ISRAEL is equipping submarines bought from Germany with nuclear weapons in a secret programme called “Samson”, it has been confirmed by former senior government officials in Berlin.
German news magazine Der Spiegel said yesterday it had information on a cruise missile launch system installed on the vessels. It said it had evidence that the Popeye cruise missiles were built by experts at the Israeli defence company Rafael and have a range of 950 miles with a 440lb warhead.
The magazine said: “Our research which spanned sources in the US, Germany and Israel, leaves no room for doubt. This naval technology enabled Israel to create a floating nuclear weapons cache in the Middle East.”
While the existence of Israeli nuclear weapons is generally accepted, Tel Aviv refuses to comment on whether it has them.
Many other countries in the region regard the West’s wilful ignorance of Israel’s nuclear weapons programme as hyprocrisey, in contrasted to the pressure Iran finds itself under for its own suspected programme.
Moreover, German public opinion is strongly against nuclear weapons, and so the confirmation of successive German governments’ co-operation in building nuclear-capable subs for Israel will prove contentious.
Der Spiegel went on to say that documents from the archives of the German foreign ministry make it clear that the German government has known about the programme since 1961.
Israel’s submarines are meant to give it second-strike capabilities in case of a major attack. According to the report, Berlin officials were aware of the vessels’ nature and future role, but chose to look the other way out of commitment to Israel’s security.
Der Spiegel said: “In the past, the German government has always stuck to the position that it is unaware of nuclear weapons being deployed on the vessels. Now, however, former high-ranking officials from the German defence ministry, including former state secretary Lothar Rühl and former chief of the planning staff Hans Rühle, have said that they had always assumed that Israel would deploy nuclear weapons on the submarines. Rühl had even discussed the issue with the military in Tel Aviv.”
The submarines are built by the German shipyard HDW in Kiel. They are the most advanced of their kind and can stay submerged for up to 18 days.
Four Dolphin class submarines – partially funded by Germany by way of compensation for crimes the Nazis committed – have already been delivered to Israel, and three more will be delivered by 2017. In addition, Israel is considering ordering its next three submarines from Germany.
Israeli defence ministry spokesman Josh Hantman yesterday said he had no comment on the Der Spiegel report.
But a leading Israeli military analyst, Ronen Bergman, said that submarines fitted with nuclear weapons boost Israel’s ability to deter potential aggressors.
In particular, they give Israel “second strike” capability since they would survive any attack against Israel, including nuclear installations, and enable Israel to hit back at the source.
“This tells [an enemy], ‘Whatever harm you can do to us, we can strike you back’.” Mr Bergman said.