Israel maintains a studied ambiguity about its nuclear capability that is only unmasked in rare instances of candor like that of Ehud Olmert when he was prime minister and admitted it possessed WMD. Despite this ambiguity there are facets of Israel’s nuclear program that are widely known–at least superficially so. Most people who know anything about Israel have heard of Dimona, which houses its nuclear reactor. This is the facility where Mordechai Vanunu worked, after which he helped blow Israel’s cover and revealed Israel had several hundred nuclear warheads.
But there are other places associated with Israel’s WMD that are almost unknown, especially outside Israel. One of them is S’dot Micha, an Israeli airbase near the central town of Beit Shemesh, that houses 100 missile emplacements, along with Jericho I and II ballistic missiles capable of carrying a nuclear payload up to 1,000 miles, easily capable of hitting Iran.
Israel invested approximately $1-billion in developing the Jericho I until the 1980s. 50 missiles were produced and it is now considered obsolete. Then it developed the Jericho II, of which it produced at least 50. In 2008, it brought online the Jericho III, which is capable of traveling 3,000 miles (Wikipedia claims its range is 6,000 miles–perhaps this has to do with the nature of the payload it is delivering) Can anyone tell me why Israel needs such a missle? Who are they going to hit? Vladivostok? New York? Beijing? Or more likely Rwalpindi? Jakarta? Brixton?
Israel has persuaded the U.S. and Russian satellite imagery commercial companies not to sell high resolution images of bases like Sdot Micha, thus preventing people like you or I from seeing with our own eyes what goes on there. Google Earth also censors images of these secret sites. The area around the base is a no-fly zone, just like Dimona.
So it was with great interest an Israeli source noticed Yediot Achronot published an article, The Most Secret Military base—in Facebook, about a Facebook group for IAF veterans of this base. Interestingly though, Israeli military censorship forbade Yediot and the Jerusalem Post from naming the specific base, which I do here. The Post quotes military security experts bemoaning the serious breach which the Facebook group constitutes.
The group, whose name is excised from the image displayed with the Yediot article, is called S’dot Elah (from the Valley of Elah, where David vanquished Goliath and the base is located). Under “Description” it reads:
“There are things that are hidden, we will not understand, we will not know.
Show respect…the group with highest quality….people on Facebook.”
The founder of the group is Raheli Krut and several other members are pictured in the screenshot. Access to the group is now restricted only to members, thus reinforcing the cult of secrecy surrounding the base and Israel’s nuclear program as a whole. Despite this, Google cache still retains the group’s wall. On it, a member breezily asks whether base veterans are allowed to visit Turkey before the seven-year anniversary of the end of their military service. Given the late unpleasantness between Israel and Turkey, he might want to give some thought to how Turkish intelligence might take a former Israeli nuclear missile technician planning to holiday in his beautiful country. I’d take a raincheck if I were him.
Curiously, S’dot Micha won a government environmental award because it uses African elands to graze in its field in order to prevent forest fires. Apparently, the irony was lost on those on the jury that a nuclear air base designed to kill hundreds of thousands of human beings might not be the most appropriate choice for an environmental quality award. I also find it quaint that a base housing some of Israel’s most advanced nuclear weapons would utilize a wild animal to clear their fields. Couldn’t they develop a Jericho IV nuclear buzzsaw to do that for them? One benefit of elands though is that they don’t need a security clearance.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.