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March 16, 2021 4:48 pm

Israel Among World’s Biggest Arms Exporters, Counts Up to 90 Nuclear Weapons: Report

avatar by Sharon Wrobel

An missile is launched during a test of Israel’s aerial defense network. Photo: Israeli Defense Ministry’s Twitter account.

Israel is ranked among the world’s top ten arms exporters during the past five years and has an estimated 90 operational nuclear weapons, according to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) published Monday.

The report said Israel was the eighth largest arms exporter during the 2016–2020 period. Its arms exports, which accounted for 3% of the global total, jumped by 59% from the prior five-year period.

Meanwhile, data showed that international arms sales leveled off during the reported period after years of sharp growth. At the same time, the biggest increase of 25% in arms imports was registered in Middle Eastern countries.

“It is too early to say whether the period of rapid growth in arms transfers of the past two decades is over,” said Pieter D. Wezeman, Senior Researcher with the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Program. “For example, the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic could see some countries reassessing their arms imports in the coming years. However, even at the height of the pandemic in 2020, several countries signed large contracts for major arms.”

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Israel handed over major arms to 40 states during the 2016–2020 period. India was at the top of the list and represented 43% of total deliveries from Israel, which was its third-largest arms supplier. The country’s largest defense companies include Elbit Systems, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).

The five largest arms exporters were the US, Russia, France, Germany and China, which together accounted for 76% of all exports of major arms. The five largest arms importers were Saudi Arabia, India, Egypt, Australia and China.

According to the SIPRI report, Israel was also among nine states in possession of nuclear weapons at the start of 2020. Although Israel has a long-standing policy of not commenting on its nuclear arsenal and has neither officially confirmed nor denied its existence, the report estimated that the country could be in the possession of 90 operational nuclear weapons.

About 30 of these weapons are believed to be gravity bombs for delivery by F-16I aircraft, and up to 50 warheads are thought to be for delivery by land-based Jericho ballistic missiles. SIPRI noted that the Israeli government has never publicly confirmed its possession of the Jericho missiles.

The other nuclear-armed states listed were the US, Russia, the UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea, who together with Israel have an estimated 13400 nuclear weapons, of which 3720 were deployed with operational forces.

“Overall, inventories of nuclear warheads continue to decline. This is primarily due to the USA and Russia dismantling retired warheads. At the same time, both the USA and Russia have extensive and expensive programs under way to replace and modernize their nuclear warheads, missile and aircraft delivery systems, and nuclear weapon production facilities,” SIPRI stated.

The report referred to declassified government documents from Israel and the US that indicated that Israel began building nuclear weapons in the early 1960s, using plutonium produced by the Israel Research Reactor 2 (IRR-2) at the Negev Nuclear Research Center, near Dimona.

Founded in 1966, SIPRI describes itself as an independent international institute focused on research into conflict, armaments, arms control and disarmament.

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