Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

EDNA'S ESSAYS: AN ISRAELI TRAVELER ALONG THE AMERICAN WAY; Israel's Biological and Chemical Research and Development - Potential Menace at Home and Abroad

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

EDNA'S ESSAYS: AN ISRAELI TRAVELER ALONG THE AMERICAN WAY; Israel's Biological and Chemical Research and Development - Potential Menace at Home and Abroad

Article excerpt

EDNA'S ESSAYS: AN ISRAELI TRAVELER ALONG THE AMERICAN WAY; Israel's Bioloical and Chemical Research and Development -- Potential Menace at Home and Abroad

Israeli newspapers have a rather shrewd, albeit obvious, method of imparting secret and sometimes strategically important information. An especially pertinent case in point, in view of the crisis over inspections in Iraq, was the recent publication of information about the Ness-Ziona facility.

Ness-Ziona, a small town in the heart of Israel's densely populated center, has been home to what -- since 1952, during the regime of David BenGurion -- has been widely known in Israel as the "experimental station." It was established as a laboratory for basic and applied research in chemistry and biology, with a staff of about 300, including 120 physicists, mathematicians, chemists and veterinarians.

From its inception this institute has been under the exclusive supervision and control of the prime minister's office. This fact is acknowledged publicly in its scientific publications, which add that it is independent regarding policies for conduct of research and actual management.

Physically the institute is located in Ness-Ziona's "industrial zone," behind a high wall and surrounded by an electronic fence. Thus by now this facility is better known to its neighbors as a secret laboratory for the development of chemical and biological weapons. And, since the revelation of what happened in Russian Sverdlovsk on April 2, 1979, the presence of the secret lab has become their nightmare. The reason is that the Sverdlovsk scenario could be repeated in Ness-Ziona as well. (See accompanying map.)

An invisible cloud of death descended on Sverdlovsk on that lovely spring morning, but residents became aware of it only six days later when untold numbers of people began dying horribly and inexplicably.

By recounting the history of the terrifying events in Sverdlovsk as they finally were revealed by the Soviet authorities, the Jan. 9, 1998 weekend supplement of the Tel Aviv daily Ma'ariv confirmed the presence of facilities for developing and producing the makings of chemical and biological weaponry in Israel, principally in Ness-Ziona but also in other installations around the country.

This was an example of how Israeli publications bypass censorship to discuss indirectly such topics as the existence of Israeli facilities containing agents of killer diseases potentially deployable as "weapons of mass destruction," and also a potential source of a terrifying domestic epidemic in the event of an accident. The newspaper achieves "acceptability" for the discussion of such a possible accident in Israel by describing the existence elsewhere of similar facilities and a real catastrophe that already has occurred.

One of several witnesses to the accidental release of an anthrax "cloud" in Sverdlovsk was a professor who emigrated to Israel in 1990. He was quoted as saying that "when the biological institute was first built [in Sverdlovsk] it was situated outside the city. As the years went by, the city grew and residential neighborhoods as well as industry were built around it." Much the same has happened in Ness-Ziona. Originally the institute was surrounded by orange groves. By now residential quarters closely -- and dangerously -- abut it.

Raft Elul is a Labor member of the Knesset who resides in the area and considers himself as "representative" of the population most vulnerable to the danger of a potential accident. [Note: Israel's members of Knesset are not representatives of a geographical district, but of a political party. …

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