Jericho I was first publicly identified as an operational short-range ballistic missile system in late 1971. It was 13.4 metres (44 ft) long, 0.8 m (2 ft 7 in) in diameter, weighing 6.5 tonnes (14,000 lb). It had a range of 500 km (310 mi) and a CEP of 1,000 m (3,300 ft), and it could carry a payload estimated at 400 kilograms (880 lb). It was intended to carry a nuclear warhead. Due to Israel's ambiguity over its nuclear weapons program, the missile is classified as a ballistic missile. Initial development was in conjunction with France, Dassault provided various missile systems from 1963 and a type designated MD-620 was test fired in 1965. French co-operation was halted by an arms embargo in January 1968, though 12 missiles had been delivered from France. Work was continued by IAI at the Beit Zachariah facility and the program cost almost $1 billion up to 1980, incorporating some US technology. Despite some initial problems with its guidance systems, it is believed that around 100 missiles of this type were produced.
In 1969, Israel agreed with the US that Jericho missiles would not be used as "strategic missiles", with nuclear warheads, until at least 1972.
During the October 1973 Yom Kippur War, with the initial surprise breakthroughs on both northern and southern borders by Arab armies, the alarmed Defense Minister Moshe Dayan told Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir that "this is the end of the third temple." He was warning of Israel's impending total defeat, but "Temple" was also the code word for nuclear weapons. Dayan again raised the nuclear topic in a cabinet meeting, warning that the country was approaching a point of "last resort". That night Meir authorized the assembly of thirteen nuclear weapon 'physics packages' to arm Jericho I missiles at Sdot Micha Airbase, and F-4 aircraft at Tel Nof Airbase, for use against Syrian and Egyptian targets. The range on the Jericho 1 is sufficient to strike major cities such as Damascus and Cairo from secured launch locations. They would be used if absolutely necessary to prevent total defeat, but the preparation was done in an easily detectable way, likely as a signal to the US. US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger learned of the nuclear alert on the morning of October 9. That day, in keeping with his deal and warning which prevented a pre-emptive Israeli attack on gathering Arab armies, President Nixon ordered the commencement of Operation Nickel Grass, an American airlift to replace all of Israel's material losses. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Kissinger told Sadat that the reason for the US airlift was that the Israelis were close to "going nuclear".
It is believed that all Jericho 1 missiles were taken out of service in the 1990s and replaced with the longer-range Jericho 2. The Jericho 1 missiles were housed in Zekharia, located south-west of Tel Aviv and stationed in underground caves.