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

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FROM HEMED BEIT TO IIBR of evidence of such operations.

Ultimately, the creation of HEMED BEIT must be un- In 1949, after the War of Independence, a period of derstood—and judged—in the context of the time. It took reorganization began both at the IDF and the civilian

32 The Nonproliferation Review/Fall-Winter 2001


MOD. The 90,000-strong wartime army was reduced to One reason for this approach was the extremely limited about 35,000 recruits. There was also a need to restruc- research infrastructure left by the British mandate in ar-ture the entire defense establishment, both its civilian and eas such as public health and epidemiology. Bergmann uniformed components, to adjust to the postwar condi- firmly believed that the Defense Ministry’s EMET was tions. HEMED was still part of the IDF, but the majority the only body in the new state of Israel capable of build-of HEMED’s 560 employees were civilians, and the mili- ing a research infrastructure at the national level (as op-tary utility of the Science Corps was not clear to the su- posed to academic centers or other governmental agencies preme command. Each of the five research centers acted such as the Ministry of Health). As part of this organiza-as an autonomous unit, loosely administrated by the tional restructuring, HEMED was converted into a group HEMED command. As the military budget shrank in of MOD-sponsored civilian research centers called 1950-51, the IDF was determined to rid itself of the bur- “Machons.” With backing from Ben-Gurion but opposi-den of supporting HEMED.45 tion from some top defense bureaucrats and senior military officers, Bergmann established in 1952 both the IAEC

The reorganization at MOD coincided with some im-and IIBR.52 portant personnel changes. In mid-1951, the rift between the aging Chaim Weizmann, the founder of the Seiff In- IIBR resulted from the merger of two Machons, one stitute (later renamed the Weizmann Institute of Science), of which was a continuation of HEMED BEIT. Accord-and his long-time protégé, Professor Bergmann, then the ingly, the initial IIBR laboratory was the building in the institute’s scientific director, reached a final showdown. fenced orange grove outside Ness Ziona that had housed Their disagreement centered on the future of the HEMED BEIT. Among the founders of IIBR were Weizmann Institute and the role of the state in sponsoring Alexander Keynan, who was the head of HEMED BEIT scientific research. During the 1948 war, Bergmann had and had become the institute’s first director; Robert effectively turned the institute into a HEMED base and Goldwasser, who later directed the institute during the subordinated much of its research effort to the needs of 1960s; and Marcus Klingberg.53 For all practical purposes, the Haganah and, later, to those of MOD.46 After the Bergmann was also one of the founding fathers of the war, Bergmann proposed “to convert the Weizmann In- new institute. His name appeared as a joint author on many stitute into Israel’s national scientific research center, dedi- of the scientific publications of IIBR during the 1950s, cated to both civilian and military tasks.” 47 This plan was especially in the chemical field. unacceptable to Weizmann, who had returned to the in-

From its inception, IIBR was given a “dual identity.” 54 stitute in 1949 while serving as Israel’s first president.

For security and bureaucratic purposes, it was regarded Weizmann adamantly opposed Bergmann’s concept of as a highly classified research center (“Machon 2”) oper-state-sponsored science.48 ated and funded by the MOD EMET. For representative

On July 15, 1951, Weizmann forced Bergmann to re- and scientific functions, however, it was named the Is-sign his post as scientific director and governor of the in- rael Institute for Biological Research, under the jurisdic-stitute.49 On that same day, Ben-Gurion appointed tion of the Prime Minister’s Office. 55 Bergmann to dual posts: scientific advisor to the prime

Given the climate of the times, it is doubtful that minister and chief of research at MOD. In effect,

Bergmann and his IIBR colleagues made a distinction Bergmann became the nation’s chief scientist, a position between defensive and offensive research and develop-that enabled him to pursue his grand vision of setting up ment (R&D). In those days, national CBW programs were government-sponsored research centers funded by MOD not illegal or even at odds with international norms. The and under the jurisdiction of the Prime Minister’s Office. 50

1925 Geneva Protocol, which prohibited the use of CBW The two main areas of government-sponsored research in warfare, was silent about developing, producing, and that Bergmann sought to establish under the rubric of “na-stockpiling such weapons. Moreover, many countries that tional science” were nuclear and chemical-biological. 51 ratified the Geneva Protocol did so with a reservation re-

The establishment of a civilian Division of Research serving the right to employ CBW for retaliation in kind (under the Hebrew acronym EMET) to coordinate all re- (Israel acceded to the Geneva Protocol only in February search at MOD required a transition from specific war- 1969).56 By the 1950s, all three major NATO powers—time projects to building a national research infrastructure the United States, the United Kingdom, and France—had and broad set of capabilities guided by long-term needs.

The Nonproliferation Review/Fall-Winter 2001 33


significant offensive CBW capabilities. While Bergmann In December 1957, for example, Bergmann was in-and Keynan were well aware of those CBW programs, volved (along with Keynan and Klingberg) in the appoint-they sought a research mandate for the new institute that ment of Professor Ludwig Fleck as director of the section was much broader than merely satisfying the needs of the of experimental pathology at IIBR. Fleck was a promi-Israeli defense establishment. nent microbiologist and philosopher of science who had immigrated to Israel from Poland just two months earlier.

Considerations of Israel’s long-term scientific infrastruc-

A former member of the presidium of the Polish Acad-ture needs guided the way Keynan (with Bergmann’s sup-emy of Sciences who had published some 130 scientific port) transformed HEMED BEIT into IIBR in the early papers, he brought to IIBR the kind of expertise (in the to mid-1950s. Keynan and Bergmann believed that basic area of diagnosis of contagious diseases) and international research provided an essential foundation for applied re-prestige that Bergmann considered essential for the sci-search, and they strongly advocated the role of the state, entific quality of the new institute.60 Also in line with in particular MOD, in sponsoring scientific research

Bergmann’s broad approach, throughout the mid-1950s projects relevant to the national interest.57 Their approach

IIBR was given the lead responsibility for a multi-year was that Israel should set up a national laboratory respon-national project to develop a vaccine against polio.61 sible for chemical and biological R&D. In contrast, senior bureaucrats at MOD, such as EMET chief Munya Mardor, Notwithstanding Bergmann’s grand plans and ideas, believed that given Israel’s limited financial resources, IIBR in its early years was, like the rest of Israel, a small MOD should invest in specific research projects only with and intimate place. In the fiscal year 1964-65, total fund-clear military purpose. Bergmann’s counter- argument was ing for IIBR was about $1 million, of which more than that only after the creation of a national scientific infra- half came from the government and the rest from exter-structure would it be possible to conduct specific projects nal sources. The authorized budget was even smaller at effectively. It appears that both sides in the debate invoked about $600,000. About 70 percent went to salaries, 20 the issue of CBW to support their positions.58 percent to research proper, and the rest to administration.62

For comparative purposes, in 1966 Israel’s total govern-Bergmann and Keynan insisted that IIBR be set up with ment budget was about $1.6 billion, and the defense bud-a research mandate covering a broad spectrum of nation-get was nearly $400 million, of which about 10 percent ally significant scientific research projects, and not just a

($41 million) went to R&D.63 In all, IIBR’s budget ac-military CBW program. Furthermore, given the circum-counted for approximately 2 percent of the overall R&D stances under which Bergmann was forced to leave the budget of MOD.

Weizmann Institute, he was personally motivated to establish a system of state-sponsored research centers that

SECRECY, TABOO, AND AMBIVALENCE rivaled the Weizmann Institute in quality and prestige. In addition to these motivations, security and academic con- To this day, Israel’s past and present activities in the siderations may have contributed to Bergmann’s (and CBW field are treated as a national taboo—similar to, and Keynan’s) insistence on giving IIBR a civilian identity and perhaps even stronger than, the nuclear taboo. The Is-a broad research mandate. From the outset, Bergmann raeli security establishment considers the IIBR facility, like recognized the intrinsic civil-military ambiguity of CBW Israel’s nuclear facility at Dimona, one of the nation’s most research, and he believed that giving the laboratory a broad secret defense installations. Over the years, the single research mandate would provide a legitimate cover for building hidden in an orange grove on the outskirts of Ness the scientists working there. His active involvement in hir- Ziona has grown into a multi-acre modern research coming top-quality scientific staff at both IAEC and IIBR plex, surrounded by a six-foot-high concrete wall topped seems to illustrate this point. By maintaining a broad civic with electronic sensors that reveal the location of any in-organizational structure and rationale for IIBR, Bergmann truders. For security reasons, the Ness Ziona facility has sought to attract first-rate scientists by offering them the been deleted from aerial survey photographs and maps of kinds of intellectual and material benefits available at aca- the town, and orange groves inserted in its place.64 demic institutions: the freedom to publish research in sci-

Ever since the founding of IIBR, the secrecy surrounding entific journals, attend international conferences, take it has been reinforced by strict military censorship. As a sabbatical leaves, and so forth.59 matter of policy, IIBR employees, including the director-general, are strictly prohibited to speak with the media.

34 The Nonproliferation Review/Fall-Winter 2001


IIBR has no official spokesman, and the spokesman for While no specifics were made public, Klingberg is widely the Prime Minister’s Office is the only person authorized believed to have been Israel’s most damaging espionage to respond to press queries about the institute.65 In the case.67 Given his seniority at IIBR and his long and inti-early days, secrecy was so pervasive that IIBR’s exist- mate acquaintance with Israel’s other defense establishence was hardly acknowledged, but this situation changed ments, one must assume that for decades, Klingberg gave in the early 1990s. A number of developments, both glo- Israel’s most sensitive military secrets to the Soviet bal and domestic, made this change inevitable. The 1991 Union—primarily in the CBW arena, but in other sensi-Gulf War, in particular, put the CBW issue at the top of tive domains as well. the international security agenda. Israeli experts and me-

The Israeli government never released any information dia closely followed CBW developments, especially those about Klingberg’s arrest, trial, and conviction as a Soviet related to Iraq. spy. Even Klingberg’s family was forced to be an accom-

During the 1990s, a number of developments in Israel plice in the efforts of the security authorities to conceal brought IIBR into the headlines and highlighted the ex- his fate. Immediately after his arrest, security personnel traordinary secrecy surrounding its activities. First and removed all personal files relating to him from IIBR and foremost was the Klingberg espionage case, which became the School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University. People who public in 1993. Press stories revealed that a decade ear- had known Klingberg in Israel were told—apparently as lier, Professor Avraham Marcus (Marek) Klingberg (born part of a cover story—that his disappearance was the re-1918), a world-renowned Israeli epidemiologist who had sult of a mental breakdown and hospitalization while trav-served as deputy director of IIBR for many years, had eling in Switzerland. Some who doubted this story been secretly arrested, tried, and convicted as a Soviet speculated that Klingberg might have defected to the So-spy.66 viet Union. The few who were aware of his true whereabouts, including his immediate family and close

Klingberg was born in Poland to an observant Jewish colleagues, were sworn to secrecy. Even in jail, Klingberg family. During World War II, in his early twenties, he fled was given a fictitious identity and spent much of his time to the Soviet Union. After graduating in medicine from in solitary confinement. the University of Minsk in 1941, he joined the medical corps of the Red Army as a military epidemiologist and By sheer chance, a British investigative reporter named rose to the rank of colonel. Klingberg immigrated to Is- Peter Pringle “stumbled” onto Klingberg’s disappearance rael in 1948 and joined the IDF, where he served both in in the summer of 1985. At that time, Pringle was investi-the Medical Corps and in HEMED BEIT. As noted ear- gating charges by the Reagan Administration that the So-lier, he was among the founding members of IIBR in 1952. viet Union had used a fungal poison known as “yellow During his thirty-year tenure, he held key positions as rain” as a BW agent in Afghanistan (U.S. and British sci-administrative director, director of the epidemiological di- entists later refuted those claims). One of Pringle’s Brit-vision, and deputy director. At the time of his arrest, ish sources suggested that he interview an Israeli Klingberg was also professor of epidemiology at Tel Aviv epidemiologist named Marcus Klingberg. As a young epi-University School of Medicine. (Since 1967, many se- demiologist with the Red Army Medical Corps during nior scientists at IIBR have had academic appointments World War II, Klingberg had been involved in studying a at that institution.) mysterious outbreak of poisoning in the Russian town of

Orenburg (north of Kazakhstan) that killed thousands of Nearly all details of the Klingberg espionage case are peasants. He and his colleagues were able to identify the still treated by the Israeli security establishment as classi-cause of the outbreak: a fungus that infected stored grain fied, including the circumstances that led to Kingberg’s and produced a powerful toxin. capture and the secrets he divulged to the Soviets. No official account of the case has ever been released by the In the fall of 1985, Pringle traveled to Israel to try to Israeli government. It is believed that Klingberg was ar- interview Klingberg, hoping to shed light on the “yellow rested at Ben-Gurion Airport in January 1983 on his way rain” controversy. Instead, he accidentally stumbled into to a conference in Europe. He was secretly tried in the the even bigger mystery regarding the whereabouts of his Tel Aviv District Court and sentenced in June 1983 to an source. Pringle wrote: “[e]ach time I mentioned 18-year prison term—the same jail term that Mordechai [Klingberg’s] name to his Israeli colleagues, they said his Vanunu, Israel’s nuclear whistleblower, received in 1986. disappearance was ‘hush-hush,’ but they did not believe

The Nonproliferation Review/Fall-Winter 2001 35


the official explanation that he had fallen [mentally] ill in legal battle, was Klingberg released from jail and placed Switzerland and disappeared.” 68 While searching for ar- under strict house arrest. The security establishment still chival materials on Klingberg, Pringle found only a short treats him as a major security risk, and the terms of his feature in the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv dated October release deny him any contact with the outside world. The 24, 1983, in which the author noted: “Nobody knows extraordinary secrecy measures that the Israeli security where the head of the department of preventive medicine authorities imposed for years on the Klingberg case, some at Tel Aviv University disappeared nine months ago.” When of which remain in effect to this day, indicate the extreme Pringle called up the reporter who had written the story, sensitivity with which Israel views the activities of IIBR.70 the man was evasive, hesitant, and reluctant to cooper-

In another development, residents of the town of Ness ate.

Ziona, after decades of anxious silence, have begun to The mystery deepened further when Pringle visited voice concerns about the potential impact of IIBR on their

Klingberg’s wife Wanda (a microbiologist at Ness Ziona lives. To be sure, the residents’ protests are not about Is-who died in 1990) in her Tel Aviv apartment. It became raeli CBW policy, but whether Ness Ziona should be the evident that she knew the whereabouts of her husband site for such activities. As the town’s attorney, Shay Segal, but could not talk about it. Pringle suspected that Klingberg put it: no one disputes that Israel needs such a research had defected to Russia, but the more he looked into the center, “but far away from here—not in a residential area disappearance, the stranger it became. At one point dur- where people live.” 71 Grass-roots activity in Ness Ziona ing his inquiries, Pringle wrote, intensified in 1998 when it became known that IIBR

I took time off to visit a crusader castle at planned to expand its perimeter by 12.5 additional acres. Ashkelon. My car was broken into and my In an unprecedented move, the mayor of the town insti-briefcase, containing papers about Klingberg and tuted legal proceedings to prevent the institute’s expan-my passport, was stolen. . . . A few months later, sion on environmental and safety grounds. Confronted the police returned the briefcase and my pass- with the lawsuit, the Israeli government temporarily port, but some papers and photocopies of news- dropped its expansion plans and promised to conduct an papers articles from Tel Aviv archives were environmental impact study before any decision was made. missing.69 It was clear that the Israeli government wanted to avoid a high-profile legal battle with the town.72

When Pringle’s article about Klingberg’s mysterious disappearance was published in England in 1985, the Is- In August 1998, Yediot Ahronot, Israel’s leading news-raeli military censor took an unprecedented measure and paper published a long exposé on IIBR, referring to it as banned the Israeli media from reporting the story; jour- “metropolitan Tel Aviv’s most severe environmental haz-nalists were not even allowed to mention Klingberg’s ard” and raising questions about the “conspiracy of si-name. In early 1988, Yisrael Shelanu, a small Hebrew lence” surrounding its activities. 73 Drawing on a hearing weekly magazine for Israeli expatriates published in New by the Knesset Science Committee, the article revealed York, revealed that Klingberg was being secretly held in that four serious accidents had occurred at IIBR over the Israeli jail on the charge of spying for the Soviet Union, previous 15 years, resulting in three fatalities and 22 inju-and that he might be released as part of a three-country ries. No details were given about the nature of the acci-spy exchange. Israeli officials refused to comment on that dents, but the British Foreign Report, citing unnamed report or even to acknowledge it. In August 1993, a de- Israeli sources, claimed that one accident was so serious cade after Klingberg’s disappearance, Israel’s Supreme that authorities were on the verge of evacuating the entire Court accepted a petition from Schocken Media Group town of Ness Ziona before IIBR scientists concluded that and forced the Israeli military censor to partially lift the the threat had passed.74 secrecy surrounding the Klingberg case. In effect, it was

The next revelation came in October 1998, when Is-the first admission by the Israeli government that espio-rael finally confirmed that an El Al Boeing 747 cargo air-nage had occurred at the highest levels of IIBR. craft that crashed near Schipol Airport in Amsterdam in

The Israeli security establishment and the judiciary October 1992 had been carrying a shipment destined for firmly opposed numerous humanitarian requests for Ness Ziona that contained DMMP, a dual-use chemical Klingberg’s early release on the grounds of his age and used as an ingredient in the manufacture of sarin nerve deteriorating health. Only in September 1998, after a long gas.75 In the months and years after the El Al crash, hun-

36 The Nonproliferation Review/Fall-Winter 2001


dreds of people living near the crash site and rescue work- IIBR—specializes in applied research, developers developed inexplicable illnesses ranging from breath- ment and production in the fields of biology, ing problems to skin rashes, nervous disorders, and cancer. chemistry, ecology and public health, in addi-It was suspected that the illnesses stemmed from expo- tion to basic research studies emanating from sure to toxic compounds carried by the Israeli aircraft, IIBR’s applied projects. 78 which burned after the crash. The confirmation that

According to the website, IIBR is organized into three DMMP had been on board was provided, only after six scientific divisions—Biology, Medicinal Chemistry, and years in which Israel had refused to provide a full account-

Environmental Sciences—that “cooperate in a synergis-ing of what the plane was carrying, admitting only that it tic relationship, enabling the formation of optimum inter-had was “commercial cargo.” The contents of the 20 tons disciplinary teams tailored to the needs of each individual of cargo, some or all of it apparently shipped by the Is-project.” 79 The Institute’s staff comprises approximately raeli Defense Ministry, have yet to be fully identified. El

300 employees, 120 of them scientists holding Ph.Ds in Al’s lawyer in The Hague, Robert Polak, told the Dutch biology, biochemistry, biotechnology, chemistry, math-government that the details would never be forthcoming ematics, pharmacology, physics, and environmental sci-because of what he termed “state security reasons.” 76 In ences. IIBR’s technical staff consists of 100 certified any event, if Israel had hoped to shield the involvement technicians, representing a broad spectrum of capabilities. of IIBR, the cover-up had the opposite effect. The mystery over the shipment drew new attention to the top-se- The website also describes IIBR’s three scientific divi-cret facility in Ness Ziona. sions. The Division of Biology conducts research in the areas of recombinant DNA technology, engineering of pro-

Israeli attitudes towards IIBR are characterized by an teins and enzymes, fermentation biotechnology, fuel and aura of secrecy, ambivalence, and taboo. Although Israeli environmental biotechnology, mechanisms of viral and citizens have recently become more willing to ask tough bacterial pathogenesis, and diagnosis of infectious diseases. questions about the potential environmental and safety

With respect to research on pathogenesis, the website hazards posed by IIBR, most prefer not to know too much states: about what goes on behind the high walls of the institute.

IIBR is investigating viral and bacterial patho-The issue is also taboo for Israeli-based think-tank and genesis mechanisms in an attempt to design new academic analysts. Although there has been some public strategies for vaccine development. The IIBR discussion of CW recently by defense journalists and aca-approach is based on development of various demic strategists in the context of the debate over whether strains of pathogens, which differ in their viru-Israel should ratify the CWC, there has been virtually no lence. The comparison of the different variants academic discussion of the BW issue. The most that Is-is then used to elucidate the genetic determi-raeli analysts are willing to say publicly regarding Ness nants responsible for virulent traits. This leads Ziona is that the critical issue for deterrence is that the to the determination of the biological pathways Arabs believe that Israel has all weapons of mass destruc-in which virulence is exhibited and has the potion (WMD), including BW.77 tential of being used as a guideline in the design of attenuated vaccines.80

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