Could Israeli F-35s Carry Nukes?

That’s what the Israeli media claims. However:

The story, as reported in Israeli media, might be total nonsense. One problem is that the F-35, as originally designed, should only be compatible with the B-61 atomic bomb, America’s standard small nuke. Israel won’t even admit to possessing nuclear weapons at all. But it does—and they probably aren’t B-61s.

“Changing the internal wiring and engineering of the plane to accommodate a different warhead could be done, but not without significant challenges,” James Lewis, communications director for the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, told War is Boring. “Especially for a plane that’s had the extensive engineering challenges that have been the hallmark of the F-35 program.”

And if the U.S. confirmed that Israel were modifying the F-35 to accommodate Israeli nukes, there certainly would be significant diplomatic repercussions—and perhaps restrictions on American-supplied spare parts. That could quickly render Israel’s F-35s unflyable.


That last point is a bit of a non-starter. If we discovered the Israelis had indeed modified the F-35 to carry nuclear warheads or had modified its warheads to be droppable from the F-35, I’m certain our response would be… nothing.


To do so would be to admit that Israel has a nuclear weapons stockpile, which would bring up all kinds of non-proliferation issues which we’d really rather not have to deal with regarding our tiny friend. If Israel ended up having to actually use nukes on Iran (or whomever), then our potential refusal to sell them spare parts down the road would be the least of their concerns. That would be like Nike telling the winner of the Boston Marathon that they weren’t going to sell him any more shoelaces.

Anyway, Israel’s main nuclear deterrent is likely to be nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, launched from Dolphin-class submarines and probably accurate enough to fly up the proverbial camel’s butt. Israel also has Jericho II and III land-based ICBMs, also believed to enjoy superior accuracy.

In any case, it’s been reported that in 1973 Israel used the threat of nuclear attacks on Cairo and Damascus to pressure President Nixon to open wide the US supply spigot for Israeli conventional forces — so it’s not like Israel would just have to do what we say in some future conflict. Jerusalem has its own leverage and hasn’t been exactly shy about using it in the past.


The US and Israel have one very important thing in common: We’re both imperfect countries, but we’re also necessary countries. Our friendship might sometimes be rocky, but it’s built on that common foundation — which is why we won’t be taking an deterrence options away from Israel.


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