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Syria Has No Monopoly on Chemical Weapons

Recent news reports claim that western powers, including Israel, may be preparing to intervene in the Syrian civil war.  The justification would be that the Assad regime is either preparing sarin gas (according to some reports) for use against rebel forces or communities or engaging in suspicious behavior that might indicate preparations to use its chemical weapons (according to others).

assi Dayan screenshotBefore I get into the body of this post, I want to make clear that the use of chemical weapons is absolutely a red line and any regime using it or even preparing to do so has lost any legitimacy.  Intervention in such circumstances would be justified (though the idea that Israel should be involved in such an operation in any way is foolhardy given the history between these two countries).  However, I have not seen any convincing or definitive evidence offered to prove that Assad is planning to do what western sources are claiming.  Until I do, such a justification for intervention lacks credibility.

But Israel too has ordered the use of chemical and biological weapons against its adversaries.  In 1948, the Palmach planned two major operations that would’ve involved the poisoning of enemy Arab forces and civilian communities.  Moshe Dayan’s son, Assi, writes for the first time in a memoir published in Yediot, that during the war his father brought home tubes which turned out to contain typhus.  The intention was to drop the material into the water supply used by the Jordanian Legion and poison the most formidable military enemy Israel faced.  Before the plan could be implemented, one of the tunbes broke and the only individual who was actually sickened was Dayan’s son, who nearly died.  As a father, I cannot imagine the guilt I would feel at being the cause of an illness that threatened the life of my child.

Naturally daddy wasn’t around to nurse his son back to health.  He was too busy conquering Palestinian towns and villages like Ramleh and expelling their inhabitants.  Instead, Assi’s mother stayed by the boy’s bedside night and day until he recovered.  All the while telling her son of the proud exploits of her father, who in his mind became the “pirate of fairy tales.”  The very same one who caused him almost to die.

In a separate incident, two Palmach fighters (Hebrew), members of the first military unit of mistarvim (undercover operatives dressed like Arabs), infiltrated Gaza with several tubes of typhus which they intended to use to poison the wells (Hebrew) of the enclave.  Their disguise apparently didn’t work and they were exposed and arrested.  After breaking out of prison and being rearrested, they were executed by local Egyptian authorities.  Their bodies have never been returned to Israel.

In these cases, Israel was prepared to use biological weapons against both military and civilian targets and actually attempted to do so (in Gaza).  The thing that angers me the most about Israeli attitudes towards its Arab enemies is the notion that “they” are brutal and uncivilized.  “They” want to exterminate us.  “They” are brutes and monsters.  There is never any consideration given to the Arab belief that Israel’s actions display the same brutish disregard for human life (especially Arab).  This is yet another reason why Israel has no place in any intervention plan whose justification is based on the notion that Assad may be preparing to use chemical weapons.

There will be many pro-Israel defenders who will say “that was then, this is now.”  They’ll scoff at the idea that latter-day Israel would engage in anything so barbaric.  I reply that Israel maintains one of the most advanced biological and chemical weapons facility in the world at Ness Ziona.  They don’t maintain such expensive facilities just for the hell of it.  The handiwork of this lab is used not only to prepare for war against Israel’s enemies, it is used to prepare the methods used to assassinate Palestinian leaders like Khaled Meshal (failed) and Mahmoud al-Mabouh (succeeded).

There are still nations which use biological weapons to murder their adversaries.  Bulgaria did it during the Cold War.  South Africa tried and failed to assassinate anti-apartheid activist, Allan Boesak.  These were rogue states considered on the periphery of the civilized world.  But Israel?  Israel is the Only Democracy in the Middle East.  A Light Unto the Nations.  The Great White Hope of world Jewry.  Has any Israeli leader stopped to consider the damage such activities have on Israel’s already tarnished reputation?  No, of course not.  Israelis care less about reputation and more about results, without stopping to think that an international reputation as a brutal oppressive regime might lead to the ultimate bad result: abandonment of Israel even by its friends.

So before Israel casts the first stone against its Arab adversaries for their alleged crimes against humanity, let those supporting it consider whether it is without sin.  Then, a bit more humility and a bit less bellicosity is in order.

{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Fred Plester December 8, 2012, 3:57 AM

    All biological weapons have the potential to be a two-edged sword, Typhus especially so.

    Himmler’s ostensible motive for asking the British Army to advance and take over the Belsen Labour Camp (which killed a higher proportion of its inmates than the extermination camps did) was that he was told that a typhus outbreak in the camp was threatening the surrounding population.

    The Japanese may have experimented with it at camp 731: they seem to have tried all the worst horrors they could obtain, but Britain and the USA decided to concentrate on weaponizing Anthrax, because the spores could be treated almost like a super-potent chemical weapon that wouldn’t stray too far beyond the area bombarded with it, whereas agents like plague and typhus might, if given a strong start by deliberate infection, spread over continental distances.

    The British and American armies did spend a lot of money on planning how to contain Typhus outbreaks (and making sure every division had a manual about it), though, and in the light of Belsen, it’s just as well they did.

    In 1948, as now, the Palestinians were proxies for the German population that Israel’s founders had no power over.

  • Bob Mann December 8, 2012, 4:39 AM

    What recent news reports claim that Israel may be preparing to intervene in the Syrian civil war? I have not seen that reported anywhere. Can you provide a source on that?

    • Miss Costello December 8, 2012, 12:09 PM

      BBC Radio Four news bulletins 8/12/12 (UK)

  • Joel December 8, 2012, 7:19 AM

    [ed., comment deleted for comment rule violation–off topic]

  • paul December 8, 2012, 8:04 AM

    I dont think that the IDF will play a role… Perhaps speical elite units (like Sayeret Matkal) will be sent in to help secure the sites but thats about as much as we would/should expect to see from Israel. This is more an internal Arab matter and the arabs/turkey will have to take a cantral lead role in pacifying any WMD’s… and israel did not sign the geneva convention untill 1949… not thats its an excuse for them trying to use biological weapons… but at that point there was not a strong central government in Israel to make sure such acts were forbidden…

  • mary December 8, 2012, 8:50 AM

    The allegation that Syria has chemical weapons is just too similar to the accusations the US levied against Saddam Hussein to justify invading Iraq. Where’s the proof?

    • Bob Mann December 8, 2012, 9:07 AM

      I agree. Sounds fishy.

    • Fred Plester December 8, 2012, 9:26 AM

      The Assad regime is not really denying that it has them: this has been known since 1973, in fact, but it is strongly denying that it would use them against its own people, and merely holds them as a threat against outside interference.

      It’s worth remembering that what really convinced the world that Saddam still had WMD, was that he had USED them, to horrific effect (and against Iraqi citizens as well as the Iranian military and IRG) and that he went on threatening neighbours and internal enemies with them, long after, as we subsequently found out, he had either decommissioned or removed his chemical weapons. He was trying to have it both ways, in that he was trying to convince the major powers that he had disarmed, but he didn’t want the Kurds, Shias and Iranians to have confirmation of that fact. He gave weapons inspectors a constant run around, not because he had any weapons to hide, but because he thought (probably correctly) that he wouldn’t survive five minutes if his enemies ever got a confident confirmation from the weapons inspectors that he was disarmed.

      With hindsight, and if Bush and Blair had been capable of sophistication rather than sophistry, they could have simply declared that Saddam had complied fully with UN demands and that he had no WMD. He’d have been dead in a week at no cost in blood or treasure to any of the Coalition powers.

      By the same token, the one thing Assad simply cannot do, is say he has no chemical weapons, and his propagandists have therefore been forced to lie with one hand tied behind their backs, because they dare not say he has no chemical weapons: not just because he does and this is accepted and confirmed by a much wider circle of experts than Alistair Campbell and Tony Blair, but because being widely believed to have them available at short notice is the only thing keeping his head on his shoulders. A nerve gas strike on a population centre is the only thing he can do, which Turkey need be afraid of. Now we’re into cold weather and wearing nerve gas protection is no longer an ordeal for Turkish soldiers, Assad’s weapons would barely even slow the Turkish army down.

      It would be interesting to see what would happen if Israel’s nuclear power status was ever to be doubted: Bibi might be forced to stage a nuclear explosion to confirm what Israel has always been ambiguous about.

  • Siusaidh December 8, 2012, 9:29 AM

    If chemical weapons are used (if I believed, I’d say ‘God forbid’), how would we know they were not used by, eg., foreign Wahhabis, eg. Libyans? The NATO-installed regime in ‘liberated’ Libya has used mustard gas on its citizens. No second ‘no-fly zone’ yet though.

  • Siusaidh December 8, 2012, 9:41 AM

    Oops – in previous comment forgot to include this video purporting to be by Syrian ‘rebels’ threatening gas-attacks on their adversaries, esp. non-Sunnis. It may of course be Assad regime propaganda to slander the other side. But surely those who go in for suicide bombing would be willing to use poison gas.


  • Donald December 9, 2012, 12:22 PM

    Is there an English language translation of the Yediot article somewhere? When was it published? The only google references I can find link to this blog.

    • Richard Silverstein December 9, 2012, 7:54 PM

      Yediot doesn’t translate many of its Hebrew language articles. I’ve summarized most of the story. It was published a few days ago, prob. on Friday.

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