Stealth and Nukes: Will Israeli F-35s Soon Be Carrying Nuclear Weapons?

Zachary Keck

Key Point: Only political, and not technical, questions are stopping Jerusalem from doing this.

By the end of this year, Israel is expected to become the second country after the United States to declare Initial Operational Capability for its F-35s. Already, Tel Aviv has taken possession of five of the multirole fighters, and following an agreement late last month to buy an additional seventeen planes, will ultimately purchase fifty planes. All fifty F-35s are scheduled to be delivered by the end of 2024.

Israeli officials typically describe the F-35s purpose as ensuring the country’s continued air superiority in the region. In particular, they focus on how the plane’s stealth capabilities will allow them to evade Iran’s increasingly capable, Russian-built air defense systems. One mission that is not being discussed is that Israel will likely use its F-35s as a nuclear delivery system.

Although the government refuses to officially acknowledge it, Israel is known to have a nuclear arsenal with as many as 100 warheads. The Jewish State is also believed to possess a nuclear triad, consisting of ground-based Jericho missiles, Dolphin-class submarines equipped with sea-launched cruise missiles and some combination of nuclear-capable aircraft.

It’s likely that the F-35 will be the newest addition to the air leg of Israel’s triad. This technically should cause some diplomatic problems with the United States. Previously, in order to purchase the A-4 Skyhawk and F-4 Phantoms from the United States in the 1960s, Israel agreed not to use U.S.-supplied aircraft as nuclear delivery systems. Before acquiring the F-4 Phantoms, for instance, the United States requested and received assurances that Israel would not “use any aircraft supplied by the United States as a nuclear weapons carrier.”

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