I recently wrote a post about a secret Israeli nuclear base whose veterans had somewhat indiscreetly established a Facebook group which was, at one time, open for public access. A Yediot Achronot reporter asked to Friend the group and was accepted though he was not a base veteran. He wrote a story about “Israel’s most secret military base–on Facebook.” It raised a stink and the group founder, somewhat chastened, changed the privacy settings so non-members could not access it.
But due to the ever-looming IDF censor, the Yediot reporter couldn’t name the base or discuss in any detail its purpose. That was left to me through the help of an Israeli source who did a good deal of the detective work.
Another major Israeli publication attempted to publish an article about Sdot Micha, but had to settle for a bowdlerized version thanks to the censor. But the uncensored version leaked out and I have a copy of it. To be clear, I did not receive this version from the author or the publication or anyone acting on their behalf.
When I published a link to my earlier post at the Israeli Fresh military forum, I also received a firestorm of invective (calling me a “terrorist” was one example) for my chutzpah in thinking I knew anything at all about either this base or the IDF in general. Everything from my sources to my political views were either made a laughingstock or lied about. But now I’ve come into possession of the original, uncensored version of the article and it confirms everything I wrote in my post. In fact, many of the censored passages seem to have been sourced from the Global Security website, an authoritative site I used and linked to in preparing my own post. The article does NOT include any information about Jericho III missiles, which were deployed at Sdot Micha (Beit Zechariah) in 2008 and have a far greater range of 11,000km (roughly 7,000 miles). That information is in my earlier post.
The fact that the censored material is widely available online should indicate to you how ludicrous is Israeli censorship. All any Israeli or any spy seeking to do damage to Israel would have to do is to know English and know how to do a Google search to find this material. Unfortunately, Israelis are not deemed mature enough or intelligent enough to be trusted with the same information.
Come to think of it there is another important issue lurking here. The reason the censor might’ve reacted so strongly to article is that any public revelation about Israel’s nuclear program or facilities, even one based on an easily accessible website like Global Security, might rock the boat as far as the current sensitive state of affairs for Israeli WMD. Recently, Israel boycotted the Obama hosted NPT conference because the state was afraid it would be ostracized for refusing the join the treaty. At this week’s Obama-Netanyahu meeting, Israel feels it received assurances from the U.S. to protect it from any harsh attacks by Arab states singling it out for being a nuclear rebel. In this context, stories like this one threaten to focus attention where Israel would rather it not be focussed.
I’m including below all the censored passages in italics:
Israel’s top secret base exposed on Facebook
Israeli soldiers who served at one of the country’s most secretive bases, believed to house a significant portion of the Jewish state’s undeclared nuclear arsenal, have set up a group on the social networking site Facebook.
The Facebook group allows veterans of the top secret Air Force base Sdot HaElla base to upload photos and videos of their shared experiences on the base, and has attracted 265 members.
Sdot HaElla (Ella Fields), also known in the Israeli military as Kanaf 2, Sdot Micha and Beit Zachariah, is an Israeli Air Force base located 28 miles south of Tel Aviv near the towns of Sdot Micha and Zachariah.
The group, named after the base, is accessible to anyone surfing the Web and is advertised using the Hebrew expression “There things hidden from us, which we will never know or understand.”
“Give respect,” the group’s description reads. “The group with the most quality serving people on Facebook.” [this is a mistranslation–the correct translation is “the group with the highest quality and most disturbed people on Facebook” with “disturbed” intended as a joke, as Americans sometimes use the term “he’s mental” as a joke]
To see any further content, and the list of 265 members, a visitor must request to join the group and be approved by its administrators.
A reporter for the Israeli daily Yedioth Aharonot was accepted to the group without his identity being cross checked against a list of base veterans. He copied a number of the posts on the group’s wall.
“Guys, we were privileged to get to be in this fantastic place,” wrote one member. “Keep in touch and protect the secret.”
…The Sdot HaElla base is home to the 150th, 199th and 248th squadrons and is believed to be equipped with nuclear-tipped Jericho ballistic missiles.The base is located just south of the Sorek River between Kiriat-Gat and Beit-Shemesh, a few miles southwest of the Tel Nof Air Base, which a number of military analysts have also alleged is a storage site for Israeli nuclear weapons.
Built in a limestone region, an extensive network of tunnels and hollowed out emplacements at Sdot HaElla are believed to house a number of nuclear-tipped missiles. Globalsecurity.org, a defense analysis firm, estimates that the base has 23 to 50 hardened missile shelters capable of supporting operational Jericho-2 missiles, which have a range of at least 1,500 kms. A Jericho-2 was test fired from the base in December 1990, just before the Gulf War.
The base also may hold a series of Jericho-1 missiles, which were developed in the 1960s and have a range of over 450 kms, although it is possible these missiles have been decommissioned.
Sdot HaElla also houses extensive munitions, likely as a support for the nearby Tel Nof base. The two bases are rumored to be connected by underground tunnels. There are also rumors that the base is connected to a missile factory in Beer Yaakov by a secret, underground railroad running along the Sorek River.
The airspace above Sedot Micha and the surrounding area is closed to commercial air traffic.
Much of the publicly available intelligence on the base depends on satellite photos taken in 2002 by the commercial satellite Ikonos, as well as photos from the American spy satellite Corona, and released by the CIA after the Federation of American Scientists used the United States’ Freedom of Information Act to win access to them.
Commercial satellite imagery of almost any point on the planet can be purchased on the open market. However, Israel has convinced the US and Russia to use a special patch that prevents American and Russian companies from selling satellite images of Israel at a resolution of less than two feet, meaning close-up satellite photography of Israel often seems blurred.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, an Israeli soldier intimately involved in the army’s cyber operations said the group is one example of many serious security breaches by Israeli soldiers in online social networks.
“It’s a security failure and they made a big mistake,” the soldier [said]. “There is a reason why this base is a secret and this will undoubtedly cause harm, allowing Israel’s enemies to get important information and use it to attack Israel.”
Not only did they set up a group, they used the official, public name of the base, rather than the secret name or some code, and they setup the group publicly, rather than by invitation only,” they said.
…The Israeli Army, as well as the Israeli Military Police, did not return a request for comment on this article….
“The reality is that you can go on Facebook and find pictures of almost any base in the country, including the Kirya,” he said, referring to the Israeli army’s headquarters in Tel Aviv. “So this is a problem that the army is very aware of and has a hard time dealing with, but they are trying to find a solution.”
“In this case, it’s quite foolish what they did,” he continued. “These are soldiers who are meant to be a bit more aware of the issue of information security.”
Soldiers from Sayeret 13, the unit that was involved in Israeli assault on the Gaza-bound flotilla, were recently ordered to close their Facebook accounts.
…While Israel has a policy of neither confirming nor denying its possession of a nuclear arsenal, it is widely believed that the country has over 200 ready-to-launch nuclear warheads.The US has put mild but increasing pressure on Israel to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a request the Jewish state has so far refused.
US President Barack Obama has publicly supported a push for a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, but he has predicated such an initiative on a comprehensive peace agreement that will make Israel feel secure in the region.