In March 1976, two months after the Israeli test in question, a number of newspapers in the U.S. published stories which quoted CIA officials to the effect that Israel possessed a number of nuclear weapons. The leak was based on an authorized off-the-record briefing of newspaper reporters by a senior CIA official in Washington, who intimated to the reporters that Israel was also involved in other activities involving weapons of mass destruction, but refused to say anything further on the subject. The CIA official was likely referring to the agency's belief that the Israelis may have conducted a chemical weapons test in January 1976. According to a declassified State Department cable, Israeli foreign minister Yigal Allon called in the U.S. ambassador to Israel and registered a strong protest about the story, reiterating the official Israeli government position that Israel did not possess nuclear weapons. After the protest, all further public mention of Israeli WMD activities ceased and the whole subject was quickly and quietly forgotten.
But in the years that followed the CIA and the rest of the U.S. intelligence community kept their eyes and ears focused on what the Israelis were secretly up to in the Negev Desert.
It was not until 1982, according to the CIA estimate, that U.S. intelligence got its first big break. On June 6, 1982, 20,000 Israeli troops invaded Lebanon in an effort to destroy the guerrilla forces loyal to Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat. The Israeli troops swept northwards against weak resistance from PLO and Syrian forces, capturing a large portion of the Lebanese capital of Beirut and cutting off what was left of Arafat's forces inside the besieged city by mid-June. As of the end of the year, there were still an estimated 15,000 Israeli troops occupying all of southern Lebanon.
At some point in late 1982, as the Reagan administration strove with minimal success to get the Israeli government to withdraw its forces from Lebanon, American spy satellites discovered what the 1983 CIA intelligence described as "a probable CW nerve agent production facility and a storage facility ... at the Dimona Sensitive Storage Area in the Negev Desert."
The CIA report, however, provides no further elucidation about the size or production capacity of the newly discovered Israeli nerve agent production facility near Dimona, or even where the so-called "Dimona Sensitive Storage Area" was located.
At my request, a friend of mine who retired years ago from the U.S. intelligence community began systematically scanning the available cache of commercial satellite imagery found on the Google Maps website, looking for the mysterious and elusive Israeli nerve agent production facility and weapons storage bunker complex near the city of Dimona where Israel stores its stockpile of chemical weapons.
It took a little while, but the imagery search found what I believe is the location of the Israeli nerve agent production facility and its associated chemical weapons storage area in a desolate and virtually uninhabited area of the Negev Desert just east of the village of al-Kilab, which is only 10 miles west of the outskirts of the city of Dimona. The satellite imagery shows that the heavily protected weapons storage area at al-Kilab currently consists of almost 50 buried bunkers surrounded by a double barbed-wire-topped fence and facilities for a large permanent security force. I believe this extensive bunker complex is the location of what the 1983 CIA intelligence estimate referred to as the Dimona Sensitive Storage Area.
If you drive two miles to the northeast past the weapons storage area, the satellite imagery shows that you run into another heavily guarded complex of about 40 or 50 acres. Surrounded again by a double chain-link fence topped with barbed wire, the complex appears to consist of an administrative and support area on the western side of facility. The eastern side of the base, which is surrounded by its own security fence, appears to consist of three large storage bunkers and a buried production and/or maintenance facility. Although not confirmed, the author believes that this may, in fact, be the location of the Israeli nerve agent production facility mentioned in the 1983 CIA report.
This all may be a tempest in a teacup. It is possible that at some point over the past 30 years the Israelis may have disposed of their stockpile of mustard gas and nerve agents. These weapons need constant maintenance, they require massive amounts of security, and the cost for the upkeep of this stockpile must be extraordinarily high. Still, the Israeli government has a well-known penchant for preserving any asset thought to be needed for the defense of the state of Israel, regardless of the cost or possible diplomatic ramifications.