launched delivery systems.
The difference is that Israel’s Dimona reactor, constructed with assistance from France, was intended for plutonium production from the outset. The complex was built in secret, outside the International Atomic Energy Agency inspection regime. After the U.S. detected it in 1965, U.S. inspectors were allowed in, with carefully choreographed visits hiding weapons-related work, until 1969, after which no inspections have been permitted.
Israel is believed to have assembled 13 nuclear warheads by the time of the Six-Day War in 1967 and to possess between 80 and 400 nuclear weapons today. Israel has never conducted an acknowledged nuclear test, but the 1979-09-22 Vela incident is widely believed to have been a clandestine nuclear test by Israel and South Africa in the Indian Ocean.
There’s a book called “The Bomb In The Basement” that describes the Israeli efforts to develop a nuke. IT implies the French did not know that the Israelis were planning to use the reactor to build a nuke.
As you’ve said, the Israelis are very close-mouthed about their nukes.
I have been thinking about this for many years and fearing existence-level attacks on Israel, like those regularly threatened by the usual actors. Specifically, I fear the possibility that - if faced with loss of a multi-front war (possibly including chemical, radiological and/or biological agents) - Israel might determine it has no other option except nuclear. If so, I have long wondered what contingency plans exist and what would be the targets. Numerous fiction writers have had the same thoughts.
From what (little) I have seen, the Israelis have sort of “let it be known” that IF the scenario you describe did occur, they would go nuke. One can hardly blame them. Nukes are THE ultimate self-defense weapon. When you are about to be killed as a country, and you have nukes, then use of them would be justified to avoid complete annihilation. WE think the same; WE would launch nukes IF we detected incoming nukes, albeit, there would probably be a lot of hand-wringing on our part, and the launch would thus be “late” - not enough to save us, but enough to insure they were also annihilated.
There is speculation the old Soviet was seriously thinking of a “first strike” against us when the USSR was on the verge of collapse, but “saner minds” prevailed. Not sure the term “saner minds” can be applied to any of the old Soviets, when the serious proposal was a mind-numbing suicide-by-nuke.
Which, of course, brings up the question of use of a neutron bomb on Gaza. That would put an end to much of the “difficulty” with those crazies, perhaps “settle” this whole idiotic “Palestinian” BS, and make a strong statement to islam AND the remaining idiot arabs about “commitment”. Loss of life is clearly not a Hamas problem; they are willing to kill as many Israelis as possible, and losing “Palestinians” is obviously not important to them - perhaps because they have ALWAYS been aware such a “designation” is a fiction for political purposes; no such “people” exist.
This is the scenario presented in Seymour Hersh’s 1991 book, The Samson Option, which was published as non-fiction, although some of its vehement critics dispute this. Wikipedia describes the thesis as follows:
According to The New York Times , Hersh relied on Ari Ben-Menashe, a former Israeli government employee who says he worked for Israeli intelligence, for much of his information on the state of the Israeli nuclear program. Hersh did not travel to Israel to conduct interviews for the book, believing that he might have been subject to the Israeli Military Censor. Nevertheless, he did interview Israelis in the United States and Europe during his three years of research.
It does seem to be a plausible strategy for a small country surrounded by enemies who have vowed its destruction.
The U.S. has never officially acknowledged that it has a “launch on warning” policy. There is evidence that some U.S. missile forces were on a launch on warning posture from the late 1950s through the 1970s, but in 1981 a formal statement was made “that the U.S. was henceforth ‘not to rely on launching our nuclear forces in an irrevocable manner’ upon receipt of information that a Soviet missile attack was underway”, although recallable bomber forces may be launched upon warning of an attack.
One of the arguments for the “racetrack” mobile basing concept for what was then called the MX ballistic missile (later “Peacekeeper”), was to render it invulnerable to a first strike counterforce attack and thus avoid the need for a policy of launch on warning. Proponents of the Strategic Defense Initiative also argued that the alternative to ballistic missile defense would inevitably be launch on warning.