Key Point: Government representatives might keep their existence hush hush, but everyone knows Israel's capabilities.
Israel has never officially admitted to possessing nuclear weapons.
Unofficially, Tel Aviv wants everyone to know it has them, and doesn’t hesitate to make thinly-veiled references to its willingness to use them if confronted by an existential threat. Estimates on the size of Tel Aviv’s nuclear stockpile range from 80 to 300 nuclear weapons, the latter number exceeding China’s arsenal.
Originally, Israel’s nuclear forces relied on air-dropped nuclear bombs and Jericho ballistic missiles. For example, when Egyptian and Syrian armies attacked Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, a squadron of eight Israeli F-4 Phantom jets loaded with nuclear bombs was placed on alert by Prime Minister Golda Meir, ready to unleash nuclear bombs on Cairo and Damascus should the Arab armies break through.
Though Israel is the only nuclear-armed state in the Middle East, Tel Aviv is preoccupied by the fear that an adversary might one day attempt a first strike to destroy its nuclear missiles and strike planes on the ground before they can retaliate. Currently, the only hostile states likely to acquire such a capability are Iran or Syria.
To forestall such a strategy, Israeli has aggressively targeted missile and nuclear technology programs in Iraq, Syria and Iran with air raids, sabotage and assassination campaigns. However, it also has developed a second-strike capability—that is, a survivable weapon which promises certain nuclear retaliation no matter how effective an enemy’s first strike.