Matthew Aid writes: Syria’s reported use of chemical weapons is threatening to turn the civil war there into a wider conflict. But the Bashar al-Assad government may not be the only one in the region with a nerve gas stockpile. A newly discovered CIA document indicates that Israel likely built up a chemical arsenal of its own.
It is almost universally believed in intelligence circles here in Washington that Israel possesses a stockpile of several hundred fission nuclear weapons, and perhaps even some high-yield thermonuclear weapons. Analysts believe the Israeli government built the nuclear stockpile in the 1960s and 1970s as a hedge against the remote possibility that the armies of its Arab neighbors could someday overwhelm the Israeli military. But nuclear weapons are not the only weapon of mass destruction that Israel has constructed.
Reports have circulated in arms control circles for almost 20 years that Israel secretly manufactured a stockpile of chemical and biological weapons to complement its nuclear arsenal. Much of the attention has been focused on the research and development work being conducted at the Israeli government’s secretive Israel Institute for Biological Research at Ness Ziona, located 20 kilometers south of Tel Aviv.
But little, if any, hard evidence has ever been published to indicate that Israel possesses a stockpile of chemical or biological weapons. This secret 1983 CIA intelligence estimate may be the strongest indication yet.
According to the document, American spy 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. Other CW production is believed to exist within a well-developed Israeli chemical industry.”
“While we cannot confirm whether the Israelis possess lethal chemical agents,” the document adds, “several indicators lead us to believe that they have available to them at least persistent and nonpersistent nerve agents, a mustard agent, and several riot-control agents, marched with suitable delivery systems.”
Whether Israel still maintains this alleged stockpile is unknown. In 1992, the Israeli government signed but never ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans such arms. (The Israeli embassy in Washington did not respond to requests to comment on this article.) The CIA estimate, a copy of which was sent to the White House, also shows that the U.S. intelligence community had suspicions about this stockpile for decades, and that the U.S. government kept mum about Israel’s suspected possession of chemical weapons just as long. [Continue reading…]