Last week, one of the most malicious actions by the defense establishment was uncovered. The actions, which were accompanied by deceit, and attempts to cover up and whitewash them, are documented in detail in a report that was compiled by a special committee of doctors, legal experts and the former director of the Weizmann Institute of Science.
The committee, which was formed at the recommendation of the ethics committee of the Israel Medical Association, with the agreement of the Israel Defense Forces Medical Corps and the approval of the Supreme Court, investigated the experiments the defense establishment carried out on Israel Defense Forces soldiers more than a decade ago on the efficacy and safety of a vaccine against anthrax.
The committee stated that there was no justification, scientific or otherwise, for carrying out the experiment. It also said such practice went against the principles of the Helsinki Convention to which Israel is a signatory and which defines how experiments on humans need to carried out.
When naval commandos got an order to dive into the polluted Kishon River, their commanders acted in good faith without being aware of the danger. In the anthrax experiment, the commanders of the medical corps and senior officers in the defense establishment knew what the issue was, yet their conduct spoke of cynicism and guile, since they hid information about the nature of the experiment and its dangers from the soldiers.
Nevertheless the role of the medical corps commanders at the time, headed by Brig. Gen. Giora Martinowitz, is small in comparison to that of the chief actor in this saga. He is Dr. Avigdor Shafferman, the all-powerful director for the past 14 years of the Institute for Biological Research at Nes Ziona.
Shafferman's field of research is anthrax, and he showed contempt for the committee, refusing to appear before it, and doing everything possible to curb its actions. Martinowitz and the senior medical corps officers, on the other hand, cooperated with the panel.
No document was presented to the committee that could show who had given the order to develop the vaccine, carry out the experiment and maintain a large inventory of the vaccine. Committee members suspect that the decision was made by Shafferman without a decision on the part of the government and without written consent from the prime minister, the defense minister or the chief of staff.
It appears that Shafferman was behind the idea of developing the vaccine and that he conducted the operation forcefully. The medical corps willingly agreed to provide volunteer soldiers and to serve as sub-contractor. An innovative institution was set up for the project at a cost of about $200 million and it was supposed to develop the vaccine. It turned out that at the time of the experiments Israel already had a stockpile of millions of doses of the vaccine. So what was the experiment carried out for?
However, it seems that the most grave suspicions of all have not yet been published. The official in charge of security in the Defense Ministry hurriedly came to Shafferman's aid and, on the pretext of risk to Israel's foreign relations, he censored, with the agreement of the High Court of Justice, some of the paragraphs in the report.
Nevertheless, there are hints in the sections that were permitted for publication. The report states that the members of the committee were not able to get to the bottom of Shafferman's real motives and they hint at dark ones.
Is it possible that the IDF soldiers were guinea pigs and that they were left to their fate for the sake of some shadowy motive which smells of foreign interests? This is reminiscent of experiments with hallucinatory drugs carried out by the CIA in the 1950s.
For some reason, despite previous investigations against him in the past, and unflattering (secret) reports from the State Comptroller, Shafferman enjoys the total protection of the official in charge of security and generations of other senior officials in the Defense Ministry who, inter alia, bear the title of "the defense minister's assistant for self-defense".
Perhaps this time, in the wake of the report, the new prime minister, the old defense minister, the new cabinet and the Knesset committees will all wake up and thank Dr. Shafferman for his long and controversial service and a new director will be appointed for one of the most secretive and least supervised institutions in the State of Israel.
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