Israel is believed to have secretly built up its own stockpile of chemical and biological weapons decades ago, reports Foreign Policy, citing a recently unearthed CIA document.
American surveillance satellites uncovered in 1982 “a probable CW [chemical weapon] nerve agent production facility and a storage facility… at the Dimona Sensitive Storage Area in the Negev Desert,” states the secret 1983 CIA intelligence estimate obtained by Foreign Policy (FP). “Other CW production is believed to exist within a well-developed Israeli chemical industry,” the document adds.
According to FP, US intelligence agencies are almost certain that Israel possesses a stockpile of nuclear weapons that the Middle Eastern country developed in the 1960s and 1970s as part of its defense against a possible attack from Arab neighbors.
The FP report is based on a page from a secret, Sept. 15, 1983, CIA Special National Intelligence Estimate entitled “Implications of Soviet Use of Chemical and Toxin Weapons for US Security Interests.” Part of the document was released in 2009 in the National Archives, but the piece on Israel was extracted from that version.
For years, arms control analysts have speculated that Israel built up a range of chemical and biological weapons to complement its alleged nuclear arsenal.
Experts’ attention, in particular, was focused on the Israel Institute for Biological Research (IIBR) at Ness Ziona, located 20 kilometers south of Tel Aviv. The highly-classified research center operated and funded by the Israel Ministry of Defense is alleged to be a military facility manufacturing chemical and biological weapons. The IIBR was allegedly involved in several “accidents.” In one of them, according to the British Foreign Report in 1998, authorities were close to ordering evacuation of homes in the area before scientists discovered there was no threat to the population.
However, to date not much evidence has been published about Israel possessing chemical or nuclear weapons. The newly-discovered CIA memo may be the strongest indication yet, FP writes.
“While we cannot confirm whether the Israelis possess lethal chemical agents,” the CIA document is quoted as saying, “several indicators lead us to believe that they have available to them at least persistent and non-persistent nerve agents, a mustard agent, and several riot-control agents, marched with suitable delivery systems.”
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The “non-persistent agent” mentioned in the secret document was likely sarin – a nerve gas that was allegedly used in the August 21 chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb, FP writes. The US blamed the Syrian government for the attack and threatened to launch a military strike in response.
The 1983 CIA memo reveals that US intelligence was aware of Israeli alleged chemical weapons-testing activities since the early 1970s – when they learned from intelligence sources about the existence of chemical weapons testing grounds. It is almost certain that these test areas were located in Negev Desert, in southern Israel, FP writes.
Israel stepped up its research and development work on chemical weapons following the end of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, according to the CIA document. The war began when Egypt and Syria launched a joint surprise attack against Israel as the nation was celebrating Yom Kippur – the most sacred day in the Jewish calendar.
“Israel, finding itself surrounded by frontline Arab states with budding CW capabilities, became increasingly conscious of its vulnerability to chemical attack,” the document says. “Its sensitivities were galvanized by the capture of large quantities of Soviet CW-related equipment during both the 1967 Arab-Israeli and the 1973 Yom Kippur wars. As a result, Israel undertook a program of chemical warfare preparations in both offensive and protective areas.”
The report also claims that in January 1976, American intelligence detected “possible tests” of Israeli chemical weapons very likely to have taken place in the Negev Desert. FP cites a former US Air Force intelligence officer, who told the magazine that the National Security Agency intercepted communications indicating that Israeli air force fighter-bombers carried out a simulated low-level chemical weapons delivery missions at a bombing range in the Negev.
It is unknown whether Israel still keeps its alleged stockpile of chemical weapons. In 1992, the Israeli government signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, which outlaws such arms. Crucially, however, Israel has not ratified the agreement.
The author of the FP article claims that after a search on Google Maps, he found what he believes to be “the location of the Israeli nerve agent production facility and its associated chemical weapons storage area” in the Negev Desert east of the village of al-Kilab, about 10 miles west of the city of Dimona.
The Israeli embassy in Washington did not respond to FP’s requests to comment on the article.
The CIA document emerged as the US mulls over a possible “limited” military strike against the Syrian regime that President Barack Obama was pushing for following the chemical weapons attack last month.
On Tuesday, Obama the urged the US Congress to postpone a vote to authorize military action, and said he was seeking a diplomatic solution to the ongoing Syrian war. Obama cited the Russian proposal to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control among the reasons for the delay. Damascus has this week agreed to hand over its chemical weapons to international supervisors, and to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention.