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Israel and Chemical/Biological Weapons: History, Deterrence, and Arms Control
In April 1948, David Ben-Gurion, Israel's founding father and first prime minister, wrote a letter to Ehud Avriel, one of the Jewish Agency’s operatives in Europe, ordering him to seek out and recruit East European Jewish scientists who could “either increase the capacity to kill masses or to cure masses; both are important.” One of the scientists Avriel recruited was a 30-year old epidemiologist and colonel in the Red Army named Avraham Marcus Klingberg. In time, Klingberg became one of Israel’s leading scientists in the area of chemical and biological weapons (CBW). He was among the founding members and, subsequently, the deputy director of the Israel Institute of Biological Research (IIBR) in Ness Ziona, a dozen miles southeast of Tel Aviv.
Decades later in 1983, Professor Klingberg was secretly arrested, tried, and convicted as a Soviet spy. It took another decade until the espionage case at IIBR — one of Israel’s most sensitive defense research facilities — was publicized. To this day, the Israeli security establishment treats all details of the Klingberg case as highly classified. Until the news of Klingberg’s arrest and imprisonment was published, there was almost no public reference to Israel’s CBW programs. The limited disclosures about the Klingberg espionage case, as well as the 1991 Gulf War and the subsequent revelations about Iraq’s chemical and biological programs, have aroused public curiosity and speculation regarding Israel’s capabilities in the CBW field. Yet details about these programs—their history, strategic rationale, and technical capabilities—remain shrouded in secrecy.
A comparison with Israel’s nuclear weapons (NW) program highlights this point. Although Israel has not acknowledged possessing NW and has declared that it “will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East,” the existence of the Israeli bomb has been the world’s worst kept secret since about 1970.4 That is not the case, however, for Israel’s other potential non-conventional capabilities, especially biological weapons (BW). To this day, the Israeli government has issued no policy statement on biological arms control, and it has neither signed nor ratified the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC).
This paper is an effort to penetrate the “black box” of the Israeli CBW programs. The first part provides a brief overview of the evolution of Israeli attitudes and perceptions on non-conventional weaponry. The second part attempts to trace, decode, and interpret Israeli history, attitudes, and current capabilities in the area of CBW, especially BW. The third part places the CBW issue in the broader context of Israeli defense policy, deterrence, and arms control, both vis-à-vis Iraq and other hostile states in the region. Finally, the paper reviews and examines Israel’s approach to CBW arms control and disarmament, and how accession to the BWC and the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) would affect Israeli security and economic interests. All of the research for this paper was conducted exclusively with open sources...
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