GAS AND GERM MERCHANTS OF THE MIDDLE EAST

As Arab and Islamic states energetically pursue chemical and biological weapons programmes, Israel faces an increasing threat of non-conventional warfare from at least three of its regional enemies.

A leading Israeli expert on non-conventional warfare warned last November that Syria possessed an arsenal of deadly nerve gases as well as anthrax, a lethal bacterium.

Dr Danny Shoham, a senior researcher at Bar-Ilan University and former senior army intelligence analyst, told The Jerusalem Post the Syrians had the chemical agents installed in thousands of aerial bombs and between 100-200 warheads for Scud B and the more advanced Scud C ground-to-ground missiles.

"The main components of Syria's chemical arsenal are the nerve agents, Sarin, and more recently VX, which is more virulent and can penetrate through the skin and not only the respiratory system, and also persists longer because of its less volatile nature."
Shoham said the nerve agents had been produced in Syria over more than a decade, initially with the possible assistance of the former Soviet Union, then private Western European concerns, and more recently through suppliers in China, India, and North Korea.
"There are reports that the Syrians have also produced anthrax, a highly lethal bacterium, which together with their two chemical warfare options, make their non-conventional threat much more significant ..."
Syria's ambassador to Egypt, Isser Darwish, warned in an interview with the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram (November 27) that Syria would use non-conventional weapons against Israel if threatened with nuclear weapons.

A day later, Darwish backed down, and denied that Syria or any other Arab country possessed non-conventional weapons.

Iraq Leads the Way

At least two of the extremely rare uses of chemical weapons this century have been attributed to Saddam Hussein. But his germ warfare arsenal is also cause for alarm.

"After years of deceit and denial, last August the United Nations Special Commission received a wealth of new information about the extent of Saddam Hussein's biological weapons programme,"
wrote the publication Chemical and Biological Weapons Chronicle last January.

The information emerged after Hussein's son-in-law and head of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programme, Hussein Kamal al-Majid, defected to Jordan.

"The new data showed that Iraq possessed anthrax, which induces potentially fatal flu-like symptoms; a carcinogen called aflatoxin; ricin, which generates liver and kidney failure as well as genetic problems; enterovirus, which causes blindness; and botulinum, one of the deadliest substances on earth,"
said CBW Chronicle.
"Before the Gulf War in 1991, Iraq allegedly armed 191 missiles, shells, and bombs with biological agents for use against coalition forces. In addition, Iraq was developing new methods of dispersing agents by plane and aerosol spraying, as well as a new type of shrapnel that would release germs into open wounds.
"This arsenal of biological agents, including approximately 130 000 gallons of botulinum alone, was enough to kill all of the world's population several times.
"Nonetheless, the Iraqi government had also embarked on a crash programme to develop new biological agents. The documents released in August exposed that Iraq had more biological agents, as well as storage and production sites, than western intelligence had discovered."
CBW Chronicle said the documents from Hussein's son-in-law revealed that "a huge web of global suppliers enabled Iraq's biological weapons programme to flourish ... despite five years of sanctions and embargoes".
(After releasing this information, Hussein Kamal al-Majid was lured back to Iraq by a supposedly forgiving father-in-law, and was murdered there by state agents.)

The Iranians Join the Gang

A Pentagon report released last April expressed concern that Iran would soon "weaponise" germ warfare agents it has successfully developed.

"With a longer-range missile such as the North Korean Nodong, it would be able to strike targets in Israel, and in most of Saudi Arabia and Turkey,"
the report said.

In late December, the German newspaper Bild quoted "western sources" as saying that Iran was developing missiles capable of travelling as far as 3 500 km, and which could be used to carry chemical or biological weapons to Europe.

The chairman of the German parliament's Defence Committee, Klaus Rose, said the German armed forces, along with NATO allies, were working on anti-missile-missile defence systems, aimed at countering the Iranian threat. O

n January 24, the Washington Times quoted new US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as saying Chinese companies had been selling equipment to Iran which could boost Tehran's efforts to produce deadly biological weapons.

Albright said the administration had "encouraged China to adopt comprehensive and rigorous export controls" to prevent any further co-operation with Iran's germ weapons programme.

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