A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, September 20, 2013

Avner Cohen on Israel and Chemical Weapons

A few days ago I noted the growing discussion of Israel's chemical weapons capabilities. Avner Cohen, best known for his work on Israel's nuclear program and Shane Mason now weigh in at Foreign Affairs, arguing that Israel's policy of "ambiguity" on nuclear and other WMD issues may be outmoded. An excerpt:
Although the attempt to bring Israel into the debate stems from clear political motivations, it also highlights the uncomfortable, indeed problematic, nature of Israel’s evasion on all matters relating to WMD. Israel’s refusal to acknowledge its chemical weapons program only further underscores what has been clear for some time: ambiguity on WMD has become a political burden for Israel, particularly as it tries to rally the world behind preventing a nuclear Iran. Its unwillingness to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention -- a stance it takes largely for the sake of opacity, since it has no use for chemical weapons whatsoever -- undermines its security interests and intensifies its international isolation.

Although neither confirmed nor denied by the Israeli government, it is widely presumed that, at one time in its history, Israel possessed chemical weapons. Israel likely launched its chemical weapons program in its first decade after independence in 1948, prior to its nuclear program, in an era when Israeli leaders believed their country’s survival was in peril. At the time, chemical weapons were Israel’s weapons of last resort. The recently discovered 1983 CIA documents published in Foreign Policy, which claim that Israel had an active chemical weapons program, may refer to the last residues of such a program. Today, however, Israel does not have an active chemical weapons arsenal (one that could quickly be made operational and deployable for battlefield use) and has not had one for decades.
 And later:
It is time for Israel to revisit its old-fashioned chemical weapons ambiguity. In light of the Assad regime’s use of the weapons, and with the international community intensely focused on their prohibition, Israel’s past program and its reluctance to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention have become a strategic, diplomatic, and military burden -- both for Israel and its most important ally, the United States. By failing to ratify a convention banning a weapon it does not need, Israel finds itself in the company of Angola, Egypt, Myanmar (also known as Burma), North Korea, South Sudan, and Syria -- a motley crew of pariah and failed states with which it would certainly like to avoid association.

No comments: