Chemical duel

The soldiers were trapped between slow moving clouds of the grey-green poisonous gas. Those closer to the chlorine cylinders felt a distinctive peppery-smell and metallic taste before the poisonous element stung their throats and chests. Those of their friends standing further away panicked as the green-death silently swallowed their friends.

This scene from WWI won’t repeat itself. Not because humanity has experienced an epiphany and returned to the Kingdom of God, but because more efficient gases have been developed.

In the first days of May 2013, the world is witnessing an escalation in the war between Syria and Israel. The two countries are formally at war; thus any act of violence between them, like the recent Israeli airstrike, amounts to an act of war. Both countries are armed with chemical weapons. Could the situation deteriorate into chemical warfare? How would such an event look?

The June 16, 2011, edition of the Economist, included an article titled “Nuclear endgame: The growing appeal of zero;” it analyzed a previous Wall Street Journal article by Henry Kissinger, Bill Perry, George Shultz and Sam Nunn. In the article, it was claimed that: “The risk of accidents, misjudgments or unauthorised launches . . . was growing more acute in a world of rivalries.” This referred to nuclear weapons; sadly, it is no less true for chemical weapons of mass destruction. I disagree with Kissinger and his friends. “The risk of accidents, misjudgments or unauthorised launches,” is language used by civil servants attempting to cover-up unjustifiable crimes. Let me fix the misleading phrase into the “certainty of a human error.” Chlorine is in the air. Don’t won’t war? Ban weapons! Don’t won’t war? Don’t attack!

Who used chemical weapons?

In Israeli Anthrax Developer Resigns, other Israeli weapons are described. The events became public on October 4, 1992, when El Al Flight 1862, crashed into Amsterdam. Many people died and were injured by this Boeing 747 cargo plane. The cargo included over 280 kilograms of depleted uranium, which is used for certain types of missiles, and 190 liters of dimethyl methylphosphonate, which could be used in the synthesis of Sarin nerve gas. The owner of the latter was the IIBR, Israel Institute of Biological Research. In other words, Israel is a proven player in the chemical weapons theater.

The other active player was identified on May 5, 2013. Carla Del Ponte, member of the United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria declared that the commission’s investigators have gathered testimony from casualties of Syria’s civil war and medical workers indicating that rebel forces have used the nerve agent sarin. These mercenary forces have been supported by Israel and the West.

Secret programs

This race has been kept secret by the two sides involved. One of the reasons for that is that the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction is very strict, and Israel is a signatory country. It is administered by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is based in The Hague. Syria and Israel keep stockpiles of various chemical weapons.

The Syrian program is easier to follow. Syrian chemical weapons production facilities have been identified by Western nonproliferation experts at Cerin, Hama, Homs, Latakia, and Palmyra. Homs is one of the most restive cities in the ongoing conflict, thus creating real safety concerns. The sites apparently manufacture Sarin, Tabun, VX, and mustard gas types of chemical weapons, which can be launched on Scud missiles towards any location in Israel.

The situation in Israel is extremely secretive. Much more is known about Israel’s nuclear weapons program that about its chemical one. There are credible claims that Israel Military Industries are involved in the production of certain chemical weapons, apparently through their Nazareth plant. Then, Israel’s largest ordnance stockpile—placed next to one of the country’s nuclear reactors—keeps a large amount of chemical artillery. NATO keeps bunkers in Israel filled up with military equipment. There is an understanding that the IDF will use their undisclosed—but rumored—contents in the case of need. One of these bunkers is placed next to the abovementioned ordnance base.

The Chemical Weapons Convention is a political document; as such, it includes political compromises. In order to avoid misinterpretations, it includes a list of forbidden chemicals and their precursors. It includes also a definition of what a chemical weapon is. Not surprisingly, these two slightly contradict each other.

The Convention article’s “Definition and Criteria” defines a chemical weapon in subparagraph 1.b as “Munitions and devices, specifically designed to cause death or other harm through the toxic properties of those toxic chemicals specified in . . .” Paragraph 2 clarifies what a “toxic chemical” is: “Any chemical which through its chemical action on life processes can cause death, temporary incapacitation or permanent harm to humans or animals. This includes all such chemicals, regardless of their origin or of their method of production, and regardless of whether they are produced in facilities, in munitions or elsewhere.”

This is so clear that there is no way of excluding white phosphorous from this list. White phosphorous has been used in smoke, tracer, illumination and incendiary munitions since the 19th century, notoriously in the Vietnam War. Ammunitions containing it burst into burning flakes of phosphorus upon impact and can cause serious burns. Phosphorous reacts exothermically with water; since human bodies contain large amounts of this liquid, it ignites upon content and burns until it is completely consumed. Its wounds are brutal and difficult to heal; hence, it has been banned. Yet, white phosphorous is not part of the Chemical Weapons Convention, but is banned by the less strict Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, which prohibits the use of said incendiary weapons against civilians (already forbidden by the Geneva Conventions) or in civilian areas.

In other words, it defines Israel as a transgressor, due to its documented production and use of such horrific means. President Bush was wrong, the WMD were in Tel Aviv, not in Baghdad. What a silly confusion!

Israeli-Syrian deterrence

“Deterrence” is defined as the use of threats by one party to convince another party to refrain from initiating an attack; more often than not is used in regard to nuclear weapons, but it is not restricted to that. In order for a deterrent to succeed, the parties must preserve their ability to retaliate either by responding before its own weapons are destroyed or by ensuring a second strike capability. Israel keeps a nuclear second-strike capability through a steadily growing fleet of German submarines. The chemical second strike is even easier, since every artillery battalion—and they are widely spread out—is capable of delivering chemical artillery. An important point in every deterrence race is credibility; the threats of using weapons of mass destruction must be credible. In this case, both sides are credible, having shown incredible savagery in their conflicts.

The deterrence approach used by Israel is known as “mutual assured destruction;” this is the crudest and most simplistic approach, which shaped the Cold War between the USA and the USSR. More sophisticated cultures—the war race between Pakistan and India being the best example—use a softer version known as “Credible Minimum Deterrence.” This means the parties formally declares “no first use” of nuclear weapons while keeping a “second strike” capability (see Germany Creates New Nuclear Front in the Middle East). The bottom line is clear; Israel and Syria may engage in an especially cruel war.

Chemical missiles on Tel Aviv?

Unless forced into a short countdown towards its own end, the Syrian regime won’t use chemical weapons directly against Israel. Unlike the Zionists, Arab regimes have shown to have clear redlines. However, if Israel and the mercenaries called by the Western media “rebels” will continue their attacks, Syria may react with conventional means directed at chemical targets.

Israel is a chemical trap. On July 14, 1997, four Australian sportsmen were killed and over sixty were injured after they fell into the Yarkon River, after a small bridge collapsed during the Maccabiah inauguration ceremony. The waters weren’t deep, and flowed slower than a man walks. They were killed due to the poisoned waters.

The Kishon River waters pass next to the Haifa industrial zone, one of the largest and most polluting in the country. Until several years ago, the river served as training waters for Shayetet 13, the IDF naval commandos. Many of its soldiers contracted cancer. Recently, Israel admitted cancer cases caused by its criminal practices in its nuclear reactors.

Israel owns an impressive amount of chemical industries. The largest dangers are concentrated in two zones, both of them densely populated: Haifa and Beer Sheva. Haifa is home to the Oil Refineries, the Gadot Chemical Port and various industries. The docks of Gadot hold large quantities of highly reactive chemicals at all times, especially for the plastic and agrochemical industries. Its location implies the whole of the Haifa Bay could be contaminated if the containers were harmed to the extent of stopping the port activities completely, or at least limiting them seriously. During the days of the British Mandate on Palestine, there was an oil pipe from Iraq to Haifa, marked in old maps with an “H.” It still exists and is strategically important, though it is inactive since it provides large landing areas, especially around a point known as H2; this is the chosen area for opening a second IDF frontline against a ground attack by means of a vertical bypass.

The Haifa refineries at its end are very active. What is the economic point of importing crude oil and distilling it for local consumption? That is not the point; the financial side seldom is the key when dealing with Israel. Oil refineries use mono- di- and tri- ethanolamines in the oil purification process. Triethanolamine—usually known as TEA—is a precursor of chemical weapons and is smuggled out from the refineries to other industrial locations. The spilling of these and other chemical products stored and used in refineries may cause a serious ecological disaster. The adjacent streams are already heavily polluted; many soldiers from the marine commando suffer from cancer due to their training sessions in these waters.

Related to the oil industry are vast subterranean reservoirs of military and civilian grade gasoline. If spilled they could contaminate the limited water subterranean wells under the West Bank. Access to these waters is one of the main reasons for Israel’s holding empty mountainous areas along the Samarian mounts. The extensive use of these waters in recent years caused a serious lowering of their levels, transforming the surrounding ground (i.e. the whole of central Israel) into a highly thirsty sponge readily absorbing any liquids, and thus increasing the rate of the contamination process in the case of a spill.

Chemical industries in Beer Sheva include mainly those related to by-products of salts extracted from the Dead Sea by the Dead Sea Works, formerly known as the Palestine Potash Company. The salts are used for the production of agrochemical products and for the bromine related industries, mainly for the production of fire retardants. Most synthetic carpets in the world use fire-retardants produced here. The extraction of the salts is done on the southern side of the Dead Sea, where all the evaporation pools can be seen, but its chemical processing is done in several plants in the outskirts of Beer Sheva. There, two corporations do the processing: Makhteshim-Agan for the agrochemical products and ICL (Israel Chemical) for the bromine industry. Even those knowing very little chemistry know bromine is highly reactive and poisonous; the same goes for fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. That means unusual quantities of pollutants are produced and stored next to the city. Yet, the danger here is unexpectedly large since the Makhteshim plant produces methyl isocyanate. This extremely toxic substance is used in the production of pesticides. It became famous during the night of December 3, 1984, when it was spilled in the Bhopal installations of a company now owned by Dow Chemical. Defined as the worst industrial disaster in history, it caused the death of thousands, many more were crippled and the ground is still contaminated there. Dow Chemical learned nothing; it is a major provider of Oil Refineries, Makhteshim, Agan, ICL and others (see The Cross of Bethlehem). At all times, there are hundreds of kilograms of this substance waiting further processing at Makhteshim. Israel has the potential of becoming the scene of the worst industrial disaster, overtaking Bhopal by several orders of magnitude.

Israel is not yet Bhopal. Israel attacks Syria. Israel becomes Bhopal?

Ro’i Tov is the author of “The Cross of Bethlehem.” His website is Words from a Christian Israeli Refugee.

One Response to Chemical duel

  1. Response to last line….you reap what you sow.