Israel and Weapons of Mass Destruction after the Iraq War

By Rodman, David | Midstream, January 2004 | Go to article overview

Israel and Weapons of Mass Destruction after the Iraq War


Rodman, David, Midstream


The war in Iraq has brought into sharp focus the problem of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East--a problem that is by no means new to the region. Indeed, Egypt employed chemical weapons in Yemen during the civil war there in the 1960s. Both Iraq and Iran made substantial use of these weapons during the 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran War. Libya dropped them on Chad in the 1980s. Moreover, Middle Eastern states have not only engaged in WMD warfare against their external adversaries, but also against their internal enemies. Iraq employed chemical weapons to suppress its restive Kurdish population in the late 1980s, and Syria used them during the course of its 1982 campaign to crush a Muslim Brotherhood uprising in the city of Hama.

Fortunately, Israel has thus far not suffered a successful WMD attack. But such a strike is certainly possible in the future, regardless of the fact that the war in Iraq will quite likely result in the long-term disarmament of Baghdad. Israel will continue to face a WMD threat from a number of Arab states and Iran, and it will also increasingly have to worry about the prospect that Islamist terrorist organizations may attempt to employ these weapons against its populace. On the other hand, the WMD risk to Israel should not be blown out of proportion. To put the issue in its proper perspective, therefore, it is useful to sketch both the WMD threat to Israel and Jerusalem's response to that threat. (1)

The WMD threat to Israel

While the Iraqi threat to Israel has been removed for the foreseeable future, WMD developments in Irma and Syria are cause for serious concern. Tehran's denials notwithstanding, Iran is believed to be in possession of chemical and biological weapons. Washington and Jerusalem have also picked up unmistakable indications that Tehran, with Russian assistance, is actively working on nuclear arms. Ivan may also have accelerated the development of its nuclear program of late. Even the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has a track record of being less than firm with suspected violators of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has conceded that Tehran's nuclear efforts constitute a cause for worry. Furthermore, though Iran is located far from Israel, it is in the midst of a major effort to build ballistic missiles with the range to deliver WMD to Israeli territory.

Syria represents at least as much of a threat to Israel as Iran, especially given its proximity to the Jewish state's population and industrial centers. Like Tehran, Damascus is thought to be in possession of both chemical and biological weapons. It has shown some interest in nuclear research as well, but not enough to be classified as a real menace in this area. To deliver WMD, Syria has acquired large numbers of ballistic missiles, many of them with the range necessary to reach any target inside of Israel. Part of Damascus's ballistic missile fleet, Jerusalem is convinced, has already been fitted with chemical warheads. These missiles, it reasons, might be employed at the outset of a future Israeli-Syrian war in an attempt to stun the Jewish state into submission.

Egypt and Libya currently present less onerous threats than Ivan and Syria. The Egyptian arsenal is thought to contain chemical weapons, and it may include biological arms, too. These weapons could be mounted on Egyptian aircraft or ballistic missiles in order to attack Israel; however, because Egypt and Israel are formally at peace, the chance of such a strike is very small at the moment. The same can be said of a Libyan attack against Israel, in spite of the fact that Tripoli is still officially committed to the annihilation of the Jewish state. Like Egypt, Libya is believed to have a stockpile of chemical weapons at its disposal, and it could deploy these weapons on its ballistic missile fleet, which it continues to upgrade over time. Still, rhetoric aside, Tripoli has shown no genuine inclination recently to confront Israel. …

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