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Syrian chemical arms saga raises questions about Israel

Sept. 18, 2013 at 1:03 PM   |   Comments

TEL AVIV, Israel, Sept. 18 (UPI) -- The U.S.-led drive to force Syria's beleaguered regime to surrender its chemical weapons has raised questions about the arsenal of chemical and biological arms Israel has reportedly stockpiled and the activities of the secretive Israel Institute for Biological Research near Tel Aviv.

Israel signed the Chemical Weapons Convention on Jan. 1, 1993, when the treaty took effect. But it has never ratified it, which would have committed the Jewish state to international inspections and refraining from violating the treaty.

Syria, which reputedly has one of the world's most extensive chemical weapons arsenals, never signed the convention, but under international pressure now says it's prepared to do so.

Amid the international controversy over Syria's alleged use of deadly nerve agents the United Nations says killed more than 1,000 civilians Aug. 21, The Jerusalem Post reports the government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is preparing in case Israel is asked to submit to inspection.

The Israelis have never admitted or denied having chemical weapons, and have maintained that ambiguity amid the furor over Syria's chemical arms.

Haaretz quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Vigal Palmor as saying Israel would not ratify the convention as long as other states in the region that have chemical weapons arsenals threaten it.

The U.S. journal Foreign Policy claimed Sept. 9 a newly discovered Central Intelligence Agency estimate written in 1983, and found in the Reagan Library states U.S. spy satellites found "a probable ... nerve agent production facility and a storage facility ... at the Dimona Sensitive Storage Area in the Negev Desert" south of Tel Aviv in 1982.

"Furthermore," the document says, "other [chemical weapons] production is believed to exist within a well-developed Israeli chemical industry."

It noted: "While we cannot confirm whether the Israelis possess lethal chemical agents, several indicators lead us to believe that they have available at least persistent and non-persistent nerve agents, a mustard agent and several riot-control agents ... with suitable delivery systems."

It has been widely believed for years that Israel's alleged chemical and biological weapons program is centered on the Israel Institute for Biological Research, a highly classified complex in Nes Ziona, 12 miles south of Tel Aviv.

The fortress-like structure is ringed by high walls and orchards with state-of-the-art surveillance and warning systems manufactured by Israel Military Industries.

Along with nuclear reactor at Dimona in the Negev, the institute is Israel's most top-secret installation. All mention by the Israeli media is banned.

But the liberal daily Haaretz reported in 2011 the institute is staffed by around 300 scientists and technicians and works closely with the General Security Service, Israel's internal security agency known as Shin Bet, and the Mossad, the foreign intelligence service.

These two agencies have assassinated scores of Israel's leading Arab foes over the years, reportedly including Wadie Haddad, operations chief of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He was killed by Belgian chocolates, for which he had a great fondness, that had been laced with a slow-acting poison developed by the institute.

A month later, on March 28, 1978, Haddad, one of the most feared Palestinian leaders, died in an East German hospital where he'd been diagnosed with leukemia. The real cause of his death did not emerge until 32 years later.

On Sept. 27, 1997, two Mossad agents tried to assassinate Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Amman, Jordan, with a lethal gas called fentanyl, reportedly developed at Nes Ziona.

Meshaal survived, but only because King Hussein forced Netanyahu, then serving his first term as prime minister, to provide the antidote in exchange for the return of the two would-be assassins who'd been captured by the Jordanians.

On Oct. 4, 1992, an El Al Boeing 747 freighter crashed at Amsterdam and was found to be carrying cargo that included three of the four precursors for sarin, the lethal nerve gas Syria reportedly used in August.

Jean Pascal Zanders, a senior research fellow at the European Institute for Security Studies, noted in a November 2012 paper: "Although the compound has several legitimate uses, the secrecy with which the investigation of the accident and the recovery and clean-up operation were conducted, fed speculation over its true purpose."

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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