“What's really strikes me about ACA is the potential to shape the next generation of leaders on arms control and nuclear policy. This is something I witnessed firsthand as someone who was introduced to the field through ACA.”
– Alicia Sanders-Zakre
June 2, 2022

Apocalypse Averted: Lessons From the Man Who Saved the World

Last Monday – October 27 – marked the fifty-second anniversary of a day when the world came staggeringly close to nuclear war. Despite the many decades that have transpired since that fateful date, the story of that day remains a worthy one to re-tell, for all the things that went wrong, the one thing that went right, and for the enduring implications it has for the command and control of nuclear weapons on submarines in today’s world. On that day in 1962, deep in the Cuban Missile Crisis , a U.S. destroyer began dropping depth charges on a Soviet nuclear-armed submarine with the intention of...

Resolution on Israel Fails at IAEA

By Kelsey Davenport

For the second year in a row, a resolution critical of Israel’s nuclear program failed to pass the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last month. 

IAEA member states voted 58-45 against the resolution on Sept. 25.

The nonbinding resolution, referred to as “Israeli Nuclear Capabilities” and sponsored by a group of 17 Arab states, called on Israel to put its nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards and join the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear-weapon state.

In 2009 a similar resolution passed the IAEA conference for the first time after being voted down for years. An attempt the next year failed. The Arab states did not put the measure on the agenda in 2011 and 2012, saying they hoped that Israel would be more likely to attend a regional meeting on establishing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East if it did not feel singled out for condemnation in the region.

The Arab states revived the measure in 2013 after the meeting on the WMD-free zone did not take place as planned in December 2012. 

A commitment to hold the meeting by the end of 2012 was a critical piece of the consensus on the final document of the 2010 NPT Review Conference. A meeting subsequently was scheduled for December 2012 in Helsinki, but was postponed when it became clear that not all of the countries in the region were willing to attend the conference. (See ACT, December 2012.)

Israel does not publicly admit to possessing nuclear weapons, but is widely believed to have an arsenal of approximately 80 to 100 warheads. Israel is an IAEA member and has placed some of its nuclear facilities under agency safeguards.

Thomas Countryman, U.S. assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, said in a Sept. 25 statement that the United States “regret[ted]” that the resolution was introduced.

He said discussion of the resolution diverted IAEA member states from the “shared priority of strengthening the IAEA, and has diverted the regional states from the critical task of engaging with each other.”

For the second year in a row, a resolution critical of Israel’s nuclear program failed to pass the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last month. 

Another View from Israel on Iran's Nuclear Program and What it Means

By Greg Thielmann (Image source: Globalzero.org) Comments by the former Director-General of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission, Brig. Gen. Uzi Eilam, made big news in Israel on May 8 because they seriously challenge key elements of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's narrative concerning the Iranian nuclear threat. Excerpts from an Eilam interview appearing in Israel's largest circulation newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth , included four critical assertions: The Iranian nuclear [weapons] program will only be operational in another 10 years. I'm not even sure that Iran would want the bomb. It...

Israel Indicates Support for CTBT

Daryl G. Kimball

With entry into force of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) still awaiting ratification by eight key states, officials from one of those states, Israel, have recently signaled strong support for the treaty.

Following a visit to Israel by Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), sources close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he considers the CTBT to be “very significant,” is “proud” to have signed the treaty in 1996, and “has never had a problem with the CTBT,” according to a March 19 report in The Times of Israel.

Zerbo, making his first visit to Israel since becoming executive secretary last year, held talks with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, and Shaul Chorev, head of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission.

While attending an April 10-11 meeting of an experts group in Stockholm to discuss options for bringing the CTBT into force, Zerbo told Arms Control Today that his Israeli interlocutors were “very positive” about the treaty. He said he believes that “Israel could be the next” state among the eight key holdouts to ratify the treaty.

Zerbo reported on his visit to Israel during the meeting with the experts group. The CTBTO established the group last September to promote the objectives of the CTBT and help secure its entry into force. Its 18 members include current and former prime ministers, foreign ministers, defense ministers, and other senior diplomatic leaders.

“We have an action plan that helpfully is differentiated for the nature of the challenges of the eight countries which we will be principally focusing on. We all have a reinforced obligation to see that the de facto moratorium becomes a legally binding ban to outlaw these dreadful tests,” said group member and former UK defense secretary Des Browne in an April 11 interview following the Stockholm meeting. The group is scheduled to meet again this fall in Hungary.

Meanwhile, in an address on the CTBT delivered in Hiroshima, Japan, on April 15, Rose Gottemoeller, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said the CTBT is “a key part” of leading the nuclear-weapon states “toward a world of diminished reliance on nuclear weapons, reduced nuclear competition, and eventual nuclear disarmament.”

Regarding U.S. efforts on ratification, Gottemoeller noted that “it has been a long time since the CTBT was on the front pages of U.S. newspapers” and the Obama administration therefore “need[s] time to educate the public and Congress to build support for U.S. ratification.”

She said there is “no reason” that the other key states that have not ratified the treaty need to wait for U.S. action.

Also in Hiroshima, 12 countries called on the United States and other CTBT holdouts “to sign and ratify [the treaty] without delay.” The call was part of an April 12 joint statement issued at a ministerial meeting of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI), a group consisting of Australia, Canada, Chile, Germany, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Nigeria, the Philippines, Poland, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. At their meeting, NPDI foreign ministers were joined by Gottemoeller and Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa.

The NPDI statement urged North Korea “to refrain from further provocative actions including, among others, ballistic missile launch, nuclear test or the threat of the use of nuclear weapons.”

The North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced March 30 that North Korea “will not rule out a new form of nuclear test to bolster up its nuclear deterrence.”

In an interview at the Stockholm meeting, former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry said that, by banning nuclear tests, the CTBT was designed to limit nuclear competition. “We were lucky in the Cold War that that arms race did not result in nuclear catastrophe. We may not be so lucky the second time,” he warned.

Israel appears to be signaling that it is seriously considering ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Israeli Government Expresses Strong Support for CTBT

Following a mid-March visit to Israel by CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made clear that he considers the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to be of no use in the Middle East, the sources said, but by contrast Israel considers the CTBT to be “very significant,” is “proud” to have signed it, and “has never had a problem with the CTBT,” according to a report in The Times of Israel. Zerbo held talks with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, and the head of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission Shaul Chorev. Israel...

Week Ahead March 3-9: IAEA mtg; Pentagon Budget; Nuclear Security; Ukraine & the NPT

As the crisis in Ukraine continues to dominate global attention and the news headlines, several other arms control developments of significance in the coming week. For more news and analysis on these and other weapons-related security issues, consider subscribing to ACA's monthly journal Arms Control Today, which is available in print/digital and digital-only editions. The March issue of ACT will be available online later this week to all subscribers. - the Editors at Arms Control Today Week of March 3: IAEA Board of Governors Convenes The 35-member International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)...

IAEA Members Reject Israel Resolution

Kelsey Davenport

A resolution critical of Israel’s nuclear program, revived after a two-year hiatus, failed to pass the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last month.

The nonbinding resolution, sponsored by a group of 18 Arab states, would have called on Israel to join the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear-weapon state and put all of its nuclear sites under comprehensive IAEA safeguards. The measure, referred to as “Israeli Nuclear Capabilities” on the IAEA agenda, failed by a vote of 43-51 on Sept. 20, the last day of the conference.

Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy, an Egyptian official and head of the Arab League’s mission to the IAEA, told Reuters on Sept. 20 that the world needs to know about Israel’s nuclear capabilities and that its nuclear arsenal is “not playing a constructive role.”

Israel does not publicly admit to possessing nuclear weapons, but is widely believed to have an arsenal of approximately 80 warheads. Israel has not joined the NPT, but is a member of the IAEA, and its nuclear research activities are subject to IAEA monitoring and verification.

In a Sept. 18 statement at the conference, Shaul Chorev, head of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, said that introducing the resolution “inflicts a serious blow to any attempt to embark on a regional security dialogue.” He called on states to “condemn the Arab initiative” and “decisively defeat this motion.”

The United States voted against the resolution. In a statement delivered after the vote, U.S. Ambassador to the IAEA Joseph Macmanus said that the United States regretted that the resolution had been brought to a vote or even discussed at the IAEA.

A diplomat who attended the conference told Arms Control Today on Sept. 26 that about 30 European countries also voted against the resolution, as did Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea.

China, Russia, and South Africa were among the countries that voted with the Arab League. More than 60 IAEA members abstained or were absent during the vote.

A similar resolution passed the IAEA conference for the first time in 2009, after being voted down for several years. An attempt the next year failed. The Arab states refrained from putting the measure on the agenda in 2011 and 2012, saying they hoped that Israel would be more likely to attend a regional meeting on establishing a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East if it did not feel singled out for condemnation in the region.

As part of an accord that was crucial to reaching consensus on the final document of the 2010 NPT Review Conference, the treaty parties agreed to hold a meeting on establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East by the end of 2012. The meeting was set for Helsinki last December, but the conveners, which included Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, announced that the conference would be postponed because some states from the region had not yet agreed to attend and because there were disagreements over the agenda for the meeting. (See ACT, December 2012.)

At the time of postponement, Israel was the only country not to have publicly committed to attending a meeting.

A June 12 memorandum and letter submitted by Oman’s ambassador to the IAEA, Badr bin Mohamed Al Hinai, on behalf of 18 Arab states and the Palestinian territories asked that the resolution be placed on the agenda of the IAEA conference. According to the memorandum, the “recent course of events” failed to meet the expectations of the Arab states, motivating them to pursue passage of the resolution.

In his Sept. 20 statement, Macmanus said that the United States would continue to work toward “constructive dialogue” on establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East and called on “all concerned states” to “engage directly and on the basis of consensus and mutual respect” to establish the zone.

At the International Atomic Energy Agency General Conference, member states voted down a resolution critical of Israel’s nuclear program.


Israel Tests New Ballistic Missile Target

Eric Auner

Israel on Sept. 3 conducted the first flight test of a new missile defense target designed to improve Israeli defenses against longer-range ballistic missiles. The unannounced launch of the target, designed to simulate medium-range ballistic missiles like those possessed by Iran, was detected by Russian radar and reported in Russian media.

Israel, which initially claimed that it was unaware of a missile launch over the Mediterranean Sea after it was reported in the Russian media, said the test of the Silver Sparrow ballistic missile defense target was long planned. The Israeli Ministry of Defense issued a statement on its Facebook page saying that the missile defense radar successfully detected and tracked the launch and transferred flight data to the battle management system.

The test comes as Israel is gearing up to field a new interceptor, the Arrow-3, to protect against longer-range ballistic missiles, mainly those fielded by Iran. The Arrow-3 has been flight-tested, but has not yet intercepted a target. Silver Sparrow would be the target used in a future Arrow-3 intercept test.

The U.S. Defense Department’s Missile Defense Agency, which frequently collaborates with Israel on missile defense tests, provided “technical assistance and support” for the test, according to a Sept. 3 statement from Pentagon spokesman George Little.

A Russian early-warning radar outside Armavir in southern Russia detected the launch of two ballistic objects before the test had been officially announced, according to the state-owned RIA Novosti news agency. The news agency later reported that Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov told journalists that Israel should not “play with fire” by conducting such tests.

The test had “nothing to do with United States consideration of military action” in Syria, Little said in the statement.

On Sept. 4, Antonov met with the U.S. and Israeli defense attachés to discuss the test, according to a Russian-language article posted by the Russian Ministry of Defense press office on its website.

The trajectory of the test was “oriented to the east,” and “under certain conditions,” a “prolonged trajectory” could reach Russian borders, the article said. According to the article, Antonov told the U.S. representative that the United States should have notified Russia of the launch under the terms of a 1988 U.S.-Russian agreement that requires each country to notify the other of its missile launches. The article cited Antonov as saying the Mediterranean is “not the most suitable region” for testing missile defenses.

The United States has moved several naval vessels to the eastern Mediterranean to prepare for a potential strike on Syria in response to the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons Aug. 21. This deployment included guided missile destroyers capable of firing anti-missile interceptors. Russia has long opposed the deployment of U.S. land- and sea-based missile defenses in the region.

The Sept. 3 test is the latest step in Israel’s ambitious plans to deploy layered defenses against ballistic and cruise missiles of various ranges, as well as short-range rockets. Israeli missile defense efforts began in response to attacks by Iraqi conventionally armed ballistic missiles during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Israeli air and missile defense efforts have taken on a new urgency with the proliferation of short-range rockets in the region, especially the rocket arsenals of Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as the growth in Iranian ballistic missile and nuclear capabilities.

Israel has invested considerable effort and resources in developing and fielding systems to counter rocket and missile threats from surrounding states and militant groups, with significant U.S. technical and financial support.

Israel possesses three systems designed to intercept ballistic missiles.

The Arrow-2 has been in service for the longest period of time and is designed to intercept ballistic missiles within the atmosphere using a high-explosive warhead. The hit-to-kill Arrow-3 interceptor has a longer range and underwent its initial flight test in February. Hit-to-kill interceptors carry no explosive and rely purely on kinetic energy to destroy an incoming warhead.

Another system, called David’s Sling, is a hit-to-kill system intended to intercept shorter-range ballistic and cruise missiles, as well as heavy rockets. Israel completed a successful intercept test of the David’s Sling system for the first time in January.

Israel’s Iron Dome system, which defends against short-range rockets rather than ballistic missiles, is part of the layered Israeli approach to air and missile defense. With the exception of Iron Dome, these systems have not been tested in combat.

The United States has appropriated between $200 million and $500 million each year since fiscal year 2010 to fund the Israeli systems, with the majority of the funds assisting Israel in producing additional Iron Dome batteries and interceptors.

The three targets in the Sparrow series, produced by the Israeli government-owned Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd., are designed to simulate Scud-series or Shahab-series ballistic missiles, which Syria and Iran, respectively, possess. Sparrow targets are launched from aircraft and can mimic the maneuvers of a ballistic missile during part of their flight.

Israeli missile defense systems may be used if Israel is involved in a conflict with Syria, which possesses a large arsenal of ballistic missiles and rockets. The government of Syria already has used these weapons, including rockets armed with chemical weapons, against rebel groups and civilians within the country, according to the U.S. government and others.

Israel on Sept. 3 conducted the first flight test of a new missile defense target designed to improve Israeli defenses against longer-range ballistic missiles.

Despite Israeli Doubts, Serious Diplomacy Is the Best Option for Iran

By Kelsey Davenport Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the UN General Assembly on October 1, 2013. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the UN General Assembly today that Israel will "stand alone" in order to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. It is good that Prime Minister Netanyahu is prepared for that, because alone is where Israel is right now when it comes to policy on Iran's nuclear program. Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to have missed the readout on the positive progress made last week on the negotiations between six world powers, or the P5+1, and...

The Week Ahead Sept. 14-20: Syria UN Report; Planning for International Control; Arab-Israeli Nuclear Politics

This bulletin highlights significant events in the world of arms control in the coming week, as compiled by staff and friends of the Arms Control Association. (Send your suggestions here .) - Jefferson Morley, Senior Editorial Consultant, Arms Control Today UN Report on Syria's Chemical Weapons Due on Monday The U.N. chemical weapons inspectors are expected to deliver their report on a suspected Aug. 21 nerve agent attack in the suburbs of Damascus to Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on Monday or sooner, according to Foreign Policy magazine, and other news organizations. The report is expected...


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