Israel and Chemical/Biological Weapons: History, Deterrence, and Arms Control

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The site also states that IIBR has a Center for the Di-Today, almost five decades after IIBR was founded, it agnosis of Infectious Diseases “engaged in the develop-is remarkable to realize how much of Bergmann’s found- ment of novel diagnostic assays, the production of ing concept has survived the passage of time and changes reagents, the determination of antibodies in serum and the in Israeli science and politics. The current public mission diagnosis of clinical specimens.” Specifically, the Center statement of IIBR, as it appears on the institute’s elabo- “produces antigens, antibodies and conjugates for the di-rate website, still reflects the broad scientific mandate ad- agnosis of viral, rickettsial, and leptospiral diseases; per-vocated by Bergmann back in the 1950s. In accordance forms serological diagnostic tests, isolation of the agents, with this philosophy, the IIBR mission is described in he and offers diagnostic consultation to hospitals and clinics following way: in Israel.” 81

Backed by close to five decades of experience, the Israel Institute of Biological Research—

The Nonproliferation Review/Fall-Winter 2001 37


IIBR’s Division of Medicinal Chemistry conducts re- publications written by some 140 scientists affiliated with search on the synthesis of fine chemicals and drugs, envi- IIBR over nearly 50 years. Aided by eminent authorities ronmental and biopharmaceutical analysis, pharmacology on CBW, such as the British expert Julian Perry Robinson, and behavior assessment, and Alzheimer’s disease and Knip has reconstructed a rough history of the type of CBW related disorders. Many of these capabilities are relevant research conducted at Ness Ziona.83 to both defensive and offensive CBW. The Division of

On the chemical side, according to Knip’s analysis, IIBR Environmental Sciences does research in the fields of at-was involved in an extensive effort to identify practical mospheric optics, air pollution meteorology and risk as-methods of synthesis for nerve gases (such as tabun, sarin, sessment, physical surface chemistry, and detectors and and VX) and other organophosphorus and fluorine com-biosensors. With respect to biosensor development, IIBR pounds.84 Knip’s findings are consistent with other indi-has interdisciplinary capabilities including the chemistry cations that Israel initiated a CW program in the of detectors (i.e., reagents, shelf life), mechanics, elec-mid-1950s. IIBR also carried out studies of chemical in-tronics, and air sampling. capacitating agents, which are designed not to kill but rather

Presumably, the IIBR website was carefully designed to incapacitate an adversary for a certain amount of time. to present its defensive CBW mission as well as its civil- Before 1970, the U.S. CW program experimented with ian and unclassified side as a top-quality national research numerous chemical incapacitants, including psychotropic institute. By and large, IIBR presents broad technical ca- drugs such as LSD, although the only incapacitating CW pabilities that could be used for both defensive and offen- stockpiled by the United States was “BZ,” which was sive purposes, specific civilian projects such as research phased out in the early 1960s.85 on Alzheimer’s disease, as well as research areas and

On the biological side, Knip’s survey identified several projects with a clear defensive orientation. IIBR national types of disease agents, toxins, and incapacitants studied capabilities and expertise are clearly consistent with the at IIBR. In the early to mid-1950s, much of the research full array of activities associated with a strong CBW deactivity focused on the causative agents of plague (Yersinia fense program, but they could also support an offensive pestis), typhus, and rabies, followed subsequently by stud-orientation. Although the IIBR website carefully avoids ies on breeding insects that transmit those diseases, such discussing the motivation and intent behind the institute’s as mosquitoes, fleas, and ticks. Until the 1960s, insect research, it may serve a deterrent function. Without stat-and arthropod vectors provided the primary means of ing anything explicitly, the IIBR website demonstrates that delivery for the U.S. and British BW programs.86 Also Israel has powerful capabilities in the CBW area. during the 1950s, a significant number of studies at IIBR

In the early 1990s, IIBR underwent a major financial focused on anti-livestock agents, following the path of and organizational reform. According to the new arrange- other national BW programs at the time. ment, the Israeli government agreed to fund the portion

Another central area of study at IIBR since the 1950s of the institute’s staff and activities defined as “preserva-has been research on toxins: non-living poisons derived tion of an essential field of knowledge for the national in-from plants, animals, and bacteria. According to Knip’s terest.” The rest of IIBR supports itself by selling research bibliographical review, IIBR has done research on at least and development services through contracts with outside

15 different toxins, some of which may have been intended clients, both in Israel and abroad. As is the case with the for use in special covert operations. One toxin on the list Soreq and Dimona nuclear research centers under the is Staphylococcus enterotoxin B (SEB), a potent incapaci-auspices of the IAEC, the IIBR budget is entirely classi-tating toxin produced by the bacterium Staphylococcus fied.82 aureus. SEB was one of the toxin agents weaponized by

In the absence of almost any public historical informa- the U.S. offensive BW program. tion about IIBR, sensationalist rumors and speculation

Knip’s overall conclusion is that IIBR, since its estab-abound, along with a few more cautious inferences. Given lishment in the early 1950s, has been involved in a di-the Israeli taboo on the subject, a foreign journalist—verse array of research activities that, as a whole, imply Dutch reporter Karel Knip—has conducted the most ex-the possibility of offensive CBW research.87 In Knip’s tensive investigation into IIBR history and research words, “[t]he many hundreds of articles prove beyond activities. By searching Internet-based databases of the doubt that the IIBR is Israel’s main center for research medical literature, Knip turned up hundreds of scientific

38 The Nonproliferation Review/Fall-Winter 2001


into both chemical and biological weapons. The research has not even bothered to characterize the research con-conducted at the Institute consists of a bizarre combina- ducted at IIBR as “defensive,” and hence legitimate. 92 tion of activities that acquire significance within one spe- Finally, unlike the case of Israel’s nuclear program, of cific context, that of chemical and biological warfare.” 88 which Mordechai Vanunu revealed some of the technical capabilities to the London Sunday Times, there has never

Although a survey of published scientific literature is a been a comparable whistleblower at IIBR. This last issue useful tool for reconstructing the research interests at IIBR, perhaps explains why the Israeli security apparatus acted it is important to recognize its limitations. Bibliographical so harshly to protect the secrets of Ness Ziona in the analysis can suggest institutional trends, but it cannot in-

Klingberg case. dicate by itself whether Israel has offensive BW or CW programs. Medical and agricultural research institutions Another difference between the two cases highlights this worldwide conduct extensive basic research on disease- point. In 1999, in a response to a petition submitted to causing microorganisms. For this reason, Israel’s motiva- the court by Yediot Ahronot, the Israeli security authoritions in the CBW fields, defensive or offensive, cannot ties preempted a decision by the Supreme Court and re-be inferred merely from the existence of research activi- leased over a thousand pages of court documents related ties involving potential CBW agents. To do so would be to the Vanunu trial, about 40 percent of the trial docu-an unjustified leap. If additional relevant information is ments. The daily Ha’aretz submitted a similar petition on available regarding weaponization or large-scale agent pro- the Klingberg case to the Supreme Court in 1999. In conduction, however, it could alter the significance of the basic trast to the Vanunu petition, the Israel security authorities research. firmly opposed any release of documents relating to the

Klingberg case. In August 2001, the Israeli Supreme Court The fact that many research findings by IIBR scien-accepted the position of the security authorities and de-tists have been published in scientific journals—meaning nied the petition. that Israeli security officials consider them unclassified—highlights the intrinsic ambiguity that characterizes basic Lacking hard information, foreign-based publications research on dangerous pathogens. Such research may be have made all kinds of claims about Israel’s BW capabili-relevant to offensive BW but also have “legitimate” ap- ties, from the mundane to the fantastic.93 As a matter of plications in medicine and agriculture. With respect to stud- policy, the Israeli government has always refused to com-ies of bacterial or viral pathogenesis, it can be difficult to ment on these reports. For this reason, any assessment of determine whether the intent of a particular research Israel’s BW program and capabilities is inevitably tenta-project is to create a “defensive” capability (e.g., vaccine tive and speculative. A near-consensus exists among ex-development) or an “offensive” one (e.g., engineering more perts—based on anecdotal evidence and intelligence virulent strains). Because of this intrinsic ambiguity, Ar- leaks—that Israel developed, produced, stockpiled, and ticle I of the BWC does not ban basic research. Although perhaps even deployed CW at some point in its history. development directly related to weaponization is prohib- In 1974, U.S. senior military officials testified in Congress ited, such activities would be classified and hence diffi- that they knew, from conversations with their Israeli coun-cult to trace through open scientific publications.89 terparts, that Israel had an offensive CW capability. When asked about Israel’s BW capability, however, the Ameri-

Knip’s bibliographical survey confirms what many have cans professed ignorance.94 Although most analysts be-presumed and what IIBR seems to imply through its own lieve that Israel has maintained some offensive BW website: that Israel has substantial research capabilities capabilities, it is difficult to characterize exactly what those relevant to both defensive and offensive CBW. Still, to capabilities are and their current status.95 make judgments about Israeli intentions, motivations, and strategy with regard to CBW—especially regarding The U.S. government has never included Israel in its weaponization—one needs to know much more. The in- public list of states with an offensive BW capability, al-disputable facts are as follows. IIBR is one of Israel’s most though some have argued that Israel is one of two un-secretive and guarded scientific installations. Israel signed named states in the list of 12 assessed to have an offensive the CWC but has not ratified it.90 Israel has refused to program.96 The 1993 report on weapons proliferation by sign the BWC and has never issued a public policy state- the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service included an am-ment on the issue of BW.91 Unlike other Western states biguous characterization of Israel’s BW capability: that openly acknowledge a defensive BW program, Israel

The Nonproliferation Review/Fall-Winter 2001 39


There is no direct evidence of the presence of fundamental features: visibility, predictability, and imme-biological weapons in Israel. At the same time, diacy. No other non-conventional weapon can produce according to various indications, a ramified pro- as visible, predictable, and rapid destructive effects as NW. gram of biological research of a general nature, These characteristics make the atomic bomb the most in which elements of a military-applied purpose effective means of deterrence. BW, on the other hand, is are present, is being implemented in Israel. Spe- distinguished by a lack of transparency: the effects of BW cifically, Israeli research centers are cooperat- are invisible, uncertain, and delayed. BW agents can be ing closely with the American military labor- released covertly, and lethality is contingent on weather atories within the framework of a U.S. Defense conditions and the mode of dispersal. In fact, because it Department program for protection against bio- can be difficult to distinguish a biological attack from a logical weapons. As a whole, Israel possesses a natural outbreak of disease, uncertainty may exist as to strong civilian biotechnology base, which, if whether biological agents were actually used, and if so, necessary, could be redirected fairly easily to by whom. The drawbacks of BW for deterrence purposes the production of biological weapons.” 97 would become advantages, however, in the case of clandestine use.99

The four elements considered necessary for the weaponization of biological agents are research, develop- All indications are that from early on, Ben-Gurion and ment, testing, and evaluation. It would be logical—given Bergmann viewed the atom bomb—not BW—as the an-the BW threat from Iraq—that Israel has acquired exper- swer to Israel’s strategic predicament. In the early to mid-tise in most aspects of weaponization, with the possible 1950s, however, an operational Israeli nuclear capability exception of testing.98 Although it is highly probable that was still far off in the future, and CBW may have been Israel has maintained some sort of production capability, seen as a way to fill the gap. According to persistent ru-it is doubtful that Israel engages in the ongoing produc- mors, in 1954 Israeli Defense Minister Pinchas Lavon tion or stockpiling of BW agents. proposed using BW for some special operations. These proposals apparently stirred up a great deal of controversy STRATEGY, DETERRENCE, AND POLICY: among the handful of officials who knew about them, in-BW, CW, AND NW cluding Prime Minister Moshe Sharett. Veiled references to such “crazy” proposals can be found in Sharett’s dia-

To reconstruct the development of Israeli strategic perries.100 ceptions and attitudes toward BW, one must go beyond assessing the technical capabilities of IIBR and look at When Ben-Gurion returned to power in 1955, he im-the issue in a broader strategic-historic context, including mediately initiated parallel efforts—near- and long-term—strategic linkages between BW and the two other catego- to provide Israel with options of last resort.101 In the spring ries of non-conventional weaponry: chemical and nuclear. of 1955, he launched a crash project to develop “a cheap non-conventional capability.” Convinced that war with

Ben-Gurion firmly supported the establishment of IIBR

Egypt was inevitable, Ben-Gurion was determined to “set in 1952 and monitored the institute’s development up another line of defense, beyond the conventional means throughout his time in office. His daughter, Dr. Renana of the IDF, in case the enemy [Egypt] would use non-Leshem, worked as a microbiologist at IIBR for about 20 conventional weapons on the battlefield or against the ci-years. Even so, it is doubtful that Ben-Gurion ever con-vilian population.” He ordered that this non-conventional sidered BW as Israel’s ultimate strategic deterrent. It is capability be operationalized—i.e., weaponized and stock-not known if, and to what extent, Ben-Gurion, Bergmann, piled—as soon as possible and before a war with Egypt and Peres weighed the BW option against the nuclear broke out. The “cheap non-conventional capability” that option during the 1950s. But a variety of practical and preceded the nuclear option was CW, not BW. 102 military considerations, as well as diplomatic and moral considerations, made BW the weapon of mass destruc- In his book RAFAEL, Munya Mardor, the founder of tion least suited for deterrence. Israel’s Weapons Development Authority (RAFAEL), refers obliquely to the “crash project” and reveals that Ben-

One can make the case against BW and in favor of the

Gurion monitored it closely. The prime minister asked nuclear option in the following way. The awesome de-detailed questions about the pace of production, “evidently structive power of the atomic bomb is associated with three concerned that we would not meet the deadline he had

40 The Nonproliferation Review/Fall-Winter 2001


set, worrying that the enemy would have such capability Two Egyptian chemical attacks inflicted hundreds of and we would have nothing to deter or retaliate.”103 casualties. In the first attack on January 5, 1967, nine Mardor hints that the emergency transition from research Egyptian bombers dropped 27 chemical bombs on the to crash development and then production of the “final village of Kitaf. According to eyewitness accounts, some products” posed extraordinary challenges for the project 95 percent of the people occupying the area up to 2 km managers. The program involved a crushing timetable, downwind were seriously or fatally gassed. A quarter of procurement of equipment and material from overseas, the population was apparently killed, and another quarter and the conversion of research facilities—as well as com- severely injured (250-300 casualties), all apparently suf-mercial plants—to production. 104 fering from lung injuries.108 The second chemical attack in Yemen occurred on May 10, 1967, just four days be-

To address Israel’s long-term security needs, Ben-fore Egypt started to mass troops near the Sinai for what

Gurion also launched a NW program. By 1955-56, MOD was to be the Six-Day War against Israel. Some analysts director-general Shimon Peres and Bergmann explored have suggested that the Yemen civil war provided Egypt whether and how it would be possible for Israel to build with an opportunity to test its CW arsenal. 109 the technological infrastructure to pursue the nuclear option. By mid-1956, France was Israel’s first choice as the In 1959 or 1960, Egypt also initiated a secret program foreign supplier, but the French government hesitated as to develop and produce ballistic missiles with the aid of to the extent of the nuclear cooperation it was prepared German scientists who had worked on the V-2 rocket to offer. A year later, in the wake of the alliance between during World War II. By late 1961, this program had pro-the two countries during the Suez crisis, those hesitations duced two prototype missiles, the Al-Zapher (with a range faded. In October 1957, Israel signed a secret agreement of 350 km) and the Al-Kaher (with a range of 600 km). for nuclear cooperation with France, and a few months In July 1962, the 10th anniversary of the Egyptian revo-later, construction began on the nuclear facility at lution, Egypt test-launched four of the prototype missiles Dimona.105 and displayed 20 of them in a parade in Cairo. Israel was stunned when it learned of the German-assisted Egyptian

Still, the nuclear program did not lessen Israel’s inter-missile program, not realizing initially that the prototypes est in CBW. Bergmann’s old arguments that led to the had no electronic guidance systems. Initial Israeli concerns establishment of the Ness Ziona facility in 1952 were even were heightened by reports that Egypt was developing, more applicable in the early to mid-1960s. The timeline with the aid of German scientists, radiological or chemi-of the Dimona project remained uncertain; in the mean-cal warheads for the missiles. Even when it became evi-time, Israel had to counter Egypt’s growing non-conven-dent in the mid-1960s that Egypt had difficulty developing tional capabilities. Dimona was never meant to be a reliable missile guidance systems, there were still indica-substitute for Ness Ziona, but rather complementary. tions that Cairo was planning to build an arsenal of about

Egypt was the first Arab country to develop, produce, 1,000 missiles.110 deploy, and use CW. The Egyptian CW program began

Some evidence suggests that Israel upgraded its own in the early 1960s. Its main production facility at Abu offensive chemical capability in the early to mid-1960s to Za’abal, 10 kilometers (km) northeast of Cairo, produced counter the growing Egyptian CW arsenal. Reportedly, and stockpiled various chemical agents including tear gas,

Israel collaborated with France around 1960 on chemical mustard, and possibly nerve gas.106 Egypt used CW sev-matters, including visits by Israeli scientists to the French eral times during its military intervention in the Yemen civil

CW testing range at Beni Ounif in the Algerian Sahara.111 war (1963-67). The first Egyptian CW attack took place

As Julian Perry Robinson pointed out, an IIBR publica-in June 1963 at Al Kawama, a remote village in North tion in 1963 disclosed “all but the last step” in the synthe-Yemen, and can be characterized as primitive. Some British sis of the VX nerve gas. Because the chemical structure officials who examined fragments from the chemical of VX was not then known outside the United States, this bombs concluded that they had been improvised from tear observation suggests that IIBR scientists were engaged in gas grenades abandoned by British forces when they with-developing VX-related nerve gases.112 drew from Egypt.107 On several occasions from January to July 1967, however, Egypt engaged in extensive and Given the information about Egypt’s use of CW in effective use of CW against civilian populations in Yemen. Yemen in 1967, Israeli officials were deeply concerned on the eve of Six-Day War about the possibility that Egypt

The Nonproliferation Review/Fall-Winter 2001 41


might resort to CW, either as a battlefield weapon or nuclear capability operational and put it on alert.117 By against the Israeli civilian population. In response to these 1970, Israel’s status as a nuclear weapon-capable state concerns, Israel purchased tens of thousands of mask gas was generally accepted.118 Since then, all Israeli govern-in Europe (primarily West Germany) just days before the ments have reaffirmed the commitment to maintain, pre-war began. Some evidence also suggests that Israel made serve, and modernize the country’s nuclear option. its CW capability battle-ready.113 According to an Israeli

During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, both Israel and Egypt analyst, “Egypt did not resort to chemical warfare because possessed some non-conventional weapons to be used as it feared Israeli retaliation in kind.” 114 a last resort. Although it has been reported (but never con-

Senior Israeli military officers viewed CW and BW quite firmed) that Israel armed its NW, it is less well known differently during the 1960s, although the 1925 Geneva that Egypt apparently prepared CW for launch in the event Protocol prohibited the use of both types of weapons. As that Israel continued its military offensive and reversed mentioned above, Israel did not accede to the 1925 Geneva Egypt’s early gains in the war. 119 In 1975, still under the Protocol until February 20, 1969. CW were considered veneer of ambiguity, Egypt Chief of Staff General “nasty” but probably legitimate retaliatory weapons, es- Mohammed El-Gamasi warned publicly that Egypt would pecially after it was known that Egypt had employed them employ its own non-conventional arsenal if Israel resorted in Yemen. Moreover, the United States and some NATO to the nuclear option.120 countries stockpiled chemical munitions at that time for

Nevertheless, the two-decade period from 1970 to deterrence purposes. Although the United States also had about 1990 was the golden age of nuclear opacity. Israe-an offensive BW program until 1970, the Israeli military lis came to view the policy as a success, because it pro-perceived BW quite differently. The handful of senior vided the benefits of existential deterrence at a low political military officers familiar with the effects of BW consid-cost. Furthermore, many Israelis came to believe that the ered them morally repugnant and militarily unusable. The low-profile nuclear deterrent played a constructive role case against BW was formulated more in military terms both in making peace (in the case of Egypt) and in deter-than in moral ones: because wars in the Middle East tended ring regional war (in the case of Iraq). After the 1973 war, to be short-lived and decisive—terminated within days—

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat recognized that the Arab-no military use could be found for unreliable weapons with

Israeli conflict could not be settled militarily, which led a long incubation period. Israeli military planners con-him to the search for peace. This all occurred, however, cluded that BW lacked both the political credibility required in the shadow of the Israeli bomb. In 1981, when Israel for strategic deterrence and the military utility needed for successfully bombed the Iraqi Osiraq nuclear reactor, Iraq situations of last resort.115 At best, BW might be suitable did not retaliate—both because it lacked long-range air-for special covert operations. Given these views on the craft or missiles, and because it was presumably deterred part of the Israeli military, it seems unlikely that Israel by Israel’s nuclear capability. 121 stockpiled operational BW on the eve of the 1967 War.

During the 1970s, Egypt supplied Syria with CW agents; As the development of NW approached completion in and in the 1980s, after signing the peace treaty with Is-the mid- to late 1960s, Israeli strategists began to articu-rael, Egypt cooperated closely in the CW area with Iraq late a more systematic rationale for the nuclear program. during the latter’s war with Iran. 122 At the same time, the They conceived various “last resort” situations that could

Arabs began to promote the idea that CBW might become trigger the demonstration or employment of NW. their strategic weapon base—the so-called “poor man’s

Each of these scenarios was defined as a threat to the atom bomb”—to offset Israel’s nuclear capability. Even very existence of the state of Israel, against which the after Iraq employed CW during the Iran-Iraq War, Israel nation could defend itself by no other means than the use did not view CW as an existential threat to its security. of atomic weapons. One contingency involved enemy Nevertheless, Israel’s high-profile participation in the Paris chemical or biological attacks against Israeli population cen- conference on CW in 1989 demonstrated that Israeli inters.116 A conceptual linkage was drawn between a mas- terests had converged with those of the international com-sive CBW attack and a nuclear reprisal. This scenario was munity in strengthening the international norm against probably in the minds of the small group of Israeli chemical warfare. There was a growing perception in the decisionmakers who, on the eve of the Six-Day War, took Israeli strategic community that participation in the emerg-emergency steps to make the country’s rudimentary ing CWC would be in Israel’s interests. With respect to

42 The Nonproliferation Review/Fall-Winter 2001


BW, however, the Israeli government maintained its total at least a shield for Iraq’s nuclear program through this silence on the subject. vulnerable period. Israel took Saddam’s deterrent threat seriously, concluding that an attack on Iraq’s nuclear pro-NUCLEAR VS. CBW DETERRENCE: THE gram would trigger an all-out war that could easily esca-UNCERTAIN LESSONS OF IRAQ late to the non-conventional level. As a result, the 1981

Israeli strike on Osiraq could not be repeated in the new The 1991 Gulf War shattered Israel’s sense of strate-strategic environment. gic complacency. More than any other country, Iraq elevated the value of CBW as a counterweight to NW. Iraq’s Iraq’s chemically armed ballistic missiles also became extensive use of CW in the Iran-Iran War revitalized the the central pillar of its deterrence strategy towards the old Soviet term “weapons of mass destruction,” which United States and Israel after the invasion of Kuwait.127 combined the three types of non-conventional weapons Both the United States and Israel lacked detailed infor-into one ambiguous category. Saddam Hussein’s acquisi- mation about the Iraqi BW program, but they took tion of a massive CBW arsenal and long-range delivery Saddam’s CW threats seriously. Without neglecting de-systems also spawned an intricate web of possible link- fensive measures, both nations issued stern counter-ages among the three types of non-conventional weapons threats. Secretary of State James Baker warned Iraqi in the context of deterrence, use as a last resort, and arms Deputy Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz that any Iraqi resort control. Ultimately, the 1995 revelations regarding the to non-conventional weapons would be unacceptable to nature, scope, and rationale of the Iraqi BW program led the American people and would provoke devastating re-some analysts to revisit the role of BW as a strategic de- taliation. Baker’s carefully worded message avoided stat-terrent, especially against the use of NW. Conversely, the ing explicitly what the U.S. response might be, but it did Iraqi case led to a reexamination of the effectiveness of not rule out anything, including nuclear reprisals.128 Mean-NW as a deterrent against the use of BW. These issues while, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir pushed the have since become central to the Israeli strategic predica- policy of nuclear opacity to its limits when he issued a ment. solemn warning to Iraq promising to inflict “terrible and awful” pain on Iraq, without ever using the “n-word.” 129

During the final stages of the Iran-Iraq War, Saddam

Hussein employed CW both as a tactical weapon of ter- By the end of the Gulf War, Iraq had fired some 40 ror and as a strategic deterrent.123 On April 1, 1990, four Scud missiles at Israel, most of them aimed at Israeli popu-months before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Saddam el- lation centers. Given that Iraq did not launch a CBW at-evated the strategic role of CW even further by threaten- tack at Israel, many Israelis believe that the opaque nuclear ing “to make fire burn half of Israel” by using what he deterrent was effective in deterring Saddam’s use of non-called “the binary chemical weapon,” should Israel strike conventional weapons.130 This assertion may be true, but “at some Iraqi industrial installation.” 124 This threat sig- it is only one of several explanations. It also leaves many naled Saddam’s interest in projecting a new deterrence open and nagging questions. Can NW effectively deter posture vis-à-vis Israel. Iraq’s large arsenal of advanced the use of lower-level WMD? Under what circumstances CW, along with ballistic missile delivery systems that could is such deterrence posture likely to be effective? Are there now reach Israeli territory, implied (from an Iraqi perspec- situations in which NW simply cannot deter a non-nuclear tive) that Iraq had now achieved strategic parity, estab- adversary equipped with CBW? It is possible—and con-lishing a “balance of terror” between the two states. 125 sistent with what has been learned about Iraq’s BW pro-Ballistic missiles with chemical warheads were portrayed gram—that Saddam’s strategic CBW assets were held in as providing Iraq with the military means to confront a reserve, for use only in extreme and desperate situations nuclear-armed Israel. of last resort? One can only guess as to their ultimate purpose, but it may have been more for revenge than for

The specific context and purpose of Saddam’s threat traditional deterrence.131 was to deter Israel from launching a military strike against

Iraq’s nuclear installations. It implied that an Israeli at- Had Iraq escalated its Scud attacks to the non-conven-tempt to destroy Iraq’s nuclear installations, similar to the tional level, Israel would have found itself in an extremely 1981 attack on the Osiraq reactor, would be considered a difficult dilemma. Facing the specter of Iraqi CBW at-causus belli and lead to severe retaliation.126 In so doing, tacks, Israeli leaders and strategists could not fail to rec-Saddam raised CW to the level of a strategic deterrent, or ognize the profound limitations of NW vis-à-vis CBW.

The Nonproliferation Review/Fall-Winter 2001 43


After all, under almost any circumstances, Israel could heads with BW agents. These warheads were then stored not use its NW in retaliation for Iraqi CBW attack. To at remote airfields, from which they were to be fired at employ NW legitimately, Israel must face a true last-re- targets in Israel and Saudi Arabia if the Coalition forces sort situation, in which its national survival is at risk. It is marched on Baghdad and the regime fell.133 unlikely, however, that CW attacks would ever pose an

Iraq invoked the specter of the Israeli bomb to justify existential threat to Israel. Could Israel then use NW in its secret BW program, explaining it as “a viable deterrent retaliation for a CW attack? If not, could Israel make a in answer to the possible attack by Israel using nuclear demonstration nuclear use over Iraq’s unpopulated terri-weapons.” 134 Although this linkage of the Iraqi BW pro-tory (e.g., desert) as a final act of deterrence? gram to the Israeli nuclear program was politically self-

Both before and during the Gulf War, Israeli military serving and historically inaccurate, it sheds light on the planners worried about Saddam launching a limited CW motivation and the strategy that guided Iraq’s BW pro-strike against Israeli territory in a deliberate effort either gram. Avigdor Haselkorn suggests, ironically perhaps, that to call Israel’s bluff and demonstrate the emptiness of its Saddam’s “germ in the basement” posture mirrored nuclear deterrent threat, or to provoke an Israeli nuclear Israel’s opaque nuclear posture: Iraq established a secret response. Some analysts even worried that Saddam might arsenal of weaponized BW for situations of last resort, attempt to trap Israel into some kind of nuclear demon- while using ambiguity to invoke deterrence. Nevertheless, stration. Such an action by Saddam could have been taken the unpredictability, invisibility, and belatedness of germ to break up the U.S.-led coalition, end the war, and por- weapons make them less of a deterrent and more the ulti-tray Israel—not Iraq—as the real nuclear threat to the mate terrorist weapon.135 region. Apparently concerned about escalation that could

The United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) potentially invoke an unjustifiable nuclear use, Israeli Min-and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in-ister of Science Yuval Ne’eman openly suggested in July vestigated Iraq’s WMD programs beginning in April 1991. 1990 that if Iraq used CW against Israel, Israel should

But it was only in the period 1995-98—after the defec-retaliate “with the same merchandise.” 132 Ne’eman also tion of Hussein Kamel—that UNSCOM analysts were able proposed to the Israeli Cabinet that in facing the threat of to identify, clarify, and assess many aspects of Iraq’s vast Iraq’s CW, Israel should issue a credible chemical threat

BW program. In the wake of the defection, Iraq with-of its own. In this way, Israel would not be compelled to drew its third Full, Final and Complete Disclosure (FFCD) cross the nuclear threshold in response to an Iraqi CW on the BW program and admitted a far more extensive attack. Although Ne’eman made his proposal public, it was effort, including weaponization and testing of biological not endorsed officially. Apparently, there was no great munitions. In the spring of 1998, UNSCOM experts con-desire to qualify or diminish Israel’s nuclear deterrent by cluded that Iraq’s latest FFCD was deficient in all areas stating in advance that the Iraqi use of CW would not related to the BW program, including history, organiza-invoke an Israeli nuclear response. tion, acquisition of raw materials, research and develop-

Although the atomic bomb was undoubtedly Saddam’s ment, agent production, weaponization, and deployment. most sought-after non-conventional weapon, his second

The post-war discoveries about Iraq’s BW capabilities choice was BW (not CW). The Iraqi BW program was allow us to revisit the Gulf War. By Iraq’s admission, in shrouded in secrecy, however. Only in August 1995, af-desperate situations where Saddam’s own survival was in ter the defection to Jordan of General Hussein Kamel, danger, it is likely that he would have resorted to the use did Iraq admit to having had an offensive BW program. of non-conventional weapons if only as a means of re-According to Iraq’s own disclosures, which were still self-venge.136 A threat of nuclear reprisal, even one perceived serving, after the August 1990 invasion of Kuwait, Baghdad as credible, might not have been effective in deterring such had initiated a crash effort to weaponize its BW program use. Thus, in situations of last resort, an Iraqi BW capa-and render it operational for military use. Saddam regarded bility could provide a more effective deterrent than an Is-BW as the ultimate strategic weapon, to be used in situa-raeli (or U.S.) nuclear counter-deterrent. Iraq would not tions of “last resort.” In the wake of the United Nations even need fully operational BW systems to produce de-Security Council (UNSC) vote on November 29, 1990, terrent effects; the very uncertainty of the Iraqi response authorizing war against Iraq if it did not withdraw from would give rise to deterrence.

Kuwait, Iraq reportedly filled and armed 25 Scud war-

44 The Nonproliferation Review/Fall-Winter 2001


Iraq’s interactions with UNSCOM regarding its BW a posture of “biological ambiguity” by remaining silent on program during 1995-98 have aroused additional concerns. the BW issue.

Even though the BW program would be the easiest of

Such lessons, however, are dangerously misleading. Iraq’s WMD programs to reconstitute, Iraq is suspected

Israel should maintain a strong infrastructure in the CBW to have kept a substantial portion of its BW stockpile hid-fields oriented for defensive needs, but this is not equiva-den from UNSCOM, while claiming to have destroyed it. lent to the endorsement of the notion of “biological ambi-It would have been easy for Iraq to turn over most of its guity” (or “chemical ambiguity”) as a legitimate strategic BW stocks to UNSCOM while retaining the seed cultures, concept. Based on both strategic and moral considerations, and then insist that it no longer had a BW program. But

Israel should make clear that it does not consider CBW Iraq chose not to follow this path. According to some ana-to be legitimate. I will elaborate on these considerations lysts, a possible explanation for Iraq’s behavior may have in the last section of the paper. been the desire to retain a future option for state-sponsored bioterrorism whose source could not be traced fo-

ISRAEL AND CBW ARMS CONTROL rensically. The argument is this: bioengineered pathogens can be traced by their DNA signatures. If Western au- Over the past four decades, the international commu-thorities had samples of the seed stocks from which the nity has negotiated three separate treaty regimes covering BW agents were derived, they might be able to use an nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. During the Cold agent’s DNA signature to determine who was behind a War, nuclear proliferation was the paramount topic of bioterrorist attack. Without samples of the original stocks, concern for international security, so the first control re-however, such forensic analysis would be very difficult.137 gime focused on NW. The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) was opened for signature

Decades ago, Israeli leaders made the fateful choice for in 1968 and entered into force in 1970. As of today, ad-existential nuclear deterrence. They concluded that acquir-herence to the NPT has reached a near-universal level; ing nuclear capability would allow Israel to ensure its sur-the treaty has 187 parties, and only four states remain vival by establishing a stable deterrence relationship with outside (Cuba, India, Israel, and Pakistan). its Arab neighbors. They also hoped that this situation would eventually force the Arabs to recognize the futility The CW control regime is much younger, but more of war and bring the conflict to an end. Israel’s opaque sweeping in its disarmament objectives. Although the in-nuclear posture was designed to project deterrence and ternational legal norm against the use of CBW in warfare yet be as unprovocative as possible. With the adoption of dates back to the Geneva Protocol of 1925, it took seven nuclear deterrence, Israel cut back its CBW programs and more decades to negotiate a global ban on development, maintained a national infrastructure primarily suited for production, stockpiling, transfer, and use of CW. Opened defensive research. for signature in January 1993, the CWC entered into force in April 1997. The CWC requires all parties to destroy

The lessons of Iraq’s CBW programs appear to have any CW stockpiles and production facilities within ten cast some doubt on this old Israeli strategic calculation. years after its entry into force. It also has a stringent veri-The U.S. government believes that, in addition to Iraq, fication regime that commits its members to a high level Egypt, Iran, Libya, and Syria have secret offensive CBW of transparency and subjects all declared CW-related fa-programs.138 Recall Yuval Ne’eman’ s “private” comment cilities (including certain commercial industry facilities) to prior to the Gulf War that Israel should retaliate in kind if a system of routine inspections. These inspections are attacked by Iraq with CW. After the Gulf War, some Is-augmented with the right of any member country to re-raeli strategists argued that NW might not provide the most quest a short-notice challenge inspection of any suspect effective deterrent against state-sponsored bioterrorism, facility, declared or undeclared, on the territory of another especially if the attack leaves no return address. Such les-member. As of this writing, 143 countries have ratified sons may strengthen those who argue that Israel should the CWC. maintain some form of “biological option” (or “chemical option”) as a deterrent in the event of use of BW or CW The weakest WMD disarmament regime involves BW. against Israel by Iraq or some other country. 139 At the The BWC, which was opened for signature in 1972 and least, those who hold this view contend that “the lessons entered into force in 1975, prohibits the development, of Iraq” provide a rationale for Israel to continue keeping production, stockpiling, acquisition, and transfer of patho-

The Nonproliferation Review/Fall-Winter 2001 45


gens or toxins “in types and quantities that have no justi- fidence-building and security cooperation among the coun-fication for prophylactic, protective and other peaceful tries of the region, in parallel to the peace process. The purposes.” The BWC does not include monitoring or en- conclusion of the CWC in late 1992 led Israeli forcement mechanisms to ensure compliance, and it ex- policymakers to reconsider, however. Despite the fact that plicitly permits research and development for defensive the CWC challenge-inspection provisions posed a poten-purposes. As of this writing, the BWC has 143 state par- tial threat to the secrecy of the Dimona facility, Israeli lead-ties and 18 additional signatories. Multilateral efforts to ers concluded that CW was the best issue on which they negotiate an inspection protocol for the BWC have so far could demonstrate a more open-minded attitude towards proved unsuccessful. arms control. Given Israel’s uncompromising position on the NPT, signing the international treaty to ban CW was

Traditionally, Israel has always taken a skeptical view seen as preferable to remaining outside, whether or not of global arms control and disarmament treaties. The rea-the Arab states followed suit. sons are intimately tied with Israel’s geopolitical predicament vis-à-vis the Arabs. As long as the Arab-Israeli In 1992-93, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin considered conflict has not come to closure, and Israel’s Arab neigh- the CWC a “net benefit” for Israel. Given its nuclear ca-bors have not accepted its legitimacy as a state, Israel must pability, Israel had a clear strategic preference for a Middle maintain the deterrent capabilities needed to assure its sur- East in which no country had CW, and a CWC that was vival. For this reason, the Israeli government has gener- universally respected would offer the best chance to elimi-ally been reluctant to join global disarmament and arms nate CW from the region. Even if major Arab states re-control regimes. Instead, Israel has advocated a regional fused to join the CWC, an Israeli decision to sign would approach; namely, that progress on the control and elimi- probably improve its position in ACRS, perhaps even eas-nation of WMD in the Middle East must be made by link- ing the pressure on the nuclear issue. The Rabin governing the political issues of recognition, legitimacy, and peace ment also recognized that signing the treaty, while an to measures for arms control and disarmament. important symbolic act, was not the final word; only ratification would make the commitment final. Guided by

In 1968, the year the NPT was opened for signature, these considerations and pressured by the United States,

Israel resisted strong U.S. political pressure to join the

Israel signed the CWC on January 13, 1993, the first day treaty, explaining that given its security predicament—in-it was open for signature.142 cluding the Soviet threat—it simply could not renounce its nuclear option.140 Unlike other advanced states in the As a signatory-state, Israel was entitled to participate nuclear field, such as West Germany and Italy, Israel had in the CWC Preparatory Commission in The Hague, which no formal security commitment from the United States to refined the verification procedures of the treaty in prepa-protect it from Soviet nuclear blackmail or attack. During ration for its entry into force. Israel was particularly en-the War of Attrition (1969-70), for example, Israeli and gaged on the issue of “managed access,” with an eye to Soviet pilots engaged in direct aerial engagements over minimizing the security risks posed to it by challenge in-the Suez Canal, alarming Israeli decisionmakers such as spections. At the same time, Israel postponed a decision Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan. In 1969, Israeli Prime on CWC ratification for further review. As long as the Minister Golda Meir explained to U.S. President Richard U.S. Senate put off consideration of the treaty, it was con-Nixon why Israel had developed NW, why it could not venient for Israel to delay as well. The United States fi-sign the NPT, and why a low-profile posture of nuclear nally ratified the CWC in April 1997, and following the “opacity” would serve the interests of both countries. Is- treaty’s entry into force a few days later, the issue of Is-rael pledged not to test NW or to admit publicly to pos- raeli ratification resurfaced as a priority policy issue. sessing them. The United States, aware that the Israeli

A high-level ad hoc ministerial committee, headed by bomb was a fait accompli, stopped pressuring Israel to

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, was formed to resign the NPT.141 This arrangement became the basis for examine Israel’s position on the CWC. This committee the Israeli posture of nuclear opacity. included Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai, Commerce

The creation of the Arms Control and Regional Secu- Minister Natan Sharansky, and National Infrastructure rity (ACRS) working group in 1991-92 was consistent with Minister Ariel Sharon.143 After a series of meetings, the Israel’s regional approach. Israeli officials hoped that the committee decided to take a “wait and see” attitude, that creation of ACRS could establish new measures for con- is, not to submit the CWC to the Israeli parliament for

46 The Nonproliferation Review/Fall-Winter 2001


ratification in the immediate future but to keep the issue the view that Israel must retain some ambiguity about its open pending a future review. As Minister Mordechai put CW capabilities for purposes of deterrence is now firmly it: held by the Israeli defense establishment.147

I think that we have to wait and see how things

Concerns about security and secrecy have always undevelop. The problem is that some of the states derlined Israel’s skeptical view of arms control and disar-in the region are not signing, and there is no way mament agreements. In 1993, however, Prime Minister of inspecting those who are [not signing]. We

Rabin overruled senior defense bureaucrats and decided had discussion in the cabinet, and we decided that Israel should sign the CWC. He believed that Israel to postpone a decision for a certain period. We could live with the security risks entailed by the verifica-will discuss it again.144 tion system of the CWC. By the late 1990s, however, the

As of this writing, the Israeli government has not for- death of Rabin and the transformation of the regional se-mally reexamined the issue of CWC ratification. Infor- curity situation caused the old concerns of the defense mally, however, it is evident that Israeli thinking about the establishment to resurface and prevail. One specific con-CWC has changed profoundly in recent years. The treaty cern is that the CWC challenge-inspection provision could is no longer seen as a “net benefit” to Israel. A series of be abused to infringe on the sanctity of Dimona.148 Equally external developments in recent years related to WMD important (and more likely) is the concern—never stated have raised serious concerns and doubts regarding CWC in public by Israeli strategists—that the CWC verification ratification. Here is a quick list.145 First, the ACRS pro- process might infringe on the sanctity of Ness Ziona.149 cess reached an impasse in the mid-1990s and entered

Not all Israeli officials and agencies agree with defense into complete freeze. Second, most of the major Arab establishment’s opposition to the CWC. The Ministry of states with CW capabilities, including Egypt, Iraq, Syria,

Industry and Trade, concerned about potential economic and Libya, have not signed the CWC. (Syria is believed harm to the Israeli chemical industry resulting from man-to have the largest and most sophisticated stockpile of CW datory trade restrictions on non-member states, has lob-in the region, as well as missile delivery systems.) Third, bied for ratification.150 Yossi Beilin, former Minister of even under the relatively intrusive UNSCOM inspection

Justice (under Prime Minister Barak) and the Labor Party’s regime, Iraq was able to hide important elements of its most prominent dove, has called openly for Israeli ratifi-CBW programs; since December 1998, Iraq is no longer cation of the CWC. Alluding to the defense establishment’s under inspection and is believed to be reconstituting these fears about revealing past secrets, Beilin noted: “We can’t capabilities. Fourth, Iran, which did sign and ratify the be stuck in the mud forever, only because of things that CWC and even declared some past CW-related activities, were or were not done in the past.” 151 By September is believed to be still producing and stockpiling CW in vio-

2000, officials at both the Foreign Ministry and the Min-lation of the treaty. istry of Industry and Trade called for a new governmen-

These developments have returned Israel to its tradi- tal review of the 1997 decision not to ratify the CWC. tional cautious attitude on issues of arms control and dis-

That very month, however, the second Palestinian armament. Two related areas of concern have emerged intifada began, renewing fears of escalation to regional as the focus of the defense establishment’s opposition to war. Under these circumstances, the defense establish-CWC ratification: deterrence and security. With respect ment faced no challenge to its firm position opposing CWC to deterrence, in 1993 Prime Minister Rabin concluded ratification. Senior defense officials insisted that even an that the political-diplomatic benefits of joining the global annual economic loss of hundreds of millions of dollars effort to eliminate CW outweighed the benefits of pro-could be justified in order to preserve Israel’s posture of jecting “chemical ambiguity” as a deterrent. This view no

“chemical ambiguity.” 152 longer prevails. A senior Israeli defense official recently expressed the current Israeli thinking on CW in the fol- Finally, there is the never-discussed issue of the BWC, lowing way: “We believe that chemical weapons should which Israel has neither signed nor ratified. As noted ear-be taken off arsenals all over the world. But as long as lier, Israel has never publicly explained its policy on BW, this is far from reality, we have to contend with the threats keeping silent not only about its activities and capabilities surrounding us. These weapons do have some deterrent in this field but also about its diplomacy. 153 One can only value, and we see certain advantage in it.” 146 Evidently, assume that the reasons mentioned earlier for why Israel

The Nonproliferation Review/Fall-Winter 2001 47


should not ratify the CWC are also applicable to the BWC, mizing CBW and therefore has good reasons not to rebut probably compounded. The issue of BW is more po- taliate in kind. The most effective and credible way for litically sensitive than CW, not only because BW are far Israel to deter the use of CBW by its enemies is not by more lethal, but also because Israel has presumably em- retaining a residual CBW option, but rather by making ployed biological or toxin weapons for special operations.154 explicit that Israeli retaliation would be certain and many times more damaging than the effects of the CBW attack POLICY ISSUES itself. The bottom line is that a nuclear-armed Israel, like the United States, has no strategic need to maintain a pos-

Given the current cycle of violence in the Middle East, ture of “CBW ambiguity” on top of its nuclear posture.

Israeli ratification of the CWC appears to be a dead issue.

Only in the extreme case of a devastating CBW attack Nevertheless, at some time in the future, when the vio-would Israel consider launching a nuclear reprisal, yet lence subsides and the region returns to the path of arms from the Arab perspective such an option exists and must control and peacemaking, Israel will have to rethink its be considered. present policies on CBW. Relevant to this future policy review is a cluster of considerations: strategic-military,

Diplomacy and arms control diplomatic, economic, and democratic.

Given its history and geopolitics, Israel is committed to Deterrence and strategy retain its nuclear capability as a national insurance policy even after the establishment of formal regional peace. Is-

While it is true that nuclear deterrence does not and raeli strategists are firmly convinced—perhaps now more cannot provide fail-safe deterrence for all non-conventional than ever—that Israel’s nuclear posture has been a stabi-threat scenarios, it would be a mistake to conclude that lizing factor in convincing Arab leaders, such as Egyptian Israel must retain a CBW option. Israel has good reasons

President Hosni Mubarak, of the futility of a regional war. to keep a strong national infrastructure for CBW defense,

Israel has proven itself a responsible de facto member of but this need should not be confused with the endorse-the nuclear club.155 Although Israel has yet to find ways ment of a “chemical option” or a “biological option” as to state this reality, by now most of the world has come valid strategic concepts. Compared with NW, CW is too to terms with and accepted it. Indeed, it is the certainty limited in its effects, and BW is too uncertain, to serve as of Israel’s nuclear capability—not its ambiguity—that effective strategic deterrents. In any event, both types of makes it a credible deterrent for situations of true last re-weapons have come to be seen as morally repugnant. The sort.

Arabs have acquired these weapons not because they consider them an optimal deterrent, but because they have Given the singular importance of its nuclear deterrent, nothing better to counter Israel’s NW. Israel has an interest in designing a policy on CBW that would be supportive of its nuclear posture. In particular,

Those Israeli strategists who suggest that Israeli NW

Israel should ratify the CWC as part of an active Israeli do not provide a credible means to deter the first use of arms control agenda, with the ultimate aim of helping to CBW by an Arab state—let alone by a sub-national ter-legitimize its nuclear deterrent. Contrary to those Arab rorist group—could well be proven correct. Still, that does states that have conditioned joining the CWC on Israel’s not mean that an Israeli CBW capability for retaliation in participation in the NPT, Israel’s interest is to de-link the kind would provide a credible deterrent either. Thus, it is

CBW issue from the nuclear one. By ratifying and join-not accurate to argue that if Israel abandoned its posture ing the CWC, regardless of the actions of the Arab states, of CBW ambiguity, it would lose a genuine deterrent

Israel would join the Western consensus that CBW are against CBW attack. The reality is that even under the immoral and illegal weapons that should be banned from current posture, it is highly doubtful that Israel would re-the face of the earth. By the same token, for Israel to taliate in kind if it were attacked with CBW. insist on retaining a posture of CBW ambiguity could un-

This assertion is based on two considerations. First, dermine the singular importance of Israel’s nuclear pos-Israel has powerful conventional military capabilities that ture, both with respect to its deterrence effects and its would enable it to retaliate harshly against nearly all CBW political legitimacy. attacks without the need to resort to non-conventional weaponry. Second, Israel has no political interest in legiti-

48 The Nonproliferation Review/Fall-Winter 2001


Economics and CWC sanctions Defense officials claimed that many of the arguments against CWC ratification were too sensitive to be shared

Thus far, Israel has paid only a small economic price even with their bureaucratic counterparts in other agen-for its decision not to ratify the CWC.156 If restrictions cies. Lacking access to information, the Israeli general on trade in Schedule 3 chemicals with CWC non-parties public was completely excluded from the policy debate. go into effect, however, the economic consequences could be significant.157 Although it is too early to predict with Finally, the combination of official secrecy and societal any precision what the financial cost of Israel’s decision taboo makes it easy for the Israeli defense establishment to stay outside the CWC might be,158 the question before to conceal or cover-up safety hazards, accidents, program Israeli decisionmakers is whether the security benefit of mismanagement, and environmental damage associated retaining some residual “CBW ambiguity” is worth the with CBW activities.159 economic cost.

POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS Transparency, secrecy, and democratic oversight

The following policy proposals, while unrealistic given Finally, Israeli ratification of the CWC has implications the current political situation in the Middle East, should for the health of the country’s democracy, an issue that be carefully considered for the longer-term. Israel should has hardly ever been discussed in this context. As already seek the politically appropriate moment to convey a new noted, Israel has employed extraordinary secrecy mea- and clear message regarding its CBW posture. Such a sures to protect its activities and policies in the CBW field. message would in effect involve partially abandoning the The Israeli government has never issued an official state- current policy of total secrecy and silence and would there-ment to the citizenry describing its CBW activities. Even fore require substantial diplomatic preparation. A new Is-the early history of the Israeli CBW program remains clas- raeli policy on CBW should also be an integral component sified and thus off-limits to critical study. of a larger regional arms control initiative.

From the normative perspective of democratic gover- A new Israeli policy on CBW should have three basic nance, a situation of total secrecy reinforced by a societal elements. First, as a matter of principle, Israel should taboo is disturbing. That the citizens of a democratic coun- state—somewhat akin to President Nixon’s statement on try have been denied the right to know about their BW in 1969160 —that it does not view CBW as legitimate government’s choices in a critical area of national policy, weapons or instruments of deterrence and thus has no and to debate them freely, is detrimental to the spirit of need to retain offensive CBW programs of its own. In democracy. The total lack of transparency in the CBW line with this message, Israel would ratify the CWC, re-area has had many harmful effects, including a lack of gardless of its neighbors’ actions. If the Israeli govern-democratic oversight, a lack of informed public debate, ment concludes that the Iraqi threat precludes it from and concerns over possible harm to public health and the acceding to the BWC for the time being, it should at least environment. issue a policy statement explaining its position. These steps would also create new and beneficial norms for Israeli

In the BW field, more than any other area of non-con-society with respect to transparency and democratic over-ventional weaponry, secrecy can be easily abused to sight. weaken democratic oversight. Because of the inherent ambiguity between defensive and offensive BW activi- Second, Israel should continue to retain a strong scien-ties, which are distinguished largely by intent, secrecy tific and technological infrastructure in the CBW area, could allow an ostensibly defensive BW program to “drift” devoted solely to defensive purposes. As an important into the offensive mode. In the Israeli context, when the function of its defensive mandate, such infrastructure Knesset has virtually no independent means of parliamen- should include the national body in charge of scientific tary oversight and is fully dependent on information from monitoring, analyzing, and assessing of intelligence relat-the executive branch, the lack of democratic oversight over ing to CBW programs in hostile countries, as well as new CBW activities is particularly serious. During the recent threats of bioterrorism.

Israeli inter-governmental debate over ratification of the

Third, Israel should make publicly clear that it has the CWC, excessive secrecy reportedly prevented informed means and the will to retaliate in the most devastating way discussion even within the closed walls of officialdom. against any CBW attack.

The Nonproliferation Review/Fall-Winter 2001 49


1 This paper was born of an earlier and much shorter piece written for a forth- From the start, a visionary alliance was forged between them over science, coming volume, The Biological Warfare Question: A Reappraisal for the 21st defense, and politics that marked some of the most fateful moves of the State Century, edited by Susan Wright. I am thankful to Susan for her well-informed of Israel.” “An Israeli Man of Distinction,” Jerusalem, Israel, comments deliv-comments on the original paper. My colleague Milton Leitenberg encouraged ered by Shimon Peres at the funeral of Ernst David Bergmann, April 7, 1975. me to continue and expand the earlier research. I am deeply indebted to him for Peres’ comments were also published in a booklet by the MOD (courtesy of his helpful comments, suggestions, and wisdom. I am also grateful to Jonathan Hani Bergmann and translated into English by the author); cf. Shimon Peres, B. Tucker for his assistance in polishing the paper and to Assaf Moghadam From These Men (Tel Aviv: Ministry of Defense Publishing House, 1975), for research support. Special thanks goes to Ronen Bergman for sharing with p. 186. me some of his archival research. This paper was researched, written, and 20 Veterans of HEMED BEIT, interviews with author. See also Sara Leibovitz-edited prior to the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent Dar, “Haydakim Besherut Hamedinah” [Microbes in State Service], Hadashot, bioterrorism events in the United States. August 13, 1993, pp. 6-10.

2 Ben-Gurion’s letter to Avriel, dated March 4, 1948, is cited in Michael Keren, 21 Ibid., p. 6.

Ben-Gurion and the Intellectuals (Sdeh Boker: The Ben-Gurion Research 22 These large-scale poisoning operations did not actually materialize. See Center Press, 1988 [in Hebrew]), p. 32. Ehud Sprinzak and Idith Zertal, “Avenging Israel’s Blood (1946),” in Jonathan 3 For more details on the Klingberg case as well as bibliographical references, B. Tucker, ed., Toxic Terror: Assessing Terrorist Use of Chemical and Biologi-see footnote 66. cal Weapons (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000), pp. 17-41.

4 This euphemistic phrase along with another somewhat contradictory one, 23 The following states that participated in World War II and had BW pro-“the bomb that never is,” both appeared as headlines in two subsequent grams, in one form or another, were: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the issues of The Economist (October 19, 1991 and October 26, 1991). Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States. See Milton

5 David Ben-Gurion, Be-mah Nekabel Pnei Habaot [With What Will We Face Leitenberg, “Biological Weapons in the Twentieth Century: Review and Analy-the Future] (Tel Aviv: Merkaz Mifleget Po’alei Eretz Israel, November 1948), sis,” paper prepared for 7th International Symposium on Protection against pp. 35-36; also cited in Ephraim Katzir, “The Beginning of Defense Research: Chemical and Biological Warfare, Stockholm, Sweden, June 2001,
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